December 2013

Brewers to build “Wall of Honor”

Craig Counsell remembers visiting AT&T Park in San Francisco some years ago and seeing a group of former Giants honored for their contributions to the franchise, even if those contributions fell short of consideration for Cooperstown. Counsell thought the idea would play in Milwaukee, where the Brewers’ Walk of Fame has in recent years become a most difficult club to crack.

Counsell’s idea came to life on Thursday, when the Brewers announced plans to build a “Wall of Honor” on a prominent space outside Miller Park, just like the one in San Francisco. Fifty-eight former Brewers players and executives, from Hall of Famers to Mike Fetters, will be inducted prior to a June 13 game against the Reds.

“Maybe they’re not Hall of Famers, but they are players who spent some time here and achieved certain standards,” Counsell said. “When I saw it in San Francisco, I thought it was great for the fans, seeing some of the players they had watched when they were kids, or when they brought their own kids to the games. It’s a way to document the history of the franchise.

“I always think that the teams that can create a history are the teams that connect with their fans better. That’s why I liked this.

Because his own name is part of that history, Counsell abstained from the tricky part — setting the criteria for induction. The idea was to make the Wall of Honor different than the Walk of Fame, which is debated by all and voted upon by media and Brewers officials each winter, and instead, as COO Rick Schlesinger put it Thursday, to recognize “the many individuals who either spent a significant portion of their career with the Brewers, or have a significant legacy with the organization through various achievements.”

After some debate, the Brewers chose players who met any of the following standards:

  • 2,000 or more plate appearances as a Brewer
  • 1,000 or more innings pitched
  • 250 appearances as a pitcher
  • Winner of a major award (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year or Fireman of the Year)
  • Manager of a pennant-winning team
  • Individuals memorialized with statues on the Miller Park Plaza
  • Members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who played for or managed the Brewers

Home-grown Counsell, who was raised in a Milwaukee suburb before finishing his career with his hometown team, will be part of the inaugural class by virtue of his 2,063 Brewers plate appearances.

Here is the full list of inductees:

Hank Aaron, Jerry Augustine, Sal Bando, Chris Bosio, Johnny Briggs, Jeromy Burnitz, Mike Caldwell, Bill Castro, Jeff Cirillo, Jim Colborn, Cecil Cooper, Counsell, Chuck Crim, Rob Deer, Cal Eldred, Fetters, Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner, Moose Haas, Bill Hall, Darryl Hamilton, Teddy Higuera, John Jaha, Geoff Jenkins, Harvey Kuenn, Sixto Lezcano, Pat Listach, Mark Loretta, Davey May, Bob McClure, Paul Molitor, Don Money, Charlie Moore, Jaime Navarro, Dave Nilsson, Ben Oglivie, Dan Plesac, Darrell Porter, Ken Sanders, George Scott, Kevin Seitzer, Allan H. (Bud) Selig, Richie Sexson, Ben Sheets, Ted Simmons, Jim Slaton, B.J. Surhoff, Don Sutton, Gorman Thomas, Bill Travers, Bob Uecker, Jose Valentin, Greg Vaughn, Vina, Pete Vukovich, Bill Wegman, Bob Wickman and Robin Yount.

Seven active Major Leagues already meet the criteria and will join the Wall of Honor after they retire: John Axford, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Other current Brewers like Jonathan Lucroy (1,691 plate appearances) and Carlos Gomez (1,618 plate appearances) are already getting close.

“These are all players who played enough that fans have a story about them,” Counsell said. “You’ll remember a game he played in. You’ll share it with your son or daughter. That’s what this is supposed to be all about.”

The permanent exhibit will be installed on an exterior wall at Miller Park adjacent to the Hot Corner entrance, where fans enter year-round for access to the restaurant and team store. Honorees will be recognized with a bronze plaque affixed to the wall, with their image and a brief synopsis of their Milwaukee baseball career etched onto the marker.

The plaques are designed by Matthews International, designers of the plaques for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Hart on M’s: ‘Best place for us to be happy’

The market for first basemen continued to tighten for the Brewers on Friday, when Corey Hart and Logan Morrison were introduced as the newest Seattle Mariners and James Loney reportedly agreed to a three-year deal to return to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Loney, a good defender coming off his best season at the plate, was widely considered the top free agent first baseman and received the three-year commitment, as first reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney, that he had been seeking from the start. The Brewers had talks with Loney’s representatives on Wednesday but were not willing to go beyond two years.

