K-Rod, Yuni join free agent pool

Reliever Francisco Rodriguez and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt on Sunday joined a list of Brewers free agents that has grown to eight. Both players had options for 2012 — Rodriguez’s a mutual option and Betancourt’s controlled by the club — that apparently went unexercised.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was not immediately available to confirm that the club had declined those options. Betancourt and Rodriguez were included on a list released by the Player’s Association on Sunday morning of nearly 150 free agents.

Milwaukee’s other free agents are first baseman Prince Fielder, infielders Craig Counsell and Jerry Hairston Jr., outfielder Mark Kotsay and relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito.

The Brewers own exclusive negotiating rights to all eight players until 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, when those players are free to sign with any team.

The Brewers were widely expected all along to turn loose Rodriguez, whose contract was re-worked after his July trade from the Mets to eliminate a clause that would have vested his $17.5 million option for 2012 had he finished 55 games. In return, the price of the buyout was boosted by $500,000, to $ 4 million.

Betancourt’s deal called for a $6 million club option for 2012 or a $2 million buyout, and it had been unclear before Sunday which direction the Brewers would go. On one hand, Betancourt had the second-lowest on-base percentage (.271) among National League hitters who qualified for the batting title and the third-most errors (21) among NL shortstops. On the other hand, Betancourt drove in more runs (68) than any NL shortstop not named Troy Tulowitzki, and the Brewers do not have any clear candidates to take over that position.

“I thought Yuni Betancourt was a better player than what the critics had said,” Melvin said earlier this month. “I thought he did a very good job. If you look at the on-base percentage, that’s the thing that always seems to hurt him. [Defensively] I thought he made a lot of very good plays, a lot of outstanding plays. … I’m very surprised about some of the critics on him, personally.”

The primary shortstop at Triple-A Nashville in 2011 was Edwin Maysonet, who has already signed a Minor League contract for 2012 that includes an invitation to big league Spring Training camp.

The list of free agent shortstops who held starting jobs in 2011 includes Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll and Alex Gonzalez. The list could grow to include the Cardinals’ Rafael Furcal, the Red Sox’s Marco Scutaro and the Pirates’ Ronny Cedeno if chose clubs decline options.

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