November 2012

Parra thankful for time with Brewers

Here’s what Manny Parra said about the Brewers decision to cut him loose:

“I prepared myself for it, so more than anything I’ll miss being considered a Brewer, because I’ve been one for so long,” he said. “Not only that, but I have so much respect for Doug [Melvin] and Gord [Ash] and the way they do things. They’ve given me so many opportunities.

“At the same time, I’m excited, because I feel like there’s been some baggage that is tough to move on from. Being a starter — a failed starter, in my opinion — I feel like no matter what I did, I was always being compared to what kind of a starter I was, and trying to overcome those things. I’m excited to move on and improve and be a better player.”

I asked him to expound on the concept of “baggage.” Parra explained that losing his starting role always gnawed at him, and now he’s trying to “grow up.”

“I was never able to let it go,” he said. “I just beat myself up a lot. I’m trying to move on from that stuff. I’m really trying to change the way I think.”

Melvin suggested that Parra might benefit from a move back to relief, so I asked about that, too. Parra expressed an openness to either role.

“You know what? You have to establish yourself in one spot or the other,” Parra said. “I thought I did pretty well against lefties [until] later in the year, when I don’t know what happened, whether I was tired or what. I was just not getting the job done the way I was earlier in the year. I have a lot of confidence in myself to be a reliever, still.

“It was a leaning experience for me, being in the bullpen all year long. It was different than other situations where I’d be out there thinking about being a starter. It was different trying to figure out how to work out, the daily grind and needing to be ready for every game. … Now that I have both [starting and relieving] under my belt, I’ve learned from both situations. I love to start; that’s always what I see myself as. At the same time, I can definitely see myself as a reliever, too.

“I just keep telling myself I’m a late bloomer. I always have been in my life. I’m 30 years old now, but I’m just going to remain positive and believe that I’m going to keep getting better. What else can you do?”

He added: “I like the idea of being able to sick with the organization you were drafted by for as long as you can and reward them for giving me the opportunities. But there comes a time when you have to move on, and this is it.”

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Brewers cut ties with Parra

After more than a decade in the Brewers organization, left-hander Manny Parra is a free agent.

The Brewers non-tendered Parra on Friday rather than take him into the arbitration process, by which he would have garnered a raise from his $1.2 million salary last season. Parra became the fifth reliever cut loose from a Brewers bullpen that ranked last in the Majors last season with a 4.66 ERA and 29 blown saves.

The club did tender contracts to four other arbitration-eligible players ahead of Friday’s deadline to do so: Closer John Axford, outfielder Carlos Gomez and starters Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson.

Gomez is arbitration-eligible for the fourth and final time. Axford, Estrada and Narveson are first-time eligibles.

Parra, now 30, was a “draft-and-follow” pick of the Brewers in 2001, signed in 2002 and wound up making 74 starts and 98 relief appearances in the Major Leagues from 2007-12. But he never quite lived up to the outstanding potential he teased when he pitched a perfect game in his first Triple-A start in 2007.

Parra’s best year was 2008, his first full season in the big leagues, when he was 10-8 with a 4.39 ERA in 32 appearances, 29 starts. His ERA jumped to 6.36 in 2009, when Parra was demoted back to the Minors after being removed from an Interleague loss to the White Sox, and he had a 6.19 ERA as a starter in 2010 before the Brewers bumped Parra to relief.

In that role, Parra thrived, and he entered 2011 pegged as a reliever only to miss the entire season with back and elbow issues. In 2012, Parra returned to make a career-high 62 appearances, pitching to a 3.51 ERA through the end of May, but finished with a 5.06 ERA and walked nine batters in as many September appearances.

“Sometimes a change of scenery can help a player,” Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. “From our standpoint, it was time to move on and see if we can turn the page and find someone else. We have Manny the opportunity here, and he was appreciative of it. There are times you just have to move on. … We went through a lot with Manny. Manny went through a lot with our club, as well.

“But consistency is what we’re looking for. Manny is frustrated, too, as a player. Players always want consistency, too. He still has a very good arm and he has a very good chance of performing well.

Melvin suggested that Parra may be best suited to return to a starting role.

“That’s just my personal opinion,” Melvin said. “he was just inconsistent, and sometimes, in the bullpen, Manny tries to do too much. He has two or three pitches, and sometimes coming out of the bullpen, you have to try to simplify things. He has the repertoire of pitches that, if he throws strikes, he may be better to be a starter.”

The Brewers had previously cut ties with four other mainstays of their 2012 bullpen: Kameron Loe, Lival Hernandez, Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Veras.

