MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers avoided arbitration with right-hander Claudio Vargas on Wednesday by agreeing to a one-year, $3.6 million contract, leaving three arbitration-eligible players yet to sign. Vargas, 29, went 11-6 for the Brewers in 2007 with a 5.09 ERA in 29 games, including 23 starts. He will be among a slew of pitchers vying for openings in the starting rotation or bullpen during Spring Training. The list of contenders includes two of the other Brewers still eligible for arbitration: right-hander Dave Bush and left-hander Chris Capuano. Those two, along with young left-hander Manny Parra, are expected to compete for a rotation slot behind Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan, Yovani Gallardo and Carlos Villanueva.
Vargas' experience in relief (43 of his 153 Major League appearances) could help him land the final bullpen opening behind closer Eric Gagne, left-handed specialist Brian Shouse, hard-throwing setup men Derrick Turnbow and David Riske, Salomon Torres and Guillermo Mota. Bush and Capuano also have some relief experience, but the Brewers will have 10 other pitchers in camp competing for a spot. The Brewers' other remaining arbitration-eligible player is shortstop J.J. Hardy, who said at Tuesday's Winter Warm-Up event at Miller Park that his agent had only recently begun discussions with the team. Hardy set career highs in every category last season, batting .277 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs, and won a spot on the National League All-Star team. Unless the sides come to a compromise -- as in Vargas' case -- players and teams must swap proposed salaries on Friday. They can then continue negotiations until an arbitration hearing, which would be scheduled between Feb. 1-20.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.