November 2009

GM says Kottaras claim is about depth

The Brewers added catching depth on Wednesday by claiming onetime Padres prospect George Kottaras off waivers from the Boston Red Sox.

Kottaras, 26 and a left-handed hitter, reportedly asked out of Boston after it became clear that Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek would be back in 2010. Kottaras appeared in 45 games with the Red Sox last season and batted .237 with one home run and 10 RBIs.

He is out of Minor League options, and joins catchers Mike Rivera and Angel Salome on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster. The Brewers also plan to give a long Spring Training look to prospect Jonathan Lucroy, whom general manager Doug Melvin mentioned this month as a candidate to jump from Double-A to the Majors in 2010.

Rivera, Salome and Lucroy are all right-handed hitters.

“If we can get better, then we’ll try to get better,” Melvin said. “We have to have depth. We have Salome and Lucroy, we have Kottaras and we still have Rivera, but we don’t have a front-line guy.” 

That guy in the past two seasons was Jason Kendall, but Kendall cost $5 million in 2009 and Melvin made it clear to agent Arn Tellem that the Brewers didn’t intend to spend that much behind the plate next year.

Rivera is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, but Melvin wouldn’t say what the Brewers plans are for him next season. The team has until Dec. 12 to decide whether to tender Rivera a 2010 contract.  

Asked for his thoughts about the team’s catching situation in general, Melvin said, “It’s too early to say what we’ll do. We haven’t gotten to the Winter Meetings. Free agency hasn’t even started yet so we can’t really talk to anyone.” 

Teams own exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents for the 15 days following the World Series. They are free to negotiate with all free agents beginning at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday. 

As recently as three years ago, Kottaras was rated the second-best prospect in San Diego’s organization by Baseball America. He was traded from San Diego to Boston late that year to complete the trade that sent pitcher David Wells to the Padres.

In seven Minor League seasons, Kottaras is a .269 hitter with 66 home runs and 289 RBIs. His best year was 2007, when he batted .243 for Boston’s Triple-A affiliate with a career-best 22 home runs and 65 RBIs in 107 games.

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Cain, Rivas get 40-man spots

Two days before the deadline to protect prospects from next month’s Rule 5 Draft, the Brewers added outfielder Lorenzo Cain and right-hander Amaury Rivas — the team’s reigning Minor League pitcher of the year — to the 40-man roster.

Two others who would have required protection had been previously added. The Brewers gave pitchers John Axford and Josh Butler a taste of the Majors in September, figuring they would need roster protection after the season, anyway. The team also added infielder Adam Heether earlier this month. [That's true, but they didn't have to add Heether to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. He would have been a six-year free agent.]

Cain, 23, impressed Brewers coaches when he filled-in for some injured outfielders during Spring Training but saw his season derailed by a left knee injury in April. He was limited to 60 games at three levels of Milwaukee’s farm system and batted .218 with a .277 on-base percentage.

“When you play with an injury all year it can make you apprehensive, and it did,” Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. “He had doubts on his knee. He was probably playing a step short the whole time and had a little lack of confidence in what he could do physically. That’s normal, when you can’t go the way you want to go. There’s no doubt he’s a good player. He just has to get that knee as well as his other one.”

Cain is currently making up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League.
Through 17 games, he was hitting .242 with a .375 on-base percentage
and 14 runs scored as the Peoria Javelinas’ leadoff man.

Rivas, who turns 24 on Dec. 20, was 13-7 with a 2.98 ERA at Class A Brevard County in 2009 to win a Robin Yount Award as the organization’s top pitcher. He was at Miller Park to accept the award in September.

With Wednesday’s additions, the Brewers still have five open spots on their 40-man roster.

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Brewers 'don't see' reunion with Gagne

Former All-Star closer Eric Gagne told reporters in his native Canada last week that he wants to return to organized baseball as a starter and that he’s open to beginning the year in the Minor Leagues. But his most recent Major League employer doesn’t plan to be among the teams considering Gagne as a reclamation project.

