After what felt like an eternity of negotiations, the Brewers and second baseman Rickie Weeks finally agreed to terms on a long-term contract Wednesday. Ken Rosenthal first reported the details of the new agreement, which potentially pays Weeks $50 million over the next five seasons. The fifth year essentially acts as an option, as the Brewers can opt out if Weeks isn’t a full-time player in 2013 and 2014.
Given Rickie Weeks’ injury history, Milwaukee was smart to include an out clause for the final year of his contract. At close to $10 million per season, the Brewers are paying for fewer than two Wins Above Replacement (WAR) yearly out of Weeks once we account for long-term salary inflation. Weeks produced a whopping 6.1 WAR in the 2010 season, and even though that kind of production may just be a career year, Weeks is a good bet to eclipse the 2 WAR total on a yearly basis. Both his walk rate (10.7 percent over his career) and Isolated Power (.176 for his career) are well above the league average, and these form the basis of his solid .355 career OBP and .429 slugging percentage.
The obvious comparison for Weeks is another second baseman: the Atlanta Braves’ Dan Uggla. Uggla also received a five-year contract extension this offseason, earning an extra $12 million for a total of $62 million. Uggla has the superior bat — a .263/.349/.488 career line against Weeks’s .253/.355/.429 — but a worse defensive reputation (which is saying quite a bit) and less speed on the bases. Uggla is also two years older; Weeks won’t turn 29 until September while Uggla will turn 31 during spring training.
So the $12 million lower price tag for Weeks seems like quite the bargain. However, I think it makes sense given Weeks’s tumultuous injury history. Although Weeks showed no signs of the wrist problems in 2010 that plagued his early career, it remains a worry for many Brewers fans. Last years was the first time that Weeks managed to play more than 130 games in a season — and only the third time in six tries that he competed in more than 100 games. There’s little doubt that Weeks’s extension would be much richer — and perhaps not contain the out clause on the final season — had he not missed more than 200 career games, including much of a 2009 season that looked primed for a breakout.
Overall, though, it’s hard to argue with this deal. The Brewers will be able to escape with relatively little damage should the injury problems strike again, and Weeks is quite likely to be worth much more than his contract while he’s on the field. Much like the deals the Brewers have in place with franchise cornerstones Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun, this deal gives the team the flexibility to continue to add talent while retaining a very good player for a long time.
Due to a lack of prospects, the Brewers are set up for the short-term. However, the core talent on the team right now is exceptionally young. Of the team’s regular players this season, only fourth starter Randy Wolf and setup man Takashi Saito are over the age of 30. Outside of Prince Fielder and Saito, every other player is under team control at least through 2012. Deals like the Weeks contract should allow the Brewers to stay competitive while rebuilding the farm system.