MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers finalized their one-year, $775,000 agreement with free-agent catcher Wil Nieves after he passed a physical on Friday, setting up another interesting catching competition for Spring Training. The Brewers now have four catchers on their 40-man roster: 24-year-old starter Jonathan Lucroy and backup candidates Nieves, George Kottaras and Minor Leaguer Martin Maldonado. They will also have former backup Mike Rivera in big league camp vying for a job. Rivera signed a Minor League deal with the Brewers in October. Because he was just added to the roster this winter and has options remaining, Maldonado will probably begin the year in the Minor Leagues. Lucroy established himself as a viable Major Leaguer last season after the Brewers lost Gregg Zaun to a season-ending shoulder injury, and he is slated to make the majority of starts.
That leaves Nieves, Kottaras and Rivera as the candidates -- for now -- to be the backup. The Brewers' first choice was free agent Yorvit Torrealba, who instead received a two-year contract from Texas, for which he will likely be the starter. Torrealba's agent is Melvin Roman, the same man who represents Nieves. The Brewers and Roman reached an agreement earlier this week at the Winter Meetings. Here's a quick look at each would-be Brewers backup: Nieves, 33 and non-tendered by the Nationals last month, has never hit much in parts of seven seasons in the Majors with the Padres, Yankees and Nationals, and he topped out at 224 at-bats with Washington in 2009. He has a career .227 batting average and has thrown out 24 percent of base-stealers. Among the trio he's probably the best thrower and handler of pitchers. His non-guaranteed deal calls for a $775,000 base salary in 2011, with an additional $45,000 available in incentives. Kottaras, 27, is the only left-handed bat in the trio, and it's a big one. He hit nine home runs this season in only 212 at-bats, and also hit 12 doubles, one triple and drove in 26 runs. His batting average was .203, but his on-base percentage was more than 100 points higher, at .305, thanks to 33 walks. If the Brewers want some offense from their backup, Kottaras could be the guy, and he's also the most familiar with Brewers pitchers since he spent all of 2010 with the team. He was not very good behind the plate. He's credited with catching eight of 52 base-stealers, though four of those were pickoffs by the pitchers. If you take those away, he was 4-for-48, or 8.3 percent. He still needs about a year of Major League service to be arbitration-eligible. Rivera, 34, was Milwaukee's backup catcher from 2006 to 2009 before he was non-tendered. He offers something of a balance between offense (.260 average, 11 home runs in 331 Brewers at-bats) and defense (23 percent success rate throwing out runners in the Majors). He signed with the Yankees last winter but didn't make the team, and split the 2010 season with the Dodgers and Marlins organizations, getting only 17 big league plate appearances with Florida. Brewers scouts were not impressed then they saw him play for the Dodgers chain early in the year, but club officials were willing to sign him to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training camp. Even with Nieves and Rivera added to the fold, the Brewers don't have nearly the depth they had on paper at the start of 2010 Spring Training. Then they had Zaun slated to start, with Kottaras and Matt Treanor as backup candidates, and prospects Lucroy and Angel Salome in reserve. It may have been the Brewers' deepest position on paper, but that depth didn't last. After deciding that Kottaras would be the backup, the team traded Treanor to Texas, and he ended up playing in the World Series. Salome was sidelined by personal issues and eventually told the team he "didn't feel comfortable" playing catcher anymore. He was moved to the outfield and has since departed as a free agent. Zaun injured his shoulder in May and needed season-ending surgery. Given that experience, it would not be surprising to see the Brewers continue to monitor the catching market, but it's a thin position throughout baseball.