Brewers general manager Doug Melvin billed the positives of Rodriguez's pricey return, the most significant of which was this: In Rodriguez and closer John Axford, the Brewers have an outstanding 1-2 punch at the back of the bullpen that, considering Axford's near-minimum salary, will average out to what many clubs pay for their top two relievers. Plus, knowing that Axford was in place, Rodriguez inherently signaled he's OK returning as a setup man by accepting the arbitration offer.
The Brewers will now negotiate with agent Scott Boras to determine Rodriguez's salary, and if they cannot agree the sides will meet in an arbitration hearing in February. By rule, a player's salary cannot be cut by more than 20 percent in arbitration, and it often goes up.
For the Brewers, it was a calculated gamble. But Melvin argued it was a "no-lose" bet, because the Brewers would have wound up either with two extra Draft picks, or two premium closers.
"Our bullpen is stronger today than it was this morning," Melvin said.
But what about the rest of the team? Melvin still needs a shortstop, and will have to re-think his pursuit of free-agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who would fit nicely in the cleanup spot as Fielder's replacement.
Asked whether Rodriguez's decision eliminated the Brewers on Ramirez, Melvin said, "Possibly. I'll take a look at it."
The Brewers spent most of Wednesday in a holding pattern at the Winter Meetings while awaiting the 11 p.m. CT deadline for the free agents who were offered arbitration to make their decisions. Rodriguez, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz and Blue Jays infielder Kelly Johnson were the only players to accept.
Milwaukee nearly re-signed another reliever, LaTroy Hawkins, on Wednesday afternoon, but with the Rodriguez situation unsolved had to call agent Larry Reynolds to ask for more time. Hawkins wound up signing for $3 million with the Angels -- a better deal than the Brewers had offered.
"I told Larry, if he's got a chance to get a job, don't walk away from one," Melvin said. "This stuff happens fast, and I don't want any player to lose a job because we're delaying something or whatever."
The Rodriguez story may not be over. Theoretically, he could be traded later this winter to a team in need of a closer. Boras hinted at that when he addressed reporters an hour before Rodriguez's deadline.
"I think a lot of things can happen when a player accepts arbitration like him, because he's so versatile," Boras said. "Being a guy that is a closer, and there have been trades and there can be fits that happen after this period of time."
Melvin said he's planning for Rodrguez to be with the Brewers on Opening Day. He was acquired from the Mets last July and posted a 1.86 ERA in 31 Brewers appearances, including 16 straight scoreless outings to end the regular season.
"He can help your ballclub," Melvin said earlier in the day. "We were a good ballclub last year with him in the eighth. He's a good pitcher. He should be closing for somebody, but this is what the rules are and you play them. It's not a bad thing to have K-Rod back in the eighth inning and Axford in the ninth."
In other Brewers news:
Club officials believed they were out of the running for free-agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins after agent Dan Lozano cancelled a meeting with Melvin and Co. that had been scheduled for Tuesday. The Brewers expected Rollins to re-sign with the Phillies.
On the shortstop front, Melvin met with agent Paul Kinzer about Rafael Furcal and Jaime Torres about Yuniesky Betancourt, and said he would be in touch via telephone with Eric Goldschmidt, who reps Alex Gonzalez. Furcal could be had for a two-year deal, according to a baseball source, and Betancourt and Gonzalez for one year. In the wake of the Rodriguez news, Betancourt and Gonzalez appeared much more likely.
Kinzer also represents Ramirez, who remained in play as of Wednesday afternoon with the Angels, the Brewers and one other team. Kinzer said Ramirez likes the idea of playing in a dome and remaining in the National League Central. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke confirmed he met in person with Ramirez in Los Angeles earlier in the offseason
. Melvin said principal owner Mark Attanasio was part of that meeting, too.
Melvin offered further indication that the Brewers will be without Fielder
next season, a scenario even more likely after Rodriguez accepted arbitration.
"I think we're at a point now where we have to consider moving on," Melvin said.
Pitching prospect Santo Manzanillo, who suffered a separated right shoulder and fractured right scapula in a car crash in the Dominican Republic last week, was examined in Milwaukee by Dr. William Raasch and will not need shoulder surgery, assistant general manager Gord Ash said. Manzanillo will report to the Brewers' rehab facility in Phoenix for about a week before returning home to the Dominican.