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Big deal: Braun and Brewers agree on $45-million extension

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McClatchy-Tribune
May 15, 2008
— To put together the landmark deal the Milwaukee Brewers and Ryan Braun finalized Thursday, you need a perfect storm of mutual desires, proper timing, favorable financial factors and perseverance.

Above all else, the player has to want to do it.


It doesn’t matter how honorable the intentions of club officials are if the individual isn’t open to the idea.


“Would he make more money, year to year? No question about it,” said Braun’s agent, Nez Balelo.


“But you can’t walk away from security, with where he’s at right now. For him, it made a lot of sense. He feels good about it, and he should.”


Both sides were excited and relieved when the final details were completed on a seven-year contract extension for the 2007 National League rookie of the year, worth at least $45 million. The team called it an eight-year deal, including the $455,000 salary for 2008 already agreed upon in March.


The deal is the longest in term and biggest in money in club history. It also is an industry record for a “zero-plus” player—someone with less than a full year in the major leagues.


The agreement crystallized over the previous 48 hours, but it took weeks for Balelo and Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash to complete the complicated details.


Braun, who received a $2.3 million signing bonus, has a blanket no-trade clause for the first four years and a limited no-trade clause over the final four (12 teams excluded from 2012-’13 and six teams excluded from 2014-’15).


The deal includes escalators that could take it to $51 million if Braun qualifies for salary arbitration as a “Super 2” player. Players normally aren’t eligible until they have three years in the majors but, each year, the top 17 percent of those with between two and three years of service are included.


Braun had 129 days of service time entering this year. No player with fewer than 130 days at the start has qualified as a “Super 2” since 1991 but Braun is covered either way.


It was Braun’s “zero-plus” status that made him more amenable to a long-term deal. He might have had to wait another three years merely to become arbitration-eligible, forcing him to accept the team’s offers until then.


“He had to wait a few more years to make a little money,” said Balelo. “In Ryan’s situation, it was all about job security and securing his future.


“In any long-term deal, it’s going to be favorable to the club. But the club is taking all the risk. You never know what’s going to happen.”


Braun’s deal surpasses the four-year, $42 million deal the Brewers gave to free-agent pitcher Jeff Suppan in December 2006. It also topped the seven-year, $31 million contract that Colorado gave to ‘07 rookie-of-the-year runner-up Troy Tulowitzki earlier in the year.


Though Braun became the first in the Brewers’ talented young core of players to agree to a long-term deal, club owner Mark Attanasio emphasized that several others, including Prince Fielder, have been approached with proposals. No other deal is close, but Attanasio said the team would keep trying.


“We chose this whole group of players,” said Attanasio, who indicated the team was at least partially covered with insurance on Braun’s deal.


“Ryan is the first one we happened to connect with. All of these young players have the qualities we’re looking for, in terms of quality, work ethic, character.


“What this says is that we can keep our young players here. And more importantly, we have young players who want to stay here and play here. That’s a message to the community and to Ryan’s teammates.


“I’m hopeful that the other younger players we have will take a look at this and think about, in a more specific way, whether they would like to do something like this. I think several of them have been grappling with the issue.”


Braun, 24, was the Brewers’ first-round draft pick in 2005 as a third baseman out of the University of Miami. He rose quickly through the farm system and was called up at the end of May last year.


In 113 games, he batted .324 with 34 home runs and 97 runs batted in. His .634 slugging percentage established a record for major-league rookies.


Braun converted to left field this spring and has played errorless ball there. He hit his 10th home run of the season in the Brewers’ 7-2 loss to Los Angeles later in the day, and is batting .286 with 30 runs batted in.


Braun laughed when asked if his four-homer outburst last weekend came as the result of contract negotiations concluding. He said the deal wasn’t completed at that point but admitted it was on his mind.


“I think anybody that says that contract discussions aren’t a distraction is not telling you the truth,” said Braun, whose parents, Joe and Diane, were on hand for the news conference. “It’s great to have that out of the way and just focus on baseball and know financially I’m secure for the rest of my life.


“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I feel like I was ready to make this commitment to the city of Milwaukee, to the fans and the Brewers’ organization. I believe in the direction the organization is headed.”


As with all long-term deals, the Brewers run the risk that Braun could be injured. Shortly after signing his deal this spring, Tulowitzki went down with a leg injury and has yet to return.


But Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said the club had no concerns in terms of Braun’s talent or commitment to the team and community.


“You have to be conscious and aware that you’re selecting the right people to do this deal with,” said Melvin. “I’m very confident that Ryan Braun is the right person to do this deal with.


“What comes into play here is we have to be confident in evaluating his abilities and character. We are all very confident we are making the right decision in that regard. We don’t think we’re taking any risk with that.


“This is a very good contract for both the club and Ryan.”


Whether Braun’s deal is the first of many to come with the team’s group of talented, young players or an isolated occurrence remains to be seen. Braun said he’d like for teammates to follow his lead.


“I sure hope so,” said Braun, who will donate $25,000 in each year of his contract to Brewers Charities.


“We have a lot of great young players, a lot of guys that enjoy playing with each other. I certainly hope this starts a trend. It would be great if we could play together for quite a few years to come.”



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