Results tagged ‘ Doug Melvin ’

10 for '10

Happy New Year, and thanks to everyone who read the site in 2009. It’s been a nice, quiet holiday for the Brewers, but here’s a look at 10 questions that face the team as they look to rebound in 2010. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but pitching is the subject of Nos. 1-3, and I didn’t even touch the uncertain season ahead for Jeff Suppan

Here’s my No. 1 question. Check out the story for the rest:
1. Will the pitching be good enough?
Whether you believe that it was injuries to Dave Bush or Suppan, or that it was Plan Bs Carlos Villanueva and Seth McClung not panning out, or simply that the rotation wasn’t strong enough to begin with, it was pretty clear that poor pitching cost the Brewers a return trip to the postseason in 2009. General manager Doug Melvin moved quickly to make the changes necessary to free payroll space for Randy Wolf’s three-year, $29.75 million contract.
There is still time for Melvin to trade for another arm or add a bargain option late in the offseason, but the Brewers enter the New Year with only one new arm in a starting rotation that combined for the National League’s worst ERA (5.37) last season. Melvin deserves credit for moving so aggressively to acquire Wolf, his top free-agent target, but as the group stands today, the Brewers are banking on another season of growth for Yovani Gallardo, bounce-backs from Manny Parra and Suppan and an injury-free year for Bush. Plenty of gambles there.
Here’s the best-case scenario for the group as it stands today: Gallardo continues his ascent to “ace” status, while Wolf has a third consecutive solid year of 30-plus starts, making him a clear upgrade over the departed Braden Looper. Parra rebounds to be at least as good as he was in 2008, when he posted a 4.39 ERA. Bush stays healthy. Suppan does, too, and has a season like he had in his last contract year, when he was 12-7 with a 4.12 ERA for the 2006 Cardinals.
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Brewers 40-man roster about to fill up

Craig Counsell and Randy Wolf became the 37th and 38th players on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster when they signed their contracts on Monday. Reliever LaTroy Hawkins should become No. 39 on Wednesday, when he’s scheduled for a physical to finalize a two-year deal, and another reliever, Claudio Vargas, should become No. 40 after his physical on Friday to finish a one-year pact.

So where do the Brewers go from here? General manager Doug Melvin might be finished with his major moves, partly because he’s butting against the team’s payroll ceiling and partly because he’s addressed the major holes by acquiring Wolf, Hawkins and new catcher Gregg Zaun and retained the versatile Counsell. Melvin will still have an eye on potential deals, but any splash after this week would probably come via trade, and not via free agency.

“As far as higher-profile free agents, I don’t think we’re going to get involved,” Melvin said Monday.

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Still waiting on Wolf

The Brewers’ contingent didn’t just sit around the Winter Meetings on Tuesday waiting around for an answer from Randy Wolf.

While Wolf and his representatives mulled the proposal Milwaukee reportedly made Monday night — multiple reports said it was for three years and something like $30 million — Brewers general manager Doug Melvin met in his suite at the Westin with four or five agents about other pitchers. One of them, according to SI.com, was Gregg Clifton, the rep for left-handed starter Mark Mulder, and whether or not agent Scott Boras actually stopped by the suite, Brewers officials at least spent part of their day debating the merits of Mike Gonzalez, the left-handed former Braves closer who will cost his signing team a Draft pick because he’s a Type A free agent who declined arbitration.

The Brewers have also talked about former Cubs closer Kevin Gregg, who is also a Type A free agent but wouldn’t cost a pick because Chicago declined to offer arbitration. At the same time, the team is close to re-signing one of its own free agents, reliever Claudio Vargas.

Vargas and someone like Gregg or Gonzalez would help the Brewers solidify the innings in front of closer Trevor Hoffman, but it’s the early innings of games that continue to dominate the discussions. To that end, the Brewers were waiting to hear back from agent Arn Tellem on Wolf.

