December 2009

Treanor added to catching competition

The Brewers announced Friday they had signed catcher Matt Treanor to a Minor League contract and invited him to big league Spring Training camp.

Treanor, 33, was a capable backup for the Florida Marlins from 2004-2008 but was limited to nine games with the Tigers last season because of a right hip injury. In 278 Major League games, he is a .232 hitter with eight home runs and 70 RBIs.

Treanor is a right-handed hitter and thrower. He turns 34 on March 3.

He’s also known as the husband of volleyball star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Misty May.

Treanor gives the Brewers further depth behind the plate. The club signed Gregg Zaun two weeks ago and promised him the majority of starts, but Treanor will presumably compete for the backup job alongside waiver pick-up George Kottaras and in-house prospects Jonathan Lucroy and Angel Salome. Kottaras, Lucroy and Salome have a decided advantage in that they are on the 40-man roster.

Until last week the Brewers also had incumbent backup Mike Rivera, but he became a free agent on Dec. 12 when the team declined to tender a contract.

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Back from Japan, Loe signs with Brewers

kameron-loe.jpgAdd former Rangers right-hander Kameron Loe to the list of pitchers hoping to win a big-league job with the Brewers in Spring Training.

Loe’s agent, Page Odle, confirmed that the big right-hander had agreed to terms with the Brewers on a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to big league camp, where he expects to compete as a starter. The 28-year-old who stands 6-foot-8 pitched in 147 Major League games for the Rangers from 2004-2008 but spent the 2009 season in Japan.

“It gave me an opportunity to secure my family, and I couldn’t give that up,” Loe said. “Now, I’m very excited to be back. It’s always been my dream to be a Major League player, and Japan was cool, but I never grew up wanting to be a Japanese Major Leaguer.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was first to report Friday that Loe had reached a deal with Milwaukee. The Pirates were among the other teams interested in Loe, according to the newspaper, and Odle said that at least seven clubs were “heavily involved.”

Loe will earn $650,000 if he makes Milwaukee’s Major League roster and can make another $200,000 in incentives. The deal includes a June 1 “out” that allows Loe to opt for free agency if he isn’t in the Majors.

He drew upwards of $1.1 million from the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks last season but made only six starts before he was demoted to the Japanese minor leagues.

“It was fun and frustrating and a whole lot of other things all rolled into one,” Loe said. “But I’m really glad I did it. It was a chance to see another country and continue playing baseball. It’s something I’d consider again later in my career, but right now I want to see what I can do in the Major Leagues.”

Loe was 19-23 with a 4.77 ERA in 47 starts and 60 relief appearances for the Rangers. He served in every capacity from starter to middle reliever to late-inning mop-up man and pitched most extensively in 2007, when he was 6-11 with a 5.36 ERA in 23 starts and five relief appearances for Texas.

He most recently was pitching in the Mexican Winter League, where Loe capped a six-game stint with a win for Aguilas over Mochis on Tuesday. Loe had a 3.20 ERA in five starts and one relief stint with a sinking fastball that reached the 87-92 mph range. He hopes to work up to 93-94 mph when he resumes a regular throwing program ahead of Spring Training, and also features a slider, a curveball and a change-up.

Loe has returned to the U.S. and will be married on Jan. 9, about a month before reporting to Spring Training camp to compete as a starter. The Brewers have already signed former Major League starters Chris Capuano and John Halama to Minor League contracts with big league camp invites. The team also inked one of Loe’s former Rangers teammates, left-hander A.J. Murray, to a similar deal, but Murray pitched exclusively as a reliever last season.

The Brewers were the first team to make an offer this winter, Loe said, and he likes the fit.

“They’re one of the teams I’ve really enjoyed watching over the past few years,” Loe said. “And it looks like a good opportunity for me, whether that’s starting or in the bullpen. Milwaukee came after me right away, and it seems like they have an opportunity to have a big future.”

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During his Rangers days, Loe’s pet boa constrictor, a female named Angel, was just as popular in Arlington as her famous handler. A group of pet-friendly fans dubbed themselves the “Snake Pit,” and a few members of that group agreed to “snake-sit” Angel when Loe left for Japan. The family has since adopted Angel permanently, so she won’t be visiting Miller Park. 

