With baseball’s hot stove at a full boil and the Winter Meetings a week away, free agent first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart finally got the good news on Tuesday that he had eagerly been anticipating.
“Cleared!” Hart wrote in a text message to MLB.com, indicating he had been medically cleared for full baseball activities by the surgeon who performed the second of Hart’s two knee surgeries this year.
Hart, 31, is a free agent for the first time after sitting out the entire 2013 season, having undergone right knee surgery in January and then left knee surgery in July. He had been rehabbing in recent weeks by running and participating in agility drills, but Hart’s formal foray into the open market was on hold while he awaited final medical clearance from Dr. Neal ElAttrache. The two met Tuesday in Los Angeles.
With his medical clearance in hand, Hart is ready to begin fielding offers from interested clubs. He said last month that a number of teams, including the Brewers, Rays, Red Sox and Rockies, had called to check in, but clubs were not willing to discuss contract parameters until Hart was fully functional.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hart had yet to receive any offers. Asked this week whether Hart would have an offer in hand from the Brewers before the start of next week’s Winter Meetings, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said, “There’s a possibility he will.”
Another potential suitor may have fallen off the board Tuesday, just as Hart was sharing his good news. The Rockies were reportedly moving toward a two-year deal with another first baseman, Justin Morneau.
– Adam McCalvy
Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez wants to get his latest return from the disabled list right. If that means waiting beyond Monday, the first day he’s eligible to return from a left knee injury, then he will wait.
Ramirez’s caution makes sense for his current team on two fronts. One, the Brewers would benefit from having him healthy and productive in the lineup, with three-hole hitter Ryan Braun still dealing with discomfort in his right hand and five-hole hitter Corey Hart out for the season. Two, the team could shop Ramirez much more proactively on the trade market if he is producing at his customarily consistent level.
“I really have to make sure that I’m healthy enough to play when I come back,” said Ramirez, who spent the All-Star break at home in the Dominican Republic. “I won’t try to be a hero. I won’t go out there if I’m not healthy enough, because I won’t help the team, I won’t help myself by doing that. If I feel like I won’t be ready [on Monday], I won’t be back.”
Ramirez, whose three-year contract runs through 2014, says he does not concern himself with trade rumors.
“I’ve been around for a while, and I will be good trying to block out the things that I cannot control,” he said. “That’s one of those things I cannot control. The only thing I can control is my play on the field. Nothing would surprise me. I’m ready for anything.”
One national baseball writer surmised Friday that the Yankees and Red Sox would each send a scout to file reports on Ramirez after he returns from the DL. If both clubs prove interested in the 35-year-old right-handed slugger, it could turn into a situation similar to last July, when Brewers GM Doug Melvin pitted the division-rival Angels and Rangers against each other for right-hander Zack Greinke.
Greinke was performing at a much higher level at the time than Ramirez has in 2013. Dogged all season by a knee he first sprained during Spring Training, he has been limited to five home runs, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs and 54 games.
– Adam McCalvy
The D-backs have been discussing a trade for Brewers Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo, according to two reports late Tuesday.
Both FoxSports.com and CBSSports.com reported the teams had talked, with the former saying Arizona had also shown interest in relievers John Axford, Jim Henderson and Francisco Rodriguez, and the latter saying Milwaukee was eyeing left-handed D-backs prospect Tyler Skaggs. Gallardo is 27 and is under contract through next season, with a club option for 2015.
Both reports said no deal was imminent.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has been open about his willingness to consider trades, with the team sitting in the National League Central cellar even after back-to-back wins over the Nationals. He is in Washington D.C. but did not attend Tuesday’s rain-threatened game, opting to remain at the team hotel to work the phones with pro scouting director Zack Minasian and special assistant Dick Groch.
– Adam McCalvy
Contrary to previous reporting, and with potential implications for the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki will be a free agent when his current contract expires after this season or next.