Asked whether he had more than one outstanding offer to free agent pitchers, Melvin said. “I would say that we have a narrow focus at this time on the starting pitching group. We have them ranked, we have them listed, because you have to be prepared.

“We’ve done our part,” he added. “We’ll continue to meet. We might meet again [Wednesday] with people.”

Rumors that the Brewers were nearing a deal with Wolf spread quickly as midnight approached on Monday, the first day of these Winter Meetings. Since the Brewers are unlikely to offer the kind of length of contract or dollars that John Lackey is looking for, it made perfect sense that their top target could be Wolf, a 33-year-old who was 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA in 34 starts with the Dodgers last season after signing a one-year deal worth $5 million.

Wolf is another Type A free agent but the Dodgers didn’t offer him arbitration. That fact made him more attractive to the Brewers.

The late-night reports said a deal with Wolf was imminent. Melvin wouldn’t say whether that was the case.

“Deals aren’t done until they’re done,” Melvin said. “I was telling Mark [Attanasio, Milwaukee's principal owner] the story today today that in Anaheim a few years ago [in 1999, when Melvin was still the Rangers' GM] we swear we had Todd Zeile signed. All he wanted was a no-trade [clause] in the contract and we didn’t want to give it, and then we finally gave it, but he and [his agents] went to dinner and they came back and told us they were going with the Mets, after we gave them what they wanted. I was ticked.”

Without naming Wolf, Melvin said he thought there was a desire on both sides to leave Indianapolis on Thursday with a resolution. But he has not put a deadline on any offers.

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Melvin expects Counsell & Co. to hit open market

Thursday is the final day for teams to negotiate exclusively with their own free agents, but Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is not anticipating striking any deals before the market opens in earnest.

“No,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t think they want to sign, personally. They want to wait until Friday and hope someone picks up the phone and makes them an offer they never thought they would get.”

Beginning Friday at 12:01 a.m. ET, free agents are free to field those calls from all 30 teams. Before then, during a 15-day window that follows the World Series, other teams can only express general interest but are technically barred from making any offers.

The Brewers have nine outgoing free agents: Outfielders Mike Cameron, Frank Catalanotto and Corey Patterson, infielders Craig Counsell and Felipe Lopez, catcher Jason Kendall and pitchers Braden Looper, Claudio Vargas and David Weathers. Looper and Weathers hit the market after the Brewers declined their options.

Melvin wouldn’t say which of those players he would like to bring back to avoid giving other teams an idea of the Brewers’ thinking. He did say this month that the Carlos Gomez acquisition likely closed the door on Cameron, that the Brewers might not be able to afford Kendall unless he takes a serious pay cut and that the team remains committed to Rickie Weeks at second base, making a Lopez return very unlikely.

Counsell seems the most likely incumbent on the Brewers’ radar but a report this week said that as many as 12 teams had expressed interest. That’s not surprising at all given Counsell’s defensive versatility and his outstanding 2009 season at the plate, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could field multi-year offers.

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Brewers eye free agent pitching market

Surprise, surprise. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin spent his time at this week’s General Managers Meetings in Chicago focused on pitching.

Melvin spoke this week with agent Arn Tellem, who represents free agent left-hander Randy Wolf, and Steve Canter, the agent for free-agent left-hander Doug Davis, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. At some point he also expressed interest in left-hander Jarrod Washburn, Washburn’s agent Scott Boras told the newspaper.

According to a Major League source, Melvin also met with Steve Hilliard, who represents righty John Lackey, the top available pitcher. In a chat with the Journal Sentinel before heading home to Milwaukee, Melvin downplayed the Brewers’ chances of landing Lackey. 

“It depends what they’re asking for,” Melvin said. “I don’t know if it could fit or not. I might have to make some other moves to make it fit.” 

The Brewers may have jumped to the top of the list of teams expected to pursue Lackey last week, when Melvin brought up Lackey’s name in a discussion of his plan to bolster a pitching staff that ranked next-to-last in the National League in 2009. 

