December 2012

Brewers to sign reliever Gonzalez

Barring an unexpected snag in his physical exam, the Brewers will begin the New Year with another new bullpen arm.

Two sources confirmed that the Brewers and free agent left-hander Mike Gonzalez have agreed to terms, with one source saying it’s a one-year contract pending a physical exam. Since the team’s offices are closed through New Year’s Day, the deal is not expected to be finalized until the middle of next week at the earliest.

FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal was first to report the agreement on Friday afternoon, and ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden added that Gonzalez will earn $2.25 million plus incentives.

General manager Doug Melvin, who typically does not discuss acquisitions until the physical is complete, would say only that, “We’re closing in.”

Gonzalez, 34, posted a 3.03 ERA in 47 appearances for Washington in 2012, his best ERA since his last season in the NL — 2009 — when he posted a 2.42 ERA in 80 appearances for the Braves.

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Brewers don’t intend to negotiate for Figaro

The Brewers announced Wednesday that they had reached a Minor League deal with free agent right-hander Alfredo Figaro, who was set to return to the U.S. after two years pitching in Japan.

One problem: He was not a free agent in the first place.

The Brewers subsequently confirmed through Major League Baseball that Figaro was under reserve by the Orix Buffaloes, a fact Figaro and his agent had overlooked. So the agreement with the Brewers, which included an invitation to Milwaukee’s Major League Spring Training camp, was in limbo.

“I have reached out to the Orix team and advised them that it was not our intent to violate their reservation rights, and if they intend to retain Figaro we will step aside,” Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash said in an email.

The Brewers do not intend to purchase Figaro’s rights from his Japanese club.

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Brewers, Gorzelanny finalizing contract

Forty-eight days after the free agent market opened for business, the Brewers have made their first buy.

The team has agreed to terms with left-hander Tom Gorzelanny on a two-year contract pending a physical exam, a source confirmed Thursday. The club did not immediately confirm an agreement first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The pact is expected to be made official on Friday afternoon.

The deal had been rumored for several days, though Brewers general manager Doug Melvin would not comment about the status of negotiations with Gorzelanny on Tuesday.

“I don’t like to comment on guys, but that’s the world we live in — people pick up on stuff,” Melvin said. “It’s like Anibal Sanchez. The news breaks that he signed [with the Cubs], then Detroit jumps in because they hear the Cubs are on him. That’s happened to two or three clubs this offseason.”

Gorzelanny, 30, is a good fit for the Brewers because they have no left-handed relievers on staff after nontendering Manny Parra last month, and because Gorzelanny fits manager Ron Roenicke’s preference for a non-specialist — in other words, a left-hander who can also face right-handed hitters. In his career, Gorzelanny has held left-handed hitters to a .237 average and right-handers to .245, though he walks right-handers at a much higher rate.

Given the Brewers’ relative uncertainty in their starting rotation, Gorzelanny could also provide insurance in that area. He has started 111 of his 193 Major League games, though he has appeared mostly in relief over the past two seasons with the Nationals. <p>

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Braddock (and Ishikawa) to Orioles

Zach Braddock is back in baseball.

When I last wrote about Braddock in May I referred to him as “talented but troubled,” and the Orioles could be getting a steal in the now-25-year-old left-hander, who signed a Minor League deal with Baltimore on Wednesday and will be in that club’s big league camp.

Braddock has a power arm but dealt with a series of off-the-field issues during his time with the Brewers, including a sleep disorder. The team demoted him to Triple-A Nashville in 2011 for disciplinary reasons after he reported late to the ballpark, and in May 2012 the Brewers released Braddock outright, deciding a change of scenery was best for the team and for the player’s well being.

“He’s got a good arm,” GM Doug Melvin said then. “Someone might claim him [on waivers]. They might not. Sometimes it gets to a point where you decide, ‘Is he going to be a part of your ballclub?’ We didn’t think he would be a part of our ballclub for the present or the foreseeable future. We didn’t see that happening. When you make decisions on players, that’s what you look at.”

Most of Braddock’s former teammates were not sure what happened to him after that, and Braddock’s agent, Jeff Berry, declined requests for information about Braddock’s future intentions.

On Wednesday, we got an answer when the Orioles announced Braddock among three non-roster invitees. Hopefully, he makes their club and makes the most of his outstanding arm.

Another name on that list was first baseman Travis Ishikawa, who mostly came off the Brewers’ bench in 2012 and batted .257 in 94 games. The Brewers opted to let Ishikawa walk early in the offseason rather than take him into the arbitration process. Right now, Mat Gamel and Taylor Green look like the leading candidates to fill the role of lefty bench bat.

