Brewers turn attention to trade market
Free agent landscape steers Melvin toward alternate options
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Unable to compete in the soaring free agent market, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is looking to swing some trades before these Winter Meetings adjourn on Thursday. But lying on the bed in his hotel suite on Tuesday with his hands folded behind his head, he hardly looked like a guy riding the adrenaline rush of a busy week.
"Maybe it's better to wait and find out where all of the free agent players are going," Melvin told a small group of reporters. "There's not as many clubs talking trades here as I thought."
Melvin is not in conversations with a single free agent, and he had only one face-to-face meeting before dinner on Tuesday, a sit-down with the Rangers. Texas may be considering Brady Clark as an option to play center field, but the Brewers are seeking starting pitching depth. Melvin doesn't see a match.
"I don't see anything coming out of that," he said.
The Brewers and Phillies were at the center of one of the more lively rumors in the lobby at the Dolphin Hotel on Tuesday. Talk circulated earlier in the day that the teams were closing on a trade that would have included Phillies veteran starter Jon Lieber and Brewers outfielders Kevin Mench or Geoff Jenkins and possibly relievers Derrick Turnbow or Jose Capellan.
Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash did chat with Phillies officials, including GM Pat Gillick, but Melvin dismissed talk of the deal as "an Internet rumor."
Melvin asked the Phillies if they had interest in Jenkins and/or Mench, and "Pat Gillick says no," Melvin said.
Teams continued Tuesday to ask about Turnbow, who was an All-Star last season but struggled mightily in July and eventually lost the closer's role. Before the season started, he inked a three-year contract and is due about $6 million over the next two seasons. After that, Turnbow has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining.
"I think they all think we're the Brewers of [old] and we have to give him up because he's making $2-3 million and the Brewers are looking for salary relief," Melvin said. "That's not the case.
"I wish we had a place to spend money," Melvin continued. "We have a little extra money, there's just no place to spend it. That's the frustrating part."
The Brewers came to the meetings with two needs already met. They upgraded their offense behind the plate by acquiring catcher Johnny Estrada in a six-player trade with Arizona, and later signed veteran free agent Craig Counsell to serve as a utility infielder. The Brewers would still like to add pitching, preferably a starter, and they would like to add a center fielder.
It has become clear to Melvin that he will have to fill his needs via trades because the asking prices of the available free agents are "off the charts," as he put it. Teams continued to wait Tuesday to see where marquee pitchers Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt will end up, and even the representative for free agent left-hander Ted Lilly drew an enormous media horde when he stopped in the lobby on Tuesday.
"Whenever there's a new labor deal, it seems like teams get excited about spending money," Melvin said. "We're fortunate that we did Estrada and got Counsell done before we got here. That was huge. If we didn't, we'd be scrambling.
"I thought that on the free agent market, there would have been some guys out there that were available. [Prices] have gone well beyond what we thought."
Other news from the meetings:
Melvin contacted Schmidt's agents before the meetings began to see if the right-hander would even consider an offer from Milwaukee. Melvin characterized the response from Randy and Alan Hendricks as lukewarm.
"I think this is how [agents] operate: They say, 'There's A and B where I want to be, and to go to C, D or E, I'd have to get the extra year or get more money.'"
The team faced the same dilemma last month with outfielder Dave Roberts, who preferred to stay on the West Coast and eventually signed with San Francisco. The Brewers also showed interest in Juan Pierre, but they were told that Milwaukee was not on Pierre's wish list. He eventually went to the Dodgers.
The Orioles and Dodgers are among the teams that have inquired seriously about Mench, but both teams presumably prefer free agent Luis Gonzalez because they wouldn't have to give up a player to get him, Melvin said. Brewers and Orioles officials met on Monday, and Melvin expects the lines of communication to remain open.
Melvin had contact Tuesday with representatives for free agent infielder Jeff Cirillo and planned to e-mail a one-year offer later in the day. Melvin insisted that there would be room on the '07 roster for Cirillo, Counsell and Tony Graffanino, a free agent who was offered arbitration last week. Cirillo, who is represented by Ken Felder, has also drawn interest from the Diamondbacks, Giants and Twins.
Melvin has directed his staff to predict potential non-tenders. Teams must decide whether to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players by Dec. 12, and Melvin pointed out that David Eckstein was non-tendered by the Angels a few years ago before signing a three-year contract with the Cardinals.
Melvin does not anticipate making a pick in the Major League phase of Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, and one team asked whether the Brewers would be willing to trade their pick (seventh overall). The talent pool is considered thin this season because of changes in the new collective bargaining agreement that gave organizations an extra year before they have to protect Minor Leaguers on 40-man rosters.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.