Melvin said he would have to focus on bounce-back candidates coming off poor- or injury-plagued seasons, and indeed he has already checked in with the agent for Mark Mulder, who missed all of 2009 with shoulder woes. At some point Milwaukee could also check in with former Brewer Ben Sheets, who never pitched in 2009 after undergoing elbow surgery.

But at the same time, Melvin would not rule out a look at the top shelf of free agents. 

“There’s one guy that stands out and it’s John Lackey,” Melvin told reporters on a conference call last Friday. “He’s head and shoulders above the others. … You look at the consistency of pitchers who are out there and John Lackey is a great competitor, but we’ll have to take a look at that and see.” 

Since Melvin raised Lackey’s name without being asked, he was pressed on the matter. Is he a free agent of interest to the Brewers? 

“We’ll leave that discussion internally for ourselves,” Melvin said. “When you get involved in free agency and you talk about people, then all you’re doing is letting people know you’re interested and it drives the prices up. So I’m not going to say who we’re interested in or who we’re not.” 

It’s a two-way street, said Melvin, who believes most free agents enter the market with a short list of teams they prefer. 

“It’s our job to find out if we’re on that list of teams,” Melvin said.  

If the Brewers are on Lackey’s list, then Melvin might have to move some more payroll, as he suggested to the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday. 

Melvin has already said he won’t pursue center fielder Mike Cameron, who earned $10 million last year, and has hinted that Jason Kendall’s $5 million salary might not fit next year, either. His highest-paid returning players are starter Jeff Suppan (due $12.5 million in 2010, the final year of his four-year contract), first baseman Prince Fielder ($10.5 million), closer Trevor Hoffman ($7.5 million) and reliever David Riske ($4.5 million in the final year of his three-year deal). 

More decisions are coming. The Brewers have until Saturday to exercise their half of starter Braden Looper’s $6.5 million mutual option, and pitcher Dave Bush (who made $4 million in 2009), outfielder Corey Hart ($3.25 million) and second baseman Rickie Weeks ($2.45 million) head the list of arbitration-eligible players whose salaries could jump again. 

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Melvin on catchers making Double-A jump

I joined the crowd last night writing about Jason Kendall‘s uncertain future in Milwaukee after Brewers GM Doug Melvin once again touted prospect Jonathan Lucroy as a candidate to catch at least part-time in 2010.

I wanted to highlight one section of the story, borrowing Melvin’s comments on 1250-AM WSSP last Friday. He made some of the same comparisons yesterday in a chat with Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, so I think it’s worth passing along:

lucroy.jpg“Jonathan Lucroy is an advanced player,” Melvin told the radio station last week. “We went through the list of players who jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, and there’s a pretty large list of them, from Russell Martin to Chris Snyder of the Diamondbacks to [Kurt] Suzuki with Oakland. Jason Kendall did it in his career. Pudge Rodriguez. There are a number of catchers who have jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, and it might be because of need as much as anything.”

So I went through some of those players and, Martin certainly fits what could lie ahead for Lucroy. Martin had just turned 23 and had played only 23 games at Triple-A before debuting with the Dodgers in 2006. He batted .282 with 10 home runs and 65 RBIs in 121 games that season.

Snyder also was 23 when the D-backs promoted him in 2004, but unlike Lucroy, who never played an inning over the Class A level before 2009, Snyder had played parts of two seasons at Double-A before his Major League debut. Snyder struggled at the plate in his first full big league season in 2005. Suzuki was also 23 when the A’s came calling in 2007 and put up numbers in his final Double-A season extremely similar to Lucroy’s output in 2009, but Suzuki played more than two months at Triple-A before his promotion.

Kendall was only 21 when the Pirates made him their Opening Day catcher in 1996 after a season-plus at Double-A. Kendall hit .300 in his first big league seasons, but the Brewers don’t necessarily see that kind of output from Lucroy. He profiles more as a Terry Steinbach-type.

