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12/08/09 12:56 AM EST

Brewers closing in on deal for Wolf

Crew offering three years to ex-Dodgers left-hander

INDIANAPOLIS -- Officially, the Brewers downplayed their contact with free agent left-hander Randy Wolf on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings. Unofficially, the sides appeared close to a deal.

The Brewers emerged Monday as the leading candidate for Wolf, a 33-year-old coming off a career year whose appeal was heightened last week when the Dodgers declined to extend him an arbitration offer. Because of that move, Wolf, despite being a Type A free agent, would not cost Milwaukee a Draft pick. That's key for a team trying to build a winner today but also trying to sustain some long-term success.

A Brewers official late Monday night downplayed reports that the Brewers' signing of Wolf to a three-year deal was "imminent," but those reports persisted nonetheless. AOL Fanhouse first reported that the Brewers were close to signing Wolf and it was later confirmed by SI.com and the New York Post.

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was asked earlier in the day about his interest in Wolf, and he declined to offer specifics because such proclamations hinder negotiations. He did say that, as of Monday afternoon, Wolf's agent, Arn Tellem, was not in Indianapolis.

Starting pitching is the top priority for the Brewers, who tied the Orioles for the worst starters' ERA in the Majors (5.37) and finished next to last in the National League in team ERA (4.83). The top available free agent is John Lackey, but he would cost Milwaukee more money over more years, and his former team, the Angels, would also get the Brewers' second-round pick in next year's First-Year Player Draft because Lackey was offered arbitration.

Wolf is coming off a career season in which he went 11-7 with a 3.23 ERA in 34 starts with the Dodgers after signing a one-year deal worth $5 million last offseason. The left-hander struck out 160 batters in 214 1/3 innings.

Wolf has been solid throughout his career when healthy, with a 101-85 record and a 4.13 ERA in 11 Major League seasons.

But Wolf also comes with some red flags. He's only pitched more than 200 innings four times in his 11-year career, and before last season he hadn't reached the 200-innings plateau since 2003. The Brewers are wary of a repeat of 2006, when they bestowed a four-year deal upon right-hander Jeff Suppan after Suppan excelled for the Cardinals in the postseason.

"Your experience always influences your future decisions," assistant GM Gord Ash said last week, ahead of the Winter Meetings. "If you were to look at that decision in retrospect, it probably served us well for two years and if you want to take a shot at a third year, that's fine. But giving a fourth, that's probably not something you want to do again.

"At the same time, you have to react to the market conditions. It's easy to look back [at the Suppan deal] and say, 'You shouldn't have done it.' But at that time, if you wouldn't have done it, you wouldn't have got him."

If the Brewers finalize a deal with Wolf on Tuesday, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be announced. Teams are restricted from announcing signings until a player passes a physical, and that step can extend the process several days. Melvin isn't scheduled to meet with reporters until 4 p.m. CT on Tuesday.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Reporter Rhett Bollinger contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.