Before exploring that question, an arbitration primer is in order:
Lopez, outfielder Mike Cameron, catcher Jason Kendall and pitchers Braden Looper and David Weathers all qualified as Type B free agents, meaning the Brewers could reap a compensatory pick in next year's First-Year Player Draft should any of those players sign with another team.
But in order to qualify for compensation, the Brewers would have to first extend an offer of arbitration to those eligible free agents. If the player declines, the Brewers would be compensated when he signs elsewhere; former teams get a first- or second-round pick from the player's new club plus a so-called "sandwich pick" between the first two rounds for a Type A free agent, or just a sandwich pick for a Type B player.
But if the player accepts the offer, he is considered signed for the next season at a salary to be determined, usually higher than the previous season. That possibility can present a risk teams are unwilling to take.
That risk is why the Brewers have been expected all along to decline making offers to Cameron ($10 million salary in 2009) and Kendall ($5 million). The team already declined club options on Looper ($6.5 million) and Weathers ($3.7 million), making an arbitration offer extremely unlikely. Why would the team pay those players buyouts only to bring them back several weeks later?
But many expected that the team would offer arbitration to Lopez, who is coming off a season split between Arizona and Milwaukee in which he batted a career-best .310 with 88 runs scored and a .383 on-base percentage. Lopez was relatively reasonable at $3.5 million.
Lopez is likely to seek a multiyear contract, and would have to decline an arbitration offer from the Brewers to get one. Because he narrowly missed qualifying for Type A compensation, he is actually more attractive to rival clubs because they would forfeit a Draft pick.
But the Brewers are wary of what they would do if Lopez were to accept. The team is committed to Rickie Weeks at second base and already has two players (Casey McGehee and Mat Gamel) to play third. Lopez has some experience in the outfield, but the Brewers have Ryan Braun set in left field and Corey Hart in right.
Melvin is already working on a tight budget and wants to preserve as much payroll space as possible to improve the team's pitching. A multi-million-dollar reserve infielder might not fit Melvin's plans.
"You would love to have that depth," Melvin said. "But is [Lopez] going to want to be a part-time player? He's going to want to be an everyday player, and Rickie is going to want to be an everyday player. In some sense, you also ask, are you willing to trade the possibility of [acquiring] a pitcher for Felipe Lopez? That's the question."
Melvin has proposed a series of changes to Major League Baseball's Draft process, and free agent compensation is one of his beefs. He doesn't expect any changes to come out of next week's Winter Meetings in Indianapolis.
"If we want to sign a Type A free agent, we would lose a second-round pick, but we don't have a way to get picks back," Melvin said. "Our whole Draft process needs to be redone."
The deadline for teams to extend arbitration offers to their free agents is 10:59 p.m. CT on Tuesday. Players who get offers have until Dec. 7 to accept.