February 2012

Axford, Brewers both want multiyear deal

Brewers closer John Axford was quick to explain why he’s the only member of the 40-man roster yet to sign a 2012 contract.

“Just like last year, I’m holding out for billions,” he joked.

Good luck. Axford is due a raise in his final year as a so-called “zero to three player,” those short of the Major League service time necessary to qualify for arbitration, partly because the Major League minimum salary bumped from $414,000 to $480,000 in 2012 under the new collective bargaining agreement (Axford earned $442,500 in 2011). But the delay in his case is more likely related to the fact that Axford is a candidate for a contract extension. He will be “Super 2” player next winter, and projects to reach free agency following the 2016 season.

Both sides say they have interest in a multi-year deal. Assistant general manager Gord Ash characterized talks between the club and agent Dan Horwits as “exceedingly cordial.”

“Those discussions are possibly out there, so it’s really a matter of getting to a point where we both agree,” Axford said. “If a multiyear deal worked out, that is something I would love. I’d love the security. I love Milwaukee, I’d love to play there as long as I could. I would love to begin my career there and end my career there, in all honesty.”

Teams and their zero-to-three players have until March 2 to reach terms for 2012. If a player remains unsigned as of that date, the team may “renew” his contract at the salary of its choice. For more than a decade, the Brewers have paid such players according to a non-negotiable scale that takes into account statistical achievements and awards.

Ash sees the sides first setting a one-year deal in place and then continuing extension talks throughout the month of March.

“We’ve had discussions through the winter, and obviously we haven’t made any progress but we’re still way ahead of schedule,” Ash said.


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy


Someday, an Oscar for Axford?

Brewers closer John Axford had another successful Oscar night, successfully predicting 11 of the 15 winners at Sunday night’s Academy Awards after going 11-for-13 last year. Perhaps some day, the Brewers’ resident film buff will hold a statuette of his own.

Axford can foresee a future in the movies, and already has one project in the books. He made a black and white film with a group while enrolled at Notre Dame, a dark story of a young woman emotionally neglected by her husband. This offseason, Axford had the 16 mm film digitized.

There are still plenty of years of pitching ahead of Axford, 28, but he’s been banking story ideas and would someday like to be involved in writing or producing his own film.

“I have lots of stories in my head, but it’s a matter of writing them out,” Axford said. “I would like to find out some day if I could make it in the movies, either as a writer or maybe a producer. I don’t know if I could handle being the director of a $100 million movie, though.”

On Sunday, Axford nailed best picture (“The Artist”), best actor (“The Astrist start) Jean Dujardin and both of the best supporting actor categories. He missed, as did many Oscar prognosticators, on best actress, which went to Meryl Streep for her portrayal of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” Axford’s pick was Viola Davis from “The Help.”

His favorite movie of the year was “Rango,” which won best animated film. Axford watched it during 2011 Spring Training, when he was felled by a nasty case of food poisoning.

“‘The Artist’ was definitely one of my favorites, too,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything like it before, and it’s great in the way it pulls you in on a visual level.”


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy.

Aoki adjustment period underway

Japanese import Norichika Aoki’s Major League career began Saturday with the Brewers’ first full-squad workout, and manager Ron Roenicke figures there are plenty of adjustments ahead for the outfielder.

“I’m sure the workout here isn’t what he was used to in Japan,” Roenicke said Sunday morning. “He probably felt like he didn’t do much yesterday.”

Players in Japan train much more rigorously than their U.S. counterparts, a fact pitcher Frankie De La Cruz learned first-hand when he was Aoki’s teammate in 2010 with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

“Every day, we threw,” De La Cruz said. “Every day, 100 pitches. We were throwing all the time.”

Likewise, the hitters hit, and hit, and hit. On Saturday, after Brewers hitters took batting practice, Aoki stayed late to take an extra round of swings. He was on a similar schedule Sunday, and Roenicke said he would wait a couple of days to have a more formal conversation with Aoki about further adjustments the player deems necessary.

“The workout is different. In Japan, they believe that the more work you do, the better you’re going to be,” Roenicke said. “We feel a little different here. There needs to be a happy medium, mentally, for him, to feel like he’s doing enough work to get himself ready.”

Roenicke spoke of a similar adjustment by Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui, who was already in his eighth Major League season when he joined Roenicke’s Angels in 2010. By then, Matsui had cut back his regimen, which Roenicke attributed to experience in the U.S. and the fact Matsui was in his age 36 season.

Every player is different, Roenicke said.

