July 2009

Brewers were close to three-team deadline deal

The Brewers were so close to completing what general manager Doug Melvin called a “big,” three-team trade for a pitcher ahead of Friday’s nonwaiver Trade Deadline that Ken Macha tuned into the MLB Network in the visiting manager’s office at PETCO Park and waited to see the news break.

It never did.

The deal fizzled, and the pitcher in question wasn’t traded. Because of that fact, Macha and Melvin refused to talk about the blockbuster that wasn’t — Melvin did assure reporters that the pitcher in question wasn’t Toronto’s Roy Halladay — and the Brewers were left to soldier on with a weakened starting rotation that will be re-joined Saturday by right-hander Mike Burns.

Macha didn’t sugarcoat the factors that brought back Burns, who was bounced from the rotation and then returned to Triple-A Nashville after going 2-3 in five Brewers starts.

“We have kind of depleted all of the options,” Macha said.

Melvin wanted to bolster those options. He talked extensively to the Mariners about left-hander Jarrod Washburn, who instead went to the Tigers on Friday. Melvin also showed interest as recently as Thursday in Royals right-hander Brian Bannister, but Kansas City held onto him. He called on D-backs left-hander Doug Davis and, to a lesser degree, Jon Garland, both of whom stayed put. Melvin never got serious about the Padres’ Jake Peavy, who went to the White Sox, because he knew Milwaukee couldn’t put together the package of pitchers necessary to get him.

The Brewers will face one of those pitchers, lefty Clayton Richard, on Saturday at PETCO Park.

The trouble, Melvin said, is that San Diego wasn’t the only team seeking young arms in the high levels of the Minor Leagues. All of Milwaukee’s pitching prospects are lower in the system including right-hander Jeremy Jeffress, who might have been an interesting chip were he not serving a 50-game suspension. At the same time, Melvin made it clear early that he was hesitant to trade his top offensive prospects: Third baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alcides Escobar.

“Most teams are looking for one or two guys who are closer to the big leagues,” Melvin said. “We’ve been a team that’s drafted real well on the positional side.”

Melvin was hopeful that he’d have a match with Seattle because Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik was Milwaukee’s scouting director until last fall, and he knows the Brewers’ farm system as well as anyone. For two months of Washburn, a free agent at season’s end, Zduriencik received two left-handers: Luke French, who was in the Tigers’ rotation, and Mauricio Robles, a top prospect who was at Class A.  

“I didn’t think on Washburn we were ever close,” Melvin said.

But Melvin was near to completing, “a much bigger deal,” that was so close to happening that within a half hour of the 3 p.m. CT deadline to deal players without first exposing them to waivers, Melvin had principal owner Mark Attanasio waiting near a phone, ready to approve a deal. When the three-team proposal fell apart, Melvin had another trade possibility in the works within 10 minutes of the deadline.

“It just didn’t happen,” Melvin said. “Both of them revolved around what another team was doing. Those are always tough.”

So who was involved in the mysterious big one? Macha would only reveal that it was not a pitcher who would have been available to start for the Brewers on Saturday. Melvin wouldn’t say, either, even when a reporter presented him with some possible names. One of them was Atlanta right-hander Javier Vazquez, who had just pitched on Thursday, but a National League scout offered assurances that the Brewers and Braves weren’t talking about Vazquez on Friday. 

The Brewers’ quiet Deadline day left fans, more than two million of whom have already packed into Miller Park this season, venting their disappointment on talk radio and Internet message boards.

“I talked to him an hour and a half before the [Deadline] and he told me had another thing that he thought he was going to get done,” Macha said of his midday chat with Melvin. “I’m sure that he’s just as disappointed as all the other people.”

On the other hand, Melvin received as many as 50 messages of support, many of them via e-mail from fans who were glad to see him thinking about the future by keeping Gamel and Escobar in the fold.

“How can people judge what’s there when they don’t know what was involved?” Melvin said. “Had we made a deal involving some of the players we talked about, I’m pretty sure they would have been disappointed, too. …

“With every deal you talk about, there’s some hurdle you have to get over. It’s not just as easy as, ‘Why didn’t you give up this guy for that guy?'”