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Brewers sign RHP Figaro to Minors deal

The Brewers have signed right-hander Alfredo Figaro to a a Minor League contract that includes an invitation to Major League Spring Training camp, raising to four the number of nonroster pitchers who will compete for a job with a team in the process of renovating its bullpen.

Figaro, 28, spent the last two seasons in the Japanese Pacific League with the Orix Buffaloes. Before that, he appeared in 14 Major League games with Detroit, including two starts, in 2009 and 2010, posting a 6.54 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 18 walks in 31 2/3 innings. According to FanGraphs.com, Figaro averaged 92.4 mph on his fastball in those limited appearances, and also threw a slider, changeup and occasional curveball.

He spent six seasons in the Tigers organization (2005-10) after beginning his career in the Dodgers’ farm system (2004). Figaro signed in Japan after going 10-6 with a 4.14 ERA in 23 starts at Triple-A Toledo in 2010. In Japan, he was 8-11 with a 3.31 ERA in 35 games, 31 starts, and struck out 127 batters versus 55 walks.

The Brewers most recently scouted Figaro in the Dominican Winter League, where he had a 2.63 ERA in three starts and three relief appearances for Licey. He is a teammate of Brewers pitching prospect Ariel Pena, and the team is currently being managed by Brewers Triple-A manager Mike Guerrero.

The Brewers other nonroster invitees are right-handers Jairo Asencio and Darren Byrd, left-hander Travis Webb, catchers Dayton Buller and Blake Lalli, and infielder Hector Gomez and Donnie Murphy.

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Brewers set Minor League staffs

Hot off the presses:

The Milwaukee Brewers today announced the Minor League coaching staffs for the 2013 season. In addition, Rick Tomlin has been named minor league pitching coordinator. The position was previously held by Brewers Bullpen Coach Lee Tunnell. Tomlin enters his 24th season in the Minor Leagues, which includes coaching roles with Minnesota (1989-1995), New York-AL (1996-2004), Washington (2005-08) and New York-NL (2009-11). He previously served as a minor league pitching coordinator with the Yankees (2002-04) and Mets (2011).

At Triple-A Nashville, Manager Mike Guerrero and Pitching Coach Fred Dabney each return for their second season. Bob Skube joins the Sounds as coach after spending the past six seasons as a hitting coach in the San Diego Padres organization, including the previous two seasons at Triple-A Tucson. He also spent two seasons in the Texas Rangers organization (2005-06). In 2006, he managed the Rangers’ rookie-level affiliate in Arizona. Skube, who was drafted by the Brewers in the 13th round of the 1979 June Draft, played in the Brewers organization from 1979-85. He appeared in 16 Major League games with the Brewers during the 1982-83 seasons, batting .250 with 9 RBI.

Aaron Hoback enters his first season as Nashville’s athletic trainer and his seventh season in the organization. He spent the past three seasons at Double-A Huntsville. Andrew Emmick begins his fourth season as strength and conditioning specialist.

The Double-A Huntsville Stars will see the return of Manager Darnell Coles and Pitching Coach Chris Hook. The coach is to be announced. Dwayne Hosey, who held the position last season, will serve as coach at Rookie Helena in 2013. Athletic Trainer Steve Patera begins his first season at Huntsville following two seasons with the Rookie Arizona Brewers. Tim Gifford returns for his second season as strength and conditioning specialist.

The coaching staff at Class-A Brevard County will remain the same in 2013. The staff includes Manager Joe Ayrault, Pitching Coach Mark Dewey and Coach Ned Yost IV, who all return to the Manatees for their second season. Athletic Trainer Tommy Craig and Strength and Conditioning Coach Jonah Mergen also return.

The Midwest League Champion Wisconsin Timber Rattlers return their entire coaching staff. Manager Matt Erickson, an Appleton native, is joined by Pitching Coach David Chavarria, Coach Dusty Rhodes, Athletic Trainer Jeff Paxson and Strength and Conditioning Specialist Christian Polega.

The Rookie Helena Brewers will be managed by Tony Diggs, who spent the previous seven seasons as manager of the rookie-level Arizona Brewers. Pitching Coach Elvin Nina returns for his fifth season and coach Dwayne Hosey will make the move from Huntsville. Don Money, who coached at Helena last season, will continue in his second season as special instructor, player development in the minor league system. He spent 14 seasons managing at various levels in the organization from 1998-2011.

