Brewers renew Gallardo's contract
Injury-plagued '08 makes negotiations tricky in pre-arbitration
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Unable to reach a compromise with right-hander Yovani Gallardo before Thursday's club-imposed deadline, the Brewers renewed his contract for 2010. Now he can get down to business.Gallardo, who is working to cement his status as the Brewers' new ace, will make his spring debut Friday against the Brewers' old one. Ben Sheets, who signed with the Oakland A's over the winter after sitting out all of 2009, is scheduled to oppose Gallardo at Phoenix Municipal Stadium at 2:05 p.m. CT. The game is available exclusively via MLB.com webcast. If there's such a thing as a big game in Spring Training, this might just be one of them. "It would be weird" to see Sheets in an A's uniform, said Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder said. He probably will not; Fielder started Thursday's Cactus League opener against the Giants and will likely enjoy Friday afternoon off. Still, you can bet that Fielder will check the highlights to see whether Sheets looks strange in green. "That's how it is anytime you have someone who did so well in an organization," Fielder said. "Like when Ken Griffey Jr. [went to the Reds] it was different. But they're still the same player." Sheets was a very good player during his Brewers tenure from 2001-2008. He is the franchise's all-time leader with 1,206 strikeouts and he represented Milwaukee in four All-Star Games. Sheets departed via free agency after 2008 and missed all of 2009 while recovering from elbow surgery, and Gallardo took over by going 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA. Until Thursday morning, Gallardo was Milwaukee's only unsigned player. Per club policy, the Brewers did not announce terms of his new contract. He earned $414,000 last season. Gallardo, who turned 24 on Saturday and is Milwaukee's leading candidate to start Opening Day, is a so-called "zero-to-three" player without enough service time to qualify for salary arbitration. Teams essentially can pay such players whatever they want as long as it meets the Major League minimum salary, but the sides typically negotiate anyway, partly to keep things cordial for the more difficult talks later on in a player's career.
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If they cannot reach a compromise, the team can renew a player's salary at a figure of its choosing, as long as it represents at least 80 percent of what the player was paid the previous season. In March 2008, for example, the Brewers renewed Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart all on the same day.The Brewers attempt to take the subjectivity out of such negotiations by paying pre-arbitration players based on a system of performance- and awards-based criteria. The sticking point with Gallardo, according to Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, who handled negotiations with Gallardo's agent, former Major Leaguer Bobby Witt, was that one criterion for the club's pay scale is the Elias rankings system, which takes into account a player's past two seasons. Since Gallardo missed most of 2008 with knee injuries, he lost points and is compensated slightly less than some Brewers who have gone through the system before him. "We talked the past couple of days but nothing came of it, so we proceeded [with a renewal]," said Ash, who handled discussions with Gallardo's agent, Bobby Witt. "I spoke with both Bobby Witt and Yovani, and while both don't agree with our decision, they were very professional. I don't sense any negativity right now at all." Gallardo is on track to be arbitration-eligible following the 2010 season and would be one of the Brewers' key cases. Fellow starter Manny Parra projects as a first-time eligible player, and Fielder, Hart and second baseman Rickie Weeks will be eligible for the final time before hitting the free-agent market following the 2011 season. The Brewers could re-engage with Witt at some point about a multiyear deal to buy out some of Gallardo's arbitration seasons, but if they do, Ash said club officials would not talk about it publicly.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.