(Photo: Jeffery Phelps/AP)
Nothing definitive has happened yet, but one of the things that has been the subject of a lot of discussion around Brewers camp has been talk of contract extensions. At various times in the past couple weeks, it's been speculated that John Axford, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum are all candidates to be locked up before Opening Day (as well as manager Ron Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin). Axford and the Brewers have already had conversations about a deal, and it looks like Greinke may be next in line.
We've already discussed the possibility of extending Axford and Greinke, but today I want to employ a slightly different perspective: Look back at how Melvin and the Brewers have fared with these kinds of deals in the past (which we'll define as any contract of three years or more signed by an incumbent player in the past five years). We're going to break down each of the six such deals, how they turned out (to date), and what they might mean for the Brewers' current extension candidates.
(Note: We'll be lumping the two Ryan Braun extensions together to save time and space.)
April 21, 2011 - Brewers sign Ryan Braun to a 5 year, $105 million extension on top of the 8 year, $45 million extension he signed in 2008.
There's very little that can be definitively said about either of these deals right now, other than that Doug Melvin showed some serious mustache by making them. Braun had less than a year of service time when the Brewers inked him to the first (8 year) deal in 2008 in a blueprint that has since been made well-known by teams like the Rays: Take a precocious star and sign him to a long-term deal before he even gets close to arbitration. It's a sizeable risk for any team to take, let alone the Brewers, but has the potential to be a complete and utter steal if the player lives up to expectations. Braun has lived up to expectations, and his contract has been a steal to date, but the Brewers doubled down on him last year, locking him up through age 37. This contract makes it likely that he will retire a member of the Crew, but will also pay him superstar money through his mid-thirties.
So far, the contract couldn't have worked out better, with Braun putting up MVP-caliber numbers at the plate and emerging as a non-liability in left field. However, for the deal to continue to look good, Braun is going to have to more or less remain healthy and productive for the next nine years. Braun is yet to have a real off-year or a major injury, and has the kind of power/speed skill set that typically ages well, so there's no reason to worry a Braun decline turning into a Suppanatross right now. Similarly, right now we have to assume that Braun's positive drug test was a one-time thing, so we'll file that under "not a problem until it actually is a problem" as well. It will be years before we can accurately judge Braun's extension, but he has done enough in the recent past to generate optimism, and has enough time left on the contract to make things very uncertain.
February 16, 2011- Brewers sign Rickie Weeks to a 4 year, $38.5 million extension with an $11.5 million vesting option for 2015 .
Weeks' deal didn't get the headlines like Braun's did, but one year in, it looks like the deal will continue to provide very good value in Braun's shadow- kind of like Weeks himself. In 2011, the second baseman retained most of his production from years past, but his season was again dinged by an ankle injury that cost him six weeks. This is the source of most of the contract's risk: While Weeks has largely met lofty expectations as an outstanding offensive middle infielder and cleaned up his work around the keystone quite a bit as he's matured, he's rarely been able to stay healthy enough to make use of his skills for a true full season. After one year, Weeks' deal still looks very solid. Hopefully, that will remain the case, though if problems arise, they are much more likely to be from a lack of durability than any erosion of Weeks' skills.
August 1, 2010- Brewers sign Corey Hart to a 3 year, $26.5 million extension through 2013.
Though it doesn't run nearly as long as the other contracts here, you could probably argue that Hart's deal was the riskiest at the time it was inked. The Brewers were putting a lot of faith in adjustments Hart had made during the previous Spring- at that time, it wasn't even clear if he was going to make the 2010 Opening Day roster. Since then, it has been relatively smooth sailing: Hart's kind-of newfound skills have held up just fine, and his last two years have been among the best of his career, to the point that many fans don't even remember his previous struggles. We can probably expect more of the same for the next two years, unless the injuries that have intermittently plauged Hart cost him more time than he already stands to lose this Spring. There's no apparent pattern to his maladies (appendectomy in '09, a seperate abdominal issue last year, and his recent knee surgery), which can probably be taken as a good sign. However, if injuries continue to only cost Hart a couple weeks a year, he and the team will probably be just fine.
(We'll look at the Yovani Gallardo and Bill Hall extensions, and what these past deals can teach us about the ones yet to happen, tomorrow.)