November 2009

Melvin heard back from Mulder's rep

Some quick hits about the Brewers’ quest to improve their pitching:

- There remains dialogue between Brewers GM Doug Melvin and the agent for Mark Mulder, the former A’s and Cardinals left-hander who has been limited to four starts since 2006 because of injury. The Brewers are intrigued by Mulder as a bounce-back candidate, and he has worked as recently as this past summer with incoming Brewers pitching coach Rick Peterson, so Melvin placed a call after the season to agent Gregg Clifton, who represents Mulder. At some point within the last week, Clifton returned that call, though Melvin wouldn’t say much about it.

Mulder would be the ultimate high-risk, high-reward pick-up, and the Brewers would only be interested at the right price. Given that there is ongoing communication, he’s a name to watch.

- The Brewers might have been in better position to trade for Tigers right-hander Edwin Jackson before J.J. Hardy went to Minnesota in a trade, but Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday that has been in contact with Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski. The Tigers may be shopping Jackson in a move to manage their own payroll.

- Another potential trade partner is Atlanta, as the pitching-rich Braves field offers for either Derek Lowe or Javier Vazquez. Mark Bowman, our MLB.com Braves reporter, speculates that the Brewers or Angels would make sense for Lowe, though Melvin may be turned off by the three years and $45 million left on the sinkerballer’s contract. Lowe was 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA in his first season in Atlanta and has made at least 32 starts in all eight seasons since he converted from relief. Melvin loves durability.

But as Mark points out, there are indications that Brewers would almost certainly favor Vazquez, who is owed $11.5 million in the final year of his contract. He should get some Cy Young Award votes after going 15-10 in 2009 with a 2.87 ERA and a remarkable 238-to-44 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Melvin loves strike-throwers.

As for what the Braves would seek? Pure speculation here, but they are looking at corner outfielders with power and Corey Hart could fit the bill if the Braves are convinced he can bounce back from a season marred by inconsistency and then an appendectomy. Hart has been involved in trade rumors with the Braves before. Perhaps the Brewers could also dangle one of their third base prospects as a future replacement for Chipper Jones, who has three years remaining on his deal. Melvin has previously resisted trading Mat Gamel, but the emergence of Casey McGehee and Adam Heether in 2009 at least gives the Brewers more options. I hear that Braves scouts are split on Gamel’s worth. Taylor Green is also a good prospect despite some recent injury troubles. 

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Brewers decline Looper's option

Here’s a roster decision with some irony: The Brewers on Friday cut loose their winningest pitcher from 2009 in order to improve the starting rotation for 2010.

The team on Friday declined right-hander Braden Looper’s $6.5 million mutual option. Looper will instead get a $1 million buyout and will join the pool of free agents.

After signing a one-year deal last winter to come to Milwaukee, Looper led the Brewers with 14 wins and tied for the National League lead by making all 34 of his starts, but he also ran up a 5.22 ERA and led the Majors by allowing 39 home runs. By declining the option, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was left with $5.5 million to allocate elsewhere.

“I talked to Braden and I told him that we wanted to keep our flexibility, but we would still consider him,” Melvin said. “You don’t know if that will be at a lower [salary] number or a higher one because it depends on the market. That’s the risk we take.”

In August it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Brewers, who are short on pitching prospects at the top levels of the Minor Leagues, would bring Looper back. But a high-ranking club official indicated during the final week of the season that Looper’s future with the team was thrown up for debate as he posted a 6.58 ERA over the season’s final month with a .349 opponents’ batting average. He did manage to go 5-2 over that span thanks to the Brewers’ offense.

In the season’s final days, Looper revealed that he pitched the entire season with a sore right knee that would need arthroscopic surgery.

“I tried the best I can to get the ball down because that’s my whole game,” Looper said. “I don’t know [if the knee played a part in pitches staying up]. I know I haven’t been a consistent this year. That’s the thing that upsets me, I hope that [the knee] didn’t cause that.”

Looper turned 35 on Oct. 28. The Brewers had until Saturday to decide on his option. Had they exercised it, Looper would have had three days to decide whether to accept.

Looper is a Type B free agent, but it’s impossible to imagine the Brewers offering him arbitration, a necessary step to reap a compensatory Draft pick should he sign elsewhere. If Looper were to accept such an offer, he would earn more than the $6.5 million option the team just declined.

Melvin is focused on acquiring help this offseason for a pitching staff that ranked next to last in the National League with a 4.83 ERA and tied the Orioles for the worst starters’ ERA in all of Major League Baseball at 5.37. The $5.5 million saved by declining Looper’s option will presumably be spent on another arm.

