Patience needed in search for pitching

Patience needed in search for pitching

LAS VEGAS -- The Brewers might turn to the old timers' club for starting rotation depth, with John Smoltz and Jamie Moyer joining Randy Johnson on the list of veteran free agents Milwaukee intended to pursue in the wake of the Winter Meetings.

That was the latest from general manager Doug Melvin as he prepared to depart the Bellagio on Thursday, though there might be more news on Friday. Melvin said there was a "strong possibility" that the Brewers and Yankees will complete a swap of center fielders, a move that would help free payroll space for Milwaukee to be more active in its hunt for pitching.

"We're trying to create flexibility to look at the free-agent pool of players and try to regain some of the [depth] from the losses we had on the pitching side," Melvin said.

Six key members of the pitching staff could end up elsewhere in 2009. CC Sabathia signed with the Yankees, closer Salomon Torres retired and starter Ben Sheets and relievers Eric Gagne, Guillermo Mota and Brian Shouse are all free agents. The Brewers currently do not plan to make offers to any of those free agents, Melvin said.

Melvin met with the agent for free-agent closer Brian Fuentes several times this week but it appears more likely that he will pursue a starter first. The most sought-after arms, A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe, "have no interest in coming here," Melvin believes, so the Brewers have focused on veterans Smoltz, 41, Johnson, 45, and Moyer, 46. Randy Wolf is also on the Brewers' radar and he's the young buck at 32, but he is reportedly seeking as much as $10 million a year on the open market. Brad Penny is also on the Brewers' list, but "way down."

"Every one of them has some issues," Melvin said. "We have ongoing discussions with all those guys."

Smoltz's representative distributed a video at the Winter Meetings of Smoltz at a recent throwing session. The Brewers were impressed, according to assistant general manager Gord Ash, who spoke at the Meetings with Smoltz's agent.

Smoltz carries injury risk coming off season-ending shoulder surgery in June. He is a very close friend with former Brewers manager Ned Yost, but the Brewers dismissed Yost in September and hired Ken Macha.

Johnson, who overcame back trouble to have a fine season for Arizona in 2008, is also a bit risky. But his agent informed the Brewers that Johnson is looking for work on the West Coast and teams there apparently are biting, with the A's and Dodgers mentioned as possibilities.

Moyer was 16-7 with a 3.71 ERA for the world champion Phillies, who say they would like him back but had no contact with his representatives over the last three days in Las Vegas.

There also remains the possibility that Sheets will come back into play, though for now the Brewers are letting him pursue multiyear deals elsewhere and the Yankees and Rangers have expressed some level of interest.

Melvin and Ash both preached patience Thursday as they continue the process of building for 2009. Sabathia's decision to choose a record contract offer from the Yankees was particularly disappointing to Brewers fans, who got their first taste of postseason baseball since 1982 last season.

"Your club isn't put together in this week [at the Winter Meetings]," Ash said.

Deals done: Re-signed Todd Coffey to a one-year contract, avoiding arbitration. Re-signed free-agent third baseman Mike Lamb.

Rule 5 activity: Selected right-handed reliever Eddie Morlan from the Rays' Double-A roster in the Major League portion of the Draft and lost catcher Lou Palmisano to the Orioles, who traded him to the Astros. Selected right-hander Mark Holliman, second baseman Jonathan Ash and shortstops Shane Justis and Juan Sanchez in the Minor League portion of the Draft. Lost right-hander Patrick Ryan to Seattle and shortstop Guilder Rodriguez to the Astros in the Minor League phase.

Goals accomplished: Losing Sabathia was a huge, if not entirely unexpected blow, but Melvin sold the pending trade with the Yankees as a step toward freeing some cash to fill that hole.

Unfinished business: The Brewers are largely set with position players but badly need some pitching depth. The rotation today would be Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan and perhaps Seth McClung, with only a few options at Triple-A Nashville. Closer is also an issue, but Melvin has had a knack in the past for finding someone to fill that role so he might not spend on it this winter.

GM's bottom line: "Nobody is going to replace CC. There's nobody out there. He's the highest-paid, best pitcher in baseball, so how are you going to replace the best pitcher in baseball? -- Melvin

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