COMMENTARY | It's happened to just about every professional sports franchise, including the Milwaukee Brewers. A player has a breakout season, and in turn, they are rewarded with a long-term deal worth tens of millions of dollars. Then, the player reverts back to their prior form, faltering under the pressure of a hefty contract and turning from hero to villain.
It's happened a few times in the past decade to Milwaukee, but the first instance came in 2006 with Bill Hall. Following a season in which Hall hit .270 with 35 HRs and 85 RBIs playing mainly as a shortstop, the Brewers rewarded him with a four-year, $24 million deal with an option for a fifth season worth $9.25 million.
By the time the second year of his new deal came to a conclusion, it was pretty evident that option wouldn't be picked up. In fact, Hall failed to even play out the duration of his contract as a Brewer as he was traded during the 2009 season to the Seattle Mariners, hitting just .201 with 6 HRs and 24 RBIs through 76 games.
Enter Carlos Gomez, the Milwaukee centerfielder with a bottomless fuel tank and a motor that rivals that of a Ferrari. Like Hall, Gomez is coming off his best season as a big leaguer, setting career highs in home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and stolen bases. In 2012, he wound up hitting .260 with 19 HRs, 51 RBIs and 37 stolen bases.
On March 13, Gomez was signed to a three-year, $24 million extension, which would put him in a Brewer uniform through 2016. In total, that means Gomez will be paid $28.3 million over the next four seasons, making it a slightly more lucrative deal than Hall's from six years ago. Now the Brewers just have to hope Gomez continues to grow as a player rather than digress like Hall.
They have pretty good reason to believe it will be the former.
Let's first offer a legitimate defense for Hall, who is still trying to cling on to a professional team nowadays. Hall was not just a one-hit wonder like Gomez is at the moment, as he put up solid numbers in a utility role in 2005, batting .291 with 17 HRs and 62 RBIs. The following season, Hall primarily played shortstop and opened some eyes with his power and production.
Where things began to unravel for Hall was the season immediately after signing his new deal. Returning from injury was highly touted shortstop J.J. Hardy, and something had to give, so because of Hall's versatility and athleticism, the Brewers elected to move him to center field. Still, making the move from the infield to the outfield, especially center field, isn't easy for anyone, and Hall had to focus more of his efforts to adjusting to his new position.
This may have impacted Hall at the plate as his numbers took a noticeable hit, and just when Hall was getting settled in at center, the Brewers decided to move another highly touted prospect by the name of Ryan Braun from third base to the outfield and shifted Hall back to the infield. The idea was that Hall would be more comfortable playing third base and his offense would benefit as a result, but he faltered even more. The next season, Hall was gone.
Now, just a few seasons removed from the Hall years, Brewer fans are experiencing flashbacks due to the amount of cash being thrown at Gomez. Their situations are similar in a way pre-contract extension, but Gomez would prefer to write his own script rather than follow in the footsteps of Hall.
Even though Gomez is entering his seventh Major League season, he is only 27, so Gomez is arguably entering his prime. Hall was the same age as Gomez when he signed his $24 million deal, but as mentioned before, circumstances made his situation much different than what Gomez should expect to encounter. Because of Gomez's incredible speed and defensive prowess, he won't be moving out of center anytime soon, so he can continue to focus on working the count and waiting for his pitch to hit.
So far this spring, his dedication is paying off, as Gomez was hitting an insane .529 with a .652 on-base percentage - including five walks - in 22 plate appearances entering play on March 13. He chose to sit out the World Baseball Classic in order to commit himself in preparation for a contract year, but now Gomez doesn't have that to worry about. Still, if there's one thing we know about Gomez, it's that he gives 110 percent regardless of the situation, so we shouldn't expect this contract to affect how hard he trains and subsequently plays.
Better pitch selection is a huge step in the right direction for Gomez, who needs to improve his OBP moving forward. And because of that all-out attitude, Gomez is at risk for injury as we've seen in the past from his broken collarbone to his pulled hamstring. That's something the Brewers are willing to roll the dice on with Gomez, but a player not fulfilling his contract due to injury is better than not fulfilling it due to poor play.
It's not just the threat of Gomez to hit one out at any moment that makes him valuable. When Gomez gets on base, his speed on the base paths greatly affects the game, and that speed also makes him a valuable commodity in center field. He can completely change the complexion of a game by stealing a base or making a circus catch.
These are assets Hall didn't bring to the table, and if Gomez can stay relatively healthy - which is certainly a big "if" - and continue to reinvent himself at the dish, he has an opportunity to not only live up to his deal, but exceed it.
And maybe that will help the Brewers rid themselves of the ghost of Bill Hall.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who contains an unhealthy amount of knowledge about Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
- Sports & Recreation
- Bill Hall
- Milwaukee Brewers