December 2009

Wolf downplays exit from L.A.

Wolf04 copy.jpgOn a dreary day outside Miller Park, Randy Wolf insisted he was right where he wanted to be.

The left-hander passed a physical on Monday and finalized a three-year contract with the Brewers that includes a club option for 2013. It guarantees $29.75 million, making Wolf the third-richest pitcher in franchise history.

Wolf was all smiles in his new Brewers jersey and cap, but conceded last week that he was “disappointed” his hometown Dodgers didn’t make more of an effort to bring him back after he went 11-7 in 2009 with a 3.23 ERA in a career-high 34 starts. The Dodgers declined to offer him arbitration, then decided against making an offer once Wolf hit the open market.

That left an opening for the Brewers.

“To tell you the truth, going into this offseason I wanted to be on a team that wanted to win and I wanted to be on a team that was dedicated to me and having that feeling be mutual,” Wolf said. “I went into this offseason with a very open mind. I wasn’t set on going back to L.A.

“When the Brewers came out very early and showed me that I was a priority this offseason, I looked at them a lot closer and realized this would be a great fit for me.”

Part of the Brewers’ pursuit was a West Coast trip by Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who, along with principal owner Mark Attanasio, met with Wolf in L.A.  Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman joined the sales pitch in a 45-minute conversation with Wolf about playing in Milwaukee.

“From Day 1 they made it very clear that I was a priority this winter,” Wolf said. “Not only was I the priority, but winning was the priority … and that’s very important to me. When you become a free agent, you want a team that desires you and thinks that you can help their team win. The thing I see from this organization is they’re making a huge effort to win.”

Wolf’s financial package was evidence of that effort. His deal is the third-richest for a pitcher in Brewers history and, according to the Associated Press, includes base salaries of $9.25 million in 2010, $9.5 million in 2011 and $9.5 million in 2012. The club option for 2013 would pay $10 million with a $1.5 million buyout.

He can earn an additional $250,000 per year in incentives: $125,000 for 190 innings and $125,000 for 200 innings. Wolf gets a limited no-trade clause and additional payment of $250,000 if he’s dealt.

“We felt he fit for what we needed here,” Melvin said. “In the past, you’re always looking for somebody to give you innings, but what you need is someone who’s going to give you quality innings. Randy fit a lot of our criteria.”

“I really strongly believe that he’s turned a corner to his career,” Melvin said. “I think he can really take off in these next few years. He is one of the better pitchers in the game today and he can continue that as a Milwaukee Brewer.”

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(All photos courtesy of Scott Paulus/Brewers)


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Counsell: Brewers offered the best deal

Craig Counsell owed it to his family to take the best deal, even if it meant leaving his hometown team. When his hometown team offered the best deal, his choice became easy. 
Counsell and the Brewers finalized a $2.1 million, one year contract on Monday that ensured Counsell will play half his games within a bike ride of his suburban Milwaukee home. Counsell, who will turn 40 next August, projects as the team’s primary backup infielder and first bat off the bench. 
“There were more choices than last year, for sure, but in the end this was the best deal,” Counsell said. “I want to keep playing. I think I’m going strong. In the end, this was the best thing for both sides.”
Counsell batted .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 in his best all-around season since 2001, when he played for a Diamondbacks club that won the World Series. 
He credited Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum, who helped Counsell re-make his signature swing. Counsell lowered the position of his hands and the power followed. 
“The adjustments I made were huge. In a lot of ways I felt like a different offensive player,” Counsell said. “Now the challenge is to do it again, or to improve on it, really.” 
He’s an important piece for the Brewers, who will feature an injury-prone second baseman in Rickie Weeks, a rookie shortstop in Alcides Escobar and a second-year third baseman in Casey McGehee. All three of those players are right-handed hitters; Counsell is a lefty. 
According to the Associated Press, Counsell can earn $500,000 more in incentives: $50,000 each for 50, 75, 90 and 110 games, and $100,000 each for 125 games and 75 and 100 starts. 
Counsell wouldn’t name the other clubs that inquired about his services but hinted that some were offering more than the straight, one-year deal he got from the Brewers. 
“In the end, we decided to take the best one-year deal,” Counsell said. “That’s what we got.” 
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Wolf, Counsell contract details

The Associated Press reported the details of Randy Wolf’s three-year, $29.75 million contract and Craig Counsell’s one-year, $2.1 million contract:

Randy Wolf gets $9.25 million next year and $9.5 million in each of the following two seasons. The deal includes a $10 million club option for 2013 with a $1.5 million buyout.
Wolf can make an additional $250,000 a year in performance bonuses: $125,000 each for 190 and 200 innings. He has a limited no-trade clause and would get $250,000 if he’s dealt. …
Counsell can earn $500,000 in performance bonuses: $50,000 each for 50, 75, 90 and 110 games, and $100,000 each for 125 games and 75 and 100 starts.