Melvin said the club has had only preliminary discussions with its four remaining arbitration-eligibles. The sides will continue to talk until Jan. 18, at which time those players still unsigned exchange proposals with the clubs for one-year deals.

Axford and the Brewers discussed a multi-year contract last spring, but Melvin said the sides were focused on a one-year deal for now.

With Parra’s dismissal, the Brewers have two openings on their 40-man roster.

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Former Brewers Cirillo, Clayton, Franco on Hall ballot

I suppose the fact that they are included in an MLB.com story about “other candidates” says something about the chances that Jeff Cirillo, Royce Clayton or Julio Franco earn the necessary votes this year for enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But they were terrific players, worthy of a mention in the wake of today’s ballot unveiling.

All three of those players appeared for the Brewers at some point — Cirillo at the beginning of his career, Franco in the middle and Clayton at the end. I’ve been blessed to be around Cirillo’s hyper-electric personality a lot over the years, and covered Clayton’s only season in Milwaukee when he graciously stepped aside in September and helped break-in a young Rickie Weeks. I wasn’t around for Franco in 1997, but during his big years with the Indians in the 1980s, I was certainly guilty of stealing his batting stance.

You can click that link above for the full story, plus more links to stories about this year’s fascinating class of Hall hopefuls. Here’s what my colleagues Cash Kruth and Zack Meisel had to say about each of the candidates with Brewers ties:

Jeff Cirillo
A two-time All-Star, Cirillo patrolled the hot corner for six different franchises in his 14-year big league career. He was a steady force in the Brewers lineup from 1994-99 and again in 2005 and ’06. Cirillo batted better than .320 in all but one season from 1996 and 2000. He also tallied a career-high 115 RBIs and 111 runs scored for the Rockies in 2000. Cirillo often performed admirably with his glove, as well. The California native ranked in the top five among baseball’s third basemen in fielding percentage in all but one season from 1998-2003.

Royce Clayton
Widely recognized as a slick-fielding shortstop with speed, Clayton ranked in the top 10 in fielding percentage among players at his position in each season from 2000-05. He twice led his league in assists and putouts among shortstops. Clayton earned a bid to the All-Star Game in 1997, one of five seasons in which he stole more than 20 bases. The California native also tallied 20 or more doubles in a season on 12 occasions.

Julio Franco
Franco graced the big leagues with his durability and unique batting stance for nearly three decades. The three-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner got his first taste of the Majors in 1982 as a lanky shortstop and hung up his cleats in 2007 as a 49-year-old veteran. Along the way, Franco logged 2,586 hits, 281 stolen bases and won the American League batting crown in 1991. Franco is the oldest player in Major League history to post a home run, a grand slam, a pinch-hit homer, two homers in one game and two stolen bases in one contest.

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Broxton deal reinforces rich relief market

Jonathan Broxton’s three-year, $21 million deal with the Reds on Wednesday further reinforced a rich market for free agent relievers — a group the Brewers will have to tap before the winter is over.

Yet Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin insisted in the wake of the Broxton deal that he was not daunted.

“Every year, the first signings are always a little bit more than what you’d think — that’s why the players sign them,” Melvin said. “Free agency drives up the [cost] every year. I feel like you have to look at each player individually. Every player has an idea of where they want to go and at what cost.”

Melvin and his staff have been working through the list of free agents and potential trade targets in advance of next week’s Winter Meetings on Nashville. His task is to remake a Brewers bullpen that ranked last in the Majors in relief ERA (4.66) and blown saves (a franchise-record 29).

So far, the cost for relief arms is high. Among the high-profile early signees are left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who returned to the Giants for three years and $18 million, right-hander Brandon League, who signed with the Dodgers for three years and $22.5 million, and Broxton, who is guaranteed $21 million and could earn up to $29 million if the Reds exercise an option for a fourth season.

Notably, both League and Broxton are expected to be their club’s closer. The Brewers have an in-house option for that role in John Axford, who reclaimed the job down the stretch after losing it in July, and can focus on middle relief and set-up arms.

The market for set-up men will be more forgiving, with Affeldt at the very high end. In one early example, the Rays re-signed Joel Peralta for two years and $6 million guaranteed.

Among the notable relievers still available in free agency are Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde, Matt Capps and Joakim Soria — all closer-types, though Soria is coming off a second Tommy John procedure — plus left-handers Sean Burnett, Randy Choate and J.P. Howell and right-handers Mike Adams, Francisco Cordero, Chad Durbin, Jason Grilli, LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Kyle McClellan, Koji Uehara and Jamey Wright.

