January 2013

Figaro a done deal

Proving Yogi Berra’s old adage that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” right-hander Alfredo Figaro has signed a Minor League deal with the Brewers.

Again.

Figaro, 28, who pitched the past two seasons in Japan, came to the same deal with the Brewers back on Dec. 19, before Figaro and agent Barry Praver discovered he was still under reserve by the Orix Buffaloes.

Thus began a negotiation between Figaro and his Japanese club which was resolved this week. So it’s finally official: Figaro will be in Milwaukee’s big league camp.

“Upon our status check on Monday, they declared he was a free agent to we were able to sign him,” Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said.

Figaro is the 10th non-roster pitcher added to the Brewers’ big league camp roster. He will initially compete for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, but could wind up a starter at Triple-A Nashville.

Before his two-year stint with Orix, Figaro appeared in 13 Major League games with Detroit, including four 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 in 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 against 55 walks.

This winter, the Brewers scouted Figaro in the Dominican Winter League, where he had a 2.63 ERA in three starts and three relief appearances for Licey. That team was managed by Brewers Triple-A skipper Mike Guerrero, who recommended Figaro to Milwaukee officials.

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Gonzalez physical next week; waiting on Overbay

It’ll be a while before the Brewers formally announce their one-year, $1.5 million deal with Alex Gonzalez. He was not available to take a physical exam in Milwaukee until next week, at which time Brewers doctors, including head physician William Raasch, will pay particular attention to Gonzalez’s surgically repaired right knee. It was Raasch who performed the surgery last May to repair Gonzalez’s torn ACL.

But Brewers officials are not anticipating any problems, partly because they cared for Gonzalez through the first month or so of the offseason, and because he was healthy enough to play the end of the Venezuelan Winter League season.

Gonzalez is aware of the Brewers’ plan to use young Jean Segura as the starting shortstop, so this could mark the beginning of a new phase in Gonzalez’s career. He has appeared in the field in 1,536 big league games, all of them at shortstop and 1,504 of them as the starting shortstop, but he manned third base last month in Venezuela and could also see action for the Brewers at second as a backup to Rickie Weeks and perhaps even at first base, where Mat Gamel is expected to spend the first two months filling-in for the injured Corey Hart.

Most importantly, Gonzalez would represent experienced insurance for Segura, who turns 23 on March 17 and was the centerpiece of the three-player package sent by the Angels to the Brewers for Greinke.

Also on Tuesday… the Brewers were awaiting a decision from first baseman Lyle Overbay, who was weighing offers from several teams. The Brewers’ have offered a Minor League contract with an invitation to big league Spring Training camp.

Overbay, who turned 36 on Monday and split the 2012 season between Arizona and Atlanta, was Milwaukee’s starting first baseman in 2004 and 2005 before Doug Melvin traded him to Toronto and opened first base for a top prospect named Prince Fielder.

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Report: Brewers re-sign Alex Gonzalez

Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com is reporting that the Brewers have re-signed shortstop Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, Major League deal. Gonzalez was the team’s Opening Day shortstop in 2012 but missed most of the season after suffering a torn ACL in early May. He would be a backup this time, because the Brewers are committed to 22-year-old Jean Segura as their starting shortstop.

Rosenthal reports that Gonzalez gets a $1.5 million base salary and can earn another $1 million in incentives.

More to come.

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Brewers garner national ad honor

The Brewers and their advertising agency on Tuesday received the 2013 National Sports Forum “ADchievement” Overall Award of Excellence. The announcement was made during the NSF awards ceremony in Orlando, Florida.

The Brewers internal creative team, along with 2-Story, the club’s Milwaukee-based agency, developed the campaigns and collateral pieces that were recognized with this award.

The National Sports Forum is the largest annual cross gathering of the top sports marketing, sales, promotions and event entertainment executives from throughout the broad spectrum of North American teams and leagues, including MLB and the Minor Leagues, the NFL, NBA, NHL, racing and colleges.

In addition to the NSF ADchievement Overall Award of Excellence, the Brewers were chosen as finalists in five advertising categories, including twice in the Alternative Media category. These categories included the following: Television, Out-of-Home, Social/Mobile Media, Print and Alternative Media.

Finalists and winners in each category were determined by an independent group of Southern California advertising experts who also determined the finalists for the NSF ADchievement Overall Award of Excellence winner through a quantitative scale. Other Finalists for this year’s Overall Award of Excellence included The Orlando Magic, Texas Motor Speedway, The St. Louis Rams, The Oakland A’s, and Maple Leaf Sports + Entertainment. In 2012, the Brewers received this same recognition at The National Sports Forum in Oklahoma City. And, in 2011, they received the National Sports Forum’s SAMMY Award (Sales, Advertising, Marketing or Management Idea of the Year) for the “Missing You” campaign, which focused on Season Seat Holder renewals.