Melvin has made a series of cost-cutting moves in recent days. Last week, he traded J.J. Hardy to the Twins for center fielder Carlos Gomez, who is a first-time arbitration eligible player but will earn far less than Hardy, who made $4.65 million in 2009. That move opened shortstop for rookie Alcides Escobar and meant the Brewers would but pursue departing free agent Mike Cameron, who earned $10 million in 2009.

That same day, Melvin told a Milwaukee radio station that the team was considering using catching prospect Jonathan Lucroy behind the plate in 2010 over another free agent, Jason Kendall, who earned $5 million last season. Melvin met this week with Kendall’s agent to inform him that the team would spend less than that at catcher next season.

Some of that savings will have to go to arbitration-eligible players who are getting more expensive, but Melvin may also be freeing payroll to make a play for a free agent arm. He reportedly met this week at the General Managers Meetings with representatives for veterans John Lackey, Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, all of whom will seek multi-year contracts. The Brewers also could make a bid for Tigers right-hander Edwin Jackson, who may be available in a trade as Detroit manages its own payroll.

Say what you will about Looper’s secondary numbers, he still won more games in 2009 than all of those pitchers. Davis was 9-14 with a 4.12 ERA for a poor Arizona team and Jackson was 13-9 with a 3.62 ERA for a Tigers team that lost a one-game playoff for the American League Central. Lackey was 11-9 with a 3.83 ERA for the 97-win Angels and Wolf was 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA for the 95-win Dodgers.

“I think Braden had more wins than all of the free agents out there, but the other guys had much lower ERAs,” Melvin said. “It shows you the difficulty of predicting what pitchers can do for you. I don’t want to downplay the year [Looper] had for us. He hit all of his incentives, so he did what we asked him to do.

“In the end, we felt we wanted to keep the flexibility to maximize the money we do have left.”

With Looper out of the mix, the Brewers still have four returning starters in Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra. Also under team control are Carlos Villanueva and Seth McClung, both of whom are arbitration-eligible and have made starts over the past three seasons. 

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List of arbitration-eligible players

The Major League Baseball Players Association released a list last night of the 210 players potentially eligible for arbitration this winter. We already knew the eight eligible Brewers — Dave Bush, Todd Coffey, Jody Gerut, Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart, Seth McClung, Mike Rivera (first time eligible), Carlos Villanueva (first time eligible) and Rickie Weeks — but I thought it may be helpful to pass along the entire list. Many of these players will become free agents after the Dec. 12 nontender deadline.

The Brewers will face a couple of decisions at that deadline. Do they bring back McClung ($1.6625 million salary in 2009), the versatile right-hander who worked his way back from an elbow injury at the end of last season? Will Gerut ($1.775 million) return based on his strong finish to the 2009 season? If the Brewers do convince free agent catcher Jason Kendall to return at a discount, will they give the backup job to Jonathan Lucroy or bring back Rivera?

We will get into those decisions at a later date. For now, here is the MLBPA list:

