Brewers finalize deal with Cameron
Center fielder passes physical to trigger one-year contract
MILWAUKEE -- This visit to Miller Park was decidedly more memorable for Mike Cameron than the last one.Cameron passed a physical on Monday and finalized a one-year contract that, barring injuries, set in place the Brewers' 2008 offense. The deal guarantees Cameron more than $6 million and could pay nearly $12 million more if the Brewers exercise a 2009 club option and Cameron hits a pair of incentives. The three-time Gold Glove center fielder was with San Diego in 2007, when the Padres traveled to Milwaukee and lost what were supposed to be the final two games of the regular season. The Padres then dropped a one-game playoff to the Colorado Rockies and were eliminated from contention for postseason play. "They kind of killed us," said Cameron of the Brewers. He didn't play in the series in Milwaukee because of an illness and a dislocated thumb. "Seeing it from the other side, it was the hardest thing you could go through," Cameron said. "You had kids who were hungry and just wanted to play well, pretty much not knowing the significance of what they did to our season." If you can't beat them, join them. Cameron must serve a 25-game suspension to start the season for twice testing positive for a banned stimulant, but when he returns, the Brewers will insert him into the center-field slot previously occupied by Bill Hall, who will start the season back on the infield at third base. Hall will be ousting National League Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun, who will move to left field to replace departed free agent Geoff Jenkins. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ned Yost made contact with Braun and Hall before agreeing to terms with Cameron, and said both players had agreed to move. It's the second major switch in as many seasons for Hall, who moved from shortstop to center field last spring when shortstop J.J. Hardy returned from an injury. The shuffle answered the Brewers' remaining questions heading into the season, at least in terms of position players. Corey Hart established himself last year as the everyday right fielder, joining a young core of players that includes first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Rickie Weeks and Hardy. In December, the Brewers signed free-agent veteran Jason Kendall to catch. "I feel pretty good about our ballclub right now. I don't anticipate making any other moves," Melvin said, despite the Brewers' excess of starting pitching. "You never know."
Cameron turned 35 on Jan. 8 and, according to the Associated Press, his contract calls for a $5 million base salary and a $1.25 million signing bonus, plus up to $750,000 in performance bonuses. The deal includes a limited no-trade clause for Cameron and a 2009 club option for the Brewers, who will not have to pay Cameron while he serves his 25-game ban at the start of the season.The option year would cost the Brewers $10 million, plus another $750,000 in potential bonuses. The team can buy out the deal after one season for $750,000, according to the AP. Cameron addressed his suspension on Monday, calling it a learning experience. He can play with the Brewers during Spring Training, including a pair of late March exhibitions against the Royals at Miller Park, then will report back to Maryvale Baseball Park for extended camp. Cameron will be allowed to spend the final five contests of his 25-game suspension playing with Triple-A Nashville. On Monday, he once again blamed both positive tests on tainted supplements. "That's the only thing that I can come up with," Cameron said. "We did every test that we could possibly do to figure out what was going on and couldn't come up with the positive, the reason why I failed the test for a second time. ... I won't say I've suffered enough, but I've been through a lot since I've had the 25-game suspension. It's like the last thing you want to have your name smeared with." Cameron spent the last two seasons with the Padres and called 2007 "a really bad, up and down year." He hit .242 in 2007 with a .328 on-base percentage, his lowest marks in both categories since 2004 with the Mets, but he has been a dynamic player during his 13 Major League seasons. Since 1999, Cameron's first year with more than 500 at-bats, he has hit at least 20 home runs and stolen at least 20 bases six times, and he has driven in at least 75 runs seven times. According to Melvin, Cameron has led the Majors in advancing from first base to third on hits in each of the last two seasons. Cameron is a career .343 hitter in 10 games at Miller Park, but only garnered serious interest from the Brewers this month. The team had preferred a left-handed hitter and high on-base percentage player, but Melvin instead centered on Cameron, a right-handed hitter with relatively high strikeout numbers, after returning from a holiday in Hawaii and consulting with new Brewers bench coach Ted Simmons, who had been in the Padres' front office. "Ted said, 'If you can get him, go get him,'" Melvin said. "In the end, [Cameron] filled a lot of the things we were looking for." At the top of his list is defense, a major weakness of the 2007 Brewers. Cameron won Gold Glove Awards in 2001, 2003 and 2006. "Improving our defense was paramount in my mind," Yost said. "Going through this process, what was very important to me, too, was how a player is in the clubhouse. ... I could not find one person, back from his high school coach to players who have played with him, that would even say he is a 'good guy.' A 'great guy' was the worst that I could get out of anybody." While Cameron serves his suspension, Yost said the Brewers likely will use their backups in center field. Tony Gwynn, Jr. and Gabe Gross are leading candidates because they would provide much-needed left-handed bats, but righty Gabe Kapler also could see action there. The Brewers will be a team loaded with right-handed hitters. Of the projected starters once Cameron joins the fold, only Fielder hits from the left side. "I'm still playing with the lineup in my mind," Yost said. "But we have the capability of putting some offense on the board in a big hurry."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.