In a press conference that will be held this morning at 10 AM CST, the Brewers will announce that they have signed Ryan Braun to a seven-year contract extension that will break records as far as the money involved for any Brewer player. Braun was recently moved to left field this year after posting an abysmal .895 fielding percentage, despite winning the 2007 Rookie of the Year Award. Since then he has flourished in the outfield, having yet to commit an error and accumulating three outfield assists. Furthermore, Braun's power numbers have continued, unlike the ROY runner-up Troy Tulowitzki. After batting .324/.370/.634 last year, Braun has returned with a .287/.318/.549 clip, hitting nine homeruns and knocking in 29 in a little more than a quarter of a season. While the average and on-base are quite a bit lower, Braun's recent adjustments at the plate have really improved his skill and is a sign that he can have sustained success in the bigs.
So what does this mean for the Brewers? The seven-year extension does a couple of things for them. Mainly it puts pressure on Prince Fielder to sign a similar deal, but there's no doubt Fielder will want more money, especially considering his agent is Scott Boras (Braun's is Ned Baelo). Fielder has struggled mightily this year. Not so much at the plate, but in the field and is outing the doubters who think he's a DH in four or five years. DH's make a lot less money these days, especially because of the amount of quality older players who can hit and walk better than anyone in the league, but don't have the range to stay in the field. If Fielder decides to bail on signing a long term deal and look to arbitration, he may find himself in a bad spot in Milwaukee even though he will get his pay day, and that pay day won't last nearly as long as it could if he could maintain his weight and work on his position play.
Furthermore, Braun's signing gives the Crew some legitimate stability. If Braun's onslaught at the plate continues, he will push himself far ahead of Fielder as the face of this franchise and will ultimately get fans in the seats. This extension specifically buys out all three of Braun's arbitration eligible years and one year of free agency. Braun would not have been eligible for arbitration for three more years, so it would seem like paying him now is a bit risky. But for the Brewers and owner Mark Attanasio, this is a statement. A statement that they are committed to having a competitive team for as long as possible in spite of the 'small market' label. Lastly, it establishes a payroll. Every time you pick up an established contract, you know exactly what you're getting yourself in to. Now Attanasio knows exactly how much money he has and can spend in the future. With Sheets gone at the end of this year and Suppan gone the following, financial flexibility and surplus will be a benefit when free agency comes rolling around in 2010.