List of players potentially eligible for 2010 Salary Arbitration

PLAYER    SERVICE TIME    TEAM    POSITION
1 Aardsma, David 3.082 SEA RP
2 Accardo, Jeremy 3.171 TOR RP
3 Adams, Mike 3.019 SD RP
4 Albers, Matt 2.141 BAL RP
5 Amezaga, Alfredo 5.097 FLA OF
6 Anderson, Brian N. 3.053 BOS OF
7 Atkins, Garrett 5.072 COL 3B
8 Aybar, Erick 3.086 LAA SS
9 Baker, Jeff 3.049 CHC 2B
10 Bale, John R. 4.016 KC RP
11 Balfour, Grant 5.099 TB RP
12 Bannister, Brian 3.158 KC SP
13 Barmes, Clint 4.122 COL 2B
14 Bartlett, Jason 4.086 TB SS
15 Bautista, Jose A. 4.165 TOR OF
16 Bell, Heath 4.099 SD RP
17 Bennett, Jeff 3.012 TB RP
18 Bergmann, Jay 3.064 WAS RP
19 Billingsley, Chad 3.110 LAD SP
20 Blanton, Joe 5.016 PHI SP
21 Bonser, Boof 3.102 MIN RP
22 Bourn, Michael 3.028 HOU OF
23 Boyer, Blaine 3.122 ARI RP
24 Broxton, Jonathan 4.020 LAD RP
25 Bruney, Brian 4.164 NYY RP
26 Bruntlett, Eric 5.102 PHI 2B
27 Buchholz, Taylor 3.140 COL RP
28 Buck, John 5.101 KC C
29 Burnett, Sean 3.085 WAS RP
30 Burton, Jared 2.165 CIN RP
31 Bush, David 5.052 MIL SP
32 Byrdak, Tim 4.150 HOU RP
33 Cabrera, Fernando 3.104 BOS RP
34 Cabrera, Melky 3.148 NYY OF
35 Camp, Shawn 4.170 TOR RP
36 Cantu, Jorge 5.036 FLA 1B
37 Capps, Matt 4.017 PIT RP
38 Carrasco, D.J. 3.141 CWS RP
39 Casilla, Santiago 3.012 OAK RP
40 Cedeno, Ronny 4.029 PIT SS
41 Chavez, Raul A. 5.074 TOR C
42 Choate, Randy 5.073 TB RP
43 Church, Ryan 4.152 ATL OF
44 Coffey, Todd 4.024 MIL RP
45 Colon, Roman 3.133 KC RP
46 Condrey, Clay 4.012 PHI RP
47 Cormier, Lance 4.154 TB RP
48 Correia, Kevin 5.027 SD SP
49 Cotts, Neal 4.081 CHC RP
50 Crain, Jesse 5.039 MIN RP
51 Cust, Jack 4.002 OAK DH
52 Danks, John 3.000 CWS SP
53 Davies, Kyle 4.012 KC SP
54 Davis, Rajai 2.167 OAK OF
55 de la Rosa, Jorge 5.015 COL SP
56 Delcarmen, Manny 3.133 BOS RP
57 Devine, Joe 2.171 OAK RP
58 Diaz, Matt 4.157 ATL OF
59 Dinardo, Lenny 3.157 KC RP
60 Drew, Stephen 3.079 ARI SS
61 Duke, Zach 4.094 PIT SP
62 Durbin, Chad 5.102 PHI RP
63 Ethier, Andre 3.153 LAD OF
64 Feldman, Scott 3.091 TEX SP
65 Feliciano, Pedro 5.059 NYM RP
66 Flores, Jesus 2.158 WAS C
67 Fontenot, Mike 2.139 CHC 3B
68 Francisco, Frank 5.053 TEX RP
69 Francoeur, Jeff 4.088 NYM OF
70 Frasor, Jason 5.134 TOR RP
71 Garko, Ryan 3.091 SF 1B
72 Garza, Matt 2.149 TB SP
73 Gaudin, Chad 4.163 NYY SP
74 German, Esteban 4.069 TEX 2B
75 Gerut, Jody 5.096 MIL OF
76 Gomes, Jonny 4.097 CIN OF
77 Gomez, Carlos 2.141 MIL OF
78 Gordon, Alex 2.162 KC 3B
79 Gorzelanny, Tom 2.160 CHC RP
80 Green, Sean 3.125 NYM RP
81 Grilli, Jason 4.118 TEX RP
82 Gross, Gabe 4.114 TB OF
83 Guerrier, Matt 5.056 MIN RP
84 Guthrie, Jeremy 3.130 BAL SP
85 Gutierrez, Franklin 3.080 SEA OF
86 Guzman, Angel 3.095 CHC RP
87 Hairston, Scott 4.102 OAK OF
88 Hamilton, Josh 3.000 TEX OF
89 Hammel, Jason 2.153 COL SP
90 Hardy, J.J. 4.164 MIN SS
91 Harris, Brendan 3.112 MIN SS
92 Hart, Corey 4.038 MIL OF
93 Heilman, Aaron 5.123 CHC RP
94 Hermida, Jeremy 4.033 BOS OF
95 Hernandez, Felix 4.060 SEA SP
96 Hill, Koyie 3.006 CHC C
97 Howell, J.P. 3.007 TB RP
98 Iannetta, Chris 3.029 COL C
99 Izturis, Maicer 5.038 LAA 2B
100 Jackson, Conor 4.067 ARI OF
101 Jackson, Edwin 4.070 DET SP
102 Jacobs, Mike 4.047 KC DH
103 Janssen, Casey 3.063 TOR RP
104 Jenks, Bobby 4.090 CWS RP
105 Johnson, Josh 4.026 FLA SP