Loney’s agreement was reported just after Hart and Morrison were introduced in a press conference in Seattle; Morrison acquired in a trade with the Marlins and Hart via free agency. Hart had been the Brewers’ top target this offseason, but could not turn down an offer from the Mariners that guarantees $6 million and could top out at $13 million with incentives, about double the Brewers’ best offer.

“They made a stronger financial offer than Milwaukee,” Hart said. “We probably had 8-10 offers out there and I don’t know if they were at the top, but wherever they fit, that wasn’t the reason. It was more like we felt led to come here by other things and this felt like the best place for us to be happy.”

Hart characterized it as a family decision and said he and wife Kristina prayed about it. The Mariners are led by a familiar face in GM Jack Zduriencik, who as Brewers amateur scouting director, drafted Hart in 2000. They are managed by Lloyd McClendon, whom Hart said he previously admired. The Mariners, like the Brewers, hold Spring Training near Hart’s west Phoenix home.

And unlike the Brewers, they offer the chance to serve as designated hitter once or twice a week, a chance to rest the surgically-repaired knees that prevented Hart from playing at all in 2013, the final season of his Brewers contract.

“A lot of people wrote me off because I missed a year, but it wasn’t like I came off a bad year,” Hart said. “I was a good player that just missed time because I had an injury. I’m anxious to get out there just to prove these guys right. Lloyd and Jack are behind me and they know I might need all of Spring Training just to get as many at-bats as I can to feel comfortable because I missed so much, but once I get out there, I can’t wait to prove these guys right.”

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the search continues. With Loney off the market, the Brewers are more likely to acquire a first baseman via trade, and while the options are not limited to the Mets, the fact that Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin and New York GM Sandy Alderson met multiple times during the Winter Meetings says that that the sides see the opportunity for a fit. The Mets have Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy, all of whom can play first base, and all of whom have appeared in trade rumors. The Mets proposes a swap of Davis for right-hander Tyler Thornburg this week, but the Brewers turned it down and manager Ron Roenicke told reporters that Thornburg has the inside track on Milwaukee’s No. 5 starter job.

Among the numerous other first baseman potentially available in trades are Mike Carp of the Red Sox, Adam Dunn of the White Sox, Mitch Moreland of the Rangers and Justin Smoak of the Mariners. Smoak set career highs in on-base percentage and slugging percentage last season but now finds himself part of a crowded field in Seattle, where Hart and Morrison are both coming back from knee injuries and expected to move around between first base, left field and DH.

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Brewers, Mets meet again

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin had one final sit-down with Mets GM Sandy Alderson before departing the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort on Thursday, continuing a search for a first baseman that was not resolved during these Winter Meetings.

“You filter through all the things. That’s what happens a lot of times here,” Melvin said. “If you don’t accomplish things, at least you bring them to a head or eliminate ideas or thoughts that you might have come here with.”

One idea — re-signing Corey Hart — was eliminated this week. He spurned the Brewers’ offer for a more lucrative contract with the Mariners.

Hart was the Brewers’ top Winter Meetings target, but not the club’s only target. Melvin did not dismiss the notion of pursuing a deal with the top available free agent first baseman, James Loney, whose representatives reached out on Wednesday. The Pirates and Rays are also reportedly in talks with Loney, and the asking price is high.

The  Brewers are also active in trade talks about first basemen, including those discussions with Alderson and the Mets that began back at the GM Meetings last month. The Mets have a surplus, with arbitration-eligible Ike Davis and Lucas Duda both popping up in rumors. The Mets this week asked the Brewers for right-hander Tyler Thornburg,  but the 25-year-old is currently ticketed for Milwaukee’s fifth starter slot. The Brewers have some other relatively advanced pitching prospects, so talks have continued.

Asked about the chances of a trade versus a free agent signing, Melvin said, “They’re both possibilities.”

He is remaining patient.

“Sometimes, the timing, we don’t control that all the time,” he said. “I guess you can if you want to overpay or you want to do something stupid, like things that happen early sometimes. I think we’ll get somebody. I’m not overly worried at this time, but that’s my demeanor, I guess.

“I like our team. I like the idea that we have guys at every position [but first base]. Our focus is on one area, and it’s just unfortunate that the availability is not as great as what you would like it to be.”

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Hart, Melvin both say no hard feelings

If there was a shared message Wednesday from Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and new Seattle Mariner Corey Hart it was this:

No hard feelings.