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Wolf, Counsell officially inked

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). 
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Report: Tentative Counsell deal done

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Saturday that he’d reached a tentative agreement with infielder Craig Counsell on a 2010 return. Melvin told the newspaper that the contract will be finalized on Monday. 

That jived with comments late last week from Counsell’s agent, Barry Meister, who said that he expected to have an answer either way on Counsell by Monday. Meister had a number of in-person discussions with Melvin at last week’s Winter Meetings and followed-up with a series of telephone conversations on Friday. 
Counsell, 39, appeared in 130 games last season and batted .285. Assuming his deal — it will probably be a one-year pact but it’s unclear whether the Brewers offered an option for a second season — is finalized, he would be an important bench piece behind second baseman Rickie Weeks, shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Casey McGehee or Mat Gamel
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McClung gets bad news from Brewers

Seth McClung said in an e-mail Monday night that Brewers officials had informed him he won’t be tendered a contract by Saturday’s 10:59 p.m. CT deadline. He was one of eight potentially arbitration-eligible players awaiting word from the team. 

McClung posted the following message via his Twitter:
Thank you Milwaukee brewers fans. You guys were outstanding. Thank you Doug Melvin and Gord Ash for bringing me over and giving me a chance. 

Thank you Mike Maddux, Bill Castro, Ned Yost and Dale Sevum for giving me the ball and helping me grow as a player. Eddie, Stan, Bossie, you all were great too. Thank you to my Brewers teammates, you guys were awesome to play with and travel with. I have made some lasting friendships with many of you and you mean the world to me. Thanks to a wonderful training staff and clubhouse staff. I would also like to thank our owner Mark Attanasio, you and your club are first class all the way. Thank you again for being good not only to me but my family as well.
I will always have great memories of my time in Milwaukee. It was not my choice to leave. I hope you saw how much I cared through my on field performance. I want you all to know I played hard and always wanted to win. I was honnered to be a big part of the 08 team that made the playoffs. I had a great year, starting in the middle of the season and then pitching out of the pen. My favorite memory to date is finishing the game late September vs the Cubs. Again thank you Milwaukee I was honored to be a Brewer.

Saturday is the deadline to tender contracts to unsigned players, and for more on the Brewers’ decisions, see my story at

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Counsell answer by Monday?

While Craig Counsell was taking part in a community event in Milwaukee on Monday, negotiations continued behind the scenes between his agent, Barry Meister, and the Brewers about a return in 2010. 
Meister said he had several conversations with Brewers GM Doug Melvin on Friday, a day after Melvin departed the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis saying he was “confident” a deal would get done. As of Friday evening, no agreement had been reached. 
“I think we’re getting close,” Meister said. “I hope one way or another, whether it’s with the Brewers or another team, that we’ll have something by Monday.” 
Counsell spoke to students from Milwaukee’s Bruce Guadalupe Middle School on Friday at Miller Park about financial literacy, an event coordinated by Brewers Charities that was previously scheduled. He’s the only Brewers player who makes his year-round home in the Milwaukee area. 
But Counsell is a free agent and his fine 2009 season has led to interest from other clubs, the Reds among them. The Brewers would like to bring him back as a backup infielder. 
If a deal is struck Monday and can be made official, it could be a busy day for the Brewers. Left-hander Randy Wolf, who agreed to terms on a three-year contract during the Winter Meetings, has said he will be in Milwaukee that day for the requisite physical exam. 
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Winter Leagues roundup

Thanks to Brewers media relations man Ken Spindler, who rounded up some information on players participating in winter leagues. Here is his story:

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers have been well represented in the various Winter League programs, which include the Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican and Venezuelan Winter Leagues.  Along with the Arizona Fall League, which concluded with the Peoria Javelinas winning the AFL Championship, the Brewers have had a total of 26 players participate in Winter League play this offseason. 