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Blogging “Brewers On Deck”

I’ll update this blog throughout the day with news and notes from the Brewers’ annual fanfest.

2:30 p.m. CT — Gamel, Narveson are ‘good to go’

The Brewers’ head physician Dr. William Raasch examined a number of players on Sunday morning including infielder Mat Gamel and left-hander Chris Narveson and offered positive reports on both, according to assistant GM Gord Ash.

“They’re all good to go,” Ash said.

Gamel had surgery last May to repair a torn ACL in his right knee and the Brewers will be careful about overworking him at the start of Spring Training. All that means is Gamel will probably skip the sort of “extra” work he would normally do as a player preparing to play multiple positions. Ash said Gamel should be able to participate in all of the regular camp drills.

The Brewers expect to use Gamel as the starting first baseman in April and May while Corey Hart recovers from knee surgery.

Narveson, who had surgery in May for a torn left rotator cuff and labrum, threw his most recent bullpen session in Arizona on Friday without issue, Ash said.

“[Manager] Ron [Roenicke] wants to be sure we’re careful with him, which we’re going to be, and we go slow,” Ash said. “But there’s no restrictions.”

Narveson will compete for a spot in the starting rotation.

Only three players on the big-league camp roster ware expected to be limited at the start: Hart, left-hander Miguel De Los Santos (shoulder) and infielder Hector Gomez (groin). The Brewers claimed De Los Santos off waivers from the Rangers in September knowing he had a shoulder issue.

“We decided we’d rather get him fixed now and get it over with instead of going into the season wondering when he’s going to break down,” Ash said. “He should be back by July.”

2 p.m. CT — Attanasio: More moves possible

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told fans during a question and answer session that he’s still in talks with “a couple” of free agent infielders. After that session, principal owner Mark Attanasio went a little further

“By the way, everybody talks about free agency, but we could still end up doing a trade. That’s not out of the [question],” Attanasio said. “We’ve had a couple of glancing trade conversations over the last several weeks. It’s all a possibility.”

I asked whether there there was any scenario in which Kyle Lohse, who remains a free agent, fits the Brewers’ plan.

“There’s always a chance,” Attanasio said. “Again, it’s a function of size of contract, length of contract. Kyle had a phenomenal two seasons the last two seasons. We just have to see if that fits in our overall scheme.”

When asked whether the Brewers had been in contact with Lohse’s agent, Scott Boras, Attanasio said only that, “Doug is in the office every day … and is in touch with all the agents, all the general managers.”

Besides a financial commitment to Lohse, the Brewers would have to forefeit their first-round Draft pick (No. 17 overall) to the Cardinals, who made a qualifying offer to Lohse. That sounded like less of an impediment to Attanasio than the dollars.

“The draft pick compensation, I think you have to look at the whole picture,” Attanasio said. “We’ve given up picks before, and when we got CC [Sabathia] and we got Zack [Greinke], we gave up more than draft compensation — we gave up ready-to-go young players. This season, we’re mindful of the fact that if we do add some pieces, we may have to give up some young players.

“So, the draft pick compensation hasn’t been as big an item for us in looking at this as it’s been for other teams. We’ve got the No. 17 pick. We’ve done some good things with that level of pick, but I’m mindful that we drafted Ryan Braun No. 5 and Prince Fielder No. 7 and Rickie Weeks No. 2.”

Melvin declined to name any of the infielders of interest. It sounds like the door is still open for shortstop Alex Gonzalez, of whom Melvin said, “We’ve talked to his guy. I’d rather not say where [it stands] at this point, with teams competing for certain guys.”

Both the Brewers and Gonzalez, who missed most of last season after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL, have expressed mutual interest since the start of the offseason. The issue has been, and remains, playing time. The Brewers remain committed to young Jean Segura as their starting shortstop, Melvin said Sunday.

1:30 p.m. CT — Explaining Hart’s absence

Many fans have asked this question recently: If Corey Hart’s surgery for two significant meniscal tears last spring required a one-month recovery, why will this year’s surgery for a “minor” meniscal tear plus a debridement of the knee require four months?

Here’s how Gord Ash explained:

“It’s totally different. This time, it’s on the other side. It’s smaller, but the more significant injury is the debridement of the joint surface. In layman’s terms the best way I can explain it to you is, you know what you’re eating chicken, and at the joint there’s that kind of white [substance]? He’s got a defect in that, and the way you heal that is to rough it over and let it bleed, and it heals up and fills in the pothole.”

That takes time, Ash said, “because he can’t be as aggressive with your rehab initially. You have to be less weight-bearing initially. That slows everything down.”

Dr. William Raasch initially thought Hart would have to be off his feet for six weeks, though that estimate has since been revised downward. The Brewers may be more aggressive in moving Hart to range of motion exercises.