“I can’t get into specifics right now,” Hart said in a text message after agreeing to a one-year deal with Seattle, “but this was a family decision based on a lot of factors. The Mariners showed they were sincerely interested and made a strong push. And I get a chance to DH some while still having Spring Training in Arizona near home.

“I have no hard feelings toward the Brewers and certainly have great appreciation for the team and its fans. This was just the best thing to do for me and my family.”

The Brewers, meanwhile, were moving on to Plans B, C, D and so on. The club will “probably” depart Orlando on Thursday with their first base situation still unsettled, said Melvin, who did not blame Hart for choosing a more lucrative offer from Seattle even though Hart said three months ago he’d take a discounted deal to stay in Milwaukee.

Melvin said the Mariners topped the Brewers both in terms of guaranteed money and total value, but would not divulge any details about his best offer lest it impact negotiations with other players. A source confirmed that Hart’s one-year deal with the Mariners guarantees $5-$6 million and could top out around $13 million with incentives that he is more likely to reach because of the designated hitter.

The Brewers’ offer reportedly topped out around $8 million, including incentives.

“It shouldn’t be painted as a bad picture that Corey left because he said that [about taking a discount],” Melvin said. “Because we said the same thing — we said we wanted to have him back. When it comes down to it, you have to look at the numbers, you have to look at the situation, and weigh everything into it.”

Several factors worked in Seattle’s favor. The Mariners, like the Brewers, have Spring Training in west Phoenix, near Hart’s home. Hart has familiarity with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, who drafted Hart in 2000 when Zduriencik was Milwaukee’s amateur scouting director. And in the American League, Hart can occasionally serve as the designated hitter, and opportunity to rest his surgically-repaired knees while still pursuing those contract incentives.

Zduriencik told reporters that Hart and newly-acquired Logan Morrison (picked up Wednesday in a trade with the Marlins) would play some outfield in addition to first base and the DH.

“The talent pool for National League clubs [is smaller],” Melvin said. “And this isn’t crying or whining or anything, it’s just the way it is. Sometimes you can get an additional 25 or 30 games in a DH role.”

Melvin met with agent Jeff Berry one last time on Wednesday morning and offered to add an option for a second season, but the Hart camp preferred a straight one-year deal.

Berry asked Melvin if the Brewers wanted to otherwise sweeten their offer.

“I said, ‘We’re too far apart to go back and forth and it’s too late in the process,’” Melvin said. “We have a good relationship. There’s no animosity. We were very upfront. There was not a whole lot of negotiating going on. They didn’t take our offer for leverage. On any player, we have a certain level we can go to. Our level of risk with players on performance and players with injuries is different than others. …

“There’s risk involved with everything you do in all this,” Melvin said. “Certain players are performance risks, certain players have injury risk and medical risk. You just give the best offer that you feel you can give and still try to put a team together. Corey was here [13] years — he had a very nice career. … He’s been here longer than I have.”

Asked where this left the Brewers at first base, Melvin said, “Still looking.”

He had “a few things working” as of Wednesday afternoon but does not expect the search to end before the Brewers contingent heads home Thursday. He met with representatives for free agent James Loney, who reportedly wants a three-year deal. Melvin also has had some trade talks this week with the Mets, who are listening to offers for Ike Davis. Other potential trade targets include Justin Smoak of the Mariners (though Zduriencik insisted Smoak was still part of the M’s plan) and Mitch Moreland of the Rangers.

“Whatever is the best fit, giving up the least,” said Melvin. “Giving up players is always hard. If you give up a player and have to fill that hole, we’d like to try to avoid that. If you make a trade, you do it from depth you have a certain positions.”

Loney, he said, “Is still out there. As long as players are still out there, they’re all viable options.”

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Waiting on Hart

As the clock struck noon in the lobby of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, Brewers officials were upstairs in the club suite still awaiting a response from free agent first baseman Corey Hart, who has a one-year offer in hand from Milwaukee that the sides adjusted during the day Tuesday. The Brewers were told Hart has at least one other good offer in hand that may feature richer incentives. Club officials stayed up past 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning awaiting a response — a sign of just how close this negotiation may be — before Hart’s side said it needed more time.

After a short night’s sleep, Doug Melvin & Co. were still waiting, and continuing to explore alternatives for the event that Hart says no.

