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Brewers Sign Rickie Weeks
By Tom Haudricourt
MILWAUKEEBrewers officials insist they will do what it takes to turn around the franchise, and they put their money where their mouths are Tuesday.
The Brewers announced the signing of first-round pick Rickie Weeks to a five-year major league contract that guarantees a minimum of $4.8 million and could reach $5.5 million, depending on when he gets to Milwaukee. His signing bonus is $3.6 million, $100,000 more than Major League Baseball recommended for his No. 2 overall slot before the draft.
"It took us a while to get this done but we came to the right decision at the right time," said club president Ulice Payne Jr., who announced the signing at a news conference before the Brewers' game against the Braves at Miller Park. "We want our fans to have faith in the organization. This is a manifestation of our intention to build from within. This is not someone we hope is going to play well. This is someone we expect to play well."
Weeks, a Southern University second baseman, is the NCAA's all-time career batting leader (.473) and Baseball America's 2003 College Player of the Year. He'll report Wednesday to the Rookie-level Arizona League Brewers, and will join the low Class A Beloit Snappers once he gets in playing shape.
Weeks' contract is historic in many ways for the Brewers. It blows away the previous high signing bonus in club history, $2.45 million given to first-round pick Ben Sheets in 1999. It's also the first big league contract the club has given to a draftee.
The deal runs through 2007 and spreads the bonus over the life of the contract, with $2 million due Weeks by January. He receives another $100,000 in salary this year, with split contracts the remaining years (lower salaries if in the minors, higher salaries if in the majors).
If Weeks makes it to the bigs leagues by Opening Day 2004, the contract will escalate to $5.5 million. If he gets to the majors by Opening Day 2005, it will go to $5.325 million. If he arrives on Opening Day 2006, it will move to $5.1 million. If Weeks doesn't make it to Milwaukee until 2007, the year the Brewers run out of minor league options on him, the deal will be worth $4.8 million.
Giving Weeks a major league deal allows the Brewers to spread out the payments and make it more affordable in the short term. It also got the deal done in time for Weeks to play a few weeks this year before the minor league season ends.
"We were determined to get this done so he could participate this season," said Brewers scouting director Jack Zduriencik, who now has his top 12 picks signed from the June draft. "I have to give credit to a lot of people. A ton of time was put in to get this thing done. To add a player of this caliber to the group we've already signed makes us feel very good."
The money guaranteed Weeks is the most for a draft pick since 2001, when No. 1 choice Joe Mauer received a straight $5.15 million bonus from the Twins. No. 2 pick Mark Prior got a $10.5 million major league contract from the Cubs, while No. 5 Mark Teixeira signed a $9.5 million big league deal with the Rangers.
"The way this contract is structured works for both the Brewers and Rickie," said Lon Babby, who represented the Weeks family in negotiations. "The Brewers will get a return on their investment when Rickie makes it to the big leagues. I'd say this reflects well on both Rickie's talents and him as a person. He wants to get out and play."
Weeks, 20, won his second straight NCAA Division I batting title by hitting .479 in 2003. He also showed some pop with 16 homers this year, and stole 68 bases in 69 attempts during his three years with the Jaguars.
"I'm ready to go out and play baseball," said Weeks, who attended the news conference with his parents. "I'm just glad to be a Brewer. Hopefully, I can get on the right track and get here as soon as possible."
Tom Haudricourt covers the Brewers for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.