“Tony Gwynn hit more than anybody I’ve ever seen hit, and he was also the best hitter I’ve ever seen hit,” Roenicke said. “It worked for him. I would have loved to hit as much as Tony, but every time I tried to work harder, I got fatigued, I would get in bad habits and all of a sudden I was not as good. Everybody has different physical needs, different mental needs.”

On a separate note, Roenicke said he had not spoken with GM Doug Melvin about a contract extension but is obviously interested. He’s entering the second season of a two-year deal that includes a club option for 2013.

“Obviously, I want to do this for a long time, and I really feel blessed at the position and the place I am in now,” Roenicke said. “I know it took a while for me to get the opportunity, but sometimes we want to push things to have them happen earlier than what they are meant to be. The timing was right last year, the place was right. It’s better than I don’t try to control things. There’s a bigger power that’s going to control my life that I need to let happen.”

Roenicke says he had a good feeling about the Brewers from his first interview with Melvin and special assistant Dan O’Brien.

Asked hoe he’s already evolved as a manager, Roenicke said, “We’ll see after a few more years.”

Other Sunday morning notes:

  • Left-hander Zach Braddock is scheduled to throw a bullpen today and it appears he’s over the stomach virus that slowed him last week.
  • The Brewers are doing first to third and second to home baserunning drills today, so coach Ed Sedar will get his first gauge of how second baseman Rickie Weeks is moving on that left ankle.
  • It’s also the first day of live batting practice, so hitters will get their first look at “real” pitching in months. Roenicke said he gave some of the veterans the option of skipping the exercise, or just standing in the batter’s box to track pitches. Among those scheduled to throw; power arms Zack Greinke and Wily Peralta, plus Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada. They’ll throw about 30 pitches apiece.

“It’s not a fun day for hitters, especially depending on who you’re facing,” Roenicke said.


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy.

Greinke talks about scouting trip

The best part of Zack Greinke’s recent scouting assignment, he said, was that Craig Counsell stole all the attention.

Greinke and Counsell attended Friday’s Arizona State University baseball game to get a look at right-hander Brady Rodgers, a prospect in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft. Counsell, of course, is a fan-favorite in these parts, and he was approached all night by well-wishers. Greinke flew under the radar.

“Everyone was talking to him,” Greinke said with a smile, “and no one was talking to me.”

That’s how he likes it. Greinke said he used to attend high school games to watch young talent, but the fame associated with his sensational 2009 season has made that more difficult. Last year, he surprised some Brewers official by asking for video of all of the top pitching prospects, and said he was extremely impressed by some of the “amazing” pitchers that were selected in the First-Year Player Draft before the Brewers had their first chance at No. 12.

“I like watching some of the young guys,” he said. “I try to get my own thoughts on it, and then I’ll try to remember three or four years down the line if I dod a good job or if not. It’s just more fun for me than anything to take too seriously.”

He said he’d keep his assessment of Rodgers to himself. Greinke will probably accept Doug Melvin’s offer to sit in on some of the Brewers’ Draft preparation.


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy.



Back to baseball for Braun, Brewers

Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun began what he called the process of restoring his reputation on Saturday when he took part in the team’s first full-squad workout, marking an official start to his 2012 season and the end of his tumultuous winter.

He was greeted on a sunny day at Maryvale Baseball Park by a much larger than usual contingent of fans, who cheered Braun as he took the field and then were rewarded a few hours later with an autograph. Braun spent more than 30 minutes signing for everyone who could get within arm’s length of the National League MVP.

“I didn’t get to all of them, but I tried to,” Braun said.

Braun said he didn’t know what to expect Saturday, two days after winning his appeal of a 50-game suspension and a day after Braun returned to the public eye.

Turns out, it was back to baseball.

“I had a lot of fun today,” he said. “Just being around my teammates, being on the baseball field was nice.”

Said pitcher Chris Narveson, the Brewers’ union representative: “We’re ready to move on. I think we’re all relieved that it’s over with.”

Braun met following the workout with reporters, who were asked to limit the questions to baseball. We’re told that he will not be available for a period of time after today.

We’ll see if he continues to sign autographs like he did on Saturday, when he lingered long after the rest of his teammates outside Maryvale Baseball Park. Braun cited the fan support as “one of the biggest reasons I’ve been able to make it through this challenging situation.” He called the throng, “really cool.”

“I certainly appreciate people who support me,” he said. “When you go through something like this, you see who truly supports you. You see who your real friends are, and you see how people really feel about you.”

Look for some video of Braun’s return to action later today on Brewers.com.


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy.