“It’s just too hard to travel around with a 35-pound, seven-foot snake,” Loe said. “I’m lucky that she ended up with some great people.”

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Getty Images

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4-Pack sale ends Sunday

The Brewers are still offering their popular Holiday 4-Packs through Sunday at 11:59 p.m. CT and promising delivery in time for Christmas. 
All five packages include one all-fan giveaway date and four of the five plans include a game against an American League opponent. In addition, the Brewers are offering a free Klement’s Famous Racing Polish Sausage Ornament to every fan who purchases two of the same 4-Pack plans.  
Holiday 4-Packs range in price from $60-$160 and are available in six seating areas:
  1. Field Outfield Box $160
  2. Loge Infield Box $152
  3. Club Outfield Box $144
  4. Terrace Box $84
  5. Loge Bleachers $80
  6. Terrace Reserved $60
Standard shipping and handling fees apply.  Advance parking packages are also available for purchase.
To make a purchase, fans can visit brewers.com/4packs.  
West Coast Plan
Tuesday April 6 7:10  Colorado
Sunday June 27 1:10  Seattle*
Monday July 5 3:10  San Francisco
Sunday Aug. 22 1:10  San Diego
Matinee Plan
Sunday April 11 1:10  St. Louis*
Thursday May 27 12:10 Houston
Thursday June 24 1:10  Minnesota**
Thursday Aug. 26 1:10  Los Angeles
Central Plus Plan
Saturday May 15 6:10 Philadelphia
Friday June 11 7:10 Texas
Sunday August 8 1:10 Houston*
Monday    Sept. 20 7:10 Cincinnati
Weekend Plus Plan
Wednesday May 26 7:10 Houston
Saturday  June 26 6:10 Seattle
Sunday  Aug. 29 1:10 Pittsburgh*
Saturday  Sept. 25 6:10 Florida
East Coast Plus Plan
Saturday  May 29 6:10 New York-NL
Sunday  July 25 1:10 Washington*
Wednesday Aug. 11 7:10 Arizona
Thursday  Sept. 23 7:10 Florida
*  All-Fan Giveaway
* Marquee Game
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Report: Brewers, M's talked Gamel for Morrow

FoxSports.com says that the Brewers and Mariners had discussions this winter about a trade that would send right-hander Brandon Morrow to Milwaukee for third baseman Mat Gamel. The talks didn’t move forward, according to the report, but it cited a source saying the idea could be revisited later. 

There are a number of reasons why such a swap could make some sense:
  • The Mariners have needs at first base, third base and designated hitter, and while they could always bring back free agents Russell Branyan for first and Adrian Beltre for third, Gamel could be a fit at any of those spots. 
  • Gamel had a down year in 2009 as he bounced between Milwaukee and Triple-A Nashville, but Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is well aware of his offensive talents because Zduriencik is the one who, as Brewers amateur scouting director, drafted Gamel in the fourth round in 2005.
  • The Brewers’ need at third base was eased last season by the emergence of Casey McGehee, who didn’t begin playing every day until mid-May but still managed to lead all Major League rookies with 66 RBIs. At the moment, McGehee, who is under club control for five more seasons, is penciled-in as the starter, and Gamel seems more likely to return to Triple-A Nashville. 
  • The Brewers remainon the lookout for pitching, and Morrow fits the mold of what Melvin might be seeking. Morrow is still one season away from qualifying for arbitration, giving him four years of club control before free agency. The Brewers are running out of payroll space after signing a slew of free agents in the past two weeks, so any subsequent additions would have to be affordable. 
  • Perhaps Morrow is more available now that the Mariners have acquired Cliff Lee in the blockbuster, three-team trade with the Phillies and Blue Jays. The deal gives Zduriencik a pair of aces — Lee and right-hander Felix Hernandez — atop the starting rotation. 

