MILWAUKEE — Prince Fielder and the Milwaukee Brewers started off what’s likely to be their final year together with a record.
Fielder and the club avoided salary arbitration Tuesday by agreeing to a $15.5 million, one-year contract. The deal is the highest-single season contract for an arbitration-eligible player, surpassing Mark Teixeira’s $12.5 million agreement with Atlanta in 2008.
The club’s prospects to keep Fielder in Milwaukee past the upcoming season are slim. Fielder is represented by agent Scott Boras and can become a free agent following the World Series.
“We’re just focusing on this year,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said during an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s the best thing for all parties involved, with him going into his free agent year and us going into a year where we want to have a lot of success.”
Fielder hit .261 with 32 homers and 83 RBIs last season, when he made $11.25 million. It was the lowest batting average in his big league career.
“We’re pleased with the deal, where it’s at, and he obviously is, too, to get it done. It was only natural he would pass Teixeira,” Melvin said. “He can focus on spring training, preparing for spring training and having a big year.”
The 26-year-old slugger is expected to be the top free agent hitter available in November and has been the biggest force in a potent offense with an impressive list of accolades.
Fielder became the youngest player to hit 50 home runs, accomplishing the feat at age 23 in 2007. In 2009, he won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star break and finished with a .299 average and 46 homers, tying Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard with a big league-best 141 RBIs.
“We took into consideration his previous years — the 50 homers, the 46 homers. I know last year he had a little bit of a decline, but I expect him to bounce back,” Melvin said. “We feel he’s ready to bounce back and have a big year.”
Milwaukee is gearing up for a postseason run with Fielder again at the center of a young, potent offensive core that includes All-Stars Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, as well as second baseman Rickie Weeks and third baseman Casey McGehee.
Offense hasn’t been a problem since Fielder arrived after being a first-round draft pick of the Brewers in 2002, but Melvin has made major improvements to his pitching staff this offseason with two trades.
Melvin added former AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke in a six-player swap with the Royals and dealt the organization’s top hitting prospect to Toronto for Blue Jays’ opening-day starter Shaun Marcum.
The two join Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf in a rotation that’s among the best in the NL behind Philadelphia’s and gives the Brewers two aces the team has missed since CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets left following the NL wild-card run in 2008.
Melvin said he worked with Boras late into Monday night, and they finished up the details on Tuesday morning.
One thing that hasn’t been discussed much is a long-term deal with Fielder, who had been the subject of trade rumors all last season and into the offseason until Melvin acquired Greinke.
It’s believed Fielder is seeking a contract in similar size to the $180 million, eight-year deal Teixeira, also a Boras client, signed with the Yankees before the 2009 season.
Melvin has only gone to an arbitration hearing once as general manager of the Brewers. The team lost that case last year with Corey Hart, who went to agree last August to a deal adding $26.5 million and three years through 2013.
Left-hander Manny Parra also avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $1.2 million, one-year deal. The Brewers have three players left in arbitration: Weeks, Marcum and right-handed reliever Kameron Loe.