BOSTON -- Could Ryan Braun's new contract extension open the door to similar deals with other young Brewers? Braun sure hopes so, and so does the team's principal owner. Braun inked an eight-year, $45 million deal with the Brewers last week that keeps him in Milwaukee through 2015 and buys out at least two years of free agency. He was one of a number of young Brewers targeted beginning in Spring Training for an extension.
"I don't know if I am optimistic, but I am hopeful that the other players may be able to take a look at this and think in more of a specific way, now that they have a teammate to look at, whether they could want to do something as well," Brewers owner Mark Attanasio said. "I think several of them have been grappling with the issue, and it's a very complicated issue." The Brewers are facing a number of issues this week on the playing field. They enter Tuesday's series opener in Pittsburgh on a five-game losing streak and have lost nine straight road games. PNC Park has not been friendly to the Brewers since it opened in 2001; they are 20-42 there. Still, work continues behind the scenes. Teams generally control the rights to players for their first six years of Major League service, but the Brewers approached representatives of several players, including Braun, first baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Corey Hart, beginning in Spring Training to gauge interest in long-term contracts. There are benefits and risks for both sides. Players get security, but if they continue performing they will earn less over the life of the deal than they would in years three to six in the arbitration process. Teams stand to save some payroll in the long-term, but take the obvious injury risk that goes with guaranteed contracts. Attanasio indicated that the door was open to additional deals, but Brewers general manager Doug Melvin did not sound last week like a man with multiple irons in the fire. "We don't have anything else ongoing at this time," Melvin said after announcing Braun's club-record pact. "These players are all young enough that they are going to get a second bite out of the apple," Melvin said. "It was a very wise decision on Ryan's part to make that decision [to sign a long-term]. But everybody is an individual. We talked to other players in Spring Training." Hart confirmed that he was one of the players approached. The Brewers submitted a proposal to Hart's agent, Jeff Barry, in March. "But it kind of died out," Hart said. "We're definitely open to it, but at the same time it's [the team's] decision. I would like to entertain it, but you never know." What was right for Braun may not be right for players like Fielder and Hart, who are both eligible for salary arbitration for the first time after this season and are due huge pay raises. Assuming he does not qualify for "Super Two" status, Braun would not have been eligible until after the 2009 season. "A player like Ryan, who is a 'zero-plus' player, is in a very different situation than Prince, who is a 'two-plus' player, and different than Corey and different than J.J. [Hardy] and [Yovani] Gallardo," Attanasio said. "Everybody is in a little different spot." Would Fielder consider a similar long-term deal? "I don't know," he said, indicating he would leave negotiations to agent Scott Boras. "No idea." Fielder did not want to expound on the topic. "I'm here for six years, regardless," he said. "I'm just happy for 'Braunie,' that he was able to get his contract. It's got to be a good feeling for him, I'm sure. I'm just trying to play baseball and not deal with that, whenever that's around." Since January, when the Rockies and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki agreed to a record extension that was unprecedented for a player with only a year in the big leagues, other deals have followed. Braun was the 14th player with fewer three years of big league service to ink an extension since the start of the calendar year. "Relative to the state of baseball, there's a little bit of a sea change here," Attanasio said. "There's been a number of young players now who are getting signed, and I think what you see is there's a real economic incentive on both sides to do something." Braun hopes some of his teammates add their names to that list. "Hopefully," he said of his new deal, "it will start a trend."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.