Hader agrees to 1-year deal; other arb updates

March 23rd, 2022

PHOENIX -- Josh Hader knows by now that baseball is a business. This year, business threatened to intersect more closely than ever with pitching.

Hader was among nine Brewers players who took care of business before it came to that, agreeing to terms on a one-year contract worth $11 million, a source told MLB.com, to avoid the prospect of an arbitration hearing. Tuesday was the deadline for players and teams to reach an agreement or formally exchange figures -- a formality for some clubs in some seasons, but not for Milwaukee in 2022.

The Brewers had 10 core players eligible for arbitration as of Tuesday morning, including Hader, 2021 National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, two-time Opening Day starter Brandon Woodruff and last year’s club MVP, Willy Adames.

All of those players and nine of the 10 overall struck a deal in a single, busy day. The 10th, right-hander Adrian Houser, exchanged figures with the club and he will have an arbitration hearing scheduled for April or May.

“Obviously, the business side is a lot different,” Hader said last week. “You don’t want to put too much focus off of baseball, but at the end of the day, that's [part of] baseball itself.”

Hader’s $11 million salary topped the Brewers’ signees on Tuesday; he will have one more year of club control after this season before reaching free agency.

Here are the other players who signed:

• Woodruff ($6.8 million per MLB.com's Mark Feinsand)

• Burnes ($6.5 million per Feinsand)

• Omar Narváez ($5 million per report from FanSided)

• Adames ($4.6 million per FanSided)

• Brent Suter ($2.7 million per FanSided)

• Luis Urías ($2.55 million per MLB.com source)

• Hunter Renfroe ($7.65 million per Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

• Eric Lauer ($2.425 million per MLB.com source)

Of those players, only Narváez is on track to reach free agency later this year. The rest all have at least another year of club control beyond 2022.

Typically, both sides try to strike an agreement before a hearing, and that was especially true given the unique calendar this year, according to Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns. Hearings put the sides in an uncomfortable setting pitting a team against its own player, with significant dollars on the line.

When Hader went all the way to a hearing in 2020 -- arbitrators ruled his salary should be $4.1 million instead of the $6.4 million he sought -- Hader shared his frustration with what he views as an outdated system that relies on statistics like saves.

Adding to the drama this season, because the process was paused during the lockout, hearings will happen during the season.

“Look, this is a process designed for settlements. That’s what we’re trying to do,” Stearns said. “That was even more so in an unusual circumstance like this, where this is all occurring [parallel to] the preparation to a season, and a potential hearing occurs during a season. That’s not ideal. I think both sides understand that’s not ideal. In all of these negotiations, I thought our side and the agents across the board all worked really hard to find common ground here. And we were able to do that in nine out of 10.”

Stearns doesn’t speak publicly about the Brewers’ policy for a player like Houser, who remains in arbitration after figures are exchanged. For a time, including before Stearns came to the organization in 2015, it was believed the Brewers were a “file and trial” or “file and go” team, meaning that if the sides got to the point of filing figures, then it meant going all the way to a hearing.

But there have been exceptions. For example, Suter’s representatives and the Brewers exchanged figures in 2020, but then compromised with a two-year deal before the hearing date.

“If we end up in a hearing,” Stearns said, “we will deal with that when it comes.”

For now, Milwaukee has additional payroll certainty. When baseball resumed, club officials had to use their best guesses for how much salary would be dedicated to Hader, Woodruff, Burnes & Co., while weighing free-agent signings.

The Brewers so far have signed two free agents since the sport resumed: Designated hitter and outfielder Andrew McCutchen for $8.5 million and reliever Brad Boxberger for $2.5 million.

“I think uncertainty is always challenging, and we had a big block of our roster, a big block of our payroll, uncertain about what their salaries were going to be,” Stearns said. “That’s not an ideal way to go through your offseason, but it’s the reality of what we went through this year.”

He added: “It’s healthy for everyone, it’s healthy for the organization, now, for the most part, to know what our payroll is going to be."