Brewers, Gomez agree on three-year extension
Contract keeps center fielder with Milwaukee through 2016
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Brewers are betting $24 million that Carlos Gomez's breakthrough 2012 season was no fluke.
The team and the toolsy center fielder agreed Wednesday to a three-year contract extension that will kick in after the coming season, when Gomez would have been a free agent. He will earn $7 million in 2014, $8 million in 2015 and $9 million in 2016.
It was a milestone day for a player who broke into the big leagues with the Mets at 21, drove Twins manager Ron Gardenhire crazy with flashes of promise and recklessness in Minnesota and, until last season, had similarly frustrated the Brewers. Then came 2012, when Gomez celebrated his age 26 season with career highs in batting average (.260), on-base percentage (.305), home runs (19) and stolen bases (37) while playing his typically flashy brand of defense.
Rather than risk losing that combination of offense and defense to free agency, the Brewers locked it up. The sides had been discussing an extension since January, before agreeing to a $4.3 million, one-year deal for 2013 to cover Gomez's final arbitration season.
"Personally, I feel really good about the steps that I've taken, and I appreciate the opportunity they give me again, and I trust in my ability," Gomez said. "I've been past a lot of stuff in my career ... and now this is going to be my fourth year here [plus] a three-year extension. I'm going to spend seven years of my career on this team, and I feel like I'm going to be a big part for the Brewers for seven years. I feel really excited to continue my progress, continue to work.
"Some people ask me if I'm happy. Yes, I'm happy, but I'm not going to be completely happy until I finish my job and I'm sure I deserve that money."
The usually ebullient Gomez, now 27, spoke in hushed tones after signing his contract in general manager Doug Melvin's office.
Downstairs in the clubhouse, he received hugs and fist bumps from teammates, some of whom also have made multi-year commitments with the team. The Brewers now have all three starting outfielders -- left fielder Ryan Braun, Gomez and right fielder Norichika Aoki -- under club control through at least 2016, when the fourth outfielder, promising 26-year-old Logan Schafer, projects to reach arbitration eligibility.
"The thing I like about this also is we have two young catchers, a young shortstop, [second baseman] Rickie [Weeks] is under 30 years of age, and now we have a young center fielder," Melvin said. "Sometimes the toughest parts to fill on a ballclub are up the middle."
All of those players -- catchers Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado, shortstop Jean Segura, Weeks and Gomez are under club control through 2015, when the Brewers hold an option on Weeks.
"It's a good building foundation for us," Melvin said.
Before last season, there was doubt that Gomez would be part of that foundation. Acquired from the Twins in a November 2009 cost-cutting move for shortstop J.J. Hardy, Gomez batted .238 with a .288 on-base percentage in his first two seasons with the Brewers and fell short of 100 games played each year.
In 2011, Gomez fell into a platoon with Nyjer Morgan. But when Morgan slumped in 2012, the Brewers handed the job back to Gomez, mostly because of his special defense. He came through offensively in the second half, batting .278 with a .321 on-base percentage -- 27 points better than his career mark -- after the All-Star break.
"He's come into his own," Melvin said. "He's always had good physical skills, and I think he's good for this ballclub with Ron [Roenicke's] aggressive managing style. Carlos has always played that game, so it's a good fit for us."
Roenicke agreed, citing Gomez's ability to put pressure on opposing teams simply by reaching base.
But Roenicke has also encouraged Gomez to be Gomez off the field. The Brewers have experienced something of a personality drain in recent seasons. With the departure of players like Trevor Hoffman, Mark Kotsay, Prince Fielder, Morgan and Randy Wolf, Roenicke began the spring seeking someone new to keep the clubhouse loose.
He found Gomez.
"He is one funny dude," Roenicke said. "We need characters. I instigate a lot of it -- put it that way."
Roenicke sees room for further improvement -- "That tool set that he has will get to be used in a more efficient way," was how he put it -- and also hoped that Gomez would benefit from avoiding the pressures that come with a contract year.
"By doing this, he'll be able to relax this year and play," Roencike said. "Some guys handle that pressure of that free-agent year well. Other guys don't."
That contract talks were ongoing helps to explain Gomez's decision to pass on playing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. He said he came to that decision before the Brewers' late-January Fanfest, when Melvin and agent Scott Boras were already in discussions.
"It was really tough," he said. "I wanted to represent my country, but this is more important. I had to stay here, get it done and get to the point that I can sign today for another three years. ... People now probably understand why. I apologize, because I'm proud to be Dominican. There are going to be more Classics; I'm still 27 years old, and in 2016 I'm going to be 31 years old and I can represent my country."