The Brewers are represented by seven positional players in the Venezuelan Winter League.  Shortstop Alcides Escobar is batting .403 with two home runs, 19 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 33 games for Lara, and teammate Hernan Iribarren is also faring well, batting .313 with three triples, two home runs, 20 RBI and nine stolen bases in 44 games.  Third baseman Mat Gamel has appeared in six games for Caracas (.200, 1hr, 2rbi), while fellow infielder Adam Heether appeared in 21 games with Caracas prior to being sidelined with an intercostal strain.  Outfielder Brendan Katin appeared in 22 games (.246, 1hr, 7rbi) for Zulia.  Catcher Anderson De La Rosa (Lara) and outfielder Juan Sanchez (Aragua) also saw limited action.

The Dominican Winter League has featured five players from the organization competing in the three-month long winter season, including recent acquisitions outfielder Carlos Gomez and left-handed pitcher John Halama.  Gomez is playing for Escogido and has batted .328 with one home run and 12 RBI through 18 games.  Halama, meanwhile, was 4-3 with a 2.45 ERA in nine starts for Aguilas.

Shortstop Erick Almonte, who spent the 2009 regular season as a corner infielder at Triple-A Nashville, is among the Dominican League batting leaders with a .331 batting average along with four home runs and 23 RBI in 42 games for Gigantes.  Right-hander Juan Sandoval (Estrellas) has gone 0-1 with a 3.95 ERA in 17 relief appearances and left-hander Rafael Lluberes has pitched sparingly for Gigantes.

In the Puerto Rican Winter League, right-handed pitcher Hiram Burgos – a sixth round selection by the Brewers in this year’s First-Year Player Draft – began Monday’s game by pitching 5.1 hitless innings for Mayaguez before allowing a single run on one hit.  He is currently 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA in five starts overall in the Puerto Rican Winter League.  Left-hander Efrain Nieves (0-0, 4.76) has made three appearances (1 start) with Arecibo and catcher Martin Maldonado has played in 11 games for Mayaguez.

The Mexican Winter League has included a pair of Brewers newcomers, including outfielder Trent Oeltjen, who has hit .348 with five RBI in 23 games with Hermosillo, and infielder Luis Cruz (.318, 1hr, 14rbi) with Culiacan.  Right-handed pitcher David Welch has gone 1-3 with a 4.75 ERA in seven starts for Guasave.

The Brewers had eight members on the Peoria Javelinas squad in the Arizona Fall League, which won the six-team league title with a 5-4 win over the Phoenix Desert Dogs on November 21.  Catcher Jonathan Lucroy played consistently over 17 games, batting .310 with two home runs and 10 RBI.   He was joined by infielder Taylor Green and outfielder Lorenzo Cain, who both participated in the league for the second consecutive year. 

On the pitching side, right-handed pitcher Omar Aguilar made his second straight appearance in the Arizona Fall League.  He was joined by right-hander Rob Wooten, who had six scoreless outings in eight appearances, and left-handed pitcher Zach Braddock, who allowed just one run over 11.2 innings with three saves prior to his final outing.  Right-handers Josh Butler and Mark Rogers also participated in the AFL after contributing with solid seasons during the regular season. 

In addition, Brevard County pitching coach Fred Dabney served as a coach for Peoria.

Nice job by Ken of avoiding the AFL stats, because they were not all pretty. If you want to see how those players fared, you can see Peoria’s roster and final statistics here.


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Crew officials mulling tender date

After committing more than $37 million on free agents Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins at the Winter Meetings, the Brewers could cap the week with some cost savings. 

Club officials have until 10:59 p.m. CT to tender contracts to unsigned players for 2010 or let them join the pool of free agents. Of particular interest are the seven players who would be arbitration-eligible if they are offered a contract, and thus likely to see their salaries jump.

That list is made up of starter Dave Bush ($4 million salary last season), relievers Todd Coffey ($800,002), Seth McClung ($1.6625 million) and Carlos Villanueva ($447,000), outfielders Jody Gerut ($1.775 million), Carlos Gomez ($437,500) and Corey Hart ($3.25 million) and catcher Mike Rivera ($415,000).

Of that group, Coffey, Villanueva, Gomez and Hart are all but guaranteed tenders and Bush and Gerut fall into the “likely” category. Brewers officials were meeting Friday to discuss the entire group.

McClung in particular is waiting to learn his fate. The right-hander posted a 4.94 ERA in 41 games, including two starts, and missed nearly two months with a sprained right elbow. He returned for three appearances before the end of the season, but it was a disappointing follow-up to McClung’s fine 2008 season in which he made 25 relief appearances and 12 starts and was so valuable late in the year during the Brewers’ postseason push.

