He can reportedly earn an additional $250,000 in each season if Fielder reaches 500 plate appearances. A healthy Fielder should easily reach that milestone if he stays healthy; he has had at least 648 plate appearances in all three of his full seasons with the Brewers.
The team made its official announcement just before the start of "Bob Uecker's Winter Warm-Up," a variety show-style event at the Riverside Theater on Friday night. Brewers players, including Fielder, were to attend the event, at which Fielder would be available to reporters.
Fielder's new deal was one of two set in place by the Brewers this week. The team has also reached a preliminary agreement with infielder Craig Counsell to return for 2009. Melvin did not expect to have anything official to announce on Counsell until next week.
Fielder, 24, is just entering arbitration-eligibility and is under Brewers control through the end of the 2011 season. But signing a two-year pact now would offer the player a bit of security and the team the benefit of payroll certainty. It would also allow both sides to avoid the sometimes uncomfortable arbitration process this year and next.
"We weren't going to lose [Fielder], but it's a matter if knowing what his salary is for the next two years," Melvin said. "That's the reason we are engaged in those conversations now."
The Brewers had renewed Fielder's contract before each of the past two seasons after being unable to come to terms with his agent, Scott Boras, on the player's worth. Fielder was particularly upset in March 2008, when the Brewers, using a club formula for their pre-arbitration players, assigned him a $670,000 contract. He vowed at the time that, "my time is going to come."
With his entry into the salary arbitration process -- generally, though not always, reserved for players with more than three but fewer than six seasons of Major League service -- that time arrived. Fielder and Boras were seeking an $8 million salary in 2009, while the Brewers filed Tuesday for $6 million.
By that time, talks were already under way about a multi-year deal. Typically, teams like to lock in players through at least one of their free-agent years, but the Brewers decided two years with Fielder was better than one.
Fielder became a full-time Major Leaguer in 2006, but his breakthrough season came in 2007, when he finished third in National League MVP balloting with a 50-homer, 119-RBI campaign. He did not match those lofty numbers in 2008, but still enjoyed a solid season, batting .276 with 34 home runs and 102 RBIs.
The Brewers still face the prospect of an arbitration hearing with two players. Outfielder Corey Hart is seeking $3.8 million, and the team offered $2.7 million. Second baseman Rickie Weeks is seeking $2.8 million, and the Brewers offered $2 million.
According to assistant general manager Gord Ash, the team has not negotiated with representatives for Hart or Weeks since the sides swapped figures on Tuesday.