106 Johnson, Kelly 4.127 ATL 2B
107 Karstens, Jeff 2.144 PIT SP
108 Kemp, Matt 3.049 LAD OF
109 Kendrick, Howie 3.091 LAA 2B
110 Kensing, Logan 4.035 WAS RP
111 Keppinger, Jeff 3.052 HOU 3B
112 Kotchman, Casey 4.144 BOS 1B
113 Kouzmanoff, Kevin 3.030 SD 3B
114 Kuo, Hong-Chih 3.114 LAD RP
115 Laird, Gerald 5.077 DET C
116 Langerhans, Ryan 4.062 SEA OF
117 League, Brandon 3.145 TOR RP
118 Lincecum, Tim 2.148 SF SP
119 Lindstrom, Matthew 3.000 FLA RP
120 Liriano, Francisco 3.104 MIN SP
121 Logan, Boone 3.002 ATL RP
122 Loney, James 3.012 LAD 1B
123 Lowe, Mark 3.087 SEA RP
124 Ludwick, Ryan 4.109 STL OF
125 MacDougal, Mike 5.143 WAS RP
126 Maine, John 4.013 NYM SP
127 Marcum, Shaun 3.128 TOR SP
128 Marmol, Carlos 3.084 CHC RP
129 Marshall, Sean 3.088 CHC RP
130 Martin, Russell 3.150 LAD C
131 Masset, Nick 2.146 CIN RP
132 Mathis, Jeff 3.012 LAA C
133 McCarthy, Brandon 4.055 TEX SP
134 McClung, Seth 5.111 MIL RP
135 McGowan, Dustin 3.113 TOR SP
136 Medders, Brandon 3.074 SF RP
137 Meredith, Cla 3.107 BAL RP
138 Miller, Justin 5.070 SF RP
139 Miner, Zach 3.078 DET RP
140 Mitre, Sergio 4.132 NYY SP
141 Montero, Miguel 3.031 ARI C
142 Moylan, Peter 3.061 ATL RP
143 Murton, Matt 3.004 COL OF
144 Napoli, Mike 3.151 LAA C
145 Navarro, Dioner 4.103 TB C
146 Neshek, Pat 3.087 MIN RP
147 Nieves, Wil 3.092 WAS C
148 Nippert, Dustin 2.140 TEX RP
149 Nix, Laynce 4.070 CIN OF
150 Nolasco, Ricky 3.142 FLA SP
151 Nunez, Leo 3.108 FLA RP
152 Ojeda, Augie 4.169 ARI SS
153 Okajima, Hideki 3.000 BOS RP
154 Olsen, Scott 4.101 WAS SP
155 Orr, Pete 3.096 WAS 2B
156 Pagan, Angel 3.144 NYM OF
157 Papelbon, Jon 4.064 BOS RP
158 Paulino, Ronny 3.112 FLA C
159 Pena, Tony 3.076 CWS RP
160 Pence, Hunter 2.156 HOU OF
161 Perez, Rafael 2.157 CLE RP
162 Pinto, Renyel 3.083 FLA RP
163 Qualls, Chad 5.058 ARI RP
164 Quentin, Carlos 3.065 CWS OF
165 Quintero, Humberto 3.141 HOU C
166 Ramirez, Ramon 3.113 BOS RP
167 Ray, Chris 4.098 BAL RP
168 Redding, Tim 5.167 NYM RP
169 Reed, Jeremy 4.016 NYM OF
170 Repko, Jason 3.067 LAD OF
171 Reyes, Anthony 3.027 CLE SP
172 Rivera, Mike 3.081 MIL C
173 Rivera, Saul 3.056 WAS RP
174 Rodriguez, Wandy 4.105 HOU SP
175 Ross, Cody 4.058 FLA OF
176 Ruiz, Carlos 3.069 PHI C
177 Sampson, Chris 3.012 HOU RP
178 Sanchez, Anibal 3.099 FLA SP
179 Sanchez, Jonathan 3.071 SF SP
180 Santiago, Ramon 5.095 DET SS
181 Saunders, Joe 3.013 LAA SP
182 Schumaker, Skip 3.051 STL 2B
183 Scott, Luke 3.144 BAL DH
184 Seay, Bobby 5.118 DET RP
185 Sherrill, George 4.147 LAD RP
186 Shoppach, Kelly 4.021 CLE C
187 Spilborghs, Ryan 3.072 COL OF
188 Street, Huston 5.000 COL RP
189 Sullivan, Cory 4.010 NYM OF
190 Tallet, Brian 4.146 TOR SP
191 Teahen, Mark 4.155 CWS 3B
192 Tejeda, Rob 3.102 KC RP
193 Th
eriot, Ryan 3.118 CHC SS
194 Uggla, Dan 4.000 FLA 2B
195 Upton, B.J. 3.126 TB OF
196 Veras, Jose 3.014 CLE RP
197 Verlander, Justin 4.002 DET SP
198 Victorino, Shane 4.092 PHI OF
199 Villanueva, Carlos 3.053 MIL RP
200 Waechter, Doug 4.087 KC RP
201 Wang, Chien-Ming 4.159 NYY SP
202 Weaver, Jered 3.129 LAA SP
203 Weeks, Rickie 4.131 MIL 2B
204 Willingham, Josh 4.123 WAS OF
205 Willits, Reggie 3.000 LAA OF
206 Wilson, Brian 2.169 SF RP
207 Wilson, C.J. 4.055 TEX RP
208 Wuertz, Michael 4.139 OAK RP
209 Young, Delmon 3.034 MIN OF
210 Zumaya, Joel 4.000 DET RP