Teams can still make trades in August, but players must pass through waivers first. Players must be on a team’s roster by midnight ET on Aug. 31 to qualify for postseason rosters.

Melvin will remain on the prowl, and he still has the postseason in mind.

“A lot of things have to go right,” he conceded. “A lot of teams still feel they are in races, and we feel we’re in the race. Teams could have injuries. But in our situation, we’re going to have to play very well and be consistent. … We can’t have anything else go wrong, and we have to have a few things go right.”

Burns to start for Brewers on Saturday

Brewers manager Ken Macha did not sugarcoat his decision to name Mike Burns as his starting pitcher for Saturday’s game against the Padres.

“We have depleted all the options,” Macha said.

Burns, freshly recalled from Triple-A Nashville, will return to the Brewers’ rotation because the team has few other choices. Burns was bounced from the rotation after going 2-3 in five starts, but injuries to Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan necessitated another fresh arm, and Burns got the call over Tim Dillard, a right-hander who was a starter all season at Nashville.

In his five starts, Burns has a 7.20 ERA and opponents are hitting .314 against him with seven home runs in 25 innings.

Regular lineup; still no Saturday starter

Braden Looper starts for the Brewers tonight, but who will go tomorrow? The clubhouse just opened, so we’ll see if we can’t get an answer from manager Ken Macha. Mike Burns and Tim Dillard are the most obvious candidates.

Felipe Lopez  2B
Craig Counsell  SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Corey Hart  RF
Mike Cameron  CF
J.J. Hardy SS
Jason Kendall  C
Braden Looper  RHP

Rottino: 'No hard feelings'

Longtime Brewers farmhand Vinny Rottino got a fresh start on Friday when he was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Claudio Vargas.

Rottino, 29, was exceedingly popular among Brewers fans because he grew up just south of Milwaukee in Racine, Wis. and rose from an undrafted free agent to legitimate prospect status in 2004, when he broke Prince Fielder’s organizational record with 124 RBIs at Class A Beloit. Two years later, Rottino batted .314 at Triple-A Nashville and earned the first of three late-season promotions to the big leagues.

In all, Rottino appeared in 18 games for the Brewers and batted .208 (5-for-24). His biggest hit came in the penultimate game of the 2007 season, when Rottino grounded an 11th-inning single that capped a come-from-behind win over the Padres and guaranteed Milwaukee’s first winning season in 15 years.

But Rottino was subsequently passed by other Brewers prospects. He was removed from the 40-man roster this spring and opted for an assignment to Double-A Huntsville so he could get regular playing time away from Triple-A catching prospect Angel Salome and third base prospect Mat Gamel. In 98 games this season, Rottino batted .249 with four home runs and 48 RBIs.

“I’m excited,” said Rottino, who received a “really nice” call from Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash informing him of the trade. “I certainly didn’t expect to be traded, but it’s an opportunity for me to get back to the big leagues, for sure.

“I feel like I’m a guy who can play multiple positions, especially catcher, and that’s always going to mean an opportunity. It’s going to be a matter of me being in the right place at the right time, playing well and then getting the opportunity. I’m never going to have the attitude, as long as I have a uniform in this game, that making it to the big leagues is not a possibility. Now that’s going to be with the Dodgers.”

He didn’t know much about the Dodgers, but said, “They obviously want me, because they traded away a guy who pitched in the big leagues for them.”

Any hard feelings toward the Brewers?

“I will always have an allegiance to the Brewers,” Rottino said. “After my 10-year big league career is over, I’d love to stay in the game with the Brewers. No hard feelings, whatsoever.” 

Rottino will report to the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga, Tenn.

I know there are a lot of Brewers fans out there who think Rottino should have been given a better shot in Milwaukee. Are you happy for him today?


A bit of irony in Vargas trade

Does anyone else find it interesting that the Brewers, scrambling for pitching in the wake of injuries and poor performances, picked up an arm they let go last year because they had too much depth?

That’s probably an oversimplification, but I do remember being very surprised at the end of 2008 Spring Training when the Brewers released Claudio Vargas. They re-acquired him on Friday in a trade that sent longtime organizational man Vinny Rottino to the Dodgers.

