December 2011

Brewers quiet in Rule 5 Draft

The Brewers passed on the Major League phase of the Draft, which has not yielded them a big-league contributor since Jeff Bennett in 2004, but did lose a player. The Mariners took Triple-A left-hander Lucas Luetge with the third overall selection after he went 1-3 with a 3.13 ERA and three saves in 45 relief appearances and one start with Double-A Huntsville in 2011.

“He’s a three-pitch guy, and obviously the other team saw something in him,” Brewers amateur scouting director Bruce Seid said.

In the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the Brewers picked Domnit Bolivar from the Cardinals. He’s a shortstop, a position at which the Brewers are thin throughout the system, and batted a combined .276 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs between Class A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield.

Interestingly, the Cardinals took outfielder Erik Komatsu from the Nationals in the Major League phase. Komatsu was Milwaukee’s Minor League player of the year in 2010, and was traded to Washington in July for veteran infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. because the Brewers were flush with advanced outfield prospects.

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Boras touts Prince Fielder

Agent Scott Boras just addressed a crowd of reporters in Dallas and spoke of a number of teams having a “wide variety” of interest in free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. He continued to bill the 27-year-old as an option for contenders and building teams.

“I’m going to be leaving here and going to meet with Prince about the varying opportunities for him and then we’ll sit down and begin the process of letting teams know what direction he wants to take. He’ll kind of prioritize for me.”

He downplayed the seemingly slow market for Fielder, citing the number of new general managers (six, plus the Astros, who have an interim GM) and the idea that teams “want to be thorough, want to be calculated about what they do.”

“When you’re talking about franchise commitments, they have to report to ownership as result of our meetings and get back with me on that. This is a negotiation that is really one of its own because he’s 27 years old. He has a different place in the market, and the demands on his services are broader because you have teams that are not as playoff-ready that are interested [and] you have clubs that are veteran that are interested. You have a whole variety of teams that are involved.”

Of the Brewers, Boras said: “They’re a part of the process. That’s the team he played for, and it’s a welcome city for him. He’s had great success there, he enjoys his teammates, so certainly it’s a consideration. … From the ownership level on down, they know what Prince means to the franchise.”

Here’s a link to what Brewers GM Doug Melvin said earlier about Fielder.

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Brewers moving on from Fielder?

Day by day, the Brewers are more ready to publicly discuss a future without free agent slugger Prince Fielder.

“I think we’re at a point now where we have to consider moving on,” general manager Doug Melvin said Wednesday.

The Brewers have been a long shot all along for Fielder, the former first-round Draft pick who spent the last six seasons in Milwaukee’s starting lineup and is a free agent for the first time. Since they last had serious discussions with agent Scott Boras about an extension for Fielder in the spring of 2010, the Brewers have allocated their resources to long-term deals for outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, second baseman Rickie Weeks and right-hander Yovani Gallardo, among others. With raises due those players, it is difficult to see the Brewers signing Fielder without leaving other holes on the roster.

Still, the Brewers will not close the door on Fielder until he signs with another team. They took a meeting late Tuesday with Boras at Boras’ request, and it included Milwaukee principal owner Mark Attanasio.

But Melvin downplayed the significance of that sit-down, saying Attanasio was simply in Dallas to sit-in on planning sessions during the Winter Meetings, as he does every year. The club’s contingent was at dinner when Boras called and asked whether they wanted to meet.

“They were somewhat updating us to where he’s at,” said Melvin, who said the discussion moved on to other Boras free agents.

Among the teams linked to Fielder this winter are the Cubs, Mariners and Orioles. New Cubs manager Dale Sveum is very close with Fielder and said if Chicago makes a run for him, he would participate in the sales pitch.

If Fielder leaves, the Brewers would probably use longtime prospect Mat Gamel at first base. Or, if they sign free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, then incumbent third baseman Casey McGehee could shift to first.

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Brewers, Hawkins heating up?

The Brewers intensified their pursuit of free agent reliever LaTroy Hawkins on Tuesday and expected to continue discussions with his representatives on Wednesday, the last full day of the Winter Meetings.

Hawkins is coming off a two-year deal, the first shortened by a shoulder injury but the second a successful comeback in which Hawkins made 52 appearances with a 2.42 ERA and a team-best 20 holds. The Brewers have interest in bringing back the 38-year-old to help fill the innings in front of closer John Axford, a role that, at the moment, is unspoken for because Hawkins, Takashi Saito and Francisco Rodriguez are all free agents.

Hawkins spends the winter in Dallas and has attended the Meetings both Monday and Tuesday night. He ran into general manager Doug Melvin and the Brewers’ contingent on Tuesday.

A number of other teams are scanning the same relief market, and Hawkins could also make sense for clubs like the Angels, Rockies and Twins. He began his career in Minnesota and pitched there from 1995-03, and pitched in Colorado in 2007.

The Brewers have also maintained contact with Saito, whose primary agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, arrived in Dallas on Tuesday.