“I don’t see that,” Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash wrote in an e-mail.

Gagne last pitched in the big leagues in 2008 with Milwaukee, compiling a 5.44 ERA in 50 games. He signed for $10 million and was a bust as the Brewers’ closer, but returned from a midseason shoulder injury and was actually a solid contributor down the stretch, with a 4.33 ERA in 30 appearances beginning July 3 including a 0.84 ERA in 11 games after Sept. 2. Including two scoreless appearances in the postseason, Gagne didn’t allow a run in 12 of his final 13 games. He was extremely popular in the front offices at Miller Park for his charitable contributions. 

That combination of on- and off-field factors prompted the Brewers to give Gagne a shot last spring on a Minor League contract in February. He reported to camp looking to win a roster spot but his bid was derailed by the recurrence of shoulder woes and the Brewers released him on March 8.

After rehab, Gagne signed as a player/coach with the Quebec Capitales in the independent Canadian-American League. In 17 games, all starts, he was 6-6 with a 4.65 ERA and two complete games. The Capitales won the league championship and Gagne, according to a report on Yahoo! Sports, honed the cut fastball he occasionally threw in Milwaukee to compliment his fastball, curveball and change-up. 

Speaking at a charity event on Nov. 12 in Quebec City, Gagne said he wants to make one more bid for the Majors. He said it would be “fun” to return to the Dodgers, for whom Gagne had his most success, including a stretch of 84 consecutive saves from 2002-2004, but he’s open to any interested club. 

Gagne turns 34 in January.The Brewers already have some veteran-type arms at Triple-A including Mike Burns, who already signed a Minor League deal to return for 2010. Burns, 31, posted a 5.75 ERA in 15 appearances for the Brewers in 2009 including eight starts. He ended the season with a shoulder injury but avoided surgery.

In terms of Gagne-style reclamations the Brewers may bring back former All-Star left-hander Chris Capuano, who is attempting a comeback from his second career Tommy John surgery. Capuano, also 31, pitched in six games for low-level Brewers affiliates late last season with some success. He’s a free agent again this winter.

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Hot market for Counsell?

The window for teams to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents doesn’t expire until Friday, but according to one observer that’s not stopping as many as a dozen clubs from showing interest in veteran Brewers infielder Craig Counsell.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney “tweeted” this on Monday without specifying a source: “Craig Counsell has attracted interest from 12 teams. Possible he will leave Milw. for a multi-year deal. Possible fits: NYY, Boston.”

It’s against Major League rules for teams to negotiate with representatives for players who aren’t their own during a 15-day window following the World Series, but there is no rule against team’s simply checking in to express general interest.

Counsell would fit almost anywhere based on his proficiency at second base, third base and shortstop. He turned 39 in August but enjoyed his best season since he helped the Arizona Diamondbacks win the 2001 World Series, batting .285 for the Brewers in 2009 with 34 extra-base hits, a .357 on-base percentage and a .408 slugging percentage. Counsell also went 5-for-16 as a pinch-hitter

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin wouldn’t say last week which of Milwaukee’s nine free agents the team was working to bring back, but Counsell certainly would fit. He could pair with versatile right-handed hitter Adam Heether, who was added last week to the Brewers’ 40-man roster, as a left-right pair of reserve infielders in 2010.

Counsell earned $1 million last season on a one-year contract.

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McGehee runs fifth in NL rookie vote

casey-mcgehee.jpgBrewers third baseman Casey McGehee finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year balloting, the results of which were announced Monday. Not too shabby for a player plucked off waivers who didn’t move into Milwaukee’s starting lineup until May 19 and played the whole season on a bum knee.

