February 2010

Report: Mulder retiring (or not)

The agent for left-hander Mark Mulder refuted reports that the former All-Star had decided to retire, but a former teammate spoke with Mulder on Monday and confirmed that he’s, “done.”
That former teammate was Oakland A’s infielder Eric Chavez, who spoke via telephone with Mulder after reports began swirling that Mulder, who has been dogged by a shoulder injury since 2006, was calling it a career instead of attempting another comeback.  
Chavez can relate to Mulder’s difficult decision. Chavez has been limited to 121 games over the past three seasons by back and shoulder injuries.  
“I know one thing for sure was that if Mark didn’t feel right, he wasn’t going to come back,” Chavez said. “He wanted to come back 100 percent and didn’t want to suffer like he has been the last couple of years. Once you’ve played a game at a certain level and dominated, it becomes a lot tougher to come back. You want to tap into your abilities and know you can still perform well. He wasn’t going to do it if he knew he couldn’t be successful and contribute.
“It must have been a really hard decision, especially considering how short his career was. I can definitely relate to what he’s been going through, and I know how hard it is to weigh all the factors and decide if it’s worth it to go through with everything.”
The Milwaukee television station Today’s TMJ-4 first reported on Sunday that Mulder planned to hang up his spikes. Not so fast, agent Gregg Clifton said later in the day.  
“Mark has not decided to retire,” Clifton wrote in an e-mail to MLB.com. “He is reassessing his options in his efforts to come back.”  
In separate comments to the San Francisco Chronicle, Clifton said, “I’m not saying Mark won’t [retire]. But he has not made any decision.” 
 
Mulder, 32, was the American League Cy Young Award runner-up in 2001 and an All-Star in 2003 and 2004. He has been limited to six appearances since 2006 because of rotator cuff woes and didn’t pitch at all in 2009.  
Brewers officials, including Peterson, met with Mulder in Arizona in early January and later extended him a Minor League offer with an invitation to big league camp. But he was slow to respond, leaving club officials to wonder about his commitment to a comeback. Then came Sunday’s report that Mulder was to retire.  
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Peterson said. “He really had to think about whether he wanted to go through this.” 
Peterson worked with Mulder as recently as last summer on correcting some flaws in his delivery. Mulder has another backer in Brewers manager Ken Macha, another former Oakland colleague.  
“I would feel really bad about that [if Mulder retired],” Macha said. “He was a good person and a pretty darn good pitcher for me in Oakland. He’s too young to call it a career.”  
The second overall pick in the 1998 Draft, Mulder is 103-60 with a 4.18 ERA in parts of nine seasons with the A’s and Cardinals. He won at least 15 games in five consecutive seasons from 2001-2005, four of those working with Peterson in Oakland. In 2005, Mulder went 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA in 32 starts with the Cardinals, but he was limited to 17 starts the following season as shoulder injuries derailed his career. 
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Key Spring Training dates

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By this time next week, Maryvale Baseball Park will be officially open for business.
Brewers pitchers and catchers are already trickling in for the start of the team’s 40th-anniversary season in Milwaukee and will begin in earnest with the year’s first formal workout on Feb. 22. Less than a week after that, position players will join the fold, and Spring Training will be under way.
As usual, MLB.com will have it all covered on Brewers.com, the “Brew Beat” blog and on Twitter. Here’s a rundown of some key dates between now and the start of the season:
  • Feb. 22: Pitchers and catchers first workout.
  • Feb. 27: First full-squad workout. 
  • March 2: Start of a 10-day window during which teams can renew contracts of unsigned players. As of the start of this week, 15 members of the 40-man roster are still unsigned.
  • March 4: First Spring Training game at Giants in Scottsdale. 
  • March 6: First Spring Training home game at Maryvale Baseball Park, vs. Giants.
  • March 17: Deadline, at 1 p.m. CT, for clubs to request release waivers on players and owe only 30 days’ termination pay. But remember that players on multiyear contracts are guaranteed their salaries. 
  • March 19: Last date to assign certain injured players to Minor League clubs. To qualify, players must have less than three years of Major League service time and have not appeared in the Majors the previous season.
  • March 26: Earliest date a club may backdate a placement on the 15-day disabled list. 
  • March 31: Last date to request release waivers on players and owe only 45 days’ termination pay. After 1 p.m. CT on this date, contracts become guaranteed. This could potentially come into play for someone like Dave Bush, who is vying for a spot in the rotation. His $4.215 million salary doesn’t become guaranteed until Opening Day, so it’s possible the Brewers could cut him loose to restore some payroll flexibility. 
  • April 2-3: Exhibition games vs. Tigers at Miller Park.
  • April 4: Clubs must submit 25-man rosters. 
  • April 5: Opening Day at Miller Park against the Rockies.
Let the season begin!
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Hart aims to win back fans