Attanasio: Extensions on agenda for GM, manager

With the Ryan Braun saga in the rear view mirror, Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said he would like to wrap-up contract extensions for general manager Doug Melvin and field manager Ron Roenicke before Opening Day.

Melvin, who has run the Brewers’ baseball operations since September 2002, currently has a contract that expires after this season. So does Roenicke, though his two-year deal does include a club option for 2013.

“I slept like a baby this offseason, but [Doug] had a few sleepless nights, my guess is,” Attanasio said. “He didn’t want to get into either his contract or Ron’s contract until we [began] camp. Those are two topics I’ll discuss with him before Opening Day. …

“They’re a great fit. Look, I’m all about results.”

The Brewers set a franchise record with 96 regular-season wins last season and went to the National League Championship Series. It was Milwaukee’s second postseason appearance in the last four seasons.

Attanasio said less about the plan for the team’s highest profile free agents-to-be. Starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum are due to hit the open market in October.

“The good news for us starts with the fact that guys in their free agent year tend to perform at high levels, and guys on winning teams tend to perform at high levels,” Attanasio said. “Hopefully, we have a confluence of those two events.”


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy


Side gig for Greinke: Draft advisor

Here’s a new role for Brewers ace Zack Greinke: Draft advisor.

Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio was praising Greinke’s intelligence and awareness when he revealed Saturday that Greinke asked for video of prospective Brewers Draft picks last May. He studied different pitchers and offered recommendations before the Brewers selected pitchers Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft.

Greinke is more involved than some fans think, Attanasio said. He recommended that coaches save bunt defense for later in camp, so the coaches made some slight alterations to the schedule.

“We had a nice laugh about that,” Attanasio said. “He’s a very thoughtful guy.”

Greinke is a free agent at season’s end, and the Brewers are formulating a plan for contract extension talks. Attanasio declined to offer specifics of that plan, did address the fact that Greinke, for now, is acting as his own agent.

“Zack is a very smart guy,” Attanasio said. “He’s very aware of things that are going on.”


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy


Opponents react to Braun news

Thanks to some of my MLB.com colleagues for passing along reaction from around the league to Ryan Braun, who won his appeal of a drug suspension on Thursday:

Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman: “My stance on the whole issue is that Major League Baseball needs to do everything it can to eliminate the performance enhancing drug piece of the puzzle. I think the testing that we have in place now is very stringent. I think it’s a good system. Beyond that, I’m glad there’s testing in place. I’m glad that if Ryan was indeed falsely accused that he’s been exonerated. …

“If he got off on a technicality then I’m not in favor of it. But if he truly didn’t do it, I don’t want him to have his name drug through the mud over it. I don’t know enough of the particulars. There have been people who have gotten off in our judicial system that there has been a high degree of suspicion because there was some technical procedure of the law that was violated. It happens. I’m not saying that it happened in this case, I’m just saying it has happened in our judicial system. It’s not inconceivable that the same could happen in this case. But again, if he’s innocent, I don’t want any stigma attached to what he’s been able to do because he’s a tremendous player.”

Cards outfielder Jon Jay (who played with Braun at Miami): “It’s good for him. He’s one of the up-and-coming young guys who has established himself and had a great year last year. I’m happy for him.

“I spoke to him and congratulated him. I know it’s been a tough situation to deal with for him. I know the type of guy he is, and he has helped me out so much in my career. He’s definitely a guy I always look up to as a mentor.”

Cards manager Mike Matheny: “If I were in his shoes and I were innocent, I would sure want justice to prevail. I’m sure everybody went through the proper chains to make sure that justice was done and the right thing came about.

You look at that lineup without he and Prince [Fielder] in it and it certainly looks different. You put him back in there and he is an MVP player. It certainly helps Milwaukee.”

Angels reliever LaTroy Hawkins: “My reaction? Cool. Good for them. He just changed the landscape of that division. Him being out 50 games, that wouldn’t have been good for them. But he’s back, so, hey, I don’t know what happened.

“It had to be tough, but you know what, to me personally, you have to find the leak, because it shouldn’t have come out. It’s not part of the agreement. Find the leak. Find the leak. There’s nothing you can do about it now. The perception is already there, and in our society, you’re already guilty before being proven innocent. That’s just the way it is, in all walks of life.”

Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez (another former Miami teammate): “If there was guilt, he’d be guilty. There is just so many things that go on in a case, when you actually see it and you actually talk to somebody who is there. I talk to him about everything. I talk to him about a lot of things. And there are just a lot of things that didn’t make sense. He got off. He was proven innocent. That’s all we can say.