Florida outfielder Chris Coghlan won the award in the NL and Oakland reliever Andrew Bailey won in the American League. Coghlan, who led NL rookies in batting average (.321), runs (84), hits (162), doubles (31), total bases (232), multi-hit games (51) and on-base percentage (.390), was followed by pitchers J.A. Happ of the Phillies and Tommy Hanson of the Braves, outfielder Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and then McGehee.

McGehee received one first place vote, three second-place votes and four third-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 18 total points, based on a 5-3-1 tabulation system. He was bidding to be the Brewers second rookie winner in three years. Ryan Braun won in 2007, the first Brewer so honors since Pat Listach in 1992.

“I finished right about where I thought I would,” McGehee said Monday after seeing the results. “I think you could have made a very strong case for a lot of people, and Coghlan was obviously very deserving. Congratulations to him.

“Now that this is over with, we can finally put 2009 to bed and focus on next year. I’m excited about the chance to improve on this year and help the team get to where it needs to be.”

In 116 games, McGehee batted .301 with 16 home runs and led all Major League rookies with 66 RBIs. The Brewers didn’t exactly that level of production coming; they claimed McGehee off waivers from the Cubs in October 2008 but entered 2009 Spring Training with Bill Hall as the third baseman and veterans Mike Lamb and Craig Counsell expected to back him up.

McGehee’s strong spring in part prompted the Brewers to release Lamb, and when Hall’s slump extended into mid-May and Counsell was called to replace injured second baseman Rickie Weeks, manager Ken Macha turned to McGehee at the hot corner.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confident. If I got a chance, I thought I would be successful,” McGehee said back in September. “I’ve always believed that, that’s for sure. By no means do I feel like I have it figured out, but I knew that if I got a chance to be a part of the team I could be a big contributor.”

He was a big contributor despite chronic knee pain that required arthroscopic surgery the week following the regular season finale. McGehee has a lesion in his knee, according to assistant general manager Gord Ash, that causes fragments of bone to break away. He could have had a more intensive surgery to inject healthy cells into the knee to promote re-growth but it was a riskier procedure that could have sidelined McGehee weeks or even months into the 2010 season.

Instead, McGehee opted for what Ash termed a more “intermediate” fix. He’s had no complications since the surgery, Ash reported on Monday morning.

McGehee confirmed that positive report, and said he is already a month into his rehab. He is scheduled to be in Milwaukee on Friday for a follow-up visit with Dr. William Raasch, the Brewers’ head physician who performed the surgery.

“I feel good, and I would be absolutely shocked if he saw anything he didn’t like,” McGehee said. “It feels like a normal knee to me again, which is a good sign. It’s back to the point now where I’m trying to get the muscles around the knee stronger.”

Assuming he doesn’t have a setback, McGehee should enter 2010 as Milwaukee’s starter at third base, with prospect Mat Gamel waiting in the wings. That doesn’t mean McGehee is taking anything for granted.

“As soon as you get comfortable, it comes up and bites you,” he said. “You stop working and you get complacent. I’m just trying to come in to play every day, and if I don’t be ready to come off the bench. That’s how I’m always going to approach it in my career, whether I’m an everyday player or not.”

Does he feel he’s proven himself as an everyday player?

“I don’t know,” he said. “There’s so much other stuff that goes into it. I feel like I had an OK year, but sometimes people worry about stuff like that, about [decisions] that are really not in their control. The only thing I can control is being in good shape come Spring Training, work hard in the offseason to prepare myself to play, and then it’s really out of your hands. It’s up to the guys who make the decisions to decide what they’re going to do.”

Here are the full results:

National League Rookie of the Year balloting
                                                     1st     2nd     3rd     Points
Chris Coghlan, Marlins                     17       6         2         105
J.A. Happ, Phillies                            10      11       11          94
Tommy Hanson, Braves                    2         6        9           37
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates              2         5                     25
Casey McGehee, Brewers                  1        3         4          18
Randy Wells, Cubs                                       1                      3
Garret Jones, Pirates                                              2            2
Everth Cabrera, Padres                                          1         &nbs
p;  1
Dexter Fowler, Rockies                                           1            1
Gerardo Parra, D-backs                                          1            1
Colby Rasmus, Cardinals                                        1            1

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McGehee knows he's a long-shot for rookie honor

Baseball’s Rookie of the Year Award winners will be unveiled Monday, but Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee won’t be sitting next to the phone.