“We’re making contacts right now,” Melvin said. “There are a lot of relievers still out there. They sit there and wait until the big guys sign.”

A group of Brewers staffers led by pro scouting director Zack Minasian has also built a list of pitchers potentially available in a trade. The Phillies are reportedly going that route, working through a deal with the Astros for right-hander Wilton Lopez on Wednesday. Lopez finished last season as Houston’s closer.

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Prince makes AFL all-prospect team

It’s been a good couple of weeks for Brewers prospect Josh Prince, who was added to the team’s 40-man roster on Dec. Nov. 20 and Monday was named to the Arizona Fall League’s all-prospect team, as selected by the league’s managers and coaches.

Some highlights of Prince’s AFL stint, from that league:

Led the league in hits with 36 … second in the loop in batting (.404), total bases (51), and runs scored (23) … tied for second with 10 stolen bases … third in on-base percentage (.491) … reached base in 12 straight games from 10/10-27 … 11 multi-hit games … three hits at Salt River on 11/1, vs. Mesa on 10/27, at Surprise on 10/23 and vs. Peoria on 10/20 … four hits vs. Peoria on 10/12 … three RBI vs. Peoria on 10/20.

Prince, a third-round Draft pick in 2009 who just converted from shortstop this year, was not considered a top prospect until his stellar AFL results. Now he’s squarely on the Brewers’ organizational map.

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Braun finishes second in NL MVP race

Click over to Brewers.com and MLB.com for our full coverage, but for now here’s the lede: Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun finished second in NL MVP balloting, as voted by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Giants catcher Buster Posey won the award with 422 total points and 27 first-place votes. Braun was a distant second with 285 points and three first-place votes, appearing on all 32 ballots and finishing no lower than fourth. That means no voters punished Braun for last winter’s events by completely omitting him from the MVP ballot.

The Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen finished third, followed by the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina and the Padres’ Chase Headley.

Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez finished ninth in the MVP race with 47 points.

Here’s some of what Braun had to say:

Is this how he thought it would go down?
“To be honest with you, I didn’t really think much about it at all. I didn’t think that I was going to win,” Braun said. “It’s exciting to know that I was a finalist and that I had another season that put me in that MVP conversation. That’s something I’m proud of. But aside from that, I didn’t think about it at all.

“I think Buster Posey deserved to win. What he was able to accomplish this year as a catcher, with a team that went on to win the World Series was incredible. I thought he was the best player. I think he deserved to be the MVP. …

“I think I had a good season. I don’t think that I had a great season. I don’t think my season was far and away better than anybody else’s to the point where I feel like I deserved an award that I didn’t get.”

On whether last winter’s events played into this year’s awards balloting:
“I never think about those things,” Braun said. “I’m not oblivious to what’s going on or what’s been said, but aside from that I don’t spend any time thinking about those things. I really don’t.”

On the impact of Brewers missing the postseason:
“The best players on teams that make it to the postseason deserve extra credit because that’s what everybody’s top priority is,” Braun said. “That’s what everybody works for all year. He should have been given credit for it. We gave it a good effort, but we fell short.”

On Miguel Cabrera winning AL MVP honors:
“I thought Miguel Cabrera deserved the award,” Braun said. “I really did. I think historically, the guys that help their teams get to the postseason deserve extra credit. Cabrera was the best player down the stretch, had an incredibly strong finish to his season, helped his team get to the playoffs. He won the Triple Crown, which is unbelievable. Mike Trout obviously had a phenomenal year as well, but I thought Miguel Cabrera was deserving.”

And, of course, on the news that he’s engaged to his girlfriend, model Larisa Fraser:
“I don’t comment on anything going on in my private life, but if that were to be true, I would be a very lucky man.”

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Aoki runs fifth in NL Rookie of the Year vote

Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year balloting on Monday, a ceremonial end to a successful first season in the U.S. Major Leagues.

The award, as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America, went to Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, the brash 19-year-old who burst onto the big league scene in 2012 and became the second-youngest Rookie of the Year in NL history to Dwight Gooden.

Harper garnered 16 of the 32 first-place votes and finished with 112 points to top D-backs pitcher Wade Miley, who had 12 first-place votes and 105 points. The Reds’ Todd Frazier was third and the Rockies’ Wilin Rosario finished fourth.

Harper led NL rookies in runs (98), total bases (254), triples (9), extra-base hits (57), multi-hit games (45) and outfield assists (8), but Aoki held his own against the Washington phenom and the rest of the NL rookie field. Aoki led NL rookies in stolen bases (30), tied the Padres’ Yonder Alonso for the NL rookie lead in hits (150) and ranked second in runs (81), doubles (37), total bases (225) and on-base percentage (.355). He became the first NL rookie since the Cardinals’ Bake McBride (1974) to have four hitting streaks of at least 10 games in a season. Aoki had streaks of 15, 13, 12 and 10 games.