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Schroeder, Vaughn honored by Cape League

The historic Cape Cod Baseball League inducted 10 new members to its Hall of Fame including Pie Traynor, who also has a spot in Cooperstown, and a pair of former Brewers.

Here are the entries on that duo from a story in the Cape Cod Times. Thanks to the guys at Brewerfan.net for pointing me to the story:

Bill Schroeder, Hyannis – A slugging catcher, he led Clemson to the 1978 ACC championship and continued his heavy hitting as he sparked the Hyannis Mets to a dominating 31-11 CCBL season. His 15 home runs set single-season records that still stand for the most ever by a Met and most by a Cape League catcher. He was the seventh player to lead the league in two Triple Crown categories – home runs (15) and RBI (38) – and received three post-season honors – All-League catcher, Outstanding Pro Prospect and Most Valuable Player. He was voted the first-team catcher on the CCBL 1970s All-Decade Team. He played eight MLB seasons, the first six with Milwaukee, which drafted him in the eighth round in 1979, and has been an analyst on Brewers telecasts since 1995.

Greg Vaughn, Cotuit - The Sacramento City star led Cotuit to two Cape League championships in his two seasons with the Kettleers. He hit .261 with four home runs and 12 stolen bases in 1984 and returned in 1985 to win league MVP honors by batting .343 with 10 home runs, 29 RBI and 15 stolen bases. He is one of six players to reach double digits in both steals and home runs in a season. Vaughn signed with Milwaukee after being drafted in the first round in 1986. He also played for the Padres, Reds, Devil Rays and Rockies. Vaughn belted 50 home runs in 1998 and was a four-time MLB All-Star.

An enshrinement ceremony is planned for noon ET on Saturday for the 10 new inductees, who bring the Cape’s Hall of Fame membership to 98.

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Braun a Silver Slugger

For the second straight season, Ryan Braun will have some hardware to show for his efforts at the plate. 

After batting .320 with 32 home runs and 114 RBIs, Braun became the first Brewer since Paul Molitor more than two decades ago to win a Silver Slugger Award in consecutive years. Since 1980, the awards have been given annually to the best offensive player at each position as selected by the Major League Baseball managers and coaches, and Braun was honored alongside Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers as the top offensive outfielders in the National League. 

The other NL Silver Sluggers were Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez and Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano

Braun is the third Brewer to take home the award in consecutive seasons. Molitor was the American League’s top designated hitter in 1987 and 1988, and Cecil Cooper won the award as the AL first baseman in three straight seasons from 1980-82.

The specially designed Silver Slugger will be presented to each player by a representative of the Hillerich & Bradsby Co., makers of Louisville Slugger, in a ceremony early in the 2010 season. The trophy is three feet tall and bears the engraved name of the winner and his Silver Slugger teammates in his respective league.

Before 2005, the Brewers had been shut out in Silver Slugger balloting since 1990, but now they have a winner in four of the past five seasons. Prince Fielder, who was edged at first base for the second straight year by Pujols, won in 2007. Then-Brewers outfielder Carlos Lee was a Silver Slugger in 2005. 

Braun’s numbers were certainly deserving in 2009. With 203 hits, he became the third Brewer ever to lead his league in that category and the first since Molitor led the AL in 1991. Braun also became the eighth player in Major League history with at least 100 runs, 100 RBIs, 200 hits, 30 homers, 20 stolen bases and a .300 average in the same season. 