“Hopefully I can be a good trivia question: Who finished second or third behind so-and-so in the 2009 rookie vote?” McGehee said near the end of his breakout season. “I would be happy for anyone who wins. You can make a really good argument for six or seven guys.”

The Brewers did their part to make the argument for McGehee in the National League half of the rookie race. During the final homestand, they distributed signs that promoted “MVPrince” on one side and “Casey for Rook-hee of the Year” on the other.

A waiver claim from the Cubs who reported to 2009 Spring Training as a long shot to make the Brewers’ roster, McGehee took advantage of incumbent third baseman Bill Hall’s continued slump and became the team’s most pleasant surprise. He played in only 116 games, but led NL rookies with 66 RBIs, ranked second with a .301 batting average and tied for second with 16 home runs.

McGehee finished strong, batting .337 with five homers and 26 RBIs in September and October to win NL Rookie of the Month. Only the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, with 27 RBIs, had more than McGehee.

Still, McGehee doesn’t think he’ll win when the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announces the top rookie on Monday afternoon. The award is decided by a vote of BBWAA members.

“I never set that as something I was worried about or even wanted to think about,” he said of the award. “To me, it’s just as nice to be mentioned in that category. So that’s the thrill of it for me, and I’ll look back and be proud that my name was in there.

“But I still feel the same as I have all along. For the most part, it’s an award for big-time prospects. It would be awesome if somebody proved me wrong, but by no means do I think that’s going to happen.”

For McGehee’s predictions and some other candidates for the NL rookie honor, check out my story on MLB.com.  And for those of you who want to make your own pick, I attached PDF files that include the NL’s rookie pitching and batting departmental leaders.

NL rookie hitting leaders.pdf
NL rookie pitching leaders.pdf

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More Hardy post-trade speculation

hardy.jpgMore than a week removed from the Brewers-Twins trade that sent shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota for center fielder Carlos Gomez, reports continue to emerge about the other offers that Brewers GM Doug Melvin passed up.

The latest comes from FoxSports.com, which suggested in a series of reports that the Pirates offered either catcher Ryan Doumit or closer Matt Capps for Hardy — the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had the same Capps rumor — but that Melvin wanted one of Pittsburgh’s left-handed starters: Zach Duke or Paul Maholm. Fox cites a Major League source who said the Pirates rejected that idea.

It would have been a nice haul for Melvin, considering that all 29 of his rival GMs knew full-well that he would trade Hardy this winter. Duke is under contract for two more years and coming off his best big league season with a 4.06 ERA, three complete games (nearly four) in 213 innings. Maholm also has two more years, plus a club option for 2012. He has made at least 29 starts in four straight seasons and has a 4.33 career ERA.

Assuming the Fox report is accurate, Doumit is an interesting name considering that the Brewers are in a transition period behind the plate. Given Melvin’s statement last week that he might not be able to spend $5 million on a catcher next season (that was Jason Kendall’s salary in 2009) it may have been a cost issue with Doumit. According to FoxSports.com, the 28-year-old is to earn $3.55 million this next season and $5.1 million in 2011, with a $7.25 million club option for ’12 and an $8.25 million club option for ’13.

Durability is also a big issue. Doumit had a breakthrough season in 2008 (.318 average, 15 homers, 69 RBIs in 116 games) but was limited to 75 games in 2009 because of wrist, back and knee injuries.

Then there’s the issue of trading within the division. Reds GM Walt Jocketty told MLB.com that he, too, expressed some interest in Hardy but was told by his good friend Melvin that the Brewers preferred to move the player out of the National League Central.

