Brewers sign veteran backstop Zaun

Brewers sign veteran backstop Zaun

MILWAUKEE -- Veteran catcher Gregg Zaun is heading into his 16th season in the Majors, but he didn't sign with the Brewers to be a backup.

"It was an opportunity to play every day and I'm excited about that," Zaun said after finalizing a free-agent contract on Friday. "I'm 38 years old and a lot of people have made assumptions about how much I can play, but I like that challenge.

"I'll have to earn it every day, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

Zaun inked a one-year deal with the Brewers that includes a club option for 2011 and signals the end of Jason Kendall's tenure in Milwaukee. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin and Zaun's agent, Dan Evans, reached terms late Thursday night. Zaun, who was in Cincinnati, made the short trip to Milwaukee early Friday morning for a physical exam.

The promise of playing time was a large factor in his decision to pick Milwaukee over a list of suitors that included the Seattle, Colorado and Tampa Bay. The financial package didn't hurt.

Zaun, who earned $1.5 million during a 2009 season split between the Orioles and Rays, is guaranteed $2.15 million in his new contract with the Brewers. He'll get a $1.9 million salary in '10 with the opportunity to earn $600,000 more in bonuses based on games started. Milwaukee holds a $2.25 million option for '11 with a $250,000 buyout.

"They were aggressive early," Zaun said. "It made me feel important to them. I know Doug from way back when with the Orioles when he worked in their Minor Leagues and was my boss, and we were also together in Texas one year, so it's really flattering that he would consider me to be a guy to lead that [pitching] staff."

Zaun has already played for eight teams in a 15-year career that began with the Orioles in 1995. He left Orioles midseason, when the club installed its stud prospect Matt Wieters as the starting catcher, for the Rays -- who picked him up in an early August trade. In 90 games split between the two teams, he was a .260 hitter with eight home runs and 27 RBIs.

Zaun replaces Kendall, who had been Milwaukee's regular catcher the past two seasons. He earned $5 million in 2009 and Brewers officials decided to go with a cheaper option.

The Brewers now have to decide how to line up the depth behind Zaun. The leading incumbent is Mike Rivera, who has been Milwaukee's backup since 2006. He's arbitration-eligible this winter and can expect a bump in pay from his $415,000 salary last season.

"We're going to have to look at that," Melvin said.

Other options include George Kottaras, a left-handed hitter claimed off waivers from the Red Sox this fall, and right-handed-hitting catching prospects Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy. If the team decides to promote Lucroy all the way from Double-A, a possibility already raised by Melvin, the experienced Zaun could help him break into the Majors.

Lucroy came up during his discussions with Melvin, according to Zaun.

"Doug has known me long enough to know that if there is information to pass along, I'm going to do it," Zaun said. "When my time to step aside comes, I'll know it. It's part of the job to help other players shorten the learning curve, especially at the catching position, because it's so hard to play."

Melvin sought a scouting report from Orioles' president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and inquired particularly about Zaun's relationship with Wieters.

"We think [Zaun] is similar to Kendall in that he's a hard-nosed, gamer type," Melvin said. "He works with pitchers well. He's energetic. The biggest difference is that he brings some left-handedness to our lineup. He has a decent on-base percentage for a catcher and he has some pop in his bat.

"Jason did a great job for us. But we're having to re-allocate our payroll to the pitching."

Melvin met with Arn Tellem, who represents Kendall, during last month's General Managers' Meetings and explained the Brewers' thinking.

"We told them our situation and gave them a range of where we would be able to go salary-wise [for a catcher]," Melvin said. "After that, there wasn't a lot of interest from their side."

The Brewers paid particular attention to Friday's physical examination of Zaun's throwing arm. He had surgery after the 2008 season to remove bone spurs from his right elbow but didn't miss any time in '09. Zaun offered praise to the Rays' athletic trainers who introduced him to shoulder stabilization exercises that he found effective.

"I take care of my body and when Spring Training comes, I'll be ready," Zaun said. "I still have to go out there and play well. But that's a nice little bit of pressure."

Said Melvin: "Gregg is a guy who's going to want to play a lot, but he said he's also smart enough to know he can't catch every game."

Zaun is a Type B free agent and Tampa Bay offered him arbitration. Because he signed before Monday's deadline for players to accept or decline the offer, the Rays will receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of next year's Draft.

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