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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin spent last week downplaying rumors that he is interested in trading for Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen. But he was interested enough to sit down with his St. Louis counterpart to discuss the possibility.
Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash met with new Cards GM John Mozeliak at the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings and among the topics of conversation was Rolen, the 32-year-old, seven-time Gold Glove Award winner.
"Gord sat there, 'John Mo' sat there and I sat here," Melvin said, pointing to seats in his suite. "That's about all I can say. We talked. I don't think it's anything serious at this point."
According to numerous published reports, among the players of interest to St. Louis is Brewers left-hander Chris Capuano, who struggled in 2007 but was an 18-game winner in 2005 and an All-Star in 2006. But there are stumbling blocks to a deal including Rolen. The Cardinals are reluctant to include money in a deal to defray part of the $36 million due Rolen over the next three seasons. There is also the matter of Rolen's balky left shoulder, which first required surgery in 2005. And the fact that Rolen has a no-trade clause and would have to approve a deal.
"Those are all issues," Melvin said. "There's some reluctance to trade within the division, too."
Were the Brewers to acquire a player like Rolen or White Sox third baseman Joe Crede, whom they discussed briefly at last month's General Manager's Meetings, they would move National League Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun to left field. Braun played in only 113 games after a promotion in late May, but still tied for the Major League lead with 26 errors and has said he is willing to make the switch.
Another line of thinking has the Brewers leaving Braun at third, where he has only played two full seasons, and giving him an opportunity to improve. One club official compared Braun to the late Ken Caminiti, who shed an all-hit, no-field reputation and won three Gold Gloves.
What is Melvin's preference? Finding a left fielder or finding a third baseman?
"It's not a matter of what we prefer, it's a matter of what is available," Melvin said. "It's a short list on both fronts, both in free agents and trades."
Melvin plans to meet again with the Cardinals before the week is over. But the door is very much open to Braun staying at third base, Melvin said.
If the Brewers chase an outfielder, they seem to prefer a left-handed-hitter with a high on-base percentage, believing that there are enough sluggers at other positions. The free agent list includes left-handed-hitters Luis Gonzalez, Kenny Lofton, Shawn Green and Brad Wilkerson, but Melvin believes that all were less productive last season than Geoff Jenkins, whose club option was declined by Milwaukee last month.
Both of the leading candidates to play left field should the Brewers not make any moves, Gabe Gross and Tony Gwynn, Jr., are both left-handed hitters. Further expanding the options is the fact that center fielder Bill Hall and Gwynn are among the players who have received a fair amount of interest from other clubs.
"We're just not sure yet which way we're going here," Melvin said. "It's not clear-cut that there is a frontline outfielder we can put out there."
The Brewers continue to examine ways to bolster a bullpen that will be without All-Star closer Francisco Cordero, who signed with Cincinnati. A multi-year deal with former Royals right-hander David Riske could be announced as early as Tuesday.
"We're getting closer," Melvin said. "We didn't do much today with it, so we'll touch base [Tuesday]. We might have a better chance [then]."
With catcher Jason Kendall officially added to Milwaukee's 40-man roster on Monday, the Brewers would have to free up a spot for Riske. But that is not as much a factor in holding up the deal as the "location of people," Melvin said. Riske attended a wedding in Seattle over the weekend and would have to undergo a physical before signing a contract.
Even with Riske in the fold, the Brewers may continue to show interest in free agents Eric Gagne or Octavio Dotel, both of whom have experience as closers. As it stands, Derrick Turnbow is the most likely candidate to replace Cordero.
But like Rolen, Gagne and Dotel carry an injury history.
"Both have been closers in the past, but have questions in the present with health issues and durability issues," Melvin said. "We'll think about it. I'm not sure where we are going with it."
Melvin said he didn't touch base Monday with the agents for Gagne (Scott Boras) or Dotel (Dan Horwitz).
Melvin confirmed for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Washington Nationals had offered closer Chad Cordero for second baseman Rickie Weeks. But Melvin is not willing to move his young core of players, including Braun, Weeks, first baseman Prince Fielder, shortstop J.J. Hardy and outfielder Corey Hart.
"We're trying to win next year, but not at the expense of not being competitive the following two or three years," Melvin said. "We're in that fine line of balancing the winning end, but I don't think we're in the development stage."
Melvin shot down a newspaper report in the Providence Journal that had the Red Sox showing interest in right-hander Ben Sheets, who is entering the final year of his contract. The New York Daily News also linked Sheets to the Yankees.
"There was a club that asked about [Sheets], but it wasn't on the East Coast," Melvin said.
Brewers officials reviewed preparations for Thursday's Rule 5 Draft and Melvin said there is "a 50-50 chance" that the Brewers make a selection.