Brewers, Hall agree on four-year deal
Team MVP rewarded for outstanding 2006 season
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers teammates Bill Hall and Geoff Jenkins were sitting down to a post-workout lunch in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Monday. Midway through his barbecue sandwich, Hall committed to a long-term contract that will keep the infielder-turned-outfielder in a Brewers uniform at least four more years.
"And Jenkins still paid for lunch," Hall said with a laugh.
Next time, it might be Hall's turn to pick up the tab. Coming off a breakthrough season in which he was named club MVP, Hall avoided a potential arbitration hearing by agreeing to a deal that guarantees $24 million over the next four seasons. The Brewers also hold a $9.25 million option for a fifth season in 2011.
The contract buys out all three of Hall's arbitration years plus at least one year of free agency.
"It felt to me like the right time to do this," said Hall, who celebrated with a round of golf. "It looks like I'm moving to center field, so I finally have a home. And it shows you that the team is trying to keep some of us together. I feel really good about it."
Hall, who turned 27 in December, filled in at shortstop for an injured J.J. Hardy last season and led the team in runs (101), doubles (39), home runs (35), RBIs (85) and walks (63) while batting .270. He more than doubled his previous career high for home runs, and 27 of them came as a shortstop, tops in the Majors.
Hardy will report to Spring Training at full strength, and the Brewers are expected to move Hall to the outfield for 2007 and beyond. He likely will land in center field.
Hall had requested a salary of $4.125 million in arbitration, and the Brewers were offering $3 million. Instead of settling near the midpoint, Melvin and Hall's agent, Gregg Clifton, began working on the parameters of a multi-year deal.
The Brewers talked with Hall's former agent about a multi-year contract last year during Spring Training, but Hall declined. At the time, he was still considered a utility player and was coming off a 17-homer, 62-RBI season. He elected to go year-to-year.
So this winter, the Brewers tried again.
"Four years is a long time and a lot can happen, but this deal is good for Billy and it's good for us," Melvin said. "It gives him a chance to take a bit of the apple and make some money, and it's good for our club to know that a player of his caliber for the next four or five years.
"Billy deserves this. He's earned it."
Reached Monday, manager Ned Yost would not commit to a position for Hall, but center field is the target. He spoke with Hall last month about the move, and hopes to have another sitdown early in Spring Training to lay out a plan. Hall will have a month of Cactus League games to reacquaint himself with center field, where he appeared seven times in 2006.
Yost plans to put Hall at one position and leave him there.
"That's my hope, and that's what is going to happen," Yost said. "But we'll get to Spring Training first and see how it all plays out. Setting it in stone right now doesn't make any sense to me."
Hall said he welcomes the move.
"It's not going to change the way I play. I'm still going to play aggressive baseball. I have to prove I can play center field, of course, but I think I'll be able to do that. I want to be one of the best center fielders in the game."
Yost wants Hall to cut down on his strikeouts -- he whiffed 162 times in 537 at-bats -- and would like Hall to be more serious about quality at-bats. Last year, Yost complained that Hall at times was too homer-happy.
"But he's such a quality individual," Yost said. "He's a kid that has a strong desire to improve, and he's already tremendously talented. I still think he's just starting to scratch the surface of what he can do as a Major League player."
What's next for the Brewers? Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 17, and Melvin & Co. may be finished building a team that hopes to contend in the National League Central.
Question marks remain in the outfield, where left field and right field remain unsettled. And team officials are also anxious to see third baseman Corey Koskie, whose recovery from post-concussion syndrome has been extremely slow. Should Koskie be unable to play, the team likely will consider prospect Ryan Braun for third base, or will split playing time between veteran backup infielders Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino. Melvin said the Brewers have considered free agent options including veteran David Bell, who played the second half of 2006 in Milwaukee, but are not in talks with any players.
If Koskie is sidelined for an extended period of time, would the team consider Hall for third base?
"I don't think so. Our first preference would be keeping Billy in center," Melvin said. "At some point, Braun is going to be ready, and then we would have to move [Hall] again. We don't want to do that."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.