In the end, Melvin was focused on acquiring a young starting pitcher or a young, defensively-sound center fielder for Hardy. He pulled the trigger for Gomez.

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Sheets' 18-strikeout gem airs tonight

MLB Network is airing a block of All-Time Games this weekend highlighting high-strikeout games and is featuring one that they have not aired before: Ben Sheets’ 18-strikeout performance for the Brewers vs. the Braves in 2004. It’s on at 5:30 p.m. CT on Saturday night.

Other games included in the block of All-Time Games this weekend are Ron Guidry’s 18 strikeouts for the Yankees against the California Angels in 1978; Ramon Martinez’s 18 strikeouts for the Dodgers vs. the Braves in 1990; Roger Clemens’ 20 strikeouts for the Red Sox against the Mariners in 1986; David Cone’s 19-strikeout game for the Mets vs. the Phillies in 1991; and Randy Johnson’s 20 strikeouts for the Diamondbacks against the Reds in 1997.

For everything you need to know about Trenni Kusnierek’s employer, check out www.mlbnetwork.com.  And for another update on Sheets, check out the story I filed for MLB.com on Friday.  And, for nostalgia, here’s my coverage of Sheets’ gem from May 16, 2004.

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Agent: Prospect Brewer committed to baseball

The agent for aptly-named Brewers infielder Brent Brewer insists that his client is not mulling a move back to college football.

The website Scout.com reported that Brewer, who was committed to Florida State before the Brewers made him their second-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, was scheduled to visit Oklahoma State University this weekend. Another online report said he visited New Mexico State on September.

Not true, according to agent Josh Kusnick.

“He was down at the end of the year and maybe he was thinking about football, but he hasn’t gone on any visits and he’s definitely not going on any visits,” Kusnick said on Friday. “He assuredly is not going to play football. He’s focused on going to the big leagues.”

Kusnick passed along a text message he said was from Brewer that said, “I [am going to] make it to the League, man. So you better be ready to make some deals happen.”

“That’s pretty reassuring, isn’t it?” Kusnick said.

Brewer, a shortstop, has great raw tools that have yet to translate to professional baseball. He batted .222 at Class-A Brevard County in 2009 with one home run, 29 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. In four seasons in Milwaukee’s farm system, he is a .241 hitter with a .308 on-base percentage.

“I know that mentally, Brent was not there at the end of the season and it probably had something to do with football,” Brewers farm director Reid Nichols wrote in an e-mail. “He was not outspoken about it, but he had been contemplating trying it. My feeling is that if he isn’t with us mentally, he isn’t going to be able to help any team. He needs to get his head and heart where he wants to be.”

The Brewers gave Brewer at $600,000 signing bonus to lure him away from football in 2006.

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Looper, Vargas formally file for free agency

Braden Looper wasted no time in formally filing for free agency, and fellow Brewers right-hander Claudio Vargas was right behind him. 

Both veterans formally filed their paperwork on Friday, meaning all nine of the Brewers’ potential free agents at the start of the offseason are officially on the open market. Outfielders Mike Cameron, Frank Catalanotto and Corey Patterson, infielders Craig Counsell and Felipe Lopez, catcher Jason Kendall and reliever David Weathers all filed previously. 

Earlier Friday, the Brewers declined their half of Looper’s $6.5 million mutual option, choosing instead to pay a $1 million buyout and free $5.5 million more in payroll flexibility. General manager Doug Melvin left open the possibility of re-opening negotiations with Looper at a later date. 

Melvin may also have interested in bringing back Vargas, who was acquired in a July 31 trade with the Dodgers for Double-A catcher Vinny Rottino. Vargas boosted his stock in a late-relief role with the Brewers, appearing in 28 games with a 1.78 ERA. 

Teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents for 15 days following the World Series. That window closes Nov. 19.

When Looper and Vargas filed for free agency, the Brewers were left with 33 players on their 40-man roster.

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