Left-hander Randy Wolf passed a physical on Monday and finalized his three-year pact with the Brewers, who succeeded in landing their top free agent target.
The team was to introduce the newest member of its starting rotation in an afternoon press conference at Miller Park.
Minutes later, the team announced that infielder Craig Counsell’s deal was official, too. Counsell agreed to return to the Brewers on a straight one-year contract with no option. He lives in Milwaukee but wasn’t expected to take part in Monday’s Miller Park event.
Wolf, whose deal also includes a club option for a fourth season, reportedly is guaranteed $29.75 million, making it the third-richest pitching contract in Brewers history. The 33-year-old pitched for his hometown Dodgers in 2009, going 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA in a career-high 34 starts. He wanted to return to Los Angeles, but the Dodgers declined to offer him arbitration, then didn’t make him a contract offer once Wolf hit the open market.
The Brewers did. General manager Doug Melvin viewed Wolf as the second-best free agent starter and decided early that Milwaukee couldn’t afford John Lackey, so he went hard after Wolf. Melvin traveled to L.A. ahead of the Winter Meetings to meet in person with Wolf, then made him a three-year offer on the first day of baseball’s gathering in Indianapolis.
On Wednesday, apparently unable to find another team willing to go to three years, Wolf and his agent, Arn Tellem, accepted.
The Brewers were willing to reach for Wolf because they badly need to bolster a group of starting pitchers who combined for a 5.37 ERA last season, worst in the National League. Melvin had already cut ties with Braden Looper, who led the staff with 14 wins in 2009 but also allowed more home runs than any pitcher in baseball and would have cost $6.5 million had the Brewers exercised his option.
Melvin would like to add one more starting pitcher but he does have the makings of a five-man rotation with Wolf in the fold behind young ace Yovani Gallardo. The Brewers are expected to stick with left-hander Manny Parra, who is coming off an 11-win season despite posting a 6.36 ERA and enduring a demotion to the Minor Leagues. The Brewers tendered a contract Saturday to arbitration-eligible righty Dave Bush, who earned $4 million last season and can probably expect a raise despite an injury-plagued 2009. That’s a strong indication that Bush will return as a starter. And fellow right-hander Jeff Suppan has one year remaining on a contract that calls for a $12.5 million salary next season, making him the highest-paid Brewer.
Wolf has made eight career starts at Miller Park, going 2-4 with a 5.95 ERA against a Milwaukee lineup that in recent years has feasted on left-handed pitchers.
He’s been solid against the Brewers’ National League Central opponents, including the Astros (3.94 ERA in 14 starts), Cardinals (3.64 ERA in 10 starts), Cubs (4.22 ERA in 17 starts), Pirates (7-1, 3.39 ERA in 12 starts) and Reds (9-2, 3.11 ERA in 16 starts).