Brewers sign Braun to eight-year deal
Contract for $45 million is largest for 'zero-plus' player
MILWAUKEE -- It was left to the 24-year-old to reveal how much he will be paid to play baseball for the next eight years."Forty-five million dollars," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said without a flinch. The Brewers and their star left fielder agreed to terms Thursday on a historic contract extension through 2015 that buys out Braun's first two years of free agency, sets a new standard for players with less than a year of Major League service and makes him the richest player in club history. It's an eight-year, $45 million contract and a seven-year extension beyond this season. The deal includes a $2.3 million signing bonus, a blanket no-trade clause through the first four years and a limited no-trade clause after that (Braun can block a trade to all but 12 teams in years five and six of the deal and all but six teams in years seven and eight). The total value of the contract will escalate to $51 million in guaranteed money if Braun, who served 129 days in the Majors last season, qualifies as a "Super Two" arbitration-eligible player following the 2009 season. Most important to Braun was that he can focus on the field again. "I think anybody who says that contract negotiations aren't a distraction is not telling the truth," Braun said. "It definitely comes into play. It definitely factors in. For me, it's great to have that out of the way and be able to focus on baseball and know that I am financially secure for the rest of my life." This season started slowly for Braun, but as negotiations between the Brewers and his agent, Nez Balelo, got hotter, so did Braun. Entering Thursday's series finale against the Dodgers, Braun was hitting .458 (11-for-24) with four home runs over the last six games and had taken the team lead in RBIs (29). He and Bill Hall were tied for the team lead with nine home runs. "I wouldn't attribute my hot streak to knowing it was going to get done, but it definitely helps," Braun said. "It definitely takes a lot of the pressure off, takes a lot of the day-to-day stresses away." Braun was the Brewers' first-round Draft pick in 2005 and quickly signed. Less than two years later he was in the big leagues, debuting for the Brewers last May 25 at San Diego, and since then Braun has been one of the game's most productive offensive players. Entering play Thursday, he led all Major Leaguers since the date of his debut in total bases (376) and extra-base hits (126), ranked second with 126 RBIs and third with 43 home runs. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award last season in a close vote over Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, whose seven-year, $31 million contract with the Rockies over the winter sparked the latest rash of signings between teams and pre-arbitration players. "The risk that we take from our standpoint is always an injury risk," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "What comes into play here is we have to be confident in evaluating [a player's] ability, his character. We are all very confident that we are making the right decision in that regard." Braun's deal exceeds that of Tulowitzki, who would have been eligible for salary arbitration one year earlier than Braun because he spent all of last season in the Majors. And Braun's deal blows away the six-year, $17.5 million guaranteed to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who like Braun falls into the "zero-plus" category of service time. Assuming Braun falls short of being a "Super Two," he and Longoria would not have been eligible for arbitration until the 2010-11 offseason and for free agency until 2013-14. "The fact that I have less than a year in the big leagues is something that really puts into perspective how far I've come and how fast it's come," Braun said. "For me to have the opportunity to secure my future financially is something that means a lot to me. I just feel like I was ready to make the commitment to the city of Milwaukee." The feeling apparently was mutual. Assuming Braun does not qualify for arbitration a year early, he would have been Brewers property through the end of the 2013 season. The team assumed some risk in signing him for the extra two years at this time, but they also avoid the uncertainty of a mega-arbitration payout, such as the $10 million award won by Phillies slugger Ryan Howard last winter after just his second full season. The Brewers could face a similar case this offseason with first baseman Prince Fielder, who will be eligible for arbitration for the first time and was upset in Spring Training when the Brewers renewed his 2008 contract for $670,000. The Brewers also renewed Braun's contract and were paying him $455,000 in 2008. "If Ryan goes at the pace he's at, would he make more money going year-to-year? Yes," Balelo said. "There's no question about it. But you can't walk away from security." Assistant general manager Gord Ash did most of the down-and-dirty negotiations with Balelo. They settled on the length of the deal -- seven seasons past this one -- during Spring Training, then came to the $45 million agreement early this week. Then they went to work on what Balelo characterized as a second contract, the $51 agreement that will kick in should Braun qualify as a "Super Two." Most players must accumulate three years of service time to qualify for arbitration, but the top 17 percent of players with between two and three years of service, measured in days, qualify as well. No player with fewer than 130 days of service in his first season has qualified as such since 1991, but the cutoff as recently as 2006 was at 130 games, according to Balelo. Both sides will know whether Braun falls into the class by November 2009. As part of the contract, Braun will donate $25,000 each season to Brewers Charities. He will also receive a suite for every Brewers home game, which according to Balelo, Braun plans to use for charitable purposes. "He has met every challenge we put forth in front of him," Melvin said. "He played at every level ... and it was very evident when we got into negotiations that Ryan wanted to be a Milwaukee Brewer for an extended period of time." With his historic contract in the bank, does Braun worry about increased expectations? "I embrace it," Braun said. "I've always had high expectations for myself. I think it will help me relax."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.