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Jeffress reaches deal, avoids arbitration

Brewers make Hughes a free agent, tender offers to 4 others
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- A day that began with the Brewers signing catcher Stephen Vogt to a one-year deal ended with reliever Jeremy Jeffress staying put, too.

Jeffress agreed to a one-year contract with two club options on Friday to avoid arbitration -- and a possible non-tender. The Brewers did opt to non-tender another reliever, Jared Hughes, but moved forward with their four other arbitration-eligible players: closer Corey Knebel, starter Jimmy Nelson and infielders Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar.

MILWAUKEE -- A day that began with the Brewers signing catcher Stephen Vogt to a one-year deal ended with reliever Jeremy Jeffress staying put, too.

Jeffress agreed to a one-year contract with two club options on Friday to avoid arbitration -- and a possible non-tender. The Brewers did opt to non-tender another reliever, Jared Hughes, but moved forward with their four other arbitration-eligible players: closer Corey Knebel, starter Jimmy Nelson and infielders Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar.

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While Hughes became a free agent, the other players are considered signed for 2018 at salaries to be determined later.

For Jeffress, the salary is set. According to a source, his deal included a $50,000 signing bonus and $1.7 million for 2018. The Brewers hold options for $3.175 million in 2019 and $4.3 million in 2020 with no buyouts. Jeffress can also earn up to $2.2 million in incentives each year for innings and games finished.

If exercised, the options would cover Jeffress' final arbitration season and one year of free agency.

For Jeffress, it represented a tradeoff. He took a pay cut from the $2.2 million he earned in a 2017 season split between the Rangers and Brewers, in exchange for a chance to play at least three more years in the place he's had most of his success. A former first-round Draft pick of the Brewers, Jeffress drew multiple suspensions for marijuana use in the Minor Leagues. He owns a 2.56 ERA in 180 games for the Brewers and a 4.78 ERA in 91 games for the Royals, Blue Jays and Rangers.

"It keeps him in a place he's performed very well," Brewers GM David Stearns said. "I think that was in both parties' best interest."

Video: PIT@MIL: Jeffress strikes out McCutchen swinging

Jeffress rose to be the Brewers' closer in 2016, when he logged 27 saves before Stearns traded him to the Rangers along with catcher Jonathan Lucroy for three premium prospects, including top overall Brewers prospect Lewis Brinson and top-rated Brewers pitching prospect Luis Ortiz. Jeffress performed for the Rangers down the stretch that year but struggled to a 5.31 ERA in 39 games to begin 2017 and was traded back to the Brewers for Minor League pitcher Tayler Scott.

In 22 games for a Brewers team chasing a National League Wild Card spot, Jeffress had a 3.65 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings.

"Jeremy did this because he loves playing for the Brewers," said Jeffress' longtime agent, Joshua Kusnick, who has twice played a role in bringing Jeffress to Milwaukee. "He's in it for the long haul and trusts the ballclub. He really wanted to stay. That's what it ultimately came down to."

Like Vogt, Jeffress' 2018 salary is non-guaranteed, so the Brewers could release him in Spring Training and owe only a portion of the total.

Despite making Hughes a free agent on Friday, the Brewers are not opposed to bringing him back free of the parameters of arbitration, Stearns said. Hughes had a 3.02 ERA in 59 2/3 innings, a performance almost identical to his final season in Pittsburgh in 2016.

Friday's decision to make Hughes a free agent was not necessarily an indication that the Brewers were unhappy with him, only that they were unwilling to pay the higher prices that typically come with a player advancing through the arbitration process.

"We'll keep tabs on how he's doing," Stearns said. "He certainly contributed to our club this year."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jared Hughes, Jeremy Jeffress