Nestor Corredor will manage the Arizona Brewers in 2013 following three seasons at the helm of the Rookie Dominican League Brewers. Pitching Coach Steve Cline returns for his 33rd season as a pitching coach in the minors, including his 18th season as a member of the Brewers farm system. Coach Kenny Dominguez and Strength and Conditioning Specialist Jake Marx also return. Greg Barajas, who spent last season as athletic trainer at Triple-A Nashville, will fill the same role with the Arizona Brewers. The staff for the Rookie Dominican Summer League Brewers will be announced at a later date.

The full list of staffers:

NASHVILLE SOUNDS (AAA)
Manager Mike Guerrero
Pitching Coach Fred Dabney
Coach Bob Skube
Athletic Trainer Aaron Hoback
Strength & Conditioning Specialist Andrew Emmick

HUNTSVILLE STARS (AA)
Manager Darnell Coles
Pitching Coach Chris Hook
Coach TBD
Athletic Trainer Steve Patera
Strength & Conditioning Specialist Tim Gifford

BREVARD COUNTY MANATEES (A)
Manager Joe Ayrault
Pitching Coach Mark Dewey
Coach Ned Yost IV
Athletic Trainer Tommy Craig
Strength & Conditioning Specialist Jonah Mergen

WISCONSIN TIMBER RATTLERS (A)
Manager Matt Erickson
Pitching Coach David Chavarria
Coach Dusty Rhodes
Athletic Trainer Jeff Paxson
Strength & Conditioning Specialist Christian Polega

HELENA BREWERS (R)
Manager Tony Diggs
Pitching Coach Elvin Nina
Coach Dwayne Hosey
Athletic Trainer TBD
Strength & Conditioning Specialist TBD

ARIZONA BREWERS (R)
Manager Nestor Corredor
Pitching Coach Steve Cline
Coach Kenny Dominguez
Athletic Trainer Greg Barajas
Strength & Conditioning Specialist Jake Marx

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Frasor, Gonzalez on Brewers’ radar

The Brewers signed infielder Donnie Murphy to a Minor League contract on Monday but remained quiet on their most pressing front: Relief pitching.

General manager Doug Melvin indicated in a radio interview that he was still shopping around.

“There may be a couple of pitchers that we’re adding to the bullpen here that are still out there on the market,” Melvin told the MLB Network Radio channel on SiriusXM. “But we’re not going to enter into the high-priced free agents this year. We’re going to keep our flexibility.”

Pressed by co-host Jim Bowden, Melvin named two free agent relievers of interest: Right-hander Jason Frasor and left-hander Mike Gonzalez, then named three more — Jon Rauch, Kyle Farnsworth and Ramon Ramirez — among the “relievers who are still out there and are going to sign. It’s just a matter of when.”

Frasor, 35, grew up in Chicago and has pitched nine of his 10 Major League seasons with the Blue Jays in the tough American League East. He had a 4.12 ERA in 50 appearances in 2012 and struck out a career-best 10.9 batters per nine innings.

Gonzalez, 34, posted a 3.03 ERA in 47 appearances with the Nationals last season and was of interest to the Brewers before, at the 2009 Winter Meetings before he signed a multiyear deal with the Orioles. He limited left-handed batters to a .179 average last season and would fill a glaring hole for the Brewers, who have no left-handed relief since opting to nontender Manny Parra.

Rauch, 34, had a 3.59 ERA in 73 appearances for the Mets in 2012 and has appeared in at least 50 games for four straight seasons. Farnsworth, 36, pitched the past two seasons with the Rays and had a 4.00 ERA in 34 games last season. Ramirez, 31, made 58 appearances for the Mets last season with a 4.24 ERA and has a 3.32 ERA in 417 Major League appearances.

Melvin said he did not have any current negotiations with those players.

He reiterated that the Brewers were counting on John Axford to bounce back from his up-and-down 2012 season to be the closer again, and said the team was comfortable with journeyman Jim Henderson in a set-up role.

One of the openings could be filled by 6-foot-9, 24-year-old right-hander Johnny Hellweg, one of three prospects acquired in the July trade with the Angels for Zack Greinke. Hellweg has not pitched above the Double-A level, but Melvin said he would get a look in Spring Training.

“Whether he’s ready or not, we find out,” Melvin said.

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Brewers add IF Murphy to spring mix

Donnie MurphyShort of shortstops, the Brewers have signed infielder Donnie Murphy to a Minor League contract and invited him to Major League Spring Training camp.