Both teams have said publicly that they are not inclined to trade either player. Melvin was especially strong in that stance with Gamel prior to the 2009 nonwaiver trade deadline, when Gamel and fellow prospect Alcides Escobar drew interest from clubs. 
McGehee’s emergence may have eased Melvin’s “hands off” stance on Gamel, but there is at least some concern about McGehee’s right knee. After playing through pain all season, he had arthroscopic surgery in October to remove loose bodies from the joint, but assistant GM Gord Ash said the procedure offered no guarantees that McGehee won’t have more problems in the future. Gamel could provide some quality insurance. 
Then there’s the matter of whether the Brewers would part with one of their top prospects for Morrow, 25, who has started only 15 of his 131 appearances for the Mariners over the past three seasons and is 403 with a 4.42 ERA in those starts. The Brewers’ bullpen is all but set, so they would almost certainly view Morrow for the starting rotation.  
Gamel is currently playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. In his first 10 games he was hitting .229 with a home run and four RBIs. He was 0-for-3 on Thursday but walked and drove in a run.
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Vargas embraces relief role

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One outing — one at-bat, really — changed everything for the Brewers’ Claudio Vargas in 2009. 
Before he stared down St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols with the bases loaded on Sept. 3 in St. Louis, Vargas regarded himself as a starter first and a reliever second. But Pujols grounded out, the Brewers held on for a tense, 4-3 win and Vargas’ mindset began to shift. 
“That changed me,” Vargas said before heading home to the Dominican Republic for the winter. “From then on, I was pitching late in the game in those tight situations.” 
He figures to see more of those situations again in 2010. Vargas was scheduled to be in Milwaukee for a Friday afternoon physical, the final step toward finalizing a one-year contract to return to the Brewers in 2010. 
Vargas, 31, has already been on one Brewers Opening Day roster — in 2007 — but he was a starter then. The team reacquired him last July from the Dodgers to pitch in relief, and that’s how they view him moving forward. 
For the first time, that’s fine with the right-hander. 
“When I got back here, they needed me right away in the bullpen,” he said. “I didn’t really make any changes, but in my mind, working out of the bullpen was a little fresh. Now, I know that I’m only pitching out of the bullpen.” 
And pitching pretty well. In 28 games for the Brewers after the July 31 trade (Milwaukee sent Double-A catcher Vinny Rottino to L.A. in the deal) Vargas posted a 1.78 ERA and held opponents to a .175 batting average. 
The switch in his head flipped, he said, in that Sept. 3 game against the Cardinals. The Brewers were trying to hold a 4-2 lead when St. Louis slugger Pujols stepped to the plate with the bases full of Cardinals and two outs. 
Entering the at-bat, Pujols was 9-for-13 with the bases loaded in 2009 and 6-for-15 lifetime against Vargas with three home runs. Vargas engaged in a seven-pitch battle that went on much longer because of three timeouts — one called by Brewers catcher Mike Rivera and the others by Pujols. 
Pujols finally swung at a fastball running in on his hands, and sent a groundout to third baseman Casey McGehee. Vargas went back out for the eighth inning and surrendered a Matt Holliday home run, but the Brewers held on for a one-run win that had the feel of a pennant race. 
Vargas called it, “the most intense moment I’ve been in in the big leagues,” and his manager knew the feeling. 
“Getting Pujols out with the bases loaded, you ought to get a save for that, at least,’ Brewers skipper Ken Macha said. 
“You wouldn’t even know that he wasn’t a reliever before,” said fellow Brewers starter-turned-reliever Carlos Villanueva. “You see his composure, the way he handles the pressure. It sure felt like we were coming out on top every time he’s in there.”  
The save that day was reserved for Trevor Hoffman, who struck out Pujols on three pitches in the ninth inning. Hoffman has already re-signed for 2010, and will be at the back end of a bullpen that features co-set-up men Todd Coffey and LaTroy Hawkins. Vargas projects as a mid- to late-inning option along with right-hander Villanueva and left-hander Mitch Stetter. Returning right-hander David Riske has the inside track on the other available slot. 
Vargas has been burned by the Brewers once before. He was stunned to get released on March 25, 2008 in a move that saved the team close to $3 million. That made last July’s trade back to Milwaukee all the more surprising. 
“But the best thing that happened to me was the trade, because who knows if I ever would have gotten to pitch for the Dodgers,” Vargas said. “It’s not easy, because when you fail with the bases loaded or late in the game, it’s over. But I started to get those opportunities, and I did my best.”
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Tough market for second basemen

Lopez.jpgInteresting take from FanGraphs.com about the glut of available second baseman and the lack of interested clubs. I thought I would pass it along for the Brewers fans still debating the Brewers’ decision to let Felipe Lopez go into free agency without offering him arbitration. 