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Brewers outfielder Corey Hart knows that many of you reading this are down on him for the moment. He’s determined to do everything possible on the field this summer to win you back. 
“You feel kind of bad because it’s hard for the fans to understand this process,” Hart said Friday, when an arbitration panel ruled in his favor and awarded him a $4.8 million salary for 2010. “Sometimes as a player you have to stand up for yourself, and it was important to play it out. I’m really happy that it worked out. 
“But I know that there are hundreds and hundreds of fans on the blogs who say I’m greedy or that I’m asking too much. I hope they understand that the system is there and that there are reasons we asked for what we asked for. I think you guys who know me know that I’m a pretty good person, a family man, and that I like it here [in Milwaukee]. I love it here. This is just part of the business.
“To get back the fans, I just have to go out there and play my best. I know that last year wasn’t a great year for me, marred by injury, too, and I have to go out and hopefully win the people over again. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life and I’m ready to do it.”
Hart has slimmed down this winter, dropping about 24 pounds from his bulkiest point last season. He’s already been to Maryvale Baseball Park this month to work on his swing with Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum
The Brewers are counting on Hart more than ever in 2010 because they lost a lot of power by trading shortstop J.J. Hardy and letting center fielder Mike Cameron leave via free agency. Those players’ replacements, Alcides Escobar and Carlos Gomez, have a combined 13 home runs in 395 Major League games. 
If Hart can return to his 20-plus homer output, he could help fill that void. It would also go a long way to winning back some of you fans. 
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The Fielder factor

fielder.jpgThe Brewers lost their arbitration hearing with Corey Hart this week, but one former club official said that, in a roundabout way, they may have also won. 

The thinking is that by taking Hart all the way to a hearing, the Brewers showed that they were not afraid of the process if they believed strongly in their filing number. It had been 12 years since the club had proven so, when then-negotiator Tom Gausden went into a hearing against Jose Mercedes. That was nearly five years before Doug Melvin took over as Milwaukee’s general manager. 
“What you do one year always affects the next,” Gausden said. “Maybe you want the agents to realize that you aren’t bluffing, that they had better file a realistic number.” 
And it just so happens that the Brewers could face a monster of a hearing next year with first baseman Prince Fielder and his agent, Scott Boras. Assuming the sides cannot work out a contract extension, Fielder would be arbitration-eligible one last time before he hits the free agent market following the 2011 season. 
The Brewers also have a couple of key first-time eligibles next year in pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra. Gallardo in particular is likely to get a very substantial raise. 
Gausden, the former Brewers vice president who argued arbitration hearings with Mercedes in 1998 and Mike Fetters in 1994, said that part of the strategy is picking your battles every few years. Otherwise, agents know which teams shy away from hearings and file salary proposals artificially high, to drive up the midpoint in anticipation of a settlement. 
So, the Brewers will pay Hart $650,000 more than it wanted to in 2010, but could have left themselves positioned to save some payroll dollars in the future. Yet another layer to a very complex process. 
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Two comps likely helped Hart

So, the verdict is in and Corey Hart won his arbitration case against the Brewers. That means he will earn $4.8 million next season instead of the $4.15 million the Brewers had proposed.

These decisions are all based on “comps,” or comparisons to already-set salaries of players similar in terms of service time and performance. Neither side has been willing to discuss its strategy, but it seems very likely to me that Hart’s representatives from CAA Sports, including his lead agent, Jeff Berry, successfully made the comp to Jeff Francoeur of the Mets and/or Josh Willingham of the Nationals. And I’m guessing that the Brewers more likely argued that the precedent for Hart’s salary should be someone like Jeremy Hermida of the Red Sox.

All three are corner outfielders in Hart’s service class. Here’s a look:

Francoeur earned $3.4 million last season, just $150,000 more than Hart, and avoided arbitration when he settled with the Mets on a $5 million contract for 2010. For his career, Francoeur is a .271 hitter with 88 home runs, 400 RBIs and 15 stolen bases (Hart is a .273 hitter with 67 home runs and 260 RBIs). In 2009, the players so-called “platform year” in this case, Francoeur hit .280 with 15 homers and 76 RBIs in 593 at-bats. Hart, limited to 419 at-bats because of an emergency appendectomy in August, batted .260 with 12 homers and 48 RBIs.

