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Bullpen makeover begins with Choate

'Pen makeover begins with Choate

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MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers signed free agent reliever Randy Choate on Wednesday, but may have to wait a while for Francisco Cordero.

Two days after making their first formal offer to Cordero, the team signed 32-year-old left-hander Choate to a one-year contract and added him to the 40-man roster. Choate pitched in two games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007, but spent most of the year at Triple-A Tucson, where he posted a 2.98 ERA in 55 games. He is currently pitching in the Dominican Republic.

A career reliever, Choate has a 4.64 ERA in 196 games with the Yankees and Diamondbacks. The sidearmer has relatively even splits against left-handed and right-handed batters -- lefties have hit .242 against him and righties .258 -- but Choate could win a spot as a complement to left-handed relief specialist Brian Shouse in the Milwaukee bullpen.

"He's not really a situational guy," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said of Choate. "He can do a little bit more than that. And if you look at it, he's 32, which is right about where Brian's career started turning around."

Choate signed a split contract that calls for a $500,000 base salary while he's in the Majors and $75,000 in the Minors.

The bullpen should be a major area of focus for the Brewers this winter after their relievers ranked 12th of the 16 National League teams with a 4.15 bullpen ERA. A number of them are in limbo for 2008, including right-handers Cordero, Scott Linebrink and Ray King -- who are free agents -- and Shouse plus right-handers Greg Aquino, Seth McClung, Chris Spurling and Matt Wise, who are eligible for arbitration. Starters Dave Bush, Chris Capuano and Claudio Vargas, who could be moved to relief roles because the Brewers are relatively stocked in the starting rotation, are also arbitration-eligible.

Meanwhile, Cordero, who is represented by the same agent who got a record four-year, $43 million contract for Billy Wagner in 2005, will take his time in deciding where to go next.

"I don't think we can dictate [a timetable]," agent Bean Stringfellow said. "It takes two to tango, so to speak, and we are hearing from numerous teams."

Asked how many teams have shown serious interest in his client, Stringfellow said, "Let's leave it at 'numerous.'"

That's not surprising, since Cordero is among the most coveted relief arms on this year's free agent market and could see his value spike even higher should Mariano Rivera opt to stay with the Yankees. Cordero, thrust back into a closer's role after a July 2006 trade from Texas to Milwaukee, has converted 60 of 69 save opportunities with a 2.60 ERA over the last year and a half.

With a franchise-record 44 saves in 2007, Cordero became the eighth player in history to post 40-plus saves in a season in both leagues. He saved 49 games for Texas in 2004.

According to reports, the Houston Astros are also planning a push for Cordero. The Detroit Tigers may also have been suitors for Cordero had they not re-signed closer Todd Jones to a one-year, $7 million contract earlier this week.

Hot Stove

The Brewers' formal offer to Cordero was first reported Tuesday night by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which also listed right-handers Matt Herges, LaTroy Hawkins and David Riske and left-hander Ron Mahay among Melvin's potential free agent targets.

"I haven't heard from them yet, but I'm sure Doug and I will be chatting next week," said agent Dan Horwitz, who represents a slew of free agent arms including Herges and Octavio Dotel, a power arm who last week declined a $5.5 million mutual option that would have kept him in Atlanta.

The Rockies reportedly already have offered Herges a one-year pact, but given the number of clubs in the market for pitching, it might take more than that to land relief help this winter.

"We always [represent] a number of guys who draw interest, but there's a little bit more need for good arms right now," said Horwitz, who was out of the country this week. "My guys are looking at multi-year deals."

Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero got a three-year, $12 million contract extension with the Phillies on Tuesday that may help set the market for relief arms.

"That's a start. Now everyone is looking for those kinds of numbers," Melvin said. "I don't know about 'market value.' That's just what one team felt a player's value was. It doesn't mean other teams feel the same way. That's the kind of thing you spend time arguing about in these negotiations."

Including Choate, the Brewers have 35 players on the 40-man roster.

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

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