Murphy, 29, spent the last three years with the Marlins and is a .205 hitter over parts of seven Major League seasons, never appearing in more than 52 big league games in a season. He set that career high last year in Miami, where Murphy made 26 starts; 17 at third base, eight at second base and one at shortstop.

He has appeared in more Major League games at shortstop (70) than any other position, making Murphy a candidate to back-up 22-year-old Brewers starter Jean Segura. The other in-house candidate is Jeff Bianchi, who made his Major League debut for the Brewers last season over 33 games.

In the Minors, Murphy has played 345 games at second base, 255 at shortstop, 22 at third base and one in the outfield. He is a right-handed hitter.

Murphy is the seventh non-roster player added to the Brewers’ big league Spring Training camp. The others are right-handers Jairo Asencio and Darren Byrd, left-hander Travis Webb, catcher Blake Lalli and infielder Hector Gomez.

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With Dempster gone, Brewers pull back from free agency

I was just on the phone with Doug Melvin when he received an email from Ryan Dempster’s agent, Craig Landis.

“He decided to do with the Red Sox. Thanks for showing the interest and thanks for making the offer.”

The Brewers’ top — only? — starting pitching target fell off the board Thursday when Dempster and the Red Sox reached terms. FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal said it was a two-year, $26.5 million deal.

Melvin confirmed that he’d made a formal offer to Dempster, who made sense for the Brewers as an innings eater, a quality clubhouse presence and a groundball pitcher with a long history of success at hitter-friendly Miller Park.

“I don’t want to say what our offer was, but we made what we considered to be the best offer we could do,” Melvin said after news of the deal broke. “He decided to go with the Red Sox. They have to make the determination about the gap, if there’s a big gap in money. And there might have been. The other thing is, there might have been other teams involved, too.”

Dempster will be 36 in May, but appealed to the Brewers as a veteran compliment to right-hander Yovani Gallardo, the only lock for next year’s starting rotation. Dempster was often at his best against Milwaukee, pitching to a 2.65 ERA in 49 games, 27 starts — including a 2.66 ERA in 26 games, 14 starts at Miller Park.

Now what?

Potentially very little.

“I’ve said that all along, that we want to give an opportunity to our younger pitchers,” Melvin said. “We haven’t done that.”

So the Brewers appear content going to Spring Training with in-house candidates vying for rotation spots behind Gallardo, a list that includes Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers. Tyler Thornburg and the Brewers’ 2012 Minor League pitcher of the year, Hiram Burgos, both ticketed for Triple-A Nashville in a perfect world, may have to be pushed up.

Those young arms would fit the team’s financial plan, as the Brewers are in the process of reducing payroll by as much as 20 percent from a club-record $100 million-plus in 2012.

“Our young pitchers earned an opportunity last year, with the way they pitched, that they should at least be given a chance,” Melvin said. “Dempster was one guy that we did think we had a chance on. We liked his character, we liked his experience of pitching in this division. Beyond him, I don’t see the next level of starters that we’re going to get involved with.

“We have some names there [in the system]. We’re not going to get caught up in this frenzy of free agency. We still have to be smart with what we do.”

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Red Sox, Dempster reportedly “serious”

A source told FoxSports.com workhorse Ken Rosenthal that the Red Sox and right-handed free agent Ryan Dempster were in “serious talks” about a contract. Rosenthal, via Twitter, cautioned that no deal was in place, and said Dempster could still sign with another of his suitors, which have included the Royals and Brewers.

Dempster’s agent, Craig Landis, was seeking a three-year contract at last week’s Winter Meetings, and so far no reports have surfaced of a team going three tears. The Royals reportedly offered two years before the Winter Meetings and the Red Sox have offered two years, too. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who met with Landis in Nashville, has not acknowledged making any firm offers to free agents, and when I last spoke to him on Monday afternoon, Melvin hadn’t spoken to any representatives for free agent starters to reassess their asking prices in light of Zack Greinke’s agreement with the Dodgers.

So, it remains quiet on the Brewers’ front for now.

Here’s a crazy thought: Is that such a bad thing? What if, instead of committing two or three years to a 35-year-old Dempster, the Brewers gamble on the young arms that lifted them into Wild Card contention last August and September? If it doesn’t work out, Milwaukee would be in good financial position to enter next winter’s free agent market, which could include (depending on options, in some cases) the likes of Chris Capuano, Chris Carpenter, R.A. Dickey, Matt Garza, Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, Phil Hughes, Josh Johnson, Jon Lester, Tim Lincecum, Wandy Rodriguez, Ervin Santana, Johan Santana, James Shields and Edinson Volquez.

Just a thought while we watch the Dempster drama play out.

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