The Brewers are planning a 3 p.m. CT press conference at Miller Park and appear poised to announce a long-term contract extension for right-hander Yovani Gallardo, the club’s home-grown, 24-year-old Opening Day starter.
Terms of the deal will not be made official until later Thursday, but other teams who have extended their young pitchers in recent months have covered the player’s arbitration seasons and given the club control over at least one season of the player’s free agent eligibility.
Gallardo’s original 2010 contract calls for a $450,000 salary in his final pre-arbitration season. He would be salary arbitration-eligible for the first time after this season, putting him on track to reach free agency during the 2013-14 offseason.
Now Brewers general manager Doug Melvin may have succeeded in delaying his young ace’s entry into the market. Melvin struck a similar deal nearly two years ago with left fielder Ryan Braun, whose extension runs through 2015 and covers two years of free agency. Braun was also 24 when he signed.
If Braun is a blueprint for the type of control Melvin is seeking over Gallardo, it would have to be a five-year contract that replaces Gallardo’s existing deal for 2010.
Teams take on risk in deals for such young players but in return get cost certainty and perhaps the chance to delay free agent departures. Players may leave some money on the table versus going year-to-year through arbitration, but they get a lifetime of financial security in return.
The Mexican-born, Texas-raised Gallardo, Milwaukee’s second round Draft pick in 2004, lost his Opening Day start against the Rockies but is showing signs of growing into a four-pitch Major League ace.
He returned in 2009 from an ’08 season lost almost entirely to knee injuries and went 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA. He became fourth different Brewers pitcher to top 200 strikeouts in a season — his Mexican countryman, Teddy Higuera is the only Brewer to do so twice — and ranked third among National League starters with a .219 batting average against.
“He could be in the top handful in the game,” said new Brewers catcher Gregg Zaun. “He’s got all the ability, so now it’s going to be about polishing. He can polish some command, some different pitch sequences, adding and subtracting velocity here and there. He definitely has tremendous life on his stuff.”
If Thursday’s announcement is indeed about a Gallardo extension, the Brewers would have their top two starters signed through 2012 and under control through 2013. Left-hander Randy Wolf signed a three-year contract during the Winter Meetings in December that includes a club option for 2013.
Melvin has kept his talks with Gallardo’s agent, former Major Leaguer Bobby Witt, out of the spotlight since the sides agreed to a one-year contract early last month. At the same time, Melvin has been in ongoing discussions with first baseman Prince Fielder about an extension of his own, though Thursday’s press conference is not expected to include any new information about Fielder.