Willingham, meanwhile, earned $2.95 million last season and avoided arbitration with the Nationals with a $4.6 million pact for 2010, which was less than Hart’s filing number but fell on the player’s side of the midpoint between Hart’s proposal and the Brewers’. Willingham also had a better platform year, batting .260 in 2009 with 24 home runs — remember his two grand slams on July 27 at Miller Park? — and 61 RBIs in 427 at-bats. For his career Willingham has a .263 average, 87 home runs and 260 RBIs.

Hermida earned $2.25 million from the Marlins in 2009 and had a very similar platform year to Hart, batting .259 with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs. For his career, Hermida has played in 516 games (vs. Hart’s 521) compiled 1,708 at-bats (to 1,831) and batted .265 (to .273) with 57 home runs (67) and 210 RBIs (260).  

Hermida filed for $3.85 million in arbitration and the Red Sox countered at $2.95 million. They settled last month at $3.345 million, or $55,000 less than the midpoint.

In the end, Hart’s argument won out. Now the Brewers are 2-for-4 in arbitration hearings since the process was instituted in 1974. According to the Biz of Baseball’s Maury Brown, Major League clubs have won 280 cases to the players’ 208 wins, with 11 10 cases still on the docket this year. Tim Lincecum and the Giants reportedly avoided a big one with a multi-year agreement on Friday. 

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Arbitration panel sides with Hart

The first victory of Major League Baseball’s salary arbitration season went to the players on Friday, when Corey Hart won his case against the Brewers and thus a $4.8 million salary for 2010.  
The Brewers had filed for $4.15 million, and when last-minute negotiations on Thursday didn’t yield a result, the sides went to a hearing in St. Petersburg, Fla. A three-member panel of judges rendered its ruling on Friday morning.  
Hart made $3.25 million in a 2009 season interrupted by an emergency appendectomy on Aug. 2 that forced Hart to the disabled list for more than a month. He finished the season with a .260 batting average, 12 home runs, 48 RBIs and 11 stolen bases after collecting at least 20 homers and 20 steals in each of the two seasons prior.  
He will turn 28 next month and is penciled in to be Milwaukee’s starting right fielder in 2010. Hart’s hearing was the Brewers’ first since Jose Mercedes won his case against the team in 1998. Overall, the Brewers are now 2-for-4 in hearings.  
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Hart's case goes to a hearing

One last chat with the representative for outfielder Corey Hart did not yield a compromise on Thursday morning, when the Brewers snapped their 12-year streak without an arbitration hearing. 

Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash and club negotiator Teddy Werner sat in on the hearing, which began at 8:30 a.m. CT and was attended by Hart and his agent Jeff Berry. Now Hart’s case is in the hands of three professional arbitrators, who will decide whether the player will earn the $4.8 million he’s seeking for 2010, or the $4.15 million that the Brewers offered. 

A decision is expected on Friday morning. 

“I would say it went as expected,” Werner said after the hearing. “I don’t think anybody wanted to be in there, but, and I’ve said this before, there is this mechanism in place to resolve a disagreement over how a player would be compensated.”

Ash and Werner accepted Berry’s offer to meet on Wednesday evening and again on Thursday morning but couldn’t strike a deal. The Brewers remained firm in their unwillingness to revisit the number — slightly below the midpoint of filings — that they had proposed before a Jan. 29 negotiating deadline.

So, the sides went into the hearing room. Each side had 60 minutes to present exhibits, followed by a brief break and then 30 minutes each for rebuttal. The Brewers’ case was presented by outside counsel. The whole process lasted about 4 1/2 hours, Werner said. 

According to the Associated Press, Hart’s case was heard by 
professional arbitrators Elizabeth Neumeier, John Sands and Sylvia Skratek


“I thought the tone was perfectly fair,” Werner said. “We recognize that this is an uncomfortable process for everybody. We have a lot of confidence in Corey going forward and we know that if the team is going to be successful in 2010, he’s going to be a big part of that. I certainly don’t think the tone was overly negative. It was simply both sides stating the facts and how comparable players get paid for past performances. We said Corey was comparable to Players A, B, and C, and they said he was comparable to Players X, Y and Z. That’s it.” 

