- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NEW YORK — Setting himself up for an even bigger payday a year from now, Prince Fielder agreed Tuesday to a $15.5 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in the largest one-year deal for a player not yet eligible for free agency.

On a day when 67 of the 119 players who filed for salary arbitration reached agreements, AL MVP Josh Hamilton, major league home run champion Jose Bautista and Houston pitcher Wandy Rodriguez submitted the largest proposed salaries when players and teams swapped proposed figures.

Hamilton asked Texas for $12 million and was offered $8.7 million; Bautista asked Toronto for $10.5 million and was offered $7.6 million; Rodriguez asked for $10.25 million and was offered $8 million.

Only 37 players exchanged with their clubs, and three of those already have agreements.

Boston and closer Jonathan Papelbon settled at $12 million, and Texas agreed with left-hander C.J. Wilson at $7 million and outfielder Nelson Cruz at $2.65 million.

Those among the remaining 34 players who don’t settle will have hearings before three-person panels during the first three weeks in February.

Owners won five of eight hearings last year, bringing their advantage to 285-210 since salary arbitration began in 1974. Still, players are winners in the process. Last year, a study by The Associated Press found the 128 players in arbitration averaged a raise of 121 percent, down from the record 172 percent increase in 2009.

Fielder’s agreement topped Mark Teixeira’s $12.5 million deal with Atlanta in 2008. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras, who encourages clients to test the free-agent market.

“We’re just focusing on this year,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said during an interview with the AP. “It’s the best thing for all parties involved, with him going into his free agent year and us going into a year where we want to have a lot of success.”

Fielder hit .261 with 32 homers and 83 RBIs last season, when he made $11.25 million. It was the lowest batting average in his big league career.

“We took into consideration his previous years — the 50 homers, the 46 homers. I know last year he had a little bit of a decline, but I expect him to bounce back,” Melvin said. “We feel he’s ready to bounce back and have a big year.”

The $3.3 million gap between Texas and Hamilton was the largest, and the $2.9 million difference between Toronto and Bautista was the second biggest. Hamilton made $3,275,000 last year, when he led the majors with a .359 batting average, hit 32 home runs and had 100 RBIs despite missing most of the final month because of broken ribs. Bautista hit .260 with 54 homers and 124 RBIs, and he made $2.4 million.

“Philosophically, we don’t see eye-to-eye right now and that’s OK. That’s why we have the process in place,” Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said during a conference call. “We both realize there’s no one who’s right or wrong, both sides make a compelling case and it’s very fair, and that’s why we need a third party to make a determination of what the right value for the player is.”

At the other end of the arbitration pay scale, the smallest difference between submitted figures was $350,000, with Texas offering Darren O’Day $1.05 million and the relief pitcher asking for $1.4 million.

Among free agents, the New York Yankees finalized a $35 million, three-year contract with Rafael Soriano, adding a proven closer who will become Mariano Rivera’s setup man.

Arizona agreed to one-year deals with right-hander Aaron Heilman ($2 million) and utility man Willie Bloomquist ($900,000).

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AP Sports Writer Colin Fly in Milwaukee contributed to this report.