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01/06/10 2:46 PM EST

Brewers' Hot Stove action may cool

After busy December, Crew looks to keep payroll flexibility

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is back to work after a holiday break, but his December aggressiveness means he could be less active in January.

"Flexibility" has been Melvin's buzzword this winter, and the team does have some room to move before Opening Day in April with a payroll somewhere in the realm of $80 million. When you do the math, it becomes clearer that Melvin has already done most of his spending.

The team has already signed off on more than $51 million worth of guaranteed money for a six-pack of free agents that includes pitchers Randy Wolf, Trevor Hoffman, LaTroy Hawkins and Claudio Vargas, catcher Gregg Zaun and infielder Craig Counsell. Those six will combine to earn just over $25 million in 2010, though the language in Wolf's three-year contract calls for $4 million of his salary for next season to be deferred without interest to an unspecified date.

So, that leaves about $21 million to 2010 commitments to the six free agents. To that, you add the dollars already spent to buy out options on Braden Looper ($1 million) and David Weathers ($400,000), and the $7 million plus that the Brewers swallowed in order to trade underperforming infielder Bill Hall to the Mariners last season, plus the money committed to players under contract for next season. The list includes pitchers Jeff Suppan ($12.5 million) and David Riske ($4.5 million), plus sluggers Prince Fielder ($10.5 million) and Ryan Braun ($1 million).

Add it up, and the running total tops $58 million.

Still to be determined are salaries for the team's seven arbitration-eligible players who were tendered contract offers earlier this month. The list, with their 2009 salaries, includes starter Dave Bush ($4 million), second baseman Rickie Weeks ($2.45 million), relievers Todd Coffey ($800,000) and Carlos Villanueva ($447,000), and outfielders Jody Gerut ($1.775 million), Carlos Gomez ($437,500) and Corey Hart ($3.25 million).

That group is budgeted to cost $17-$18 million for 2010, bringing the total number to something like $75-76 million for 17 players. The Brewers could fill the rest of the roster with players earning close to the $400,000 Major League minimum. Eight players making exactly the minimum would combine for another $3.2 million. Add another $2 million that gets budgeted annually for in-season moves and September callups.

If our numbers are close, we're already topping $80 million, and we have not yet factored for the "likely incentives" in various contracts that club officials build into the budget.

How much Melvin and the Brewers are willing to spend on additions this winter could depend on whether the team makes any trades in the weeks before Spring Training that have payroll implications. The Brewers did have at least one discussion with Mariners officials about right-hander Brandon Morrow, a pre-arbitration player who would have come cheap, but Seattle traded Morrow to Toronto.

Pitching probably tops Melvin's wish list for the weeks before Spring Training. He said early this offseason that he would like to add two established starters, but that plan may have changed given Wolf's high price tag.

"If we can [add another starter] we'd like to," Melvin said at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings. "We might not be able to. We're always looking to improve the club.

"We're trying to keep flexibility to do things. The worst thing you can do is lose flexibility. We still want to be aggressive but we can step back and look at the landscape, see what takes place with free agents and trades."

Speaking of free agent contracts, here are a couple of tidbits from the Brewers' signings so far:

-- Wolf agreed to donate $25,000 per year to Brewers Charities and Zaun is kicking in $15,000. The players work with the club to determine how their contribution is spent.

-- Wolf's incentives are based mostly on durability. He gets $125,000 for 190 innings pitched and another $125,000 if he reaches 200 innings. Among his award bonuses, Wolf would earn $500,000 for winning the National League Cy Young Award, $400,000 for finishing second and on down to $100,000 for finishing fifth. He also gets $250,000 each time he's traded. If he's dealt twice within the same 72-hour period, he only gets paid one time.

-- Hawkins will earn $25,000 for 30 appearances and another $25,000 for 40 appearances, plus $50,000 for 20 games finished, $75,000 for 30 games finished and $100,000 for 35 games finished.

-- Zaun gets $1.9 million in 2010 and his club option for 2011 will pay $2.25 million plus an amount equal to the performance bonuses earned in '10 for games started (max of $350,000). If the Brewers decline the option, they owe Zaun $250,000. In 2010, Zaun can earn an additional $100,000 for 100 starts, $100,000 for 110 starts and $150,000 for 120 starts, plus $75,000 for 90 games played, $75,000 for 110 games played and $100,000 for 120 games played. In 2011, he can earn an additional $75,000 for 90 games played, $75,000 for 110 games played and $100,000 for 120 games played.

-- Counsell's incentives look like this: He gets $50,000 for 50 games played, $50,000 for 75 games played, $50,000 for 90 games played, $50,000 for 110 games played and $100,000 for 125 games played, plus $100,000 for 75 starts and $100,000 for 100 starts.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.