Rodriguez had even less experience than Lucroy, with only 50 Double-A games under his belt before the Rangers promoted him as a 19-year-old in 1991.

Lucroy batted .267 at Double-A Huntsville in 2009 with nine home runs, 66 RBIs and a .380 on-base percentage. He walked 78 times versus 66 strikeouts.

“We’re probably going to look seriously at Jonathan,” Melvin told the radio station. “He can handle a pitching staff. He gets more walks than strikeouts. In fact, Ken Macha called me last week in Arizona and said, ‘I’m just calling to see how Lucroy is doing.’ And just as he asked me, Lucroy hit a line drive over the left-field fence, so the timing was good. He’s getting a lot of praises in Arizona, seriously enough that we are going to consider him a candidate.”

Lucroy, who won’t turn 23 until June 24, would skew the Brewers even younger. When Melvin traded shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota on Friday he received the team’s new starting center fielder in return, and Carlos Gomez won’t turn 24 until Dec. 4. The trade also opened the shortstop position for Alcides Escobar, who won’t be 23 until Dec. 13.

Those youngsters could play behind projected Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo, who turns 24 on Feb. 27.

Melvin was in meetings all morning on Tuesday and did not return a call from MLB.com seeking his thoughts about the team’s catching situation. Kendall, who formally filed for free agency on the first day to do so last week, also did not return a call.

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Reports: Pirates, Red Sox also went for Hardy

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic, who cited an American League source, the Pirates offered closer Matt Capps to the Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy. Instead, Hardy went to the Twins last week for speedy outfielder Carlos Gomez.

Many Brewers fans seem underwhelmed by the return for Hardy given Milwaukee’s obvious need for pitching, and this bit of news might not make those fans feel much better. Capps is 26 years old and pretty good; despite a 5.80 ERA in 2009 he had 27 saves, and he has 67 career saves and a 3.61 ERA.

But I’m guessing that GM Doug Melvin had a number of reasons for being unmoved, chief among them that he was set on acquiring a starting pitcher or a center fielder for Hardy. He also sought players who could be under team control for the long haul, and Capps is two years shy of free agency (Gomez, for comparison, is under team control for four more years). Gomez is also much cheaper than Capps, who earned $2.425 million in 2009 and will get a raise in arbitration, giving Melvin more money to spend on starters. A deal with the Pirates also would have kept Hardy in the National League Central, and based on comments last week by Reds GM Walt Jocketty, it appears that Melvin was bent on moving Hardy out of the division.

I also wonder if the bullpen is low on Melvin’s list of priorities because he’s banking on moving at least one of his ’09 starters to the bullpen. That will all shake-out later depending on whether Melvin exercises Braden Looper’s 2010 option and whether he trades any of the team’s other incumbent starting pitchers (Manny Parra, perhaps?).

Another report in the Boston Globe over the weekend said that the Red Sox offered Minor League right-hander Michael Bowden but the Brewers wanted either starter Clay Buchholz or future closer Daniel Bard. Not so, Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt on Tuesday at the General Managers’ Meetings in Chicago.

To me, here is Melvin’s key quote from his conference call following the Hardy trade: “In the end, there wasn’t anybody who matched the ability of Carlos Gomez. When you can’t get pitching back, you try to find something to improve your pitching.”

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Gardenhire on Gomez

A few more tidbits about the newest Brewer, 23-year-old speedster Carlos Gomez. The Brewers picked him up today in a trade that sent shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Twins.

This section is from the story I filed about the trade a few minutes ago:

The Twins acquired Gomez as part of the mega-trade that sent pitcher Johan Santana to the Mets in February 2009 and Gomez made 90 starts as Minnesota’s leadoff hitter that year. He hit .258 with 59 RBIs, 79 runs scored and 33 steals, enough to enter 2009 as the Twins’ center field incumbent.