Melvin heard from James Loney’s agent on Wednesday morning, and there could theoretically be opportunity there if Loney comes down from his reported three-year request. Trades with the Mets for Ike Davis or the Marlins for Logan Morrison are possible, though the Mets’ ask was pretty high for Davis, a player who struggled so mightily in 2013 that he was demoted to Triple-A at one point. New York wants Tyler Thornburg, and sounded firm on it. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke just told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he has Thornburg penciled in as Milwaukee’s fifth starter.

The Brewers want a resolution before the end of the Winter Meetings, which close Thursday morning with the Rule 5 Draft. Stay tuned.

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Roenicke: Braun knows what he’s up against

Three days after attending Ryan Braun’s wedding in California, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke spoke at length Tuesday about the challenges facing a player who will return in the spring from a PED suspension to begin working on the move from left field to right.

“He knows what he’s up against,” Roenicke said.

Braun’s July 22 suspension defined a difficult season for the Brewers, and his return will bring its own issues. There is the position switch, precipitated by the Brewers’ trade of right fielder Norichika Aoki to the Royals for a much-needed lefty arm (Will Smith), plus a desire to free left field for slugging prospect Khris Davis. Then there is the matter of how Braun will be received by fans, both on the road and at Miller Park.

Asked whether he believed Braun was nervous about how he’ll be treated by fans at home, Roenicke said, “I think he’s wondering what it will be like. I’m wondering what it will be like. … I’ve said this many times: This is a really good young man. He made a mistake, but this is a really good young man. If you are OK with people making mistakes, which I certainly am, you have to look at what kind of person this guy is. He is a good guy.”

Braun has already apologized to Roenicke and some key teammates, and made his first public appearance in Milwaukee just before Thanksgiving to express additional regret to fans. But while admitting in a written statement that he took a cream and a lozenge in 2011 that contained a banned substance, Braun has not been forthcoming with details about what he took, when he took it and when he stopped taking it, leaving many fans unsatisfied.

Roenicke said that he was ready to move on without any more details.

“The more I think about it, anything he says at this point about what happened is never going to satisfy everybody,” Roenicke said. “All it’s going to do is stir up new controversy. It’s going to come across negatively to somebody in the press, in the news, and for him to have to go through that stuff again, to tell you the truth, I don’t think he needs to. If he wants to, fine. I don’t think he needs to go there. …

“I think there’s things he can’t say, and I think there’s things he doesn’t want to say. That’s been the case with almost everybody [suspended after the league’s investigation into Biogenesis]. Everybody makes their little statement or comments, and then you go on from there. I don’t get what the reason is that everybody needs to know exactly what happens. Everybody knows he did some things he shouldn’t have done, and we move on.”

Roenicke understands that many feel differently, and still seek answers to open questions.

“To be honest with you, I really don’t need to know,” he said. “He made a mistake. All I need to know is how’s he going to be when he gets back? How’s he going to go about his relationship with players, with fans, with management? I know he’s going to be physically ready to go after it.

“He’s a good young man. Really, that’s the bottom line. This is a good young man.”

On the field, Braun may play more Spring Training innings than usual to work on the move to right field, but Roenicke generally envisions a smooth transition.

“I think Ryan enjoys sometimes, being challenged, and going to right field certainly is a new venture for him,” Roenicke said. “He’s got the tool set to do it, no question. He’s got good speed, he has a very accurate arm, a strong arm, and good judgment. All of that plays into a right fielder.”

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Brewers met with Mets today; Hart’s agent, too

Some notes from Doug Melvin’s media session at the Winter Meetings:

– First base remains the top priority, and the Brewers are positioning themselves to fill that need via free agency (the preference, because it wouldn’t cost a player) and via trade. Melvin had his first formal meeting with agent Jeff Berry of CAA Sports on Monday regarding Hart, the longtime Brewer who is a free agent for the first time, but characterized the discussion as preliminary.

“I think we just met with him and have an understanding of where they want to be,” Melvin said. “A bit more of an update as to where they’re at and we want to go. We have to make decisions based off what we think they’re looking for.”

Asked whether there was an offer being pushed back and forth, Melvin said, “Nothing  being pushed back and forth. But I think there’s certain parameters that there’s an understanding [about].”

Melvin declined to say how far apart the sides’ parameters were, or whether the Brewers would be willing to go beyond one year for Hart, who underwent surgery on each of his knees in 2013 and missed the entire season. Melvin said he expects to meet again with Berry here in Orlando.

