12/11/2002 8:10 pm ET
Defensive whiz Clayton inks deal
Leaves behind rocky Sox tenure to re-join GM Melvin
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- After a troubled two-year tenure with the Chicago White Sox, Royce Clayton will start over 90 miles to the north.
The 32-year-old free agent shortstop agreed Wednesday to a one-year contract with the Brewers plus a club option for 2004. He will reportedly earn a minimum of $1.75 million in 2003, and could make as much as $6 million over two years if he becomes an everyday player.
Clayton was reunited with Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, the former Rangers boss who brought him to Texas midway through the 1998 season for a successful pennant drive. Melvin is the one who gave Clayton the four-year, $18 million contract that took him to free agency this winter.
"I'm in the National League for the first time and I hear defense is important over here," Melvin said in a lighthearted evening press conference. "That's why he's sitting here."
Clayton, who turns 33 on Jan. 2, is one of baseball's best defenders. His .989 fielding percentage in 2002 was a White Sox record, and ranked as the third best among all Major League shortstops behind Baltimore's Mike Bordick (.998) and Cleveland's Omar Vizquel (.990). Clayton has committed just 12 errors in 1,033 total chances over the past two years.
"Defense is my first priority," Clayton said. "I think my value is making my pitching staff better, and I know I'm going to do that. But offensively, I don't think I've hit my stride."
In 12 seasons with San Francisco, St. Louis, Texas and the White Sox, Clayton is a career .258 hitter.
He replaces controversial All-Star Jose Hernandez, who had a career year for the Brewers in 2002 but drew the ire of fans by striking out at a near record pace. Hernandez left via free agency and Melvin made no attempt to resign him.
Clayton knows controversy, too. After overcoming the fallout from 1996 Spring Training, when Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa chose him over future Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith over vocal fan outrage, Clayton developed into an All-Star by 1997, batting .266 with nine homers and 69 RBIs. That effort prompted then-Rangers GM Melvin to trade pitcher Darren Oliver and third baseman Fernando Tatis to St. Louis for Clayton and veteran hurler Todd Stottlemyre, a deal that Melvin says made the difference in the Rangers' division championship run.
"He did make the difference," Melvin said. "I still believe it's very important to have somebody in the middle of the infield who can make the plays. Not just the spectacular plays, but the routine plays."
In 1999, his first full season with Texas, Clayton batted a career-best .288 and earned the hefty contract. But three days after Melvin and the Rangers signed superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez for a record $250 million over 10 years, he traded Clayton to the White Sox.
He was billed as a defensive answer at shortstop, but Clayton's early struggles at the plate alienated Chicago fans and started a difficult two-year tenure. He hit .251 with seven homers and 35 RBIs for the Sox in 2002 after another slow start, and was released on Sept. 8 after playing in just six of the team's previous 25 games.
Throughout his time in Chicago, Clayton spoke openly about his struggles fitting in.
"I can look myself in the mirror and say I played good baseball, dealt with some adverse situations and handled myself as a professional and was able to maintain the way that my family brought me up," he said after being released.
In 1997, Clayton established the Royce Clayton Family Foundation, a California-based organization aimed at improving the lives or persons afflicted with sickle cell anemia, helping homeless children and developing athletic opportunities for minority youth. His celebrity golf tournament in October raised funds for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America and the American Diabetes Association.
Clayton is also president and CEO of Isaac Charles AMERU, a high-end American/European fashion line. He is married to Samantha Davies, an Olympic sprinter who participated in the 2000 Sydney Summer games for Great Britain in the 200-meter dash.
Clayton is Melvin's first free agent signing. The new Brewers GM made his first trade with Minnesota last month, dealing a pair of minor league pitchers for right-hander Matt Kinney and catcher Javier Valentin.
Another catcher added: The Brewers also signed minor league utility man Joe Lawrence on Wednesday and invited him to Spring Training as a catcher.
Lawrence, 25, divided his time during the 2002 season between Toronto and Triple A Syracuse. In his first taste of Major League action, he batted .180 with two home runs and 15 RBIs as a second baseman. Lawrence is the third catcher acquired in the last month by Melvin, who also resigned catcher Robert Machado.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.