The numbers game works against McClung in Milwaukee’s bullpen. Trevor Hoffman is back as the closer, and Coffey and Hawkins (assuming he passes his physical next week) are ticketed for set-up roles. The Brewers are close to re-signing Claudio Vargas, who was solid in the second half of 2009 and, like McClung, has history as a starter. So does Villanueva, who figures to be a lower-cost option than McClung. The Brewers also have left-hander Mitch Stetter back and will take a look in Spring Training at Rule 5 pick Chuck Lofgren, another lefty.

Rivera ($415,000 salary last season) is also part of a crowded field. The team last week signed veteran catcher Gregg Zaun and assured him he’ll be the regular starter behind the plate, and also added George Kottaras via the waiver wire on Nov. 18. Catching prospects Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy will be in camp with a chance to win a job, and Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has mentioned LuCroy as a candidate to make the roster.

In 41 games as Jason Kendall’s backup last season, Rivera batted .228 with two home runs and 14 RBIs. He’s been the Brewers’ backup catcher in each of the past four seasons.

Teams rarely nontender so-called “zero-to-three” players who don’t have enough service time to qualify for arbitration, but they are likely to cut loose reliever Mark DiFelice on Saturday to free his 40-man roster spot. DiFelice underwent shoulder surgery last week and expects to be sidelined for the 2010 season. The Brewers could re-sign him to a Minor League contract.

The Brewers currently have 39 players on the 40-man roster so they need DiFelice’s roster spot for Wolf and Hawkins, who are scheduled for physical exams next week to finalize their contracts.

After all 30 teams make their decisions on Saturday, the Brewers will scour the list for new free agents of interest and will probably be particularly interested in starting pitchers and backup outfielders. One pitcher to keep an eye on is Kevin Correia, who might be non-tendered by the Padres after earning $1.1 million with incentives in 2009.

The Brewers showed interest in Correia last winter before he signed a Minor League deal with the Padres and tried to acquire him again in July. The key would be Correia’s asking price after his solid year.


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Lofgren excited to be a Brewer

The Brewers capped a Winter Meetings week that was all about pitching by selecting one in Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft. 
Milwaukee picked 23-year-old left-hander Chuck Lofgren from the Indians in the Major League portion of the Draft and will give him a chance next spring to win a job in the bullpen. The claim cost the Brewers $50,000, and by rule they must keep Lofgren in the Majors next season or offer him back to Cleveland for half that price. 
“I’m very excited,” Lofgren said. “It’s one of those opportunities that presents itself very rarely. Very few players get taken and I’m excited I was. I’m looking forward to being a part of the Milwaukee Brewer family. 
“If they want me to start, I’ll start. If they want me to spot start and relieve, or go lefty on lefty, I’m good with whatever they want.”
If he makes the cut, Lofgren would probably serve as a compliment to left-handed specialist Mitch Stetter. Lofgren was a starter for the Indians who spent most of last season at Triple-A Columbus, going 6-10 with a 5.31 ERA in 17 starts.  Lofgren also made eight starts for Double-A Akron and was 3-1 there with a 1.48 ERA.  
Overall in 2009, Lofgren held opposing batters to a .223 average and struck out 93. Brewers head pro scout Dick Groch said Lofgren had above-average pitchability but average pure stuff. 
“What we’ve got is a pitcher who can do two things: He’s capable of starting, because that was his role, but he’s also capable of coming out of the bullpen because left-handed hitters were hitting in the low .200s against him,” Groch said. “We saw a chance to get a 23-year-old left-hander who can get the ball over the plate. … We like the age, we like the body and we like the things we can do with him.”
Lofgren was the Indians’ fourth-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft and jumped up the prospect chart after going 17-5 with a 2.32 ERA as a 20-year-old at advanced Class A Kinston in 2006, and he followed-up by going 12-7 with a 4.37 ERA at Double-A Akron in 2007. 
But he struggled at Akron the following season to the tune of a 5.99 ERA and 52 walks versus 72 strikeouts. 
“I feel like coming back this year after the year that I had [in 2008], I did pretty well,” Lofgren said. “My August was down, but I thought I put myself back on the map with how I’ve performed.<p>
Lofgren was available because the Indians chose not to protect him on their 40-man roster. 
“Chuck has the pedigree, and he’s had a lot of highs and done some very good things,” Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. “He’s extremely durable, extremely competitive. But at this point, we feel we have better options to win at the Major League level.”
The Brewers did not select any players in the Minor League phases of the Rule 5 Draft. They also did not have any unprotected players selected by other teams. 
The Brewers haven’t carried a Rule 5 pick into the season since right-hander Jeff Bennett made the team in 2004.
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