Back in September, Hart said he would be willing to re-sign with the Brewers at a discount after earning $10 million in 2013. Now the sides are trying to agree on the definition of “discount.”

“I think he was sincere in less money, it’s just how much less?” Melvin said. “Right now, our negotiations are in words, and not numbers.”

– Melvin also met with Mets GM Sandy Alderson, renewing a discussion that began last month at the General Managers Meetings. The Mets have a surplus of first baseman, with arbitration-eligible Ike Davis and Lucas Duda believed to be available, and even after trading Norichika Aoki to Kansas City, the Brewers still have some outfielders available. Melvin and Alderson talked about an Aoki-for-Davis swap last month, “but we didn’t want to do that,” said Melvin, who got left-hander Will Smith from the Royals instead.

Of his chat with Alderson, Melvin said, “Just conversation.”

It’s pretty clear that free agency is the preferred route in this case.

“I think that’s what teams prefer to do if they’re not giving up Draft picks when they sign them,” Melvin said.

– The Brewers are also monitoring the relief market, but want to settle first base first first. The preference is for an experienced reliever who has closed games, but it’s a short list. So far, the club hasn’t discussed bringing back John Axford or Francisco Rodriguez, both of whom fit the bill.

“It depends on what we’re putting into the first base situation,” Melvin said. “We don’t want to go and spend money on bullpen help and then we find, ‘Oh man, we could have had this guy at first base instead.’ That all interacts with each other. We’re not in a situation where we can go and do what we want on two or three spots and worry about it later.”

– Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny underwent shoulder surgery last week, assistant general manager Gord Ash revealed. Gorzelanny, who did not pitch after Sept. 2, needed what Ash described as a “clean-up” of the joint and is expected to be rehabbing until mid-March. Because he is ticketed for a bullpen role, the Brewers think Gorzelanny will have enough time to be ready by Opening Day.

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Hart’s agent keeps talks close to vest

It’s becoming clear that Corey Hart’s agent is going to do his negotiating with interested teams — and there are several — instead of through the media.

That was the message in my brief chat with Jeff Berry of CAA Sports, who reiterated that there is significant mutual interest between Hart, a first-time free agent coming off a 2013 season lost to knee injuries, and the Brewers, who need a first baseman. Berry and Brewers GM Doug Melvin briefly crossed paths on Monday afternoon, Berry on hand for CAA client Roy Halladay’s retirement announcement, and Melvin for a subsequent press conference detailing MLB’s Stand Up to Cancer initiative. At some point this week, the two are expected to have a more formal discussion.

Here are the key questions: How many other clubs are interested in Hart, and are any of them willing to offer a deal beyond one year?

“I’m not going to get into any of that,” Berry said. “Look, Corey is their longest-tenured player and there’s a tremendous relationship between him and the Brewers. But I’ve said this all along, whatever happens has to make sense for both sides. The lines of communication [with the Brewers] are completely open.”

And that was that.

Hart is the Brewers’ top target to fill first base, a position they never adequately filled after he underwent knee surgeries in January and July. The team would like to see prospect Hunter Morris have a big year at Triple-A Nashville, where he experienced a bit of a drop-off in 2013 after a huge 2012 season at Double-A Huntsville. A one-year, incentive-laden deal with Hart would be ideal.

But will another suitor — the Rays, Red Sox and Rockies are among the clubs known to have checked in on Hart, though the Red Sox subsequently re-signed Mike Napoli, and the Rockies signed Justin Morneau — be willing to offer more than one year? How difficult would it be for the Brewers to match that? Melvin is scheduled to meet with reporters here at 3 p.m. CT, and hopefully he can provide some clues.

At the same time the Hart situation simmers, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reported that the Brewers had recently showed “renewed interest” in Mets first baseman Ike Davis, a player the sides reportedly discussed briefly last month at the General Managers Meetings. Davis will turn 27 in March after earning $3.125 million last season, and has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining.

Davis hit 32 home runs with 90 RBIs in 2012 but slumped so badly in 2013 he was demoted to Triple-A for a stretch. He batted .205 for the Mets with a .326 on-base percentage, nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 103 games.

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Smith welcomed trade to Milwaukee

Save your Fresh Prince of Bel Air jokes. This particular Will Smith — the one who was traded from the Royals to the Brewers on Thursday — has heard them all.

