Prince Fielder is not happy. This could be bad things down the line, particularly since Prince is represented by Scott Boras. As mentioned in Jason Kendall discussion, the Brewers have a few good, young players whom they have failed to sign to any long-term deals (Fielder, Braun, and Hart). Now, Braun and Hart just finished their first full years so they're not an immediate concern. However, Fielder is up for arbitration after this year. Ryan Howard just made $10 million in arbitration this season. Do you see where this is going?
The Kendall contract was only about $1.25-2.25 million above market in my opinion. A little of that could go a long way in keeping Fielder, Braun, and Hart happy in the coming years. But that's not nearly as much as Fielder is going to command in arbitration, let alone Braun and Hart. So let's take a closer look at the Brewers' payroll to see if they have any hope of keeping these guys around.
Overall, the Brewers are middle of the pack with a payroll between $73 and $77 million (using a few different projections as a range). The notable contracts include Ben Sheets for $11 million, Eric Gagne for $10 million, Jeff Suppan for $8 million, Mike Cameron for $5 million, David Riske for $4 million, and Bill Hall for $4.8 million. Now, Sheets is reasonable provided that he stays healthy; they also signed him a few years ago so there's not much to be done about his contract now. Mike Cameron is a good deal since he significantly upgrades their defense and pushes Bill hall to 3rd and Braun to left (once he's not suspended, of course). Bill Hall could bounce back and make his number reasonable. My real beef is with Eric Gagne, Jeff Suppan, and David Riske's contracts (and of course, the ubiquitous Kendall).
The most obviously bad contract is Eric Gagne. He's fresh off a Jekyll and Hyde season, he's 32, and he's recently had arm trouble. During his time with Texas, he had 16 saves, a 2.16 ERA, and an OPS against of .546. After his trade to Boston to become a setup man for Papelbon, he had a 6.75 ERA and an OPS against of .856. So which is the real Eric Gagne?
It's hard to tell, really. He only threw 2 innings the year before so he might just have been gassed. Plus, he seemed able to pitch in a hitter's park in Arlington. He still has the intimidating mound presence and good stuff. Then again, his stuff, while still good, has significantly declined since his years with the Dodgers. His fastball, while still in the low-mid 90's, is still straight and not a strikeout pitch. With a smaller differential between it and his change-up and curveball, hitters are more apt to foul them off instead of flailing at the air. You can see it if you watch him pitch; hitters foul off more pitchers instead of swinging and missing. Plus, his control has slipped; even with the Rangers, his K/BB was only 2.42. During his peak years, he was posting K/BB above 5.00. That clearly points to declining skills and stuff.
Plus, some scouts have commented that he lacks the drive to get himself in great condition. Even at his best, he was never a paragon of fitness. Now that injuries and age have taken their toll a bit, he has to get himself into better shape. At 32, he's on the downside of his career particularly if he stays pudgy. He's being paid as if he's an elite closer when, clearly, he is not. Can he justify the $10 million he'll be paid this year? Maybe but I doubt it. Plus, the Brewers already have Derrick Turnbow. Sure, some of his outings are horrendous but he has a stellar strikeout rate, his OPS against last year as .581, and if his control improves even marginally, he might end up being better than Gagne.
Now think about what that $10 million could mean. That would mean another $10 million to invest for Fielder, Braun, and Hart. Combined with the Kendall signing, that could be another $12.25 million to put toward the young core of their team. Another million a year over three or four years for Fielder could mean the difference between locking him up through his first year or two of free agency or having to let him go once he can hit the free market. The fact that the Brewers are unilaterally renewing their contracts bodes badly for the Brewers' long-term prospects of making those deals. Now you see why bad contracts to veterans can make it hard for mid-market teams to keep their young talent.
More on this later because I have to actually work today.