The numbers keep on coming. Braun has 103 home runs in his first three Major League seasons, sixth-most in baseball history behind two active players — Pujols (114) and the Yankees’ Mark Texeira (107) — and three Hall of Famers — Ralph Kiner (114), Eddie Matthews (112), Joe DiMaggio (107). 

Brewers Silver Sluggers
Player                   Year            Position
Cecil Cooper          1980        First Base
Robin Yount           1980        Shortstop
Ben Oglivie            1980         Outfield
Cecil Cooper          1981         First Base
Cecil Cooper          1982         First Base
Robin Yount           1982         Shortstop
Paul Molitor           1987           DH
Paul Molitor           1988           DH
Robin Yount           1989         Outfield
Dave Parker           1990           DH
Carlos Lee              2005         Outfield
Prince Fielder         2007          First Base
Ryan Braun            2008          Outfield
Ryan Braun            2009          Outfield

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Melvin did speak with Lackey's agent

lackey.jpg[Updated headline on Nov. 13 after talking to Doug Melvin, who said he got a telephone call from Lackey's agent on Wednesday night but did not meet face-to-face with him in Chicago.]

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin may be downplaying his club’s chances of landing the top pitcher on this year’s free agent market, but don’t count Milwaukee out of the John Lackey sweepstakes just yet. 

According to a Major League source, Melvin did speak with Lackey’s agent, Steve Hilliard, this week at the General Managers Meetings in Chicago. It was one of a series of sit-downs conversations between Melvin and representatives for the top available free agent arms.

Pitching is the priority this winter for the Brewers, despite the fact they could have all five of their primary starters under contract again in 2010 (the team must decide by Saturday whether to exercise its half of Braden Looper’s $6.5 million option).  Milwaukee’s starters combined last season for a 5.37 ERA, tying the Orioles for the worst mark of the 30 Major League teams.

Lackey will command top dollar and the Brewers are working on a tight budget, something in the neighborhood of the $80 million payroll with which the team opened 2009. That means Melvin would have to move some other expensive pieces to make room for a pitcher like Lackey.

That process began last week, when Melvin traded J.J. Hardy to the Twins and opened shortstop for rookie Alcides Escobar, who will earn something close to the Major League minimum while Hardy makes upward of $5 million. In return for Hardy the Brewers got center fielder Carlos Gomez, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time but will still come much more cheaply than what the team would have paid to lure back free agent Mike Cameron, who earned $10 million last year.

The Brewers cleared another $3.3 million that day by declining reliever David Weathers’ club option, and Melvin has given indications that he also intends to save money at the catcher’s position instead of trying to resign Jason Kendall, who cost $5 million last season. Another $5.5 million could be freed if the team chooses to pay a $1 million buyout over exercising Looper’s option, though Looper, who led the 2009 Brewers with 14 wins but also posted a 5.22 ERA and allowed a Major League-worst 39 home runs, could always exercise his half of the deal.

Those savings will be offset somewhat by a raise for first baseman Prince Fielder, whose salary jumps from $6.5 million last season to $10.5 million under the terms of a two-year deal struck last December (Fielder also got a $1 million signing bonus in the deal), and by pay raises for some of the Brewers’ other arbitration-eligibles. Among them are some key contributors, including starter Dave Bush, set-up man Todd Coffey, right fielder Corey Hart, reliever Carlos Villanueva and second baseman Rickie Weeks.

After the season, Melvin said he would like to add two starters this offseason, either in trades or free agent signings. He also reportedly met in Chicago with the representatives for free agent veterans Randy Wolf and Doug Davis, and reached out earlier this offseason to the agent for left-hander Mark Mulder, who missed all of 2009 following shoulder surgery.

Lackey, 31, has pitched all eight of his Major League seasons for the Angels and is 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA. He missed the start of each of the last two seasons with arm injuries, but nonetheless has made at least 24 starts in all seven of his full Major League seasons.

Lackey and Wolf are both Type A free agents so the Brewers would have to surrender a pick in next year’s Draft for either player. Since the Brewers own the 14th selection, their first-round pick is protected and they would have to give up a second-rounder to the Angels (for Lackey) or the Dodgers (for Wolf).

[On a side note, thanks to the reader who pointed out that I
misidentified Lackey's agent in a story I filed Wednesday evening. He
is represented by Steve Hilliard of Octagon, and I apologize for the
error.]

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Escobar named Triple-A All-Star

The Topps Company, in conjunction with Minor League Baseball, unveiled the Triple-A All-Star team on Thursday and Brewers shortstop Alcides Escobar made the cut. Escobar finished among the top base stealers in Triple-A with 42 while hitting .298 with four home runs, 34 RBIs, 24 doubles and six triples for the Nashville Sounds. Escobar was named to the Topps Double-A All-Star team last year.