“Remember that ESPN commercial that came out with Michael Jordan?” he said in a conference call with reporters. “That’s basically my life.”

Here’s the link: Check it out if you don’t know the commercial Smith was referencing.

When did the jokes get old?

“That’s a good question,” Smith said with a sigh. “I get them all the time. I think I’ve just learned to live with it. Some of them are funny, but some of them are just, ‘Come on…’ It’s all in good fun. I enjoy it. I mean, I’m a white guy named Will Smith. There it is.”

At least one of his new Brewers teammates will recognize this Will Smith when he arrives at Maryvale Baseball Park for Spring Training. Smith and Brewers right-hander Johnny Hellweg are good friends from their days together in the Angels’ farm system (Smith was traded to the Royals in in July 2010 and Hellweg to the Brewers in July 2012). The two were “talking all day” in the wake of the trade, Smith said, and are planning to share an apartment in Spring Training. Smith is also good friends with Brewers prospect Ronaldo Jenkins, a 2011 Draft pick of Milwaukee and a fellow Georgian.

Smith welcomed his latest move.

“The first time I was traded, I didn’t really know what to think about it, but the second time around, I’m excited,” Smith said. “I know it’s not that the Royals didn’t want me, it’s that Milwaukee wants me more. I’m ready to start the season.

“I like to think it’s a good move. Obviously the Royals had an unbelievable pitching staff there, and it was a logjam a little bit. But they gave me the opportunity, and I’m very thankful for what they did for me. But to head to Milwaukee with a chance for the rotation, I’m thankful for that, too.”

Asked whether he felt pegged as a reliever with the Royals, he said, “To be honest, I didn’t know my future there. I was just happy to be in the big leagues. When I was in Kansas City, the reporters there asked the same question: ‘What do you want to do?’ To be honest, I don’t really care. As long as you’re in the big leagues and you have a uniform, how can you care what you do?”

He said he enjoyed the adrenaline rush of relief work, and learned some things about attacking hitters in that role. For example, Smith used his slider significantly more often in relief, and saw a slight uptick in his fastball velocity. But like many young pitchers, he prefers to start.

On his style of pitching, Smith said, “I’m competitive. I don’t get scared. I’m not going to back down from anybody. I’ll attack you with my fastball and then use my breaking stuff to try to get you out. Just establish the strike zone early,” trust my catcher and go right at them.”

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Aoki trade made sense for both player, team

The Brewers acquired a left-handed pitcher on Thursday, and in the process reconfigured their outfield.

The trade of Norichika Aoki to the Royals for left-hander Will Smith netted the Brewers a 24-year-old pitcher who will compete in Spring Training as a starter for an outfielder and leadoff man who is entering the final year of his contract. Ryan Braun will move to right field to replace Aoki, and the Brewers will fill left field with a group of young players led by promising slugger Khris Davis.

The move was precipitated by Davis’ emergence after Braun’s season-ending suspension. The Brewers exercised Aoki’s club option for 2014 at about the same time agent Nez Balelo of CAA Sports began pushing the idea of a contract extension with Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin. When it became clear the Brewers were instead considering increasing Davis’ role, the sides agreed it made sense to seek a new home for Aoki.

“Everybody was on board with it,” Balelo said. “[Kansas City] was the best viable option. He’s going to love it there because he will get an opportunity to lead off and play every day.”

Said Melvin: “We have younger guys we feel we need to give an opportunity to.”

Smith is 8-10 with a 4.76 ERA in 35 appearances, 17 starts for the Royals over the past two seasons. He worked mostly in relief in 2013, posting a 3.24 ERA in 19 appearances, one start, but Melvin said the Brewers would look at him as a starter in the spring. The Brewers have no left-handed candidates for the starting rotation, and Tom Gorzelanny is the only active left-hander on the entire 40-man roster (Miguel De Los Santos remains on the restricted list while Major League Baseball sorts out problems with his paperwork).

Aoki, a three-time batting champion in Japan before the Brewers made a surprise bid for him during the 2011-12 offseason, hit .287 with a .355 on-baser percentage in 306 games with Milwaukee over the past two seasons. Melvin mentioned center fielder Carlos Gomez, second baseman Scooter Gennett and shortstop Jean Segura as potential replacements in the leadoff hole.

Braun, meanwhile, is switching positions for the second time in six years. He debuted as a third baseman in 2007 but moved to left field the following season and has played himself into a capable defender. He confirmed last week that he was open to moving to right.

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