Brewers seek shortstop at the right price
If you’re a free agent shortstop, then the Brewers are interested.
While sitting in a holding pattern at first base that’s likely to continue until Prince Fielder picks a new team, the Brewers have been among the most active clubs on the shortstop market, meeting or otherwise touching base with the agents for all of the available prominent players. General manager Doug Melvin spoke via telephone in recent weeks with the rep for Jose Reyes, who the Brewers conceded is almost certainly out of their price range, and for Yuniesky Betancourt, who was made a free agent when the Brewers declined his option. The door remains open to Betancourt returning.
Melvin then met personally at the Pfister Hotel during General Managers Meetings with the agent for Rafael Furcal on Monday and the agent for Clint Barmes on Wednesday. Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash sat with Barmes rep Barry Meister and an associate in the Pfister’s coffee shop just after noon CT for about a half hour.
Next up is Jimmy Rollins, the longtime Phillie who wants a five-year deal, according to reports. The Brewers probably would not be willing to go that far, but Melvin said Wednesday afternoon that he intended to touch base with agent Dan Lozano anyway.
The Brewers have yet to make any offers, Melvin said.
“You never know who says, ‘We’re willing to take a one-year deal and then test the market next year,” Melvin said. “You don’t know. The worst thing is you find that someone signed a one- or two-year deal with someone else and you say, ‘Damn, we should have.’”
The Brewers don’t have a Minor League option to plug into shortstop the way they do at first base, where Melvin has offered growing evidence that 26-year-old longtime prospect Mat Gamel will take over in 2012.
The most likely fit may be Betancourt, even though the Brewers have already paid $2 million to buy out a 2012 club option that would have paid $6 million. That $2 million came from the Royals as part of a December 2010 trade that sent Betancourt and right-hander Zack Greinke to Milwaukee for a package that included Alcides Escobar, who was considered the Brewers’ shortstop of the future.
Melvin said he considers the $2 million expenditure part of the 2011 budget.
According to Melvin, Betancourt is “very interested” in returning, but the Brewers asked for time to scan the market. Betancourt batted .252 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs in 2010. The only National League shortstop with more RBIs was Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki, but Betancourt finished second-last among all qualified NL hitters with a .271 on-base percentage.
“We do have a need because we don’t have anybody signed at this point,” Melvin said. “Like I said at the end of the year, I would be satisfied with having ‘Yuni’ back. I think he did a better job than some of the critics [argue].”
Melvin’s argument centered around the fact that Betancourt played more games in 2011 than any of the free agent shortstops (he and Atlanta’s Alex Gonzalez tied with 146 starts) and that Betancourt has played in more than 150 games in five of the last six seasons.
“You have to be a good shortstop to play over 150 games,” Melvin said. “If you’re not that good, you’re not playing that many games.”