Wolf was all smiles in his new Brewers jersey and cap, but conceded last week that he was "disappointed" his hometown Dodgers didn't make more of an effort to bring him back after he went 11-7 this year with a 3.23 ERA in a career-high 34 starts. Los Angeles declined to offer him arbitration, then decided against making an offer once Wolf hit the open market.
That left an opening for the Brewers.
"To tell you the truth, going into this offseason I wanted to be on a team that wanted to win and I wanted to be on a team that was dedicated to me and having that feeling be mutual," Wolf said. "I went into this offseason with a very open mind. I wasn't set on going back to L.A.
"When the Brewers came out very early and showed me that I was a priority this offseason, I looked at them a lot closer and realized this would be a great fit for me."
The Brewers' pursuit was aggressive.
General manager Doug Melvin viewed Wolf as the second-best free-agent starter and decided early on that Milwaukee couldn't afford John Lackey, so he went hard after Wolf. Melvin traveled to L.A. with Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio ahead of the Winter Meetings to meet Wolf in person. He then made him a three-year offer on the first day of baseball's gathering in Indianapolis.
In the meantime, Wolf sought advice from Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman, who moved to Milwaukee in 2009 after 16 seasons with the Padres. Hoffman re-signed with the Brewers on the day after the regular-season finale. He spoke to Wolf for about 45 minutes.
"I knew he was going to give me a true, honest opinion, and he said a lot of really good things about Milwaukee," Wolf said. "That meant a lot to me."
So did Melvin's cross-country visit.
"From Day 1, they made it very clear that I was a priority this winter," Wolf said. "Not only was I the priority, but winning was the priority ... and that's very important to me. When you become a free agent, you want a team that desires you and thinks that you can help their team win. The thing I see from this organization is they're making a huge effort to win."
Wolf's financial package was evidence of that effort. His deal, according to the Associated Press, includes base salaries of $9.25 million in 2010, $9.5 million in 2011 and $9.5 million in 2012. The club option for 2013 would pay $10 million with a $1.5 million buyout.
He can earn an additional $250,000 per year in incentives: $125,000 for 190 innings and $125,000 for 200 innings. Wolf gets a limited no-trade clause and an additional payment of $250,000 if he's dealt.
"We felt he fit for what we needed here," Melvin said. "In the past, you're always looking for somebody to give you innings, but what you need is someone who's going to give you quality innings. Randy fit a lot of our criteria."
"I really strongly believe that he's turned a corner to his career," Melvin said. "I think he can really take off in these next few years. He is one of the better pitchers in the game today, and he can continue that as a Milwaukee Brewer."
Wolf's career hit a snag in 2005 when the then-Phillie underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left elbow, an ailment Wolf said he pitched with for more than a year before succumbing to surgery. He returned to the Phillies in 2006 and signed after the season with the Dodgers, but he missed more time in 2007 with a shoulder injury that eventually required minor surgery.
Wolf signed with San Diego for 2008 and was traded at midseason to Houston, where his career got on track. Since that trade, Wolf is 17-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 46 starts and has held opponents to a .234 batting average.
The Brewers were willing to reach for Wolf because they needed to bolster a group of starting pitchers who combined for a 5.37 ERA last season, worst in the National League. Melvin had already cut ties with Braden Looper, who led the staff with 14 wins in 2009 but also allowed more home runs than any pitcher in baseball and would have cost $6.5 million had the Brewers exercised his option.
Melvin wouldn't mind adding one more starting pitcher, but he does have the makings of a five-man rotation with Wolf in the fold behind young ace Yovani Gallardo. The Brewers are expected to stick with left-hander Manny Parra, who is coming off an 11-win season, despite posting a 6.36 ERA and enduring a demotion to the Minor Leagues. The Brewers tendered a contract on Saturday to arbitration-eligible righty Dave Bush, who earned $4 million last season and can probably expect a raise despite an injury-plagued 2009. That's a strong indication that Bush will return as a starter. And fellow right-hander Jeff Suppan has one year remaining on a contract that calls for a $12.5 million salary next season, making him the highest-paid Brewers player.
Wolf has made eight career starts at Miller Park, going 2-4 with a 5.95 ERA against a Milwaukee lineup that in recent years has feasted on left-handed pitchers.
"I like pitching here," Wolf said. "I like hitting here, too. I hit my first home run here."
It was off right-hander Jimmy Osting, on Aug. 22, 2002.
Wolf has been solid against the Brewers' National League Central opponents, including the Astros (3.94 ERA in 14 starts), Cardinals (3.64 ERA in 10 starts), Cubs (4.22 ERA in 17 starts), Pirates (7-1, 3.39 ERA in 12 starts) and Reds (9-2, 3.11 ERA in 16 starts).
Also on Monday, infielder Craig Counsell passed a physical and signed a straight one-year deal to return to Milwaukee. Melvin also said the team had finalized negotiations with reliever Claudio Vargas on a one-year deal to return. Vargas is scheduled to undergo a physical on Friday.