Next season, he’ll have to contend with Major Leaguers for an All-Star bid. When the Brewers traded J.J. Hardy to the Twins last week, it opened the starting gig for Escobar, who will turn 23 on Dec. 16.

“We’ve got younger players again,”  Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. “It’s a transition that we’ll probably have to make continually. It’s no different than when we traded Lyle Overbay to make room for Prince Fielder. I told J.J. that when I talked to him on the phone. … We’re trading J.J. to make room for Escobar.”

Here is the full Triple-A All-Star squad:

2009 TOPPS/MiLB TRIPLE-A ALL-STAR TEAM

POS        PLAYER            CLUB/LEAGUE                           AFFILIATE
1B           Randy Ruiz         Las Vegas/PCL                     Toronto
2B           Kevin Russo        Scranton-Wilkes Barre/IL      New York-AL
3B           Andy Marte         Columbus/IL                         Cleveland
SS          Alcides Escobar   Nashville/PCL                        Milwaukee
OF          John Bowker        Fresno/PCL                           San Francisco
OF          Jordan Brown       Columbus/IL                         Cleveland
OF          Shelley Duncan    Scranton-Wilkes Barre/IL      New York-AL
C            John Hester          Reno/PCL                             Arizona
DH          Mitch Jones         Albuquerque/PCL                   Los Angeles-NL
P            Lenny DiNardo      Omaha/PCL                          Kansas City

Topps Double-A All-Stars will be announced on November 18.
Topps Class A All-Stars will be announced on November 25.
Topps Short Season/Rookie All-Stars will be announced on December 2.

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Brewers eye free agent pitching market

Surprise, surprise. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin spent his time at this week’s General Managers Meetings in Chicago focused on pitching.

Melvin spoke this week with agent Arn Tellem, who represents free agent left-hander Randy Wolf, and Steve Canter, the agent for free-agent left-hander Doug Davis, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At some point he also expressed interest in left-hander Jarrod Washburn, Washburn’s agent Scott Boras told the newspaper.

According to a Major League source, Melvin also met with Steve Hilliard, who represents righty John Lackey, the top available pitcher. In a chat with the Journal Sentinel before heading home to Milwaukee, Melvin downplayed the Brewers’ chances of landing Lackey. 

“It depends what they’re asking for,” Melvin said. “I don’t know if it could fit or not. I might have to make some other moves to make it fit.” 

The Brewers may have jumped to the top of the list of teams expected to pursue Lackey last week, when Melvin brought up Lackey’s name in a discussion of his plan to bolster a pitching staff that ranked next-to-last in the National League in 2009. 

Melvin said he would have to focus on bounce-back candidates coming off poor- or injury-plagued seasons, and indeed he has already checked in with the agent for Mark Mulder, who missed all of 2009 with shoulder woes. At some point Milwaukee could also check in with former Brewer Ben Sheets, who never pitched in 2009 after undergoing elbow surgery.

But at the same time, Melvin would not rule out a look at the top shelf of free agents. 

“There’s one guy that stands out and it’s John Lackey,” Melvin told reporters on a conference call last Friday. “He’s head and shoulders above the others. … You look at the consistency of pitchers who are out there and John Lackey is a great competitor, but we’ll have to take a look at that and see.” 

Since Melvin raised Lackey’s name without being asked, he was pressed on the matter. Is he a free agent of interest to the Brewers? 

“We’ll leave that discussion internally for ourselves,” Melvin said. “When you get involved in free agency and you talk about people, then all you’re doing is letting people know you’re interested and it drives the prices up. So I’m not going to say who we’re interested in or who we’re not.” 

It’s a two-way street, said Melvin, who believes most free agents enter the market with a short list of teams they prefer. 

“It’s our job to find out if we’re on that list of teams,” Melvin said.  

If the Brewers are on Lackey’s list, then Melvin might have to move some more payroll, as he suggested to the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday. 

Melvin has already said he won’t pursue center fielder Mike Cameron, who earned $10 million last year, and has hinted that Jason Kendall’s $5 million salary might not fit next year, either. His highest-paid returning players are starter Jeff Suppan (due $12.5 million in 2010, the final year of his four-year contract), first baseman Prince Fielder ($10.5 million), closer Trevor Hoffman ($7.5 million) and reliever David Riske ($4.5 million in the final year of his three-year deal). 