Brewers officials reached the same conclusion as the article’s author, that there were too few teams seeking a second sacker this winter, so they declined to make such an offer. Lopez was a Type B free agent, so Milwaukee would have received a compensatory Draft pick between the first- and second rounds next June had they offered Lopez arbitration and he declined before signing with another club. 
Looking at the market, the Brewers worried that Lopez would accept. He’s listed as earning $3.5 million last season, but I’m told that the figure didn’t include incentives that pushed his actual salary higher. Lopez had an outstanding year, so had accepted the Brewers’ offer of arbitration, he might have topped $6 million for 2010. 
Given Milwaukee’s need for pitching, GM Doug Melvin decided that was too high a price for a player who could end up on the bench, so he let Lopez go, re-signed Craig Counsell for one year and $2.1 million and spent the rest of his free agent cash on starter Randy Wolf and reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Melvin says he still has some flexibility left over to troll the market in January and February for bargains. If he doesn’t find any deals to his liking, Melvin could retain that flexibility into June and July to make a pre-trade deadline deal.  
The key, of course, is that Brewers officials are committed to Rickie Weeks as their second baseman. Weeks missed five months of the 2009 season after undergoing wrist surgery but is on track to be ready for 2010. Weeks still has two seasons of club control before he reaches free agency. He earned $2.45 million last year and is eligible for arbitration.
FanGraphs.com suggests that some of the second baseman on the market might have to switch positions to find homes. I’m not sure whether Lopez and agent Scott Boras are open to that, but if they are, Lopez could be well-positioned. He has played 602 career games at shortstop, 300 at third base, 95 at third base and 17 in the outfield. 
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Hawkins contract complete

One more UPDATE on Dec. 17: Thanks to Twitter follower @TheronJay, who pointed out that you can’t give incentives for saves. I double-checked and was misinformed on Wednesday; Hawkins’ bonuses are tied to appearances and games finished, not saves.

UPDATE at 1:45 p.m. CT:  It’s a done deal, the Brewers say. Hawkins will meet with the media at Miller Park at 3: 30 p.m. CT. 

UPDATE again at 2:25 p.m. CT:  I confirmed the terms of Hawkins’ contract and learned that he can earn $275,000 in incentives each season, not over the length of the full two years. The bonuses are based on a combination of saves appearances and games finished. In other words, if something happens to Trevor Hoffman and Hawkins spends significant time as the closer, he could earn a total of $8.05 million.

LaTroy Hawkins’ two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Brewers was finalized Wednesday afternoon after the right-hander passed a physical. Here’s the breakdown of his’ contract:

Hawkins gets a $3 million salary with a $500,000 signing bonus in 2010, then $4 million in 2011. He can earn an additional $275,000 in incentives per season, based on appearances and games finished.
Hawkins, who turns 37 on Monday, is the team’s second significant free agent pick-up from the Winter Meetings — the other, of course, was Randy Wolf – and he projects to pitch alongside workhorse Todd Coffey as set-up men to closer Trevor Hoffman. Hawkins also has some saves to his credit and could fill-in as closer on days Hoffman is unavailable. 
In 65 games last season for the Astros, Hawkins posted a 2.13 ERA, 19 holds and 11 saves. He worked 63 1/3 innings with 45 strikeouts and only 16 walks. Of the 16 runs he allowed, eight scored on home runs. 
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DiFelice on Minors deal: 'They did me a favor'

