MILWAUKEE -- After going to an arbitration hearing with Chase Anderson last year, the Brewers ensured Friday that they would avoid that thorny process entirely in 2018 by settling on one-year contracts with starter Jimmy Nelson, closer Corey Knebel and infielders Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar.
Nelson, 28, will earn $3.7 million next season, and Villar will receive $2.55 million, according to sources, and USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported that Knebel signed for $3.65 million. Salary figures for Perez were not immediately available. The Brewers haven't commented.
Last year, the team took right-hander Anderson to a hearing and prevailed.
"When you have a deadline, negotiations generally rub up against that deadline," said Stearns, adding talks with all four players focused on one-year deals. "That was certainly the case with the majority of these signings today. … Clearly, the process is designed to promote settlements, and this year we were able to settle all of our cases.
"We also know that hearings are part of the process. We saw that last year. But we're pleased that we were able to reach settlements with everyone this year."
The Brewers originally had nine arbitration-eligible players this offseason, but Anderson avoided the process this time by signing a two-year contract extension with two club options in October, and reliever Jeremy Jeffress and catcher Stephen Vogt signed one-year deals. The Brewers released reliever Carlos Torres and non-tendered another reliever, Jared Hughes, to further shorten the list.
That left four as of deadline day: Knebel, Nelson, Perez and Villar.
Knebel, 26, began last season as one of Milwaukee's setup men but seized closer duties when veteran Neftali Feliz faltered, and went on to notch 39 saves with a 1.78 ERA while setting a Brewers relief record with 126 strikeouts. Because he was eligible as a Super Two player, the Brewers will have three more years of control of Knebel through 2021.
Nelson also enjoyed a breakout in 2017, going 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in early September. He was eighth among National League qualifiers in ERA and ninth in the NL with 199 strikeouts. The Brewers will be without Nelson for the start of 2018 while he rehabs from shoulder surgery.
Villar's case was complicated, since his representatives could point to a 2016 season in which he hit 19 home runs with an .826 OPS while leading the Major Leagues with 62 stolen bases, and the Brewers could point to a sharp decline in 2017 to a .241/.293/.372 slash line. Complicating matters further, between those two seasons Villar, 26, reportedly turned down a multiyear contract offer that would have guaranteed more than $20 million.
Perez, 26, has been a valuable utility man for manager Craig Counsell since coming to the Brewers via waivers from Detroit. His 458 plate appearances in 2017 were a career high, and Perez posted a .259/.289/.414 slash line while starting games at six different positions, and appearing everywhere but catcher.
All four players were eligible for arbitration for the first time.