Brewers busy at non-tender deadline

Brewers busy at non-tender deadline

MILWAUKEE -- In a flurry of late-Tuesday transactions, the Brewers signed two members of their 40-man roster, non-tendered two players and headed down a path toward salary arbitration with three others.

Before the end of the day, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin:

•  Reached terms on one-year, non-guaranteed contracts for infielder Russell Branyan ($800,000) and reliever Kane Davis ($375,000), avoiding arbitration with both.

•  Said the team would work toward similar outcomes with its other arbitration-eligible players -- pitchers Tomo Ohka and Matt Wise and center fielder Brady Clark. All three will be back in Milwaukee next season.

•  Non-tendered right-handed relievers Dan Kolb, who was re-acquired in a trade at the Winter Meetings, and Jeff Bennett, who spent all of 2005 at Triple-A Nashville. Both became free agents, but their Brewers careers may not be over.

•  Signed left-hander Justin Thompson to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Thompson, now 32, was a first-round draft pick of Detroit in 1991 but has endured a number of arm injuries in recent seasons.

Kolb, who was also eligible for arbitration, was Milwaukee's All-Star closer in 2004 but struggled in 2005 following a trade to Atlanta, eventually losing the closer's job and being left off the Braves' postseason roster. The Brewers re-acquired Kolb earlier this month, hoping to use the window of exclusive negotiations to convince Kolb -- and his agent, Scott Boras -- to accept a nontender, then re-sign at significantly less than the $3.4 million Kolb earned last year.

Had the Brewers gone to arbitration with Kolb, baseball rules stipulate that they could not have cut his salary by more than 20 percent.

"That number works out to $2.7 million, and we aren't willing to do that," Melvin said.

Melvin plans to make Kolb and Boras an offer very soon -- perhaps as early as Wednesday. Kolb owns a home in southeastern Wisconsin and reportedly lunched with Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Billy Castro last week.

"We're not going to wait long. We'll make him an offer and then Danny will decide," Melvin said. "We'll see if we can get him for less, and if we can't, we'll move on. ... I know what [salary] we can offer. We can't play the market game."

A number of relievers have signed lucrative contracts this offseason that are out of the Brewers' price range. The team plans to boost payroll about $10 million -- to the $50-$53 million range -- but much of that increase is being eaten up by raises to current players, including those due Clark, Ohka and Wise.

There also remains a chance that Bennett, a former Rule 5 Draft pick who spent all of 2004 with the Brewers, could return. Melvin indicated that the Brewers would talk to Bennett about agreeing to a Minor League contract.

"We wanted some roster flexibility," Melvin said. "We'd like to see [Bennett] come back, but there were some [injury] concerns with him."

After Kolb and Bennett dropped off, the Brewers' 40-man roster stood at 38.

Davis, a hard-throwing right-hander, spent most of 2005 in Nashville but made 15 late-season appearances with the Brewers, posting a 2.70 ERA. He will compete for a spot in the bullpen.

Branyan endured shoulder and hand injuries in 2005 and was limited to 85 games, but still flashed some of his trademark power, belting 12 home runs in 202 at-bats. If he makes the club, Branyan's contract includes incentives that could boost its value to over $1 million.

"With my limited play last year and the injuries, it was nice to get something worked out to come back," Branyan said Tuesday night. "I feel like I'm going to get a good look, but it's going to be tough. I know coming in that this is a club that basically has its starting nine set."

The Brewers appear committed to 26-year-old Bill Hall at third base, Branyan's natural position. Branyan also could provide insurance for rookie Prince Fielder at first base.

"First and foremost, I'm going to camp looking to compete with Billy," Branyan said. "I'll try to win a [starting] job, and if not, I'll focus on being a force off the bench."

Thompson is an intriguing addition to the Brewers' Minor League ranks. He went 15-11 with a 3.02 ERA for the Tigers in 1997 but has battled a number of injuries since and was out of the Majors from 2000 until late 2005. He split the 2005 season between Double-A Frisco, Triple-A Oklahoma and the Texas Rangers.

"He's a long shot," Melvin said. "He was a pretty good pitcher in the big leagues at one time, but he's coming back from a lot of years on the DL. Maybe he can surprise us. He's been through a lot and we looked at it as a low-risk situation."

The Brewers also announced they had invited Minor League catchers Carlos Corporan and Nestor Corredor, both 21, to big league camp. Corredor will be in camp from Feb. 17-28, and Corporan from March 1-10.

The Brewers have invited 14 players to big league camp.

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