Brewers won’t pursue top-tier free agents

MILWAUKEE — Unlike the past two offseasons, in which the Milwaukee Brewers were in the market for major free-agent acquisitions, this upcoming offseason doesn’t appear to have any franchise-changing transactions in store for the team. 

But that certainly doesn’t mean there won’t be changes, according to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who spoke to the media Thursday in a season-ending press conference.
“It depends on who’s available,” Melvin said. “My gut feeling is we’re not going to be involved with the high-priced free agents. That’s my initial reaction at this time, but sometimes, things change. … I don’t anticipate us getting heavily involved in the top-tier free agents.”
That would presumably rule out former Brewers ace Zack Greinke, who will enter free agency this offseason and likely be the most sought-after pitcher on the market. Before the trading deadline, Milwaukee made him an offer that exceeded $100 million — a number that will most likely be less than what Greinke would get on the open market, especially in a down year for free agency like 2012.
Still, Melvin wouldn’t completely close the door on Greinke returning to the top of the Brewers’ rotation next season, a position that Greinke said before he was traded that he would certainly consider.
“It’s probably tough that we’ll get involved with high-level free agents,” Melvin repeated. “My cell phone works. I don’t know if my desk phone works anymore; I never use it. But the phones are always working, and I’m sure we’ll hear from (Greinke’s agent) Casey Close at that point.”
If not Greinke, the Brewers will most definitely look into the possibility of signing another veteran pitcher who could help offset the youth movement that’s likely to follow Yovani Gallardo in the rotation next season. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said last week that he’d like to see a veteran added to the mix to help shepherd along the other young talents around him — similar to what John Lackey did for Jered Weaver when Roenicke was a coach in Anaheim.
The market should have plenty of experienced, second-tier pitchers, possibly including Dan Haren, Anibal Sanchez, Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster, among several others. And again, there is always the possibility that the Brewers could resign Shaun Marcum, who missed two months of this season with tightness in his elbow.
However, the sentiment seems to be that Marcum will test free agency and move on from Milwaukee.
“He’ll be a free agent, probably test the market,” Melvin said. “I’m always open to any of our players — I’m not going to close the door completely — but it’s probably best to let them go out and see what the market tells them first.”
If the Brewers are unable to find any suitable and affordable pitchers to slot in behind Gallardo, there’s still the possibility they could start four relatively inexperienced pitchers in the rotation’s last four spots — a formula that would likely include Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Mark Rogers, Chris Narveson and Wily Peralta.
“Going into this year, we were counting on Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, (Randy) Wolf, Narveson, so we had five veteran guys,” Melvin said. “That is probably one of the challenges that we’ll take a look at. But the Oakland A’s won 93 games and they had 101 starts out of rookie pitchers. So do all of us have the nerve and the patience to do that? We’ll have to figure that out.”
Where Brewers fans should expect quite a few changes, however, is in the bullpen — a unit that struggled mightily for much of the season. Both Melvin and Roenicke seemed to give a vote of confidence to closer John Axford, who Roenicke said has the ability to “be a closer here for a very long time.” But beyond that, there’s bound to be some question marks and thus some serious changes.
With an $8 million contract this past season, setup man Francisco Rodriguez is not expected to be re-signed, and Melvin didn’t say anything Thursday to indicate otherwise. And with a great deal of flexibility available, due to the expiring one-year deals of all the Brewers’ relievers, there’s bound to be plenty of turnover turnover in the bullpen, especially considering how well young options like Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler did throughout the course of the season’s second half.
“The bullpen, there’s going to be changes,” Melvin said. “There’s guys that are going to be free agents, arbitration-eligible.”
Melvin also said that, of the few regrets he had this season, he wished he would’ve afforded the Brewers more flexibility in the bullpen, as well as the rotation, which may have allowed the team to make some necessary changes when the team’s relief pitchers were struggling mightily in the middle of the season.
“We were committed to the bullpen, so if guys were slumping, we couldn’t really make any moves,” Melvin said. “Where I said next year, guys have to come in and win jobs or earn those jobs. Our bullpen was pretty well tied to guaranteed contracts, so we didn’t have flexibility when we had a few hiccups to just go and release guys early in the year and go get someone. … I don’t think we really had any competition in the bullpen … because they were so good the year before. They were perfect the year before.”
And while the rotation and bullpen will head into the offseason with the most question marks, Melvin also addressed some other spots that the Brewers will have to make necessary decisions on in the offseason.
For one, Melvin seemed to ensure and Roenicke seconded that Corey Hart will be back at first base, with Norichika Aoki remaining in right field. Melvin and Roenicke both left the option open that someone could be signed to fill either position, but Melvin said neither spot was specifically a position of need.
Hart’s contract is still up in the air, but he’s not scheduled to become a free agent until 2014.
“Corey wants to stay here, but we don’t have to make a decision on Corey — he’s under contract for next year,” Melvin said. “We like Corey a lot, and the one part that’s different from those other players is he came through our organization. At this point, we haven’t negotiated with any players or any agents; we don’t do that during the year. We’ll sit down and that will be part of our evaluation. His ability to play right field and first base, we’ll think through it all and make that determination. But it is nice to know that players want to stay here.”
As for the guy who was supposed to be the Brewers’ first baseman of the future, his immediate future is unclear. Mat Gamel, who tore his ACL earlier this season and paved the way for Hart to move to first, will likely have to be more of a utility player of the bench next season.
“I’ve talked to Mat,” Melvin said. “We’re probably looking at him playing first base, third base, and outfield. Sometimes injuries do open up other people’s opportunities, and that’s what happened here. We still have people that believe Mat can hit, and I think he can. It’s just that now he’s going to have to learn a new position and bounce around a little bit, and he’ll have to play a role off the bench.”
Shortstop Jean Segura is another player who seems to have seized an opportunity created by an injury, as shortstop Alex Gonzalez also tore his ACL earlier in the season. The Brewers have a club option on Gonzalez, but Melvin said that situation won’t likely be resolved until after the playoffs.
“He knows we have a good young shortstop, and any player in a free-agent market will want to know what his playing status is, and I don’t think we’re prepared to answer that at this point,” Melvin said. “We do like Jean. He played very well for us, he has high energy and he was one of the top offensive shortstops over the last month. We’ll look at it and see. If there’s some way of having depth, we’re open to that. I’m not guaranteeing or saying that’s what’s going to happen. It all comes down to financial requests by a player, a player wanting to know his particular playing time.”

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