“It was my first experience over here, so there were some tough times,” Aoki said before heading home for the winter. “But overall, I had a great time.”

Aoki’s finish was the best by a Japanese-born rookie position player since Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima was fourth in the 2006 vote. In all, seven players from Japan have finished in the top 10 in Major League Basbeall’s rookie of the year races, including Ichiro Suzuki, the only Japanese hitter to win the award, in 2001. Ichiro also won the American League MVP Award that season. Before Aoki, the last Japanese position player to finish in the top 10 of his league’s Rookie of the Year race was Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who was sixth in the NL in 2008.

Japanese pitchers have had more rookie success in the U.S. Nine of them have finished in the top 10 in MLB’s rookie races, including 2012 AL third-place finisher Yu Darvish of the Rangers.

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Bobblehead mania in ’13

News from the Brewers’ promotions department:

The Milwaukee Brewers will include 10 All-Fan Bobblehead Dates on the promotional schedule during the 2013 season. All bobblehead dates are scheduled on Sundays and the collectibles will include current and former players.

The first bobblehead, presented by Robert Haack Diamonds, will feature leadoff batter Norichika Aoki on the first Sunday of the season – April 7 against the Diamondbacks. Aoki led all National League rookies in stolen bases (30) and tied for the NL rookie lead in hits (150) and outfield assists (8) while ranking among the leaders in numerous statistical categories. The second bobblehead is scheduled for April 21 against the Cubs when former first baseman George Scott—presented by Toyota—is featured with his five Gold Glove awards as a Brewer from 1972-76.

On May 5 against the Cardinals, the Brewers will pay tribute to the Minor League Milwaukee Brewers, who played in the American Association from 1902-52. Corey Hart—presented by Kwik Trip—will be showcased in a 1913 Brewers uniform to honor the 100th Anniversary of the team’s first American Association championship. The American Association Brewers won eight pennants during their 51 seasons of existence. A Ryan Braun bobblehead, which will honor his 40/30 season in 2012, is set for May 26 vs. the Pirates and is presented by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Braun followed up his 2011 MVP season with 41 home runs and 30 stolen bases to become just the ninth member of Major League Baseball’s 40/30 Club. This will be the third Brewers bobblehead for Braun (also 2008 and 2009).

Carlos Gomez will get his first Brewers bobblehead, presented by Time Warner Cable, on June 9 against the Phillies. The collectible will include Gomez in a Cerveceros uniform (“Cerveceros” is the Spanish translation for Brewers and the team has worn Cerveceros uniforms during the Cerveceros Day celebration in each of the last seven seasons). The Brewers will host Polish Heritage Day on June 23 against the Braves and all fans will receive a Klement’s Famous Racing Sausage Polish Bobble, presented by Klement’s Sausage. Polish Sausage will be featured wearing a “Piwowarzy” jersey, which is the Polish translation for Brewers.

The first player in MLB history with a 40/30 season was Hank Aaron as a member of the Milwaukee Braves in 1963. He finished that season with 44 home runs and 31 stolen bases. On July 7 against the Mets, a Hank Aaron bobblehead will commemorate his 40/30 season in a Milwaukee Braves uniform. It marks the third Aaron bobblehead to be given away at Miller Park (also 2002 and 2010). Harvey Kuenn, who was named American League Manager of the Year in 1982 after leading the Brewers to the World Series, will be featured with a bobblehead on August 4 against the Nationals.

The month of September will include a pair of former outfielders – Gorman Thomas and Ben Oglivie. Thomas was the first player selected by the Seattle Pilots in the first round of the 1969 June Draft and as such, his bobblehead will feature him in a Pilots uniform on September 1 against the Angels. On September 15 against the Reds, Oglivie will round out the bobblehead schedule. This will mark the first full-size Brewers bobblehead of the three-time All-Star.

