Mench, Brewers avoid arbitration

Brewers reach terms with Mench, swap figures

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers came to terms with outfielder Kevin Mench on a $3.4 million, one-year contract and swapped salary figures with five other arbitration-eligible players on a busy Tuesday at Miller Park.

Of the pre-expansion teams -- not including Arizona, Florida, Colorado and Tampa Bay -- the Brewers have had the fewest arbitration hearings (three) of any Major League club. They now face potential showdowns with pitchers Chris Capuano and Claudio Vargas, catcher Johnny Estrada, infielder Tony Graffanino and super-utility man Bill Hall, all considered key to the club's 2007 plans.

On Tuesday, still-unsigned players eligible for arbitration traded proposed 2007 salary figures with their clubs. Both sides can continue negotiating until a scheduled hearing in February, and if they cannot agree, a three-member panel of judges will hear the case. Those judges then choose one salary or the other, and the decision is binding.

"I don't think it alters anything," general manager Doug Melvin said of the high-profile list of eligible Brewers. "You go about your negotiating like you do any year. You look at the midpoint and you go from there. You'd like to get a deal done, you'd like to settle them all, but we'll just have to see what happens."

Potentially, the most costly player is reigning club MVP Hall, who led the Brewers with 35 home runs and 85 RBIs and will get a huge raise from his $418,000 salary in 2006. Hall, who declined a multiyear offer from the Brewers last spring and elected to go year-to-year, filed for $4.125 million while the club offered $3 million. That's the largest gap for any of the five Brewers who filed for third-party assistance.

Capuano will also earn a healthy raise from his $450,000 salary last season, when he made the National League All-Star team and finished the year 11-12 with a 4.03 ERA and a team-high 221 1/3 innings pitched. The left-hander is seeking $3.7 million in arbitration. The Brewers offered $2.8 million.

The Brewers acquired Estrada and Vargas, along with reliever Greg Aquino, from the Arizona Diamondbacks, and both are eligible for arbitration for the second time. Estrada, who earned $2 million last season while hitting .302, filed for $3.9 million. The Brewers offered $3 million. Vargas made $1.275 million in 2006, going 12-10 with a 4.83 ERA, and is seeking $2.85 million. The Brewers offered $2.15 million.

Incidentally, the key player sent from Milwaukee to Arizona in that trade -- left-hander Doug Davis -- is also arbitration-eligible. He is seeking $7.5 million, and the club offered only $5.25 million.

"We don't have any of those, where you're $2 million apart," Melvin said.

Unlike the others, Graffanino was a free agent until he surprised the Brewers by accepting an offer of arbitration. Had he declined the offer and signed elsewhere, the Brewers would have received a compensatory draft pick from his new club.

Acquired from Kansas City last July as a replacement for injured second baseman Rickie Weeks, Graffanino batted .280 in a Brewers uniform with 34 runs scored and 27 RBIs, mostly as the No. 2 hitter. He is seeking $3.7 million in arbitration; the Brewers filed for $2.8 million.

Earlier this offseason, the Brewers made a two-year offer to Graffanino, but then abruptly changed course and signed veteran Craig Counsell to a two-year deal. Melvin contends that Graffanino's agent, Dan Lozano, was slow to respond to Milwaukee's offer, and now a one-year contract seems more likely.

"We talked about a multiyear deal and he had a chance to get a multiyear deal [from another team,]" said Melvin, who insisted there are no hard feelings. "It didn't happen."

Lozano also represents Mench, who was acquired in a six-player trade with Texas last July and struggled with Milwaukee, hitting .230 with no home runs after July 30.

Mench, who turned 29 earlier this month, officially joined a murky Brewers outfield. The team has indicated plans to move Hall to one outfield spot and install Corey Hart at another, leaving a cadre of experienced players -- Mench, Brady Clark, Gabe Gross, Geoff Jenkins and Laynce Nix -- vying for the other starting job and one or two backup spots. The team will also have Tony Gwynn Jr. and Drew Anderson in camp.

Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash hammered out a contract on Tuesday morning with Lozano, and Ash is also the Brewers' point man on Estrada and Vargas. Melvin is handling Capuano, Graffanino and Hall.

According to Melvin, the Brewers are currently close to terms with one of those five players. He also remained open to the idea of multiyear contracts, with Capuano and Hall being the most likely candidates, but said the groundwork for such a deal had yet to be made.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.