GM Melvin looking at many options
Brewers need to fill hole in left field, bolster relief corps
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers have not shied away from making major trades at the annual Winter Meetings, and it would not be surprising to see them take a plunge or two next week in Nashville, Tenn.Milwaukee was a player for free-agent closer Francisco Cordero, but the Brewers' four-year, $42 million offer was trumped by the Reds, who came to terms with Cordero on a similar deal that guaranteed $46 million. The Brewers have looked at the other closer options on the free-agent market but most -- Octavio Dotel, Eric Gagne, Eddie Guardado and Troy Percival among them -- carry baggage from past injuries. Minnesota's Joe Nathan could reportedly be had in a trade, but the cost would be high and Nathan is eligible for free agency after 2008, so the Brewers are not inspired to deal for him. That could mean the "Cordero money" could be spent somewhere else on the roster. But that's easier said than done because Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is just as underwhelmed by the free agent position players as he is the pitchers, and is not anxious to fill a hole at one position via trade by creating a hole at another. "If it involves [Rickie] Weeks, [J.J.] Hardy, [Corey] Hart, those kind of guys, it's not going to happen," Melvin said. "You're weakening one spot to fill another." Where will Melvin look to add? In addition to looking at more bullpen help -- Melvin has an offer out to one reliever, though he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it's not Matt Herges, as was reported -- the team's most glaring hole is in left field, where longtime Brewers outfielder Geoff Jenkins has moved on. Filling that hole could be complicated. Rookie of the Year third baseman Ryan Braun told Melvin earlier this month that he would be willing to move to left field if the Brewers are able to add a quality third baseman. Melvin confirmed that there have been some internal discussions about the Cardinals' Scott Rolen, but he carries a high price tag and health concerns. Others have speculated that the Brewers could improve their defense by moving Braun to left, Bill Hall from center field to third, and focusing on a top-flight center-field option like free agents Aaron Rowand or Andruw Jones. Melvin said he talked recently with Jones' agent, Scott Boras, but did not get the sense that a deal could be reached. Melvin's first choice, by the way, is to leave Braun and Hall where they are. If Melvin does not find a player he likes on the open market and chooses to stay in-house, he mentioned Gabe Gross or Joe Dillon as left-field options. The Brewers also have to make a decision on Kevin Mench, who has one year of arbitration-eligibility remaining. They hope to field some interest in Mench during the Winter Meetings.
"There's a bunch of different avenues we can go down," manager Ned Yost said early this month.Elsewhere around the diamond, the Brewers appear relatively set. Braun (.324 batting average, 34 home runs, 97 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2007), right fielder Hart (.295 average, 24 homers, 81 RBIs and 23 steals) and shortstop Hardy (.277, 26 homers, 80 RBIs) established themselves as big league regulars alongside super sophomore Prince Fielder, who improved in every offensive category, including home runs, leading the National League in that category with 50. Second baseman Weeks remains a bit of a question mark in the health department but compiled a .442 on-base percentage after returning from a Minor League assignment on Aug. 10. Weeks also made enough strides defensively, according to Brewers coaches, to cement the second-base job. The catcher's spot also appears locked up since the Brewers traded away Johnny Estrada in favor of free agent Jason Kendall, the only Major League catcher to start at least 130 games in each of the past five seasons, according to Melvin. The team has Mike Rivera, Eric Munson and possibly Vinny Rottino as backup options and apparently will not pursue another catcher. If the Brewers do add a position player during the Meetings, don't be surprised if he's not a run-producer. "We'll look at what's out there," Melvin said earlier this offseason. "But we're not as concerned with slugging from that spot, because we feel we have that at other places on the ballclub." Like the other 29 teams, the Brewers will discuss pitching at the Winter Meetings. Melvin is looking to bolster a relief corps that ranked 12th of 16 NL teams with a 4.15 ERA and is now missing its best member. Cordero set a franchise record with 44 saves in 2007, and the Brewers may be forced to move setup man Derrick Turnbow back to closer for 2008. After two consecutive seasons in which Turnbow was under the microscope, he's a major question mark. The Brewers appear stocked in the starting rotation and have reportedly fielded interest in a number of players, including left-hander Chris Capuano and right-hander Dave Bush, both of whom are arbitration-eligible. Claudio Vargas, another arbitration-eligible player, could also be moved. "We still have some depth at starting pitching," said Melvin, who pointed out that free agent starters have been slow to sign, which could cool the trade market. Melvin has been active at the Winter Meetings before, despite a quiet week in Orlando, Fla., last year. In December 2005, the Brewers sent Lyle Overbay to Toronto for a package that included Bush and Gross, opening first base for Fielder. The year before that in Anaheim, Calif., Melvin traded for slugging outfielder Carlos Lee.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.