2013 Brewers Bobblehead Schedule

Sunday, April 7 Norichika Aoki
Presented by Robert Haack Diamonds – Arizona Diamondbacks 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, April 21 George Scott (holding 5 Gold Gloves)
Presented by Toyota — Chicago Cubs 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, May 5 Corey Hart (in 1913 Brewers uniform)
Presented by Kwik Trip — St. Louis Cardinals 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, May 26 Ryan Braun (40 HR/30 SB season)
Presented by Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board — Pittsburgh Pirates 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, June 9 Carlos Gomez (in Cerveceros uniform)
Presented by Time Warner Cable — Philadelphia Phillies 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, June 23 Polish (wearing Piwowarzy uniform)
Presented by Klement’s Sausage — Atlanta Braves 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, July 7 Hank Aaron (40/30 season in 1963 Braves uniform)
Presenting sponsor TBA — New York Mets 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, August 4 Harvey Kuenn
Presenting sponsor TBA — Washington Nationals 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 1 Gorman Thomas (in 1969 Seattle Pilots uniform)
Presenting sponsor TBA — LA Angels of Anaheim 1:10 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 15 Ben Oglivie
Presenting sponsor TBA — Cincinnati Reds 1:10 p.m.

A complete promotional schedule for the 2013 season will be announced at a later date.

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Here come the Greinke rumors

Melvin smiles in the background while Greinke meets the Milwaukee media on Dec. 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

The Brewers are still being linked to the top position player available in free agency, outfielder Josh Hamilton, despite general manager Doug Melvin’s repeated insistence that he’s out of their price range. Now it looks like Melvin may have to swat away similar rumblings about the market’s top pitcher.

Melvin has consistently said that he expects Greinke to garner an open-market contract out of reach for the Brewers, who are in the process of paring payroll after pushing over $100 million last season for the first time in club history.

But Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com passed along an interesting anecdote last night:

The Brewers are at least considering Josh Hamilton, the top position player on the free-agent market, as was reported here over a week ago. But what about Zack Greinke? Well, Brewers GM Doug Melvin mentioned off-handedly he’d had a recent conversation with Greinke, the former Brewers star and the top free-agent pitcher.

Melvin said by way of explanation that he just likes talking baseball with Greinke. But pitching is obviously Milwaukee’s need, and Melvin seemed to at least have inquired about Greinke’s desires when he reported back that Greinke “didn’t tip his hand.”

Neither did Melvin. Not too much, anyway.

Heyman goes on to enumerate the obstacles in the way of a Brewers push for either player, including they they already have a reliable — at least a defensively reliable — center fielder in Carlos Gomez, and that they do not have endlessly deep pockets. Melvin had joked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that while the Brewers have a connection to Hamilton in the form of hitting coach Johnny Narron, Hamilton’s former “accountability partner” in Cincinnati and Texas, they would need a connection to US Bank to come up with enough cash to make a deal work.

Heyman asked again this week whether Melvin considered the Brewers a long shot for Hamilton, and Melvin responded with one word: “Very.”

As for Greinke, remember that the Brewers offered a nine-figure extension in late June or early July and were turned down by the pitcher, who, along with agent Casey Close, indicated a desire to gauge interest in the open market. The Angels want to re-sign Greinke badly. The Dodgers could get involved. And the Braves. And others.

Could this be a slow play by Melvin, to wait around on the fringes of the Greinke sweepstakes? Sure. If the fit makes sense, Melvin and principal owner Mark Attanasio have shown on multiple occasions a willingness to bust the budget and “go for it.” Melvin legitimately loves Greinke as a person and as a pitcher, and Greinke was sincere when he said he felt like he fit in well in Milwaukee.

But is Greinke just as much a long shot for the Brewers as Hamilton? Yes again.

So, maybe that recent conversation between Melvin and Greinke was nothing more than two baseball fans catching up. Considering the Winter Meetings are still more than three weeks away, and the start of Spring Training still three months away, I’d wager to guess that we are all a long way from finding out.

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Kjeldgaard needs surgery for broken foot

Brewers outfield prospect Brock Kjeldgaard will have surgery this week for a broken left foot that cut short his impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League.

Kjeldgaard broke his foot on a foul tip on Oct. 27. Brewers spokesperson John Steinmiller said Kjeldgaard has returned to Milwaukee for a surgery performed by Dr. Richard Marx Marks, and should be ready for the start of Spring Training.

Kjeldgaard, a power-hitting former pitcher, was 10-for-26 (.385) with four home runs and nine RBIs in seven AFL games. He was in the AFL making up at-bats lost during the regular season, when Kjeldgaard spent two months on the disabled list with a broken finger that he suffered while sliding to break up a double play.

Steinmiller, who is in Arizona this week blogging about Brewers prospects, also reported that right-handed relief prospect Santo Manzanillo has returned to the Brewers’ facility in the Dominican Republic because of a sore right shoulder. He surrendered seven earned runs in three AFL appearances spanning two innings before being shut down.

Injuries dogged Manzanillo all year, the result of a serious auto accident near the Brewers’ Dominican facility last December.

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