December 2009

Brewers announce Halama deal

The Brewers made official their deal with veteran left-hander John Halama on Tuesday and, as expected, it’s a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to big league Spring Training camp.

Halama will be 38 by the time he reports to his first big league camp since 2006, with Baltimore. He actually agreed to terms with the Brewers a few days before Thanksgiving, and told MLB.com on Nov. 25 that he was looking forward to trying a comeback.

“I’m really thankful that they are giving me an opportunity,” Halama said from the Dominican Republic, where he is pitching for Aguilas in that country’s winter league. “The way that it was explained to me was that I would come into camp with an opportunity to win a big league job, so I have to be ready to go.

“That’s all I’ve ever asked, let me have an opportunity to open up some eyes. I’m really excited to get back in the game. I’ve had some personal things go on in my life that affected me and got me out of the game, but now I’m clear-minded and I’m ready to go. I’m getting a second chance, and I’m fully aware of that.”

If Halama wins a spot on the Major League roster he would draw a $450,000 salary. Otherwise, he would go to Triple-A Nashville as insurance for the Brewers, who fell out of contention in 2009 when they failed to fill spots in the rotation caused by injuries to Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan.

In his first eight winter league starts, Halama was 4-3 with a 2.15 ERA. He pitched on Nov. 20 in front of Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid and assistant scouting director Ray Montgomery, who happened to be in the Dominican Republic looking at prospects.

Familiarity helped foster the deal. Halama pitched in Oakland in 2003 under now-Brewers manager Ken Macha and pitching coach Rick Peterson. Before that he pitched four seasons with the Mariners while Chris Bosio was a roving pitching coach for Seattle. Bosio is now a Brewers advance scout.

Halama’s original plan was to make two more starts for Aguilas after Thanksgiving before returning to the U.S. He turns 38 on Feb. 22, two days after the formal date for Brewers pitchers and catchers to report for Spring Training.

“I know it’s going to be different,” Halama said. “The baseball part is probably going to feel weird because I haven’t been in big league camp in so long, but I’m positive that I’ll fit in. It’s going to be a little foreign to me, but not too foreign.”

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Clubhouse sale this weekend

I’ve received a number of questions from friends and readers about the Brewers’ popular Clubhouse Sale, and this week the club provided some details:

The Milwaukee Brewers will host the 29th Annual Brewers Clubhouse Sale this Friday and Saturday (December 4-5) from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. at Miller Park.  The sale will take place in the Visiting Team Clubhouse and fans will receive savings up to 75% on sale merchandise items.

Just in time for the holidays, fans can save on Brewers apparel, souvenirs and specialty items as well as rare, game-used merchandise including jerseys and bats.  The Brewers will also have representatives available to handle requests for Holiday 4 Packs.

Shoppers can access the Clubhouse Sale by entering Miller Park at the Hot Corner entrance near the Brewers Team Store by Majestic and follow the posted directions to the Visiting Team Clubhouse.  Cash and credit cards will be accepted (no personal checks).  Admission and parking are both free.

In addition, children can also have their photo taken with Santa on Saturday from 1 – 3 p.m. at the Brewers Team Store by Majestic.  Fans should bring their own cameras and the photos will be free of charge with any purchase.

The Brewers Team Store by Majestic at Miller Park is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.  Also, Big and Tall merchandise is now available inside the store.  For more information, contact the team store at (414) 902-4750.

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Arbitration decisions today

Brewers officials met Monday afternoon to make final decisions, but it appeared they were leaning against extending arbitration offers to any of their five compensation-eligible free agents, including infielder Felipe Lopez

“Where would he play?” general manager Doug Melvin asked. 

Before exploring that question, an arbitration primer is in order: 

Lopez, outfielder Mike Cameron, catcher Jason Kendall and pitchers Braden Looper and David Weathers all qualified as Type B free agents, meaning the Brewers could reap a compensatory pick in next year’s First-Year Player Draft should any of those players sign with another team. 

But in order to qualify for compensation, the Brewers would have to first extend an offer of arbitration to those eligible free agents. If the player declines, the Brewers would be compensated when he signs elsewhere; former teams get a first- or second-round pick from the player’s new club plus a so-called “sandwich pick” between the first two rounds for a Type A free agent, or just a sandwich pick for a Type B player. 

But if the player accepts the offer, he is considered signed for the next season at a salary to be determined, usually higher than the previous season. That possibility can present a risk teams are unwilling to take.

That risk is why the Brewers have been expected all along to decline making offers to Cameron ($10 million salary in 2009) and Kendall ($5 million). The team already declined club options on Looper ($6.5 million) and Weathers ($3.7 million), making an arbitration offer extremely unlikely. Why would the team pay those players buyouts only to bring them back several weeks later?

But many expected that the team would offer arbitration to Lopez, who is coming off a season split between Arizona and Milwaukee in which he batted a career-best .310 with 88 runs scored and a .383 on-base percentage. Lopez was relatively reasonable at $3.5 million. 

Lopez is likely to seek a multiyear contract, and would have to decline an arbitration offer from the Brewers to get one. Because he narrowly missed qualifying for Type A compensation, he is actually more attractive to rival clubs because they would forfeit a Draft pick.

But the Brewers are wary of what they would do if Lopez were to accept. The team is committed to Rickie Weeks at second base and already has two players (Casey McGehee and Mat Gamel) to play third. Lopez has some experience in the outfield, but the Brewers have Ryan Braun set in left field and Corey Hart in right. 

Melvin is already working on a tight budget and wants to preserve as much payroll space as possible to improve the team’s pitching. A multi-million-dollar reserve infielder might not fit Melvin’s plans. 

“You would love to have that depth,” Melvin said. “But is [Lopez] going to want to be a part-time player? He’s going to want to be an everyday player, and Rickie is going to want to be an everyday player. In some sense, you also ask, are you willing to trade the possibility of [acquiring] a pitcher for Felipe Lopez? That’s the question.” 

Melvin has proposed a series of changes to Major League Baseball’s Draft process, and free agent compensation is one of his beefs. He doesn’t expect any changes to come out of next week’s Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.  

“If we want to sign a Type A free agent, we would lose a second-round pick, but we don’t have a way to get picks back,” Melvin said. “Our whole Draft process needs to be redone.” 

The deadline for teams to extend arbitration offers to their free agents is 10:59 p.m. CT on Tuesday. Players who get offers have until Dec. 7 to accept.

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