Brewers GM ready for market to open

Brewers GM ready to deal

MILWAUKEE -- Last year, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin reported to the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas focused on one pitcher: CC Sabathia. He will travel to this year's gathering in Indianapolis with a much wider net.

Hot Stove
Meetings preview
Arbitration wrapup
Deals to continue

Melvin and his staff are still spending most of their energy looking for ways to improve a starting rotation that ranked worst in the National League in 2009 and cost the Brewers a shot at repeating as playoff participants. That remains Melvin's priority as the baseball world comes together in Indy.

"Last year we were waiting for [Sabathia's] decision and couldn't do much else," Melvin said. "This year, we're still focusing on pitching. I've been a GM for 14 years, and it seems like it's pitching every year. It also seems like every year it's getting together."

The Brewers are also looking for help in other areas, mostly up the middle. They would be open to an experienced catcher to replace free agent Jason Kendall, who was deemed too pricey after making $5 million last season. After trading J.J. Hardy and installing top prospect Alcides Escobar as the starting shortstop, Melvin is also looking for middle infield depth.

But those wants are taking a back seat to the Brewers' need for better starters. Melvin already jettisoned Braden Looper amid a flurry of moves to create payroll flexibility, leaving him with one front-of-the-rotation starter in Yovani Gallardo, followed by a bunch of question marks. Will left-hander Manny Parra be given another opportunity to fulfill his promise, or might he be a trade chip for Melvin? Can the Brewers count on one more year of Jeff Suppan, whose ERA and WHIP have climbed while his strikeouts have dropped over the first three seasons of his four-year deal? Is arbitration-eligible Dave Bush a lock for the rotation after his injury-plagued 2009?

The answers to those questions will be more clear with Melvin's other offseason moves. He would like to see the market get moving.

"Things are moving a little bit slow," Melvin said. "There have been a few signings, and there will be more movement. I think there's more of a cautious approach to free agency from most clubs this year. It's concerns about teams' payrolls, and maybe concerns about decisions that teams have made in the past about free-agent players. That plays into it, too."

The Brewers have already made contact with many of the available free agents, including John Lackey, Randy Wolf, Jarrod Washburn, Carl Pavano and Doug Davis. They have also been linked in published reports to trade talks with the Braves and Tigers.

Melvin declined to discuss specific free agents of interest or potential trade partners. Teams like the Braves, Tigers and Rangers are seen as having pitchers available to trade, but swinging a deal is tricky, Melvin said.

"The real question is how many teams are willing to trade quality pitchers," Melvin said. "Because that's what you're hoping for if you're a contending team, a guy who is 'quality' and can help you. I don't know if there are any of those guys available at all. ...

"I think a lot of teams are thinking of it in terms of having one bullet to shoot at a free agent or a player in a trade, and they're analyzing things more thoroughly and making sure it's the right move."

The Brewers have some flexibility thanks to earlier moves. By trading Hardy to the Twins for center fielder Carlos Gomez, a first-time arbitration-eligible player, Melvin saved on two fronts. Hardy will be more expensive than Gomez next season, and the addition of Gomez meant the Brewers could let Mike Cameron walk. Cameron earned $10 million last season.

Melvin shed an additional $5.5 million when he declined Looper's 2010 option. He also said the Brewers were not planning to re-sign Kendall at his salary level from last season.

"But a lot of people are misguided to think that it's easy math, like you saved $10 million on Cameron and then a certain amount on Kendall and Looper and Hardy," Melvin said. "Our other young players are getting more expensive, and you have to take that into account."

The Brewers' payroll probably won't move dramatically in either direction from the $80 million level at which the team began 2009.

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