Vargas, 31, who pitched for the Brewers in 2007, could provide depth for a pitching staff that has sent three arms — Dave Bush, Seth McClung and now Jeff Suppan — to the disabled list over the past five weeks. Vargas opened the year on the disabled list with an elbow injury, then posted a 1.64 ERA in eight relief appearances for the Dodgers after being activated July 3. His fastball was clocked as high as 93 mph.

By the time the Vargas deal was complete, the Brewers still had not named a starter to replace Suppan on Saturday against the Padres. The team did promote Mike Burns from Triple-A Nashville earlier in the day, and he was one option. But with Burns back in the fold, the Brewers needed to send another player down to make room on the 25-man roster for Vargas. 

Melvin, who was presumably working the phones hard in the remaining hours before Friday’s 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline, did not immediately return a call.

Melvin originally acquired Vargas as part of a six-player deal with the Diamondbacks in November 2006 and Vargas went 11-6 with a 5.09 ERA in 29 appearances, including 23 starts, the following season. He was one of eight starters vying for a spot in the rotation at the start of 2008 before the Brewers released him on March 25.

In dealing Vargas on Friday, the Dodgers opened a spot on the 25-man roster for reliever George Sherrill, acquired from the Orioles on Thursday.

Brewers mentioned with Correia

The latest pitcher to be mentioned alongside the starter-hungry Brewers
is right-hander Kevin Correia of the Padres, who would be a step down
from the other players linked to Milwaukee (Roy Halladay, Jarrod
Washburn among them) but at least could help plug some holes.

is 7-8 with a 4.75 ERA and would come cheaply, according to the
FOXSports.com blog item that mentioned the Brewers as one of the
interested teams. No deal is imminent, the report said.

Brewers’ rotation is a bit of a mess, with Dave Bush (triceps) on the
disabled list and Jeff Suppan (oblique) in limbo for his Saturday start
ahead of a Thursday appointment with the doctor. The Brewers have
already tried Seth McClung and Mike Burns as in-house replacements
before sending them back to the bullpen (now McClung is on the DL with
an elbow injury). The team will give another reliever, Carlos
Villanueva, one more chance to start on Sunday in San Diego.

I reported earlier this week, Brewers GM Doug Melvin will be on the
team’s chartered flight to San Diego this afternoon, meaning he’ll be
out of contact with Trade Deadline buzz for a few hours but will be
back in the pocket for the final hours on Friday. The deadline to move
players without exposing them to waivers is July 31 at 3 p.m. CT. 

As promised, Hardy sits out series finale

With J.J. Hardy getting a break — manager Ken Macha has been forecasting this one for days, so the trade conspiracy theorists can relax — Craig Counsell slides over to shortstop and Wednesday hero Casey McGehee gets the start at third base.

The Brewers need to win behind Yovani Gallardo today to avoid an embarassing series loss, but Gallardo faces a tall task. Milwaukee is 11-22 in day games, with losses in 12 of 13 games and six straight.

The lineups (updated at 12:20 p.m. CT with some Nationals changes):

Nyjer Morgan  CF
Alberto Gonzalez  SS
Nick Johnson 1B
Adam Dunn  LF
Ryan Zimmerman  3B
Willie Harris  RF
Wil Nieves  C
Anderson Hernandez  2B
J.D. Martin  RHP

Felipe Lopez  2B
Craig Counsell SS
Ryan Braun  LF
Prince Fielder  1B
Corey Hart  RF
Mike Cameron  CF
Casey McGehee  3B
Jason Kendall  C
Yovani Gallardo  RHP

One other note: Today’s home plate umpire is “Cowboy Joe” West, who will be working his 4,000th Major League game.He umpired his first National League game on Sept. 14, 1976 and five years later, at 28, he became the youngest NL ump to work a League Championship Series.

West is a man of many endeavors; he released his second album last year, he designed and sells chest protectors and other equipment for umps and plays on a celebrity golf tour.

