Crew unlikely to be major player at Meetings
After 96-win year, Brewers have fewer holes to fill than in 2010
MILWAUKEE -- Last year in Orlando, the Brewers traded for Shaun Marcum and had the meeting that led to them trading for Zack Greinke 12 days later, dual strokes that propelled the team to its first division crown in 29 years.This year, the Winter Meetings are in Dallas from Dec. 5-8, and it's difficult to imagine general manager Doug Melvin doing anything quite as dramatic. The Brewers will shop around the Hilton Anatole Hotel for a shortstop and late-inning relief, but the budget is tighter this year and the holes not as high profile as the starting rotation. "I'm not saying I have a No. 1 [priority] this year," Melvin said. "I'm just looking for the best players to improve our team and be able to sustain the success we had last year. "I don't anticipate a lot of stuff at the Meetings, but things can change. We do have two or three players we need to look at to see, 'Can we do better?' It's harder when you win 96 games to determine what you really want and need. If you win 75 games, there's obviously huge holes."
The Brewers' 96 regular-season wins set a franchise record, and they took the Cardinals to Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Since Milwaukee's offseason began, much of the focus has been on the impending departure of first baseman Prince Fielder -- a free agent for the first time in his career who is likely to command a contract above what the Brewers have to spend -- and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who created a hole because Milwaukee has no Major League-shortstop in waiting.But the team also could lose its three setup men to closer John Axford -- LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito and Francisco Rodriguez. All are free agents, too. "We lost bullpen guys," Melvin said. "We probably could consider that as big a loss as anything." The Brewers are open to bringing both Hawkins and Saito back after their solid seasons. Hawkins returned from a 2010 lost to shoulder surgery and posted a 2.42 ERA and a team-best 20 holds in 52 games. Saito missed most of the first half with various injuries, but finished with a 2.03 ERA in 30 appearances, 25 of them scoreless. Hawkins said he would attend the meetings in person with agent Larry Reynolds. He did the same in 2009, in Indianapolis, and it led to a two-year deal with the Brewers. The Brewers don't expect to engage agent Scott Boras on Rodriguez, who has been clear that he wants to return to a closer's role. The Brewers are set there with Axford, whose 46 saves set a franchise record. At some point this winter, Milwaukee could approach Axford about an extension. He's entering his final pre-arbitration season. On the positional front, the Brewers need a shortstop and are open to improvements at first base, where longtime prospect Mat Gamel is the most likely internal candidate to replace Fielder, and third base, where Casey McGehee is coming off a poor season. Shortstop is the most glaring hole, and Melvin has checked in with representatives for all of the free agents, including Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins, who are reportedly seeking at least five-year deals. Could the Brewers return home from Dallas with a new shortstop? "We're looking," Melvin said. "There's still some people out there." One of the options no longer out there is Clint Barmes, who signed a two-year deal with the Pirates. The Brewers also are unlikely to make a play for potential Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima, who has been posted by the Seibu Lions. The Brewers do not heavily scout in Japan. Shortstop options still in play include Rafael Furcal, who finished last season with the Cardinals and is a quality defender, and Betancourt, who remains an option for Milwaukee. Melvin said he planned to touch base with agent Jaime Torres before the Winter Meetings. "Shortstop is pretty valuable, both in terms of who is going to play every day and who is going to be your backup," assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "[The current market] is pretty limited, but there are choices. We need to continue to peck away at it." The Brewers could also fill their needs via trades, but Melvin indicated he was not inclined to part with any of his starting pitchers. He's the rare GM who will not be in the market for a starter in Dallas, with Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson all under club control for 2012. Each of those pitchers logged double-digit wins in '11. "This might be the first time as a GM that I can say I have all five starting pitchers back," Melvin said. "If you're trading to fill one hole and you open up another one, I don't necessarily feel that's a solid trade. Pitching is not the area you want to create a hole." Melvin wondered whether this year's Meetings may be slower than most because there are six new GMs trying to get a feel for their clubs. In past years, the Winter Meetings hosted a flurry of trades and signings, but that has changed since physical exams became a required precursor to transactions. Now, clubs technically are barred from discussing acquisitions until they have passed a physical, usually delaying announcements for several days. "It will be the typical Meetings -- you don't think anything will happen, and then something does," Melvin said. "Right now, teams all want the same thing [because] salaries are a big factor, control of a player is a big factor. It's not a matter of somebody outsmarting a GM -- not in today's game. It's just about making solid evaluations."