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07/13/11 5:17 PM ET
Brewers plot sharing plan for K-Rod, Axford
Roenicke intends to use relievers in save, setup situations
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- The baseball world is about to find out whether Brewers manager Ron Roenicke's off-the-field hobbies include juggling. Roenicke plans to sit down separately Thursday to discuss roles with incumbent Brewers closer John Axford and the newest member of the bullpen, Francisco Rodriguez. The Brewers acquired Rodriguez, nicknamed "K-Rod," in a late-night trade Tuesday that gives Roenicke two established closers -- three, if you count a healthy Takashi Saito. In a telephone conversation Wednesday afternoon, Roenicke said he intends to use both Axford and Rodriguez in save situations and both in setup situations. The reason is twofold: Axford has been exceedingly successful since taking over Milwaukee's closer role last May, and Rodriguez becomes exceedingly expensive if he finishes 21 more games this season and kicks in a $17.5 million option for 2012. If he falls short of that total, the Brewers can buy out Rodriguez's option for $3.5 million. So, Roenicke will juggle. "I think there are going to be times that both of them are used in that setup role," Roenicke said. "We'll just see how that goes. I know he really wants to play for a winner -- that's big on his mind." That type of "closer-by-committee" setup is rare for a contending club, and the Brewers will begin the second half Thursday in a first-place tie with the Cardinals atop the National League Central. To convince Rodriguez to accept a degree of change, Roenicke may rely on their existing relationship. They were together for seven seasons in Anaheim, Roenicke as the Angels' third-base coach and then bench coach, and Rodriguez as the setup man to Troy Percival and then the full-time closer from 2005-08. Rodriguez's best season in Anaheim was his last, when he set the Major League record with 62 saves. That season earned him a three-year, $37 million contract that includes a vesting option if Rodriguez finishes 55 games in 2011. He already has 34 games finished -- along with 23 saves in 26 chances and a 3.16 ERA -- from his half-season with the Mets. Axford, meanwhile, is 23-for-25 in save chances with a 2.83 ERA. Since a blown save on Opening Day, he has a 1.99 ERA. He has converted each of his last 20 save opportunities, tied for the third-longest streak in Brewers history. "I don't think it's a delicate situation," Roenicke said. "But I want to tell them what's on my mind." Rodriguez's contract included a no-trade clause that allowed him to block trades to 10 clubs. The Brewers were not one of them, but the player's new agent, Scott Boras, made clear to Newsday's Ken Davidoff during All-Star Game festivities that any of the 20 other clubs considering a run at Rodriguez should know that he is a "historic closer" who was "not going anywhere to be a setup man." "Closers don't make good setup men," Boras told the newspaper. "Does anyone want an unhappy setup man in their clubhouse?" Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said Wednesday that he was unaware of those comments and pointed to the Brewers' center-field situation as a "prime example" of a role-sharing agreement that works. When the Brewers traded for Nyjer Morgan in late March, much was made about how the deal would affect incumbent Carlos Gomez. "That's worked out pretty well," Melvin said. "The other day, Carlos Gomez bunted Rickie Weeks over in the first inning, made a great play in right field, had a triple to knock in a run and then he was pinch-hit for in the ninth inning and was the first guy on the field to congratulate Craig Counsell [after a game-winning sacrifice fly]. "That's the kind of team you have to have if you're going to win championships. My expectations, with all of our players, we've got 10 weeks left in the season [and need] everybody to accept their roles when they're asked to go out there and perform. It's going to take everybody pulling on the same rope." Melvin met reporters at Miller Park and detailed a swap that came together quickly Tuesday, starting with a telephone call from Mets GM Sandy Alderson while Melvin was on his way to get a morning coffee. By the time the National League had closed out a 5-1 All-Star Game win over the American League, with Brewers slugger Prince Fielder delivering the decisive home run and winning MVP honors, the Brewers-Mets deal was done. Milwaukee gets cash along with K-Rod -- nearly $6 million, according to FoxSports.com, covering half of Rodriguez's remaining 2011 salary this season plus next year's buyout -- and the Mets get two players to be named. Those players will be named in September, Melvin said, chosen from a list of five candidates picked by the Brewers. "That took about five minutes," Melvin said. "They agree on five names and ask for the opportunity to scout them over the course of the summer so they feel they're getting a little better look at them." Melvin seemed to indicate in a radio interview earlier Wednesday that the Mets would get mid-tier prospects. "We'll find out about the players," Melvin told MLB Network Radio channel on SiriusXM. "I believe any player that puts a Minor League uniform on has a chance to play in the big leagues. The level they play at is determined by the players. As far as our top, top guys, it's not going to happen, but they're players that could play in the big leagues." The Brewers already had an open roster spot for Rodriguez, who will join the team on Thursday in Denver. Roenicke was looking forward to his reunion. "He's a gamer," Roenicke said. "The tighter the game is, the more he wants the ball, which is really nice. You're not always going to have clean innings with him, but he always makes the big pitch when he needs to."