Hart earned $3.25 million during a 2009 campaign interrupted by an emergency appendectomy in August. Hart missed more than a month and finished with a .260 batting average, 12 home runs and 48 RBIs. 
Hart is the fourth Brewers player to go all the way to a hearing in the salary arbitration process, which began in 1974. Before Thursday, the last was pitcher Jose Mercedes, who won his case in 1998. 
Before Hart, the only other Brewers position player to go to a hearing was infielder Jim Gantner in 1992. The team won that case. 
For a more detailed look at the club’s short salary arbitration history, check out my story on Brewers.com. And stay tuned for the result of Hart’s hearing on Friday. 
According to the AP, Hart’s case was the first to be heard and 11 more players had arbitration hearings scheduled through next week. 
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Edmonds contract details

Get out your calculators, I’ve got some details on Jim Edmonds’ contract with the Brewers. 
It was a Minor League deal with an invitation to big league camp, so Edmonds must win a roster spot first. If he does, his Major League base salary would be $850,000. 
Then come the performance incentives, and there are a lot of them. Edmonds would get $115,000 for each of 200, 225, 250, 275, 300, 325, 350, 375, 400 and 425 plate appearances, plus $200,000 for each of 475, 500 and 525 plate appearances. All told, that adds up to $1.75 million in incentives, meaning Edmonds could top out at $2.6 million if he plays for the Brewers all season and steps to the plate 525 times or more. 
More likely, he would earn something in the middle. In his last season, 2008, Edmonds had 298 plate appearances for the Padres and Cubs. In the three seasons prior to that, he had 401, 411 and 408 plate appearances for the Cardinals.
Edmonds’ deal also has the usual awards bonuses, including a $100,000 payout for winning Comeback Player of the Year. And, as was reported when he signed, Edmonds can opt out of the deal if he’s not added to Milwaukee’s Major League roster on March 25.  
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Narveson, Scarpetta agree to terms

Pitchers Chris Narveson and Cody Scarpetta agreed to terms on 2010 contracts Wednesday, leaving the Brewers with 15 players still unsigned on the 40-man roster. 

The signings were something of a formality. Both Narveson and Scarpetta are so-called “zero-to-three” players who are under club control but must nonetheless negotiate contracts each year. The Brewers pay such players according to a set system that rewards statistical performance and league awards to avoid situations in which Player A feels slighted after learning about Player B’s contract. 
If the sides are unable to strike a deal, the team may renew the contract at a salary of its choosing. Players don’t get a measure of control over the process until they qualify for salary arbitration, which usually means racking up three years of Major League service. 
The Brewers are counting outfielder Corey Hart, who has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Thursday, as a signed player, so here are the 15 members of the 40-man roster who remain unsigned:
Axford, John
Butler, Josh
Cain, Lorenzo
Escobar, Alcides
Estrada, Marco
Gallardo, Yovani
Heether, Adam
Inglett, Joe
Iribarren, Hernan
Kottaras, George
Lofgren, Chuck
McGehee, Casey
Parra, Manny
Periard, Alex
Stetter, Mitch
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Moving day at Miller Park

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Photo courtesy Scott Paulus/Brewers
While southeastern Wisconsin dug out from under a foot of snow Wednesday morning, the Brewers served up a sure sign that spring is right around the corner.  
The famous Racing Sausages were put to work loading a moving truck bound for the Brewers’ Spring Training hub in Phoenix, where pitchers and catchers are set to formally report for duty on Feb. 20. Once the boxes were loaded, the sausages themselves piled in for the four-day trek west.  
“There might be a foot of snow outside,” said Brewers staffer John Steinmiller, “but we’re ready for Spring Training.”  
Wednesday’s moving day was the second of two for Matt Smith and Alex Sanchez, the veteran clubhouse men who sent a first truck out on the road more than two weeks ago. That one was loaded with most of the team’s baseball equipment, which was needed early at Maryvale Baseball Park for the team’s annual fantasy camp.  
The second truck set off Wednesday loaded mostly with promotional items for the Brewers’ Spring Training fans, plus items to be signed by players for charity needs and the team’s medical files. Plus, of course, those Racing Sausages, who run the warning track in Maryvale just like they do in Milwaukee.  
The Sausages should arrive under sunny skies. Saturday’s forecast in Phoenix calls for sun and a high of 75 degrees.  
By then, a handful of players will have already arrived in camp. The rest will report on Feb. 20, take part in an administrative day the following morning and then the first organized pitchers and catchers workout on Feb. 22. Position players will formally join the fold a week later.  
Miller Park will stay busy during Spring Training. Crews have begun remodeling the clubhouses and weight room as part of a series of offseason projects to update the ballpark for its 10th season of Brewers baseball. The team will return April 2 for the first of two exhibitions against the Tigers ahead of the April 5 season opener against the Rockies. 
Truck05 copy.jpgScott Paulus/Brewers
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Scott Paulus/Brewers
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