On a separate front, Melvin and Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio were part of a contingent that met for 30 minutes late Tuesday with agent Scott Boras, who represents both Rodriguez and free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. Attanasio was already in Dallas to sit-in on the team’s brainstorming sessions, and Melvin said the Brewers’ group was out to dinner when Boras called to request a meeting.

Melvin downplayed the significance of the sit-down, saying, “It doesn’t hurt to sit down and see where they’re at.”

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Melvin on the dangers of megadeals

For those holding out hope that the Brewers will re-sign free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, read on for some very interesting comments from GM Doug Melvin.

Melvin knows well the good and bad of free agency. He was, after all, GM of the Rangers when that club’s ownership gave Alex Rodriguez a record-setting $252 million contract in 2000. Ten months later, the Rangers had finished last in the American League West and Melvin was out of a job.

“You have to keep in mind what your club is going to look like two or three years down the road,” Melvin said. “That’s the danger teams get into when they get into this free agency thing. I’m surprised that this stuff isn’t written more — the teams that get into free agency are the teams that are all in trouble.

“The Minnesota Twins, they sign Joe Mauer. The Seattle Mariners were the winners and the losers of the Winter Meetings one year with Chone Figgins. The Red Sox with Carl Crawford [at the 2010 Winter Meetings] and John Lackey [in 2009] — they were the winners but now they’re the losers. The Cubs were the winners when they signed [Alfonso] Soriano, and now they’re the losers. I don’t understand why that’s not written more. All the teams that are the big winners at the Winter Meetings are always the losers three years from now. Everybody wants to spend the money.

“So that’s why we’re just trying to be disciplined enough to know if you do something, it’s not about winning headlines for two days and then being a bad ballclub for three years and trying to get rid of players.”

Melvin made his comments amid a Winter Meetings dominated so far by the Marlins, who agreed to a $106 million deal with shortstop Jose Reyes on Sunday and reportedly offered a 10-year deal to first baseman Albert Pujols on Tuesday worth north of $200 million.

The Brewers meanwhile, are trying to fill holes with dramatically fewer resources. And that budget could theoretically get much tighter on Wednesday, the deadline for free agents who were offered arbitration last month to decide whether to accept. The Brewers extended such offers to Fielder and reliever Francisco Rodriguez, so-called “Type A” players who would net Draft compensation should they decline the Brewers’ offer and sign elsewhere. With relatively slow going on the market for closers, the possibility exists that Rodriguez could accept, meaning he would be back for 2012 at a salary somewhere at or above the $13.5 million he earned in 2011.

Asked about that scenario, Melvin said, “It hasn’t been part of our thinking. It probably should be.”

The silver lining is that Rodriguez would fill a hole on the roster. But he would also have major consequences for the rest of the Brewers’ offseason.

As of dinnertime, Melvin had not met with any agents on Tuesday, the Brewers had no free agent offers on the table and no active trade talks.

“We’re not ready to do anything at this point. There’s nothing that suits our desires at this point with the financial situation that we have,” Melvin said.

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Sveum talks Brewers, Prince Fielder

Dale Sveum is three weeks into his tenure as Cubs manager but has stayed in touch with some of his friends with the Brewers because he’s in the clubhouse fantasy football league. The former Brewers hitting coach has received two types of messages: Some offering congratulations and others along the lines of, “Anybody but the Cubs!”

“I’ve heard from just about all of them in one form, talking to them or text messages or emails,” Sveum said. “All good stuff. I had some pretty good relationships with most of those guys over there, if not all of them. We’ll see them soon enough in Spring Training.”

Sveum took his turn meeting reporters on Tuesday afternoon, following the White Sox’s Robin Ventura, another rookie manager in Chicago. Sveum is the more veteran of the two; he managed Milwaukee for the final 12 regular season games and four playoff games in 2008, and experience that Sveum called important in that it reinforced he was comfortable in the manager’s seat.

Some of the conversation turned to Prince Fielder, the free agent slugger who worked with Sveum in Milwaukee for the past six seasons. The Cubs are among the teams with which Fielder appears a match, though Sveum said the Cubs were “not in any kind of process of talking to him or anything like that yet.”

If they did begin that process, Sveum said he would be a part of it.

“We’re very close,” Sveum said.

He called Fielder “an impact player who impacts the whole team.”

“He’s one of those players who comes around once in a while, once in a lifetime,” Sveum said. “He should have played the game in the 1950s and 60s and 70s, when guys played every day and they played as hard as they possibly could every single day, they cared about winning and cared about their teammates. Prince is all of those things.”

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Yuni drawing interest at second base, too

Free agent Yuniesky Betancourt is drawing interest from clubs both as a shortstop — the position he’s manned exclusively since 2006 — and as a second baseman, agent Jaime Torres said Tuesday.

