Owner: Offers made to Fielder, Braun
Attanasio indicates club trying to lock up stars long term
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers have submitted multiyear contract proposals to representatives for first baseman Prince Fielder and left fielder Ryan Braun that would "buy out" at least one year of free agency and include an option for an additional year past that.Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio revealed that development on Saturday, when thousands of fans filed into Miller Park for the annual "On Deck" event and the team's Spring Training finale against the Royals. Attanasio acknowledged fans' interest in the long-term fate of young stars like Fielder and Braun, but he stressed that negotiations with those two and other potential targets could take a while. "Just like the Billy Hall contract," Attanasio said, referring to the four-year pact with Hall inked in February 2007. "We had some discussions with Bill and his agent the year before we signed the contract. Both sides at that point decided it made sense to wait a year. It's not like there is a hard deadline." Locking up Fielder and Braun will not be easy. In 2007, Fielder became the youngest player ever to hit 50 home runs in a season, and he wasn't happy this spring when the Brewers renewed his contract for $670,000 instead of the roughly $900,000 Fielder was seeking. Fielder is represented by agent Scott Boras, who has shown a propensity to go for year-to-year contracts for players before pursuing multiyear deals in free agency. Fielder will be eligible for arbitration after this season and will be a free agent after 2010. Braun, who won National League Rookie of the Year honors last season, is a bit farther behind. He amassed 129 days of Major League service last season, so Braun probably will not be eligible for arbitration until following the 2010 season and free agency after 2014. "Even the fans don't want us to lock them up on a basis that doesn't make sense," Attanasio said. "What the fans have to understand is that the arbitration system, relative to control of players, favors the clubs their first six years. We've got control of these players for four and five more years now. ... What fans don't focus on is that they are going to have the young players here either which way." Braun, who is represented by agent Nez Balelo, acknowledged that the Brewers had made an offer. "It's a tremendous honor, and it shows a lot of respect that they would even talk to me about something like that," Braun said. "But that's something for Nez. I'm very involved because I have a pretty good understanding of how it all works, but until it gets to the point where something is close to being done, I kind of stay out of it." Talks are not to that point yet, Braun said. "It's a give-and-take between the club and a player," Attanasio said. "From their standpoint, they're all young and on the upswing of their careers. If I was 23, I probably wouldn't be in a rush, either." Attanasio touched on a number of other subjects Saturday morning: The team will spend more than $80 million on payroll this season, even after saving about $2.7 million last week by releasing pitcher Claudio Vargas. There still is room to add help at midseason. "Because we have been running the team well from a financial standpoint, we are able to do that, even though the budget is stretched pretty thin right now," Attanasio said. "We're not going to feel like we're a player away and not go for it." Three million in attendance is "within reach." Last year, the Brewers set a franchise record, drawing 2,869,144 fans to Miller Park.
"When I first bought the team, I never expected we could even think about anything like that," Attanasio said. "Frankly, we all thought we couldn't get to the 2.8 [million] they drew the first year the ballpark was open, because you have people who aren't even baseball fans who are going to come out to see a new ballpark. Now, we're just drawing baseball fans."
He gave no indication that the team would engage in midseason talks with Opening Day starter Ben Sheets, who will be a free agent at season's end."Ben is one of the premier pitchers in baseball, and we see what premier pitchers in baseball have been commanding -- which is astronomical numbers," Attanasio said. "I'm not going to speak for Ben, but it may be in his mindset to just see what he can do in free agency. He's certainly earned that right." Attanasio learned something last season, when the Brewers let a big lead slip away in the National League Central. "I learned I have to chill out," he said with a laugh. "I also learned it's a very long season, and even though you can get your stomach churning in July, it's what happens in September that counts. The Rockies certainly showed that. I'm going to try to have a more measured summer. I'm not saying I'll be successful."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.