“We’ve been best friends for 10 years now. It’s a lot different when you’re talking about those situations, knowing somebody that well, and knowing what kind of person he is, and what kind of personality he is. And knowing, he never had to lie. From the very beginning, he told me, ‘I didn’t do anything.’ So you kind of pull for him.

“I believe him 100 percent when he told me that he didn’t do it. I believe you. There is no reason for you to have to lie to me. I felt like it was great news yesterday, when it came out that he was innocent and able to play.”

Pirates third baseman Casey McGehee: “I wasn’t shocked. All the time I’ve known him, I found Ryan to be very honest and open about everything. And all along he said he would be exonerated. Everyone was in such a hurry to condemn him, so I think a lot of people owe Ryan an apology. I consider him a good friend, and I’m happy for him. …

“There will still be people saying he got off on a technicality, but there are only three people (the panel) who heard all the facts and came up with a majority decision, and we have to move on. It’s good for baseball, too. One of the best players in the league will be on the field, able to do his job.”


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy





Braun addresses Brewers teammates

Ryan Braun reported to Maryvale Baseball Park just after 9:30 a.m. MT on Friday, a day after he was cleared of a 50-game suspension. Manager Ron Roenicke and Brewers coaches vacated the clubhouse a few minutes later so Braun could address his teammates.

“With the outcome of it, I don’t really think he needed to explain anything, but he wanted to, and I think the players probably appreciated that he did,” Roencike said. “I thought it was great that he did.”

Asked what the decision means for the team, Roenicke said, “We’re a lot better. That’s what it comes down to. This is not just a great player, but this is a guy we need in our clubhouse and in our locker room.”

Roenicke said he’d already spoken with Braun about the season ahead, which is sure to include some challenges as the Brewers travel around the country. Multiple reports have said Braun won his appeal by challenging the testing procedure itself, prompting a separate debate in the wake of the ruling about the degree of Braun’s innocence.

Braun was scheduled to address reporters at 11 a.m. MT.

“This is a very confident guy … and if you put pressure on him, I think it helps him,” Roenicke said. “Sometimes that added incentive really pumps a guy up, and sometimes it gives him pressure. I don’t think Ryan feels more pressure in those situations, which is huge when you come off the season he had, for one, and then all the controversy this offseason. For him, I think it motivates him.”

Roenicke argued that despite winning his appeal, Braun paid a price this winter.

“Coming off a great season with the team and what we accomplished, being the MVP, this probably should have been his best offseason ever,” Roenicke said. “And it wasn’t.”


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy


K-Rod reports, says he’s OK in setup role

While we wait for Ryan Braun to arrive at Maryvale Baseball Park, here’s what Francisco Rodriguez had to say upon reporting to camp:

“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s a new chapter in my life. I’m looking forward to once again being back there on the field.”

Is he surprised to be back?

“No,” Rodriguez insisted. “A lot of people were shocked and surprised, but for me, no. I had a really great experience last year in Milwaukee. The organization opened [its] arms to me for three and a half months and made me feel so special. The fans, the way they treated my family. I liked the city. That was something that I was looking for, so my decision was a lot easier when I had to make it.”

It was suggested that people were surprised because they assumed Rodriguez would seek a closer’s job, rather than accept arbitration and return as the Brewers’ setup man.

“We tried. I tried. I definitely tried,” he said. “We had a couple of options, but I’ve been in this situation and it’s not about money-wise. It’s about feeling comfortable and being happy, where you want to be.”

Asked whether he will be happy as a set-up man this year, K-Rod said, “Of course. Definitely. Last year was different, a situation where we didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what to expect. This year, the mentality, the preparation is going to come as a set-up [man], and hopefully in the future I’ll get the opportunity to close again.”

Rodriguez declined to say much about his dispute with his former agents, whom he contends failed to file a no-trade list as part of his previous contract with the Mets. He said he included the Brewers on that list because Trevor Hoffman was the closer at the time. That oversight, Rodriguez contends, allowed New York to trade him to Milwaukee in the first place, essentially costing K-Rod his closer’s role.

But he made clear Friday that he has no beef with the Brewers. Rodriguez said he reported later than the rest of the pitchers because he had personal issues to tend to in Venezuela.

“I’m really honored and happy to be here, trust me,” he said. “If I didn’t feel happy last year … I would have gone our separate ways.”

On the Braun front, Rodriguez said, “I’m excited for him. He can now explain to the world what exactly happened. I’m feeling good for him.”


Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy