Brewers open discussions with Counsell

The Brewers found their starting catcher on Friday and at the same time opened negotiations with a key member of the bench. 

Melvin signed catcher Gregg Zaun but also had time for an afternoon telephone conversation with Barry Meister, the representative for free agent Craig Counsell, and submitted an initial contract proposal. The sides will have a chance to meet face-to-face during next week’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis to discuss whether Counsell will remain in Milwaukee. 

Melvin was mum about whether the Brewers are willing to offer anything beyond a one-year deal for the versatile 39-year-old. Counsell batted .285 for the Brewers in 2009 with 34 extra-base hits, a .357 on-base percentage and a .408 slugging percentage in his best all-around season since he helped the D-backs win the 2001 World Series. 

Counsell lives in a suburb just north of Milwaukee and might want to stay close to home. His solid season, however, has led to interest, according to an ESPN.com report earlier this offseason, from as many as a dozen teams. A few may be able to offer a multiyear contract, and it’s unclear whether the Brewers, who plan to spend as many of their available payroll dollars as possible on pitching, could match such an offer.

If Counsell departs, the Brewers would need middle-infield help. Top prospect Alcides Escobar is taking over at shortstop in 2010, but he’s a rookie. Rickie Weeks is on track to return from left wrist surgery to start at second base, but he’s injury-prone. Casey McGehee is the favorite to start at third base, but he’s still somewhat unproven in the Majors and had minor knee surgery after the season. Counsell can play all three positions well. 

The Brewers added versatile infielder Adam Heether to the 40-man roster this fall but he has no Major League experience. 

The Brewers owned exclusive negotiating rights with Counsell for the 15 days following the World Series, but did not take advantage of that opportunity. 

“We were just doing our work at that time, and I don’t think they would have signed, anyway. Not many guys sign before [testing the open market],” Melvin said.

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