Hoffman and Brewers agree to one-year deal

MILWAUKEE -- Every player likes being wanted, even baseball's all-time saves leader, a sure-fire Hall of Famer. In what amounted to an intense full-court press over the past few days, the Milwaukee Brewers let Trevor Hoffman know just how much th...

MILWAUKEE -- Every player likes being wanted, even baseball's all-time saves leader, a sure-fire Hall of Famer.

In what amounted to an intense full-court press over the past few days, the Milwaukee Brewers let Trevor Hoffman know just how much they wanted him.

"They were very aggressive in their pursuit of Trevor," agent Rick Thurman confirmed in a telephone interview.

That's what it took to overcome the geographical disadvantage the Brewers had in going head-to-head with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the services of the 41-year-old changeup specialist. The Brewers sealed the deal Thursday morning with a one-year offer for $6 million with an additional $1.5 million in incentives based on games finished.

Under a directive this winter from Major League Baseball, teams are not allowed to announce the signings of free agents until they pass physical examinations. Accordingly, the Brewers did not officially confirm they had solved one of their biggest needs entering the 2009 season.


Thurman said the Brewers simply made a stronger move on Hoffman than the Dodgers. Manager Ken Macha called Hoffman to help court him and the Brewers went as far as putting him in touch with head trainer Roger Caplinger for a 40-minute discussion of conditioning and game preparation from a medical standpoint.

Two of the team's veteran leaders, catcher Jason Kendall and centerfielder Mike Cameron, also placed calls to Hoffman to relate their first-year experience of playing in Milwaukee in 2008.

"I really think the calls by Kendall and Cameron paid off for us," said general manager Doug Melvin, who was unable to officially confirm the signing pending the physical exam scheduled for next week in California. "They've enjoyed playing here and they told (Hoffman) that."

Cameron, who played with Hoffman in San Diego in 2006 and 2007, relayed a very favorable impression of his Milwaukee experience.

"I told him, 'Trevor, to be honest with you, it's one of the best-run organizations I've ever played in,'" Cameron said. "I can't say enough about it. I told him the ballpark is smaller and he won't have the beach but I told him these people are genuine.

"I told him I felt like it was my home away from home, and the owner will do anything to make it happen. I don't think Trevor has the same stuff he had a couple of years ago but he has the experience and he still knows how to pitch."

Despite those recommendations, Hoffman opted not to do a deal that included a club option for 2010. He wanted to keep flexibility to go elsewhere should another opportunity intrigue him after the coming season, and Melvin said he was OK with that.

"We tried to get an option but he wanted to do it this way," Melvin said. "I just hope he comes here and enjoys it and has a lot of success and wants to stay. He knows he has to perform."


Hoffman's incentives begin kicking in at 38 games finished and max out at $1.5 million with 52 games finished.

With 16 big-league seasons under his belt, including the last 15 1/2 with San Diego, Hoffman is nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career. And, although he had a higher earned run average (3.77) last season and home runs-per-innings pitched rate than in the past, the six-time all-star still remained productive on a last-place team.

Hoffman, who did not return a telephone call Thursday, converted 30 of 34 save opportunities, an 88 percent success rate. The only closer to reach 500 career saves, he is 554 for 621 for his career, the best conversion rate in major-league history (89.2 percent).

In 45 1/3 innings last season, Hoffman walked only nine and logged 46 strikeouts. He had an outstanding 1.04 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched), held right-handed hitters to a .466 OPS (on-base plus slugging) and conserved his pitch count by exceeding 20 pitches just seven times in 48 appearances.

Oddly enough, Hoffman allowed seven of his eight home runs at home in spacious, pitcher-friendly Petco Park. And it is a bit of a red flag that Hoffman is a fly-ball pitcher coming to Miller Park, where the ball usually carries well. He also struggled last season against left-handed hitters (.869 OPS).

But Hoffman often restricts homers to bases-empty blasts because of his low WHIP, and the Brewers were encouraged by his 1.59 ERA in 18 second-half appearances in '08 and the fact that he converted 19 of his last 20 save opportunities. He was seldom used down the stretch because the Padres had few late-inning leads and wanted to look at younger pitchers.

Melvin noted that Hoffman's ERA was inflated primarily by two outings. On April 2 against Houston he allowed four runs in two-thirds of an inning and on June 1 in San Francisco he surrendered three runs in one-third of an inning.

On only one other occasion (two runs vs. Minnesota in one inning on June 24) did Hoffman allow more than one run. Beyond those blow-ups against the Astros and Giants, Hoffman compiled a 2.44 ERA in his other 46 assignments.


In 929 career games, including 28 as a rookie with Florida in 1993, Hoffman is 56-66 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. He has a 1.59 ERA and eight saves in 11 appearances at Miller Park and has fared well against divisional rival Chicago, with a 2.66 ERA and 34 saves in 57 outings.

Melvin was just as impressed with the information he received on the character of Hoffman, a five-time recipient of the Padres' Roberto Clemente Award as well as the 2008 Branch Rickey Award winner for community service.

"He's well-liked by his teammates and a great competitor with a strong work ethic," Melvin said. "That's the kind of stuff that rubs off on teammates."

Brewers outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr., who basically grew up in the San Diego clubhouse while his father played for the Padres, became very close over the years with Hoffman. Gwynn said Hoffman would be a hit, on and off the field, in Milwaukee.

"He's one of the best dudes in baseball," Gwynn said. "He works real hard and is a great teammate. I think he'll fit right in, in Milwaukee. They're going to love him there."

The Brewers were put in need of a closer when Salomon Torres retired after last season. Torres (27 of 35 in save opportunities) had taken over in late May for faltering veteran Eric Gagne, who became a free agent after his one-year, $10 million deal expired.

There was no way to know at the time that Hoffman, an icon in San Diego, would become available. With the team in an ownership transition, the payroll is being greatly reduced, prompting the Padres to offer their closer a one-year deal for $4 million after he made $7.5 million in '08.

Later deciding to use that money to exercise the option on outfielder Brian Giles, the Padres took that offer off the table in November. Hoffman became a free agent, and after Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes signed deals, was the top closer remaining on the market.


Hoffman has one of the most renowned entrances in the game when a save is on the line. As he emerged from the bullpen in San Diego, the song "Hells Bells" by venerable heavy metal band AC/DC blared over the public address system, energizing the crowd.

Hoffman has used that entrance theme since 1998. Now, Brewers fans can anticipate hearing the distinctive toll of those bells, signaling "Trevor Time," next season at Miller Park.

-- Copyright (c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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