As promised, Rivera gets the start

Manager Ken Macha plans to pair seldom-used backup catcher Mike Rivera with left-hander Manny Parra for the foreseeable future, beginning with Wednesday’s game against the Nationals. Here are the lineups:

Nyjer Morgan CF
Cristian Guzman SS
Josh Willingham LF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Nick Johnson 1B
Ronnie Belliard 2B
Austin Kearns RF
Josh Bard C
Garrett Mock RHP

Felipe Lopez 2B
Craig Counsell 3B
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Corey Hart RF
Mike Cameron CF
J.J. Hardy SS
Mike Rivera C
Manny Parra LHP

Minus Suppan, Melvin still shopping

I just called Brewers general manager Doug Melvin to see if the news of Jeff Suppan’s rib-cage strain — an injury that often sends a pitcher to the disabled list — changes his plan of attack for Friday’s nonwaiver trade deadline.

The answer was no.

“We’re still looking for guys who are available,” Melvin said. “We’d like to get a starter. We’ll have to wait a few days before we find out [about Suppan]. We’ll evaluate then.”

Even if it’s bad news, Melvin will be smart about his aggressiveness on the market.

“I’m not going to go out and give up a better player just because Suppan is out,” he said.

Suppan underwent an MRI scan on Tuesday after complaining of tightness in his side. Right-hander Dave Bush is already on the disabled list with a triceps injury, Seth McClung and Mike Burns were tried out as starters and then bounced from the rotation (McClung is now hurt and Burns is back in Triple-A). Another new starter, Carlos Villanueva, allowed five runs in four innings on Tuesday.

“It’s been tough right now even though we’ve been healthy,” Melvin said. “I have confidence in these guys getting better, but we haven’t pitched well. When you’re not going well, you don’t get the breaks, either.”

Melvin confirmed that he remains in touch with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, who holds a chip in left-hander Jarrod Washburn, who was 8-6 with a 2.70 ERA ahead of his Tuesday night start in Toronto. Washburn, a Wisconsin native, is a free agent after the season, and FOXSports.com speculated that Zduriencik, Milwaukee’s former scouting director, might consider injured second baseman Rickie Weeks in return. Zduriencik drafted Weeks in 2003.

Acknowledging only that the teams have been linked in published reports, Melvin said, “We’d like to add a starter, but Jack hasn’t decided yet if he would move one or not.”

Melvin will travel with the team to the West Coast on Thursday evening.  

MRI: Dreaded oblique strain for Suppan

A physical ailment may be behind Brewers starter Jeff Suppan’s recent struggles, after all.

A day after the right-hander proclaimed himself healthy, an MRI scan on Tuesday afternoon revealed a left oblique strain, an ailment that struck both Braden Looper and Trevor Hoffman in Spring Training and caused prolonged absences.

Suppan hasn’t won a start since June 12 and the Brewers are 2-6 in his
outings since then. But losing him would be another significant blow to
a struggling starting rotation already missing Dave Bush, who is on the
disabled list with a right triceps injury. Two others — Seth McClung and Mike Burns — were ineffective in their starts and removed from the rotation. Another fill-in — Carlos Villanueva — was tagged for five runs in four innings on Tuesday night. 

A club spokesperson said Suppan would be re-evaluated on Thursday by head team physician William Raasch. Suppan’s next scheduled
start is Saturday against the Padres in San Diego.

Suppan was charged with 10 runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings of a blowout loss to the Nationals on Monday and insisted afterward that he was physically fine. That outing came on the heels of a 3 1/3-inning start in Pittsburgh, in which Suppan surrendered five runs on seven hits.

He missed some time last July with irritation in his right elbow, and was asked on Monday night whether any physical ailments were behind his recent slump.

“Health-wise had nothing to with [it],” Suppan said. “I wasn’t making pitches, I think that’s what it comes down to. You have to make pitches and I think offensively we did a good job tonight. I put us in a hole and really didn’t do a good job.”

With Suppan’s status in limbo and Bush still a few weeks away, general manager Doug Melvin continued to look for sensible deals ahead of Friday’s nonwaiver trade deadline.

Melvin made a rare post-game visit to the Brewers clubhouse on Monday night to once again discuss available arms with manager Ken Macha. Melvin told coaches to, “keep our chins up as much as we can,” Macha said.