“He’s proven to be a good rehab patient, so he will follow all of the rehab protocols,” Ash said.

As for why the initial estimate of a 3-4 month rehab was revised after surgery to a flat four months, Ash explained, “It’s probably semantics. I’d rather say ‘four months’ and then come to you guys in three and a half and say, ‘He’s ready,’ than at the three-month mark you saying, ‘How come he’s not back yet.’ The doctor wasn’t concerned. There wasn’t anything he wasn’t expecting to find there.”

To be clear: The four month estimate is inclusive of the entire rehab process. In other words, the Brewers hope to have Hart back in a Major League game by the final week of May.

Hart, by the way, returned home to Phoenix on Sunday and missed the “On Deck” event.

12:30 a.m. CT — Still seeking a 1B

The Brewers plan to start Mat Gamel at first base while Corey Hart recovers from right knee surgery, though manager Ron Roenicke said Gamel would also play the outfield and third base in Spring Training to be ready for Hart’s return. First base prospect Hunter Morris will get a good, long look in Spring Training, and the Brewers could also use Taylor Green there.

At the same time, “There’s still the possibility that Doug [Melvin, the Brewers’ general manger] is talking to some guys right now [and] we get somebody else into camp.”

It could be a Travis Ishikawa type, though Ishikawa has already signed a Minor League deal with the Orioles. As far as I know, Lyle Overbay is still a free agent.

Roenicke made clear: “When Corey comes back, Corey is going to be our first baseman.”

12:15 p.m. CT — Catching conundrum

The Brewers would prefer not to lose both of their regular catchers to the World Baseball Classic.

But Jonathan Lucroy committed to Team USA and Martin Maldonado will play for Puerto Rico, leaving manager Ron Roenicke scrambling to figure out how he’ll cover games for at least that one week in March.

“I would much rather have our catchers there catching these guys, no doubt,” Roenicke said. “I think it’s really important.”

The good news is that this Spring Training is longer than most because of the Classic. Plus, there’s always the chance that the U.S. or Puerto Rico will be bounced from the tournament early, so the Brewers would get at least one of their catchers back.

The Brewers’ other catchers in big league camp are all non-roster invitees: Dayton Buller, Anderson De La Rosa, Blake Lalli, Rafael Neda and Adam Weisenburger. Only Lalli has played in the Majors — all of six games with the Cubs.

Who qualifies as the Brewers’ third catcher?

“Now, don’t ask me that question,” Roenicke said with a smile. “We don’t know. …

“I’m not worried about physically, who can catch them. But I want a guy who is going to be with us and working with these guys to get them locked in, to talk about stuff between innings and what they need to work on. If I guy wants to work on his change-up at the beginning of Spring Training to get ready for the end, I want our catchers to know that. And we’re not going to have our two [regular] guys there, so it’s going to be difficult.”

11:55 a.m. CT — Peralta leads the pack?

It sounds like the Brewers’ starting rotation battle could come down to three pitchers for two spots.

Manager Ron Roenicke said Sunday what we already knew: Yovani Gallardo is a lock for the top clot and the team is “counting on” Marco Estrada to be the No. 2. But while saying that the race for the other three spots was “open,” Roenicke offered some hints that young right-hander Wily Peralta leads the rest of the pack.

“Peralta has a huge upside,” Roenicke said. “If he pitches like he did a few of those games last year, he’s got a huge upside.”

Other candidates include left-hander Chris Narveson, who is coming off shoulder surgery, and right-handers Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers. Rogers is out of Minor League options.

Roenicke also touted the team’s depth, arguing that the five starters at the beginning of the season don’t have to be the same five at the end. He was referring to extra options like prospects Tyler Thornburg and Hiram Burgos, plus reliever Tom Gorzelanny, who has experience as a starter.

It’s already clear to Roenicke that questions about the Brewers’ young pitching staff will dominate the spring.

“That probably is going to be the question mark,” he said. “We hope our regular [hitters] perform like they did last year, and we feel comfortable that they will. “

Can the Brewers win the NL Central with such a young rotation?

“When you say, ‘Can you?’ Certainly, we can,” Roenicke said. “It’s going to be tough. There’s some good teams in our division.”

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Hart knee surgery complete

UPDATE at 12:25 p.m. CT: Brewers spokesperson Mike Vassallo reports that Dr. William Raasch performed a debridement of the knee joint surface and repaired a “small” meniscal tear. Recovery time is expected to be four months.

I just spoke briefly with Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, who said he was waiting for a report on the surgery performed today on first baseman Corey Hart’s right knee. That procedure had been delayed a few days while Hart sought a second opinion of his MRI from a specialist in Vail, Colo.

