The Brewers’ long-awaited sit-down with free agent left-hander Mark Mulder is set for Thursday evening, when the sides will meet to begin discussing whether Mulder’s road back from injury will continue to Milwaukee’s Spring Training hub.
Mulder, who didn’t pitch at all in 2009 while he recovered from shoulder surgery, lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. and Brewers officials gathered this week at Maryvale Baseball Park in neighboring Phoenix for a pitching symposium. The confluence offers an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with Mulder and his agent, Gregg Clifton, that could kick-start talks toward a contract.
“I think it will just be a nice chance to get together and talk and then we’ll go from there,” Clifton said. “But I don’t think it will take weeks and weeks to figure out, assuming they are interested in getting something done.”
Given Mulder’s medical history, the Brewers are planning to offer a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The team’s contingent at Thursday’s meeting is likely to include general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash, plus pitching coach Rick Peterson, whose relationship with Mulder dates back to their years together in Oakland.
Clifton, speaking via telephone on Tuesday while watching Mulder throw a side session at home off a backyard mound, indicated a willingness to discuss a Minor League offer.
“If the parties want to be together, we can always make the financial side of it work,” Clifton said.
The Brewers are interested in the 32-year-old as a bounce-back candidate. Mulder has made only four starts since Aug. 29, 2006 because of shoulder injuries, but he won 15 games in five straight seasons from 2001-2005 and Brewers officials are intrigued by the notion that he could rediscover his form with help from Peterson.
That relationship goes back to 1998, when Peterson was the A’s pitching coach and Mulder was the second overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Mulder joined Peterson in the big leagues in 2000, and in 2001 Mulder went 21-8 with a 3.45 ERA and finished second in American League MVP balloting. He made the AL All-Star team in 2003 and 2004 before Oakland traded Mulder to the Cardinals for a package of players highlighted by pitcher Dan Haren in December 2004, and Mulder made 32 starts for St. Louis in 2005 before shoulder woes set in.
He was limited to 17 starts in 2006 and eventually underwent rotator cuff surgery. He signed a two-year free agent deal with the Cardinals but made only three appearances in 2007 before a second surgical fix, then made three more appearances in 2008 before another shut-down.
At some point last summer, Mulder reunited with Peterson for help with his mechanics. Peterson is an expert in biomechanics, a process intended in part to help pitchers avoid injuries, and spent most of the year founding a company called 3P Sports that offers training services to amateur and professional athletes. The Brewers hired him in October.
Mulder, meanwhile, continued his rehab.
“He’s feeling wonderful,” Clifton said. “The final phase is finalizing his mechanics to the point where he can be successful on an every-outing basis. He feels healthy and as strong as he’s ever felt. If we can figure something out and get something finalized with the Brewers, I know he’s very excited about the chance to work with Rick and get back with people he’s very comfortable with.”
Brewers starters combined for a 5.37 ERA in 2009, the worst mark in the National League. Melvin has already added left-handed free agent Randy Wolf to the mix as a replacement for righty Braden Looper, whose option was declined after the season. For now, Wolf and right-hander Yovani Gallardo are projected to top a starting rotation that also includes right-handers Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan and left-hander Manny Parra.
The Brewers also have left-hander Chris Narveson on the 40-man roster, and former All-Star Chris Capuano will be in camp as a non-roster invitee who, like Mulder, is attempting a comeback from injury. Capuano hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2007 and underwent his second career Tommy John surgery in May 2008.