Betancourt was an everyday second baseman in his native Cuba and debuted in the Major Leagues with the Mariners at that position in 2005 before switching to shortstop. Two clubs are intrigued by the idea of using Betancourt at second base, according to Torres, and two others, including, presumably, the Brewers, are interested in him as a shortstop.

“He played second base in Cuba and enjoyed playing there,” Torres said. “He’s not one of those shortstops who’s afraid to go to another position.”

Betancourt, acquired from the Royals last year along with right-hander Zack Greinke, was a lightning rod all season for his subpar defense and inconsistent offense. He batted .252 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs for the Brewers in 2011 and started 146 games at shortstop.

The Brewers have a hole at that position since declining Betancourt’s $6 million option after the World Series in order to test the market. They had interest in free agent Clint Barmes, who instead signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Pirates, and have also met with representatives for Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal and Alex Gonzalez while keeping open the door for Betancourt to return.

The Brewers have no known offers out to a shortstop. General manager Doug Melvin spoke briefly with Torres on Sunday but as of Tuesday afternoon they had not met since.

Torres declined to say whether any clubs had extended a formal offer to Betancourt but said he wouldn’t be surprised to have a deal by the conclusion of the Winter Meetings on Thursday.

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Roenicke, Marcum spoke after season

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he’d offered words of encouragement to starter Shaun Marcum since the end of the season. Marcum surrendered 49 hits and 34 earned runs over 34 innings spanning his final seven starts including the postseason. He put the Brewers in a 4-0, first-inning hole in Game 6 of the NLCS, a loss that ended Milwaukee’s season.

Roenicke texted Marcum that night and said he wanted to talk further. They did so after Roenicke made it home to Southern California.

“We don’t get where we were if we don’t have our starting pitching, and we were a huge part of that,” Roenicke said. “When you have that type of game, I know what you’re thinking when you leave. It was a bad way to end the season for him. I didn’t want to leave it that way.”

Roenicke attributed Marcum’s swoon to a variety of factors, including the fact he topped 200 innings for the first time. But it also may have simply been a slump, just like hitters endure, Roenicke argued.

“It’s hard to say what it was,” he said. “It could have been out of gas. Could have been just mentally. You know, pitchers are like hitters. They go through some confidence issues. They go through hot streaks. You go through cold streaks you just like a hitter does. At the end of the year I think he was in a streak where he wasn’t pitching well. His confidence wasn’t as good.

“He was still well prepared, like he always is, and I would have loved to have seen him get through that first inning, because I really still felt really good about him. I think he’s a great competitor. And I really like him. I think he helps your team win.”

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Brewers’ Manzanillo may need surgery

Brewers pitching prospect Santo Manzanillo will probably miss Spring Training because of a right shoulder injury suffered in a scary car accident in the Dominican Republic, a club official said Monday.

Manzanillo was driving to the Brewers’ new baseball academy early on the morning of Nov. 29 when, according to information passed along to the Brewers, he swerved to avoid a truck, rolled his Hummer and was ejected through the sunroof. Adding insult to injury, Manzanillo was robbed of his belongings while he lay injured, assistant general manager Gord Ash said.

Of more concern is his injury, which the Brewers have termed a sprained right shoulder. Manzanillo underwent an MRI scan in Santo Domingo that was sent to the U.S. for analysis.

“We saw enough on it that he’s going to need to come and see Dr. [William] Raasch,” Ash said, referring to the Brewers’ head physician. That appointment is set for Thursday.

It appears Manzanillo has a fractured right shoulder blade and needs a surgical fix to his shoulder that would sideline him through the end of Spring Training. That’s especially bad news considering he was just added to the Brewers’ 40-man roster last month, and would have had an opportunity to impress coaches in his first big league camp.

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Braddock part of Brewers’ bullpen plan

The biggest Brewers news on an otherwise quiet Winter Meetings Day 1 may have been this: The team is banking on left-hander Zack Braddock being a part of the 2012 bullpen.

General manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash met Monday with Braddock’s agent, Jeff Berry, and received assurances that Braddock was doing well and would report to Maryvale Baseball Park in January to get a jump on Spring Training. Braddock, a hard-throwing lefty who is only 24, missed much of 2011 while receiving treatment for a variety of issues the Brewers have kept private. He spent time on the disabled list earlier in the year with what the club called a sleeping disorder.

This does not mean that Braddock has put his issues behind him, but he has made progress, according to Ash.

“He is being successfully treated for them,” Ash said.

Braddock showed his ability as a 22-year-old in 2010, posting a 2.94 ERA in 46 games. He had a 7.27 ERA in 25 games in a 2011 that included time on the DL with the sleep disorder and a July demotion to the Minor Leagues after Braddock reported late on several occasions. After he was sent down again on July 14, Braddock was placed on Triple-A Nashville’s inactive list.

Restocking the bullpen ranks high on Melvin’s offseason to-do list considering that LaTroy Hawkins, Francisco Rodriguez and Takashi Saito are all free agents.

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