Notes: Miller to catch for Brewers in '07
Veteran exercised his player option and will play for Milwaukee
MILWAUKEE -- Veteran catcher Damian Miller exercised his contract option on Thursday and will be back with the team in 2007.
Miller, who battled back and Achilles tendon injuries late in the season and did not play after Sept. 20, batted .251 with six home runs and 38 RBIs in 2006. His 101 games played and 331 at-bats were the lowest totals of his career since 2002 with Arizona when he made the All-Star team, but was limited to 24 second-half starts by a lower back strain.
"We think he can bounce back," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "We know he takes a lot of pride in his play and will do everything he can this offseason to come back ready to play."
The Brewers originally signed Miller in November 2004 to a two-year free agent contract with a club and player option for 2007. The Brewers had the right to exercise Miller's option for next season at $3.75 million, but declined. Miller, as expected, exercised his option and will earn $2.25 million next season. He turns 37 on Friday.
As the roster stands, Miller and Mike Rivera will return as Milwaukee's catching tandem. The Brewers began 2006 with Miller and Chad Moeller, whose continued offensive struggles led the club to make a change in June. Moeller has since become a free agent.
According to Melvin, it's an area the team will look to further improve this winter.
"You always look to add, [especially] because of Damian's injuries and Mike's lack of experience," Melvin said. "But we also know that it is an area that is hard to find."
The team's best catching prospect, Angel Salome, was an All-Star in the Class A South Atlantic League, but was lost for the season in mid-August to a fractured ankle. The club had been hoping for more progress from Lou Palmisano, who batted .241 at Double-A Huntsville this year in his fourth professional season.
"Catching is weak throughout baseball, and we're probably weaker than most," Melvin conceded.
Other moves: In other roster moves this week, the Brewers released right-handed reliever Geremi Gonzalez and signed right-handers Chris Spurling, Corey Thurman and Joe Valentine to Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training.
The Brewers originally claimed Spurling off waivers from Detroit, and he finished the season with the Brewers, posting a 7.20 ERA in seven games. He passed through waivers again this week and was outrighted off the 40-man roster.
In 2005, Suprling posted a 3.44 ERA in 56 appearances with the Tigers.
"He had some rough outings at the end of the season," Melvin said. "But overall, he did alright. He'll have a chance to compete for a job in our bullpen."
Lidle reaction: A number of people with Brewers ties expressed sadness on Wednesday at the news that Cory Lidle, who pitched for the Phillies and Yankees in 2006, had died in a New York City plane crash. Lidle, a licensed pilot, was traveling with his flight instructor when his plane crashed into a Manhattan high-rise on Wednesday afternoon.
"When we brought him to Cincinnati [as a free agent in 2004] he was just beginning to show an interest in flying," said former Reds general manager Dan O'Brien, now working as an advisor to Melvin and the Brewers. "Frankly, we didn't have any problem with it. That was Cory -- he was always interested in the next technical challenge. I suppose that [piloting] was the next challenge on the radar, so to speak. I'm terribly saddened by the news."
Former Major League left-hander Joe Crawford played his only big-league season with the Mets in 1997 and called Lidle "one of my best friends." Crawford is now serving as the Brewers' digital media coordinator.
"We came up together with the Mets and we did everything together," Crawford said Wednesday evening from his home in Ohio. "We ran around New York City together, ate dinner together, went to a few Broadway shows. All of those firsts, we did together.
"I'm just numb right now. When I first heard the news they were saying on TV, 'Well, the plane was registered to Cory Lidle, but we don't know if he was in it at the time of the crash.' I knew right away he was in it. He was all about that plane."
Crawford last saw Lidle when the Phillies visited Milwaukee in May. Lidle had just gotten his full pilot's license, Crawford said, and had just bought the new plane.
"People have different opinions of other people, but the one thing you could say about Cory was that he was so feisty on the mound," Crawford said. "Right or wrong, he would throw that turbo-sinker in any situation. And he was so opinionated. He was just a great guy to be around."
Lidle pitched in the Brewers' Minor League system in 1994 and 1995. The team traded him to the Mets in January 1996 for catcher Kelly Stinnett.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.