He lost the starting job after hitting .195 through the season’s first month and spent the year in a timeshare agreement with Denard Span. For his career, Gomez has made 101 of his 263 starts in the leadoff spot and is just a .240 hitter with a .279 on-base percentage.

Twins manager Rob Gardenhire loved Gomez’s speed and his range in center field but conceded before Game 2 of this year’s American League Division Series against the Yankees, when Gomez made a start, that his offensive game was a work in progress. 

“He irritates people,” Gardenhire said. “Sometimes me.” 

The skipper was asked to expound. 

“We’ve been trying to get him to calm down and get him to control the situations, and sometimes the situation controls him,” Gardenhire said. “There are times when, yes, you’re like, ‘Go-Go, you have to see what we’re trying to do here.’ We just had a 25-pitch inning from our pitcher, and he goes up and falls down swinging on the first pitch.

“Those things get you irritated as a manager, because we want him to recognize what we’re doing in a game. But he can play, and he’s fun to watch. He’s very, very talented and has a lot to learn, yes, but like I said, when you see him out there in center field covering all that ground and then some of the offensive things that he can do that other people can’t do, that’s why the guy is in the big leagues.”

So it appears that Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum will have some work to do if the Brewers are to reign-in Gomez. He’s an intriguing addition.

Here’s what Brewers GM Doug Melvin had to say about Gomez in the team’s announcement of the deal:

“Carlos brings to our club great speed, athleticism and energy at a position that we needed to fill,” said Melvin.  “His defense will serve as a key component to us improving our pitching.  At only 24 years of age, Carlos can further develop the offensive aspect of his game and give us a different look to our lineup.”

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Free agency period is on

FAs2.jpg Let the offseason begin.

When the Yankees clinched the World Series on Wednesday night, it kick-started the season after the season for all 30 teams, not to mention the dozens of unattached players looking for new homes. Thursday began a 15-day period for those players to formally file for free agency, during which they may only negotiate with their current team.

The Brewers have seven such players, including two — center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall — who have been fixtures in the starting lineup in the past two seasons. The other players eligible to file are outfielder Frank Catalanotto, infielder Craig Counsell, second baseman Felipe Lopez, outfielder Corey Patterson and pitcher Claudio Vargas.

Two others must wait to learn whether they will join the free agent pool. The Brewers have 10 days after the World Series to decide whether to exercise their half of Braden Looper’s $6.5 million mutual option and whether to pick up reliever David Weathers’ $3.7 million club option.

Looper, who led the team with 14 wins and tied for the National League with 34 starts but ran up a 5.22 ERA and led the Major Leagues by allowing 39 home runs, is a particularly interesting case. The Brewers would have to pay a $1 million buyout if they declined his option. 

In August it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Brewers, who are short on pitching prospects at the top levels of the Minor Leagues, would bring Looper back. But a high-ranking club official indicated during the final week of the season that Looper’s future with the team was now up for debate. He went 5-2 in September/October but posted a 6.58 ERA and a .349 opponents’ average. With general manager Doug Melvin intent on bringing in two new starters — his stated goal last month — and the Brewers’ four other ’09 starters under contract for 2010, Looper could conceivably be one of the odd men out. 

If the Brewers decline Weathers’ option, they owe him a $400,000 buyout. 

Among the players already eligible for free agency, Cameron, Counsell, Kendall and Vargas are the likely priorities. Lopez was excellent after a July trade from Arizona to Milwaukee — .with a 320 batting average and a .407 on-base percentage in 297 plate appearances — but Melvin made it clear that he is committed to Rickie Weeks at second base. If that’s the case, it appears the Brewers don’t have a spot for Lopez. 

Also on Thursday, the Brewers learned that Cameron, Kendall and Lopez all qualified as Type B players in the Elias Sports Bureau’s ranking system and that Looper and Weathers would also rank as Type Bs should they reach free agency.