The Brewers typically release information after a player undergoes surgery, so stay tuned Friday afternoon. Assuming it was the same course of action prescribed earlier — a debridement of the right knee joint surface and repair of a meniscal tear — the recovery would take 3-4 months. Ash declined to re-confirm that timeline, pending the surgical report.

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Hart needs knee surgery, out 3-4 months

Brewers first baseman and five-hole hitter Corey Hart needs surgery to repair his right knee, the team just announced. On Tuesday, Dr. William Raasch will perform a debridement of the right knee joint surface and repair a meniscal tear. Recovery time is expected to be three to four months.

Hart, 30, batted .270 with 30 HR and 83 RBI in 149 games last season. He made 97 starts at first base and 49 in right field.

Much more to come on Brewers.com.

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Gomez signs for $4.3 million

The Brewers and center fielder Carlos Gomez avoided arbitration on Thursday by agreeing to a one-year contract, one day before teams and their arbitration-eligible players were set to formally exchange figures. A baseball source said Gomez would earn $4.3 million.

The Brewers’ remaining eligibles are relievers John Axford and Burke Badenhop, and starter Marco Estrada. If they remain unsigned at noon CT on Friday, they will exchange one-year contract proposals with the team and continue toward an arbitration hearing in February.

With Gomez and his agent, Scott Boras, the Brewers avoided the hearing room in all four years of his eligibility. Gomez initially made the cut as a “Super 2” player in 2010, and continued to the point of earning $1.9875 million last season (including a $25,000 bonus for topping 450 plate appearances), He set career bests in 2012 with a .260 batting average, a .305 on-base percentage, 19 home runs and 37 stolen bases.

Gomez heads into 2013 as the Brewers’ starting center fielder, with left-handed hitting Logan Schafer likely to be the backup. Gomez will be a free agent after the season.

Earlier Thursday, he was named to the Dominican Republic’s provisional roster for the World Baseball Classic.

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Fourteen Brewers in the Classic

With as many as 14 Brewers set to play in the World Baseball Classic, Maryvale Baseball Park could feel a bit empty during the second week of March.

Hours after Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun and catcher Jonathan Lucroy were formally named to Team USA’s provisional roster, the rest of the field was revealed on Thursday afternoon and it was full of Brewers. Among them were starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada for Mexico, catcher Martin Maldonado and starter Hiram Burgos for Puerto Rico, center fielder Carlos Gomez for the Dominican Republic, infielder Jeff Bianchi for Italy, infielder Hainley Statia for the Netherlands, infielder Mike Walker for Australia plus four players from Canada: Relievers John Axford and Jim Henderson, infielder Taylor Green and outfielder Rene Tosoni.

Count ‘em: Fourteen.

“Honored to represent my island,” Maldonado told fans via Twitter. “No better feeling than having “PUERTO RICO” across my chest.”

Eleven of the Brewers’ participants (all but Statia, Tosoni and Walker) are on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster and will take leave from big league camp to play in the Classic. Braun, Gallardo, Gomez and Lucroy are all projected for the team’s Opening Day lineup, Axford is the Brewers’ closer and Henderson is pegged as the team’s primary set-up man.

The good news is that Milwaukee’s highest-profile participants will not have to travel very far. The Americans, Canadians, Italians and Mexicans make up Pool D and will play a round robin at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., and at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix. Axford and his Canadian countrymen will actually play against the Brewers in a March 5 exhibition at Maryvale.

Then, it’s on to the tournament. Italy and Mexico kick off Pool D play on March 7. Italy then takes on Canada, and Mexico draws the U.S. on March 8.

For more, including provisional rosters for all 16 teams, check out MLB.com and the World Baseball Classic website.

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New party area coming to Miller Park

Miller Lite Party Deck (front)The Dew Deck at Miller Park is getting a little brother.

The Brewers announced plans Thursday for another new “group entertainment area,” the Miller Lite Party Deck, with a capacity of 70 and situated above the right field bleachers next to the existing Dew Deck. The 1,400 sq. ft.  space will include a fixed bar, buffet counter, flat panel televisions and two levels of seating. The Brewers say it will offer an “all-inclusive food and beverage experience.”

“Every year, we work to enhance the overall entertainment experience at Miller Park, and this will be a significant addition to the many options that we offer,” Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger said. “We appreciate the support of MillerCoors as we believe The Miller Lite Party Deck will be one of baseball’s most exciting and unique all-inclusive entertaining areas.”

The area is currently under construction and will be ready in time for the Brewers’ first 2013 game at Miller Park — an exhibition against the Chicago White Sox on Friday, March 29.

Groups may reserve their space in the Miller Lite Party Deck and all group entertaining areas beginning on Thursday, February 7. More information is coming to Brewers.com/allin.

Miller Lite Party Deck (aerial)

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