More decisions are coming. The Brewers have until Saturday to exercise their half of starter Braden Looper’s $6.5 million mutual option, and pitcher Dave Bush (who made $4 million in 2009), outfielder Corey Hart ($3.25 million) and second baseman Rickie Weeks ($2.45 million) head the list of arbitration-eligible players whose salaries could jump again. 

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Brewers shut out in Gold Glove balloting

The National League Gold Glove Award winners were announced this afternoon, and the Brewers were blanked for the 27th consecutive year. Winners are selected by Major League coaches and managers prior to the conclusion of the regular season. Managers and coaches may not vote for players from their own club and only vote for players in their own league.

Here are the winners with their number of Gold Gloves in parentheses:

P  ADAM WAINWRIGHT, CARDINALS  (1)
C  YADIER MOLINA, CARDINALS  (2)
1B  ADRIAN GONZALEZ, PADRES  (2)
2B  ORLANDO HUDSON, DODGERS  (4)
3B  RYAN ZIMMERMAN, NATIONALS  (1)
SS  JIMMY ROLLINS, PHILLIES  (3)
OF  SHANE VICTORINO, PHILLIES  (2_
OF  MICHAEL BOURN, ASTROS  (1)
OF  MATT KEMP, DODGERS  (1)

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Melvin on catchers making Double-A jump

I joined the crowd last night writing about Jason Kendall‘s uncertain future in Milwaukee after Brewers GM Doug Melvin once again touted prospect Jonathan Lucroy as a candidate to catch at least part-time in 2010.

I wanted to highlight one section of the story, borrowing Melvin’s comments on 1250-AM WSSP last Friday. He made some of the same comparisons yesterday in a chat with Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, so I think it’s worth passing along:

lucroy.jpg“Jonathan Lucroy is an advanced player,” Melvin told the radio station last week. “We went through the list of players who jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, and there’s a pretty large list of them, from Russell Martin to Chris Snyder of the Diamondbacks to [Kurt] Suzuki with Oakland. Jason Kendall did it in his career. Pudge Rodriguez. There are a number of catchers who have jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, and it might be because of need as much as anything.”

So I went through some of those players and, Martin certainly fits what could lie ahead for Lucroy. Martin had just turned 23 and had played only 23 games at Triple-A before debuting with the Dodgers in 2006. He batted .282 with 10 home runs and 65 RBIs in 121 games that season.

Snyder also was 23 when the D-backs promoted him in 2004, but unlike Lucroy, who never played an inning over the Class A level before 2009, Snyder had played parts of two seasons at Double-A before his Major League debut. Snyder struggled at the plate in his first full big league season in 2005. Suzuki was also 23 when the A’s came calling in 2007 and put up numbers in his final Double-A season extremely similar to Lucroy’s output in 2009, but Suzuki played more than two months at Triple-A before his promotion.

Kendall was only 21 when the Pirates made him their Opening Day catcher in 1996 after a season-plus at Double-A. Kendall hit .300 in his first big league seasons, but the Brewers don’t necessarily see that kind of output from Lucroy. He profiles more as a Terry Steinbach-type.

Rodriguez had even less experience than Lucroy, with only 50 Double-A games under his belt before the Rangers promoted him as a 19-year-old in 1991.

Lucroy batted .267 at Double-A Huntsville in 2009 with nine home runs, 66 RBIs and a .380 on-base percentage. He walked 78 times versus 66 strikeouts.

“We’re probably going to look seriously at Jonathan,” Melvin told the radio station. “He can handle a pitching staff. He gets more walks than strikeouts. In fact, Ken Macha called me last week in Arizona and said, ‘I’m just calling to see how Lucroy is doing.’ And just as he asked me, Lucroy hit a line drive over the left-field fence, so the timing was good. He’s getting a lot of praises in Arizona, seriously enough that we are going to consider him a candidate.”

Lucroy, who won’t turn 23 until June 24, would skew the Brewers even younger. When Melvin traded shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota on Friday he received the team’s new starting center fielder in return, and Carlos Gomez won’t turn 24 until Dec. 4. The trade also opened the shortstop position for Alcides Escobar, who won’t be 23 until Dec. 13.

Those youngsters could play behind projected Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo, who turns 24 on Feb. 27.

Melvin was in meetings all morning on Tuesday and did not return a call from MLB.com seeking his thoughts about the team’s catching situation. Kendall, who formally filed for free agency on the first day to do so last week, also did not return a call.

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