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Crew has nine potential free agents

Crew has nine potential free agents

MILWAUKEE -- Let the offseason begin.

When the Yankees clinched the World Series on Wednesday night, it kick-started the season after the season for all 30 teams, not to mention the dozens of unattached players looking for new homes. Players eligible for free agency could begin filing their papers on Thursday.

Five of the Brewers' nine potential free agents wasted no time, including two -- center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall -- who have been fixtures in the starting lineup in the past two seasons. Cameron and Kendall formally filed paperwork on Thursday along with outfielder Frank Catalanotto, infielder Felipe Lopez and outfielder Corey Patterson.

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The Brewers have two more free-agent eligibles -- infielder Craig Counsell and pitcher Claudio Vargas -- who either will re-sign with the Brewers or submit their papers before the end of the 15-day filing period. During that window, teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents.

Two others must wait 10 days to learn whether they will join the free-agent pool. The Brewers have 10 days after the World Series to decide whether to exercise their half of Braden Looper's $6.5 million mutual option and whether to pick up reliever David Weathers' $3.7 million club option.

Looper, who led the team with 14 wins and tied for the National League with 34 starts but ran up a 5.22 ERA and led the Major Leagues by allowing 39 home runs, is a particularly interesting case. The Brewers would have to pay a $1 million buyout if they declined his option.

In August it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Brewers, who are short on pitching prospects at the top levels of the Minor Leagues, would bring Looper back. But a high-ranking club official indicated during the final week of the season that Looper's future with the team was now up for debate. He went 5-2 in September/October but posted a 6.58 ERA and a .349 opponents' average. With general manager Doug Melvin intent on bringing in two new starters -- his stated goal last month -- and the Brewers' four other '09 starters under contract for 2010, Looper could conceivably be one of the odd men out.

If the Brewers decline Weathers' option, they owe him a $400,000 buyout.

Among the players already eligible for free agency, Cameron, Counsell, Kendall and Vargas are the likely priorities. Lopez was excellent after a July trade from Arizona to Milwaukee -- .with a 320 batting average and a .407 on-base percentage in 297 plate appearances -- but Melvin made it clear that he is committed to Rickie Weeks at second base. If that's the case, it appears the Brewers don't have a spot for Lopez.

Cameron earned $10 million after the Brewers exercised his 2009 option and expressed a willingness to "make a sacrifice" to remain in Milwaukee. But that does not necessarily mean he would take a pay cut, only that he would entertain a Brewers offer that paid fewer dollars or years than he could fetch on a market mostly devoid of blue-chip center fielders.

"You just never know how it's going to work out financially," Cameron said in September. "It would be cool, because I like it here. Doug is pretty straightforward, and it's just a matter of what direction they want to go in."

Offensively, you know what you'll get with Cameron. He hit .250 with 24 home runs, 70 RBIs, 78 runs scored and 156 strikeouts in 2009. It was his fourth straight season with at least 20 home runs and the eighth such season in his career.

The Brewers' top center-field prospects are all at least another year away from the Majors. If Cameron departs, the team would have to consider Jody Gerut or perhaps Corey Hart for the position, or it would have to seek Cameron's replacement via trade or free agency.

Kendall also said he wants to remain. He hit .241 with a .636 OPS that ranked last of the nine big league catchers who qualified for the batting title. Kendall has morphed throughout his career into a defense-first catcher, and if the Brewers let him depart, they would hand the reins to a more offense-minded player in Mike Rivera.

"This is my first choice and [Brewers officials] know that," Kendall said. "I'm not just saying that. I really, really love it here."

Counsell, who had arthroscopic surgery after the season to clean up a sore right knee, has proven extremely valuable in a utility role, but he is coming off his best season in seven years and might command multiple years from another team. Likewise, Vargas boosted his stock by excelling in a late-relief role with the Brewers following a July trade from the Dodgers to the Brewers, appearing in 28 games with a 1.78 ERA.

Catalanotto was a .278 hitter in 77 games with the Brewers but was 6-for-33 (.182) as a pinch-hitter. Patterson excelled at Triple-A Nashville after signing with the Brewers at midseason, but he was a bust in Milwaukee, going 1-for-15 at the plate in September. He was picked off after his only hit.

Also on Thursday, the Brewers learned that Cameron, Kendall and Lopez all qualified as Type B players in the Elias Sports Bureau's ranking system and that Looper and Weathers would also rank as Type B should they reach free agency.

That system considers a player's last two seasons of statistical output and is used to determine which free agents are eligible for Draft compensation. In order to qualify, a free agent must be offered arbitration by his former team, but decline the offer and then sign elsewhere.

The former club of a Type A free agent receives the new team's first- or second-round pick in the next First-Year Player Draft, depending on where that team finished in the standings, plus a "sandwich pick" between the first- and second rounds. The former club of a Type B free agent receives only the sandwich pick.

Lopez was one spot shy of qualifying as a Type A player. National League second baseman, shortstops and third basemen are grouped together by Elias, and Lopez was the first Type B, with a rating of 71.889. Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla was the final Type A, at 72.350.

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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