That system considers a player’s last two seasons of statistical output and is used to determine which free agents are eligible for Draft compensation. In order to qualify, a free agent must be offered arbitration by his former team, but decline the offer and then sign elsewhere.

The former club of a Type A free agent receives the player’s new team’s first- or second-round pick in next year’s First-Year Player Draft, depending on where that team finished in the standings, plus a “sandwich pick” between the first- and second rounds.  The former club of a Type B free agent receives only the sandwich pick.
 
Lopez.jpgLopez was one spot shy of qualifying as a Type A player. National League second baseman, shortstops and third basemen are grouped together by Elias, and Lopez was the first Type B, with a rating of 71.889. Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla was the final Type A, at 72.350.

For more on the Brewers’ free agent-eligibles, see my story on Brewers.com.

Of the players in question, who would you like to see back? Who should the Brewers let go?

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Melvin: Trading Fielder, Braun would be 'tough one'

Detail05 copy.jpgBrewers general manager Doug Melvin said he may need to sacrifice some of the team’s offense this winter to improve the pitching staff, so he was asked the obvious follow-up. Is he willing to trade Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder

“Wow. That would be a tough one,” Melvin said. “I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t see that happening.” 

The comment came Wednesday during Melvin’s annual year-end meeting with local reporters at Miller Park. Both Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash said what they have been saying for weeks, that in order to improve a team that finished 80-82 they will have to bolster a pitching staff that finished next-to-last in the National League with a 4.87 ERA, including dead last with a 5.37 starters’ ERA. Melvin said he wants to add at least two established starters.

Thumbnail image for fantasy_a_braun_fielder_300.jpgThe team’s most valuable pieces at the moment are Braun and Fielder, who combined in 2009 for more RBIs (255) than any duo in the Majors this season. Braun hit 32 home runs, joining Albert Pujols as the only players in history to belt at least 30 homers in each of their first three seasons. Fielder finished second in the NL with 46 home runs and tied Howard for the Major League lead with 141 RBIs. 

“But it’s a 25-man — and, really, a 30-35 man — team,” Melvin said. “In fantasy baseball, you can dream about what you could get back for Prince or Ryan Braun. In reality, there’s not too many teams that can give up the package that we would really want that would guarantee you to be competitive.” 

Ash said there have been spirited internal debates on the topic. Is there more value in a bona fide No. 1 starter who makes 30-plus starts and affects perhaps 20 other games by leaving the bullpen fresh? Or in an MVP candidate like Fielder who plays every inning of every game and has the potential to affect all 162? 

“I’m going with the hitter,” Ash said.  

In fact, Brewers officials have had internal discussions about whether Fielder could be locked into a longer-term deal, according to Melvin. He’s entering the second season of two-year contract through 2010 that buys out the first of Fielder’s three arbitration years. He will still be under Brewers control in 2011 but would hit the free agent market following that season. 

Compare that to Braun, whose contract runs through 2015. If the Brewers could convince Fielder and agent Scott Boras to take an extension, it would give the Brewers a larger window in which to put the right pieces around their slugging duo. 

“That’s something we have talked about with Mark [Attanasio, the team's principal owner],” Melvin said. “We don’t have a plan for doing that at this time. You can say it’s in the back of your mind or whatever, but it’s coming more forward as a decision we have to make in two years’ time. …

“Mark, from an ownership standpoint, knows that’s a major decision that’s down the pike. It’s not next week, it’s not next month, but it probably comes up in our conversation every time we get together.”

In the short-term, the Brewers’ focus is on the pitching. Melvin knows that it won’t be easy to find solutions. 

“There’s not any downtime this offseason, but I’m looking forward to it,” Melvin said. “It’s a challenge. I’ve got a lot of energy and I’m ready to improve the ballclub.” 

Melvin03 copy.jpg
Ash01 copy.jpgAll photos courtesy of Scott Paulus/Brewers

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