February 2009

Brewers claim Angels pitcher

All of a sudden there isn’t a starting pitcher the Brewers don’t want.

The team continued to stockpile arms on Thursday, claiming right-hander Nick Green off waivers from the Angels on the same day club officials expected to finalize a deal with free agent pick-up Braden Looper.

Green, 24, who was placed on waivers by the Angels on Tuesday to make room for free agent addition Bobby Abreu, was once considered a top Angels pitching prospect but is coming off a so-so season at Triple-A Salt Lake. He was 8-8 with a 5.32 ERA in 28 starts and surrendered 31 home runs in 158 innings.

He was better in 2007, going 10-8 with a 3.68 ERA in 178 innings for Double-A Arkansas and earning a spot on the Angels’ 40-man roster. With Milwaukee, Green, who has Minor League options remaining, will probably join the starting rotation at Triple-A Nashville along with recently-acquired left-hander Chase Wright.

The Brewers needed a 40-man roster spot for Green so they designated right-handed reliever Luis Pena for assignment. Pena, a power pitcher who struggled in 2008 (6.93 ERA in 52 games at Nashville), had been a Brewers farmhand since 1999, when he signed out of Venezuela.

The Brewers will have to make another move to clear a spot for Looper, whose one-year contract should be finalized by the end of the day Thursday.

Down to business…

A couple of notes from the business offices at Miller Park:

– Retro Fridays will return in 2009, but in a more limited capacity. The Brewers will wear the “retro” pinstriped uniforms for the first Friday home game of each month, rather than for every Friday home game. The home opener falls on the first home Friday of April, but the Brewers will wear their traditional home whites that day.

– Look for an announcement from the Brewers on Thursday morning that should please those seeking revenge against the pilgrimage of Cubs fans who turn Miller Park into “Wrigley Field North.” The Brewers and Amtrak have a press conference planned for 11:30 a.m. CT, and we’ll cover it here on Brewers.com.

With that planned announcement in the late morning, we’ll probably hear something about Braden Looper later in the day.


Probably no Looper news today

Free agent right-hander Braden Looper was scheduled to undergo his physical exam late Wednesday, but his one-year pact with the Brewers probably will not be made official until Thursday, the day before pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale Baseball Park for the start of Spring Training.

Looper, 34, came to terms with the Brewers on Monday and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported those terms on its website Tuesday night. It’s a one-year contract that guarantees $4.75 million in 2009, according to the newspaper, and includes a mutual option for 2010.

If Looper declines that option, the terms of which are not yet known, he goes back to the free agent market. If the Brewers decline the option and Looper exercises it, the team must buy him out. It was not clear whether incentives could push up Looper’s ’09 salary; he earned $5.5 million from the Cardinals last season.

Looper’s agent, Alan Hendricks, has not responded to phone calls or e-mails this week for clarification of the pending deal. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has followed instructions from Major League Baseball to avoid discussing specifics of free agent signings until they become official.

Door still closed between Sheets, Brewers

I’ve been asked a bunch of times whether the latest Ben Sheets news might actually propel him to a reunion with the Brewers, so I posed the question to general manager Doug Melvin.

The answer apparently is no.

“There’s probably logic to it, but it’s not going to happen,” said Melvin, who believes that Sheets “has some other avenues he’s looking at.”

Melvin still will not say whether the matter of paying for Sheets’ surgery has been settled, instead referring all questions to agent Casey Close, who has not returned a number of calls.

In the wake of last week’s news that Sheets will have his torn flexor tendon surgically repaired, some wondered whether it could make sense for Sheets and the Brewers to strike a new agreement, say on a two-year deal with a low 2009 salary and a higher figure for 2010. That way, according to this line of thinking, Sheets could rehabilitate his arm in familiar surrounds and then try to re-establish his market value with a strong comeback.

Melvin doesn’t see it happening. He would not speculate about Sheets’ plans, but perhaps Sheets wants to keep his options open for a return to a contending team in the second half of 2009.

On a side note, it appears that everything is progressing smoothly between the Brewers and right-hander Braden Looper, and it would not surprise me to see the team formally announce the deal either Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning, assuming Looper passes his physical. 

Looper terms reportedly in place

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting tonight that the Brewers and the rep for free agent right-hander Braden Looper indeed reached terms today. According to the newspaper, it will be a one-year deal with an option for 2010, but we don’t know yet whether that’s a club option, a player option, a mutual option or some sort of vesting option based on innings pitched, starts or some other statistical marker.

Not too surprising that the sides were able to agree to the framework of a deal. When general manager Doug Melvin was willing to even broach the topic today, that showed you things were moving along swiftly. Looper will have to pass a physical to make the contract official, and if I learn about the schedule for that formality, I will post it.

Now comes the really interesting part. The Brewers’ 40-man roster is full, so someone needs to go when Looper formally signs and it looks like it could be an “organizational guy” who has been with the team a while. I’d be shocked if they part with a pitcher, unless they simply decide that there’s no room for Rule 5 pick Eddie Morlan, so it makes sense that the names being kicked around include Vinny Rottino, Brad Nelson, Hernan Iribarren.  Maybe Casey McGehee should be in that group as well, but I think club officials are intrigued to see what they have in the former Cubs prospect.

Perhaps Melvin has a trade up his sleeve to help ease the logjam. Stay tuned.

Brewers "optimistic" on Looper

So much for standing pat. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin confirmed Monday that the team had re-engaged in talks with right-handed free agent Braden Looper and hoped to close a deal later this week.

“I’m optimistic,” Melvin said.

Melvin chose his words carefully because no deal was yet in place, and did not comment on whether he was offering 34-year-old Looper anything more than a one-year deal. The club has honored Major League Baseball’s directive that teams not discuss free agent signings until the requisite physical examination is complete, but Melvin indicated that in Looper’s case, there was more than that one hurdle yet to clear.

“We’re still talking,” Melvin said. “If anything happens, it’s not going to happen until later in the week.”

Looper’s agent, Alan Hendricks, did not immediately return a call to his office.

Milwaukee’s ESPN radio affiliate — 540 AM — was the first to report Monday morning that the Brewers were once again pursuing Looper, who also drew the team’s interest in December as a reliable innings-eater to bolster a thin starting rotation. 

It marked a change in club philosophy from just two weeks ago, when Melvin and Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio hinted strongly that there would be no additions to the starting rotation before the start of Spring Training. Instead, they floated the idea of holding spending at its current level — about $82 million, pending the outcome of outfielder Corey Hart’s arbitration case — to allow for flexibility early in the season, when the Brewers could try to acquire a top pitcher via trade from a team off to a poor start.

“We’ve analyzed what pitchers we think could become available during the course of the year and when it gets down to it, we think Looper fills a lot of our needs,” Melvin said.

Chief among those is that Looper, a big league reliever his entire career before switching to the starting rotation for the Cardinals in 2007, pitched 199 innings in 2008. That figure would have led all Milwaukee pitchers last year.

Finally joining the Blogosphere

Welcome to my new little corner of the Internet.

MLB.com spent the weekend setting up MLBlogs for club reporters like me who have been late to the party, and I’m looking forward to finally joining the 21st century. I still have some work to do to fill in some blanks, but I’m hoping that the blog will provide an opportunity to quickly post the little newsy nuggets that in the past have had to wait for a full story to make its way through our excellent copy desk in New York. With Brewers pitchers and catchers set to get to work this weekend, there should be plenty for us to talk about.

Maybe there will be room for a bit of fun, too. We’ll see how much sleep I get.

Anyway, welcome.

— Adam McCalvy