"It depends what they're asking for," Melvin said. "I don't know if it could fit or not. I might have to make some other moves to make it fit."
The Brewers may have jumped to the top of the list of teams expected to pursue Lackey last week, when Melvin brought up his name in a discussion of his plan to bolster a pitching staff that ranked next-to-last in the National League in 2009.
Melvin also said he would focus on bounce-back candidates coming off poor or injury-plagued seasons, and indeed he has already checked in with the agent for Mark Mulder, who missed all of 2009 with shoulder woes. At some point Milwaukee may also take a look at former Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets, who missed 2009 after undergoing surgery on his right elbow.
But at the same time, Melvin would not rule out the top shelf of free agents.
"There's one guy that stands out and it's John Lackey," Melvin told reporters on a conference call last Friday. "He's head and shoulders above the others. ... You look at the consistency of pitchers who are out there and John Lackey is a great competitor, but we'll have to take a look at that and see."
Since Melvin raised Lackey's name without being asked, he was pressed on the matter. Is he a free agent of interest to the Brewers?
"We'll leave that discussion internally for ourselves," Melvin said. "When you get involved in free agency and you talk about people, then all you're doing is letting people know you're interested and it drives the prices up. So I'm not going to say who we're interested in or who we're not."
It's a two-way street, said Melvin, who believes most free agents enter the market with a short list of teams they prefer.
"It's our job to find out if we're on that list of teams," Melvin said.
If the Brewers are on Lackey's list, then Melvin might have to move some more payroll, as he suggested to the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday.
Melvin has already said he won't pursue center fielder Mike Cameron, who earned $10 million last year, and has hinted that Jason Kendall's $5 million salary might not fit next year, either. His highest-paid returning players are starter Jeff Suppan (due $12.5 million in 2010, the final year of his four-year contract), first baseman Prince Fielder ($10.5 million), closer Trevor Hoffman ($7.5 million) and reliever David Riske ($4.5 million in the final year of his three-year deal).
More decisions are coming. The Brewers have until Saturday to exercise their half of starter Braden Looper's $6.5 million mutual option, and pitcher Dave Bush (who made $4 million in 2009), outfielder Corey Hart ($3.25 million) and second baseman Rickie Weeks ($2.45 million) head the list of arbitration-eligible players whose salaries could jump again.