The Brewers re-signed reliever Mark DiFelice to a Minor League contract on Tuesday and also announced they had picked up former Rangers left-hander A.J. Murray on a Minors deal that includes an invitation to big league Spring Training camp.  
DiFelice will not be in big league camp because he will be rehabbing from a Dec. 3 shoulder surgery that’s likely to sideline him for all of 2010. The Brewers nontendered DiFelice on Saturday to free his spot on the 40-man roster, briefly making the 33-year-old a free agent.  
Milwaukee took a similar strategy last year with left-hander Chris Capuano, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008 and missed most of the 2009 season. Since Capuano and DiFelice suffered their injury on the Brewers’ watch, the team is contractually obligated to pay for their rehabilitation. By signing the players to a Minor League contract, assistant general manager Gord Ash said, the club’s medical officials have more control over that process.
Capuano made six Minor League appearances late in the 2009 season and has since re-signed another Minors contract for 2010.  
In 74 Brewers appearances over the past two seasons, DiFelice posted a 3.44 ERA. Working almost exclusively with his signature cut fastball, he held right-handed hitters to a .218 batting average. 
“They did me a favor bringing me back,” DiFelice said. “Whether that’s because they feel some responsibility to rehab the injury, or they just think I’ll be able to help later on, I don’t know. Hopefully, they feel like I’m going to make a comeback and that I can be a valuable commodity for the future and help them. It’s just a testament to the relationship I have with the Brewers.  
“I’m glad it worked out. I didn’t want it to end the way it did.” 
DiFelice will earn slightly less than $100,000 in 2010. He will be a free agent again after the season, but said that if he’s healthy it would be difficult to leave the organization. 
“If they’re going to sign me knowing I won’t be able to participate, I want to come back the following year,” he said.  
Like Capuano, DiFelice will work at the team’s year-round facility in Phoenix. He concedes he’s a long shot to pitch in 2010, but is not ready to completely write off that possibility.  
“I still have hopes of pitching at the end of this year,” said DiFelice, whose surgery repaired a torn labrum and rotator cuff. “With this type of injury, it’s all about how I respond.”  
Murray, 27, had been in the Texas Rangers organization since 2001.  He pitched at Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, going a combined 4-2 with a 2.87 ERA and one save in 41 relief appearances.   
He made 16 appearances in the Major Leagues with the Rangers between 2007 (14 games, two starts) and 2008 (two starts), going 2-2 with a 4.29 ERA. 
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Cameron to Boston

Mike Cameron and the Red Sox reached a tentative agreement on a two-year deal, per the Associated Press. Cameron manned center field in Milwaukee the past two seasons, but he earned $10 million in 2009 and the Brewers went younger, cheaper and perhaps a half-step better defensively when they traded for Carlos Gomez earlier this winter. 

Gomez won’t provide Cameron’s pop. Yes, Cameron has struck out at least 130 times in all but one season since 1999, but he’s also topped 20 home runs eight times, including in each of the past four seasons. He’s the only center fielder in baseball with 25 or more doubles and 20-plus homers in each of the past four years. 
It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox — who have Jacoby Ellsbury in center field — utilize Cameron. Here’s a link to Ian Browne’s MLB.com story that was filed last night.
Cameron is the third Brewers free agent to sign elsewhere in the past week. The Royals inked Jason Kendall to a two-year, $6 million contract on Friday, one week after the Brewers signed fellow veteran catcher Gregg Zaun. The Kendall deal came two days after the Mariners inked outfielder Corey Patterson, a September bust for the Brewers, to a Minor League contract. 
Milwaukee’s free agents are quickly exiting the market. The Brewers finalized their contract with Craig Counsell on Monday and Claudio Vargas’ deal is done pending a physical, leaving only outfielder Frank Catalanotto, starter Braden Looper, infielder Felipe Lopez and reliever David Weathers on the open market.
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Brewers 40-man roster about to fill up

Craig Counsell and Randy Wolf became the 37th and 38th players on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster when they signed their contracts on Monday. Reliever LaTroy Hawkins should become No. 39 on Wednesday, when he’s scheduled for a physical to finalize a two-year deal, and another reliever, Claudio Vargas, should become No. 40 after his physical on Friday to finish a one-year pact.

So where do the Brewers go from here? General manager Doug Melvin might be finished with his major moves, partly because he’s butting against the team’s payroll ceiling and partly because he’s addressed the major holes by acquiring Wolf, Hawkins and new catcher Gregg Zaun and retained the versatile Counsell. Melvin will still have an eye on potential deals, but any splash after this week would probably come via trade, and not via free agency.

“As far as higher-profile free agents, I don’t think we’re going to get involved,” Melvin said Monday.

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