Previously, a club official told MLB.com that Aoki’s two-year contract, which runs through the end of 2013 and has a $1.5 million option for 2014, did not include language calling for the Brewers to release him when that deal is up. Under that scenario, assuming the Brewers exercised his ’14 option (a near certainty considering Aoki’s successful transition to the U.S. Major Leagues and reasonable price tag), Aoki would have had three years of arbitration-eligibility from 2015-17 and would have remained Brewers property.
But that is not the case, according to Aoki’s agent, Nez Balelo of CAA Sports, and Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, who double-checked the language in the contract on Monday. It includes language stipulating Aoki will be an untethered free agent at the end of his current deal, whether or not the Brewers exercise their option.
That is common practice for players making the jump from Japan to the U.S. like Aoki, who was a three-time batting champion for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. That team posted Aoki in December 2011, and the Brewers won negotiating rights with a $2.5 million bid, then signed Aoki to a two-year deal that guaranteed $2.5 million plus incentives.
Aoki, 31, entered Monday batting .284 with a .362 on-base percentage, 43 runs scored and nine stolen bases. Considering he is at most a season and a half from free agency, and the Brewers are expected to be sellers at the Trade Deadline, Aoki could be an appealing trade chip. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has already fielded calls about his relievers, including right-handers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, and has indicated an openness to making trades with an eye toward the future.
The Brewers have a strong stable of outfield prospects, including Logan Schafer, who began this season as a Major League reserve but has been playing regularly with left fielder Ryan Braun on the disabled list, and Triple-A Nashville’s Khris Davis, Caleb Gindl and Josh Prince. Davis and Gindl are each on MLB.com’s list of the top 20 Brewers prospects (Davis at No. 14 and Gindl at No. 16), as are Double-A Huntsville’s Kentrail Davis (No. 19), advanced Class A Brevard County’s Mitch Haniger (No. 10) and Class A Wisconsin’s Victor Roache (No. 7) and Tyrone Taylor (No. 13).
– Adam McCalvy
A pair potential Brewers targets fell off the open market on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings on Wednesday when left-handed relievers Sean Burnett and Randy Choate chose new homes and further shrunk the Brewers’ options for that area of need.
Burnett, who signed for two years with the Angels, and Choate, who got three years from the Cardinals, were among a number of lefty relievers under consideration by the Brewers, who created a need by nontendering Manny Parra last week.
Among the free agent lefties still available are Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, J.P. Howell, Will Ohman and Hideki Okajima.
But general manager Doug Melvin said that as of Wednesday afternoon, he had yet to make any offers.
– Adam McCalvy
Brewers and Mets officials met at the Winter Meetings to discuss New York knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner being dangled in trade talks. But Brewers GM Doug Melvin said there was no match.
“I just talked to them briefly, but there is nothing to that,” said Melvin, who was Rangers GM when that team drafted Dickey in 1996. “We never got into [exchanging names]. It doesn’t appear to be a match.”
The Mets’ asking price for Dickey is said to be high. He pitched for the Brewers’ Triple-A club in 2007 and was Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year while tinkering with his now-famous knuckleball.
– Adam McCalvy
The Brewers have interest in free agent right-hander Ryan Dempster and Dempster has interest in the Brewers. The question as baseball’s Winter Meetings began on Monday was whether the sides could meet in the middle to make a deal.
Dempster’s agent, Craig Landis, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Dempster is seeking at least a three-year deal, a common floor for established starters this early in the offseason.
But the Brewers have a strong preference for shorter-term contracts after being burned in the later seasons of long-term agreements struck in December with veterans Jeff Suppan (a four-year pact signed in 2006) and Randy Wolf (three years plus an option in 2009). They wound up releasing both pitchers during the final season of those contracts, including Wolf this past August.
Adding to the Brewers’ caution with Dempster is his age — 35; four years older than Suppan at the time he signed with Milwaukee and two years older than Wolf — and the fact the team is in the process of paring payroll.
Dempster is particularly intriguing to Milwaukee because of his positive clubhouse reputation and his career success at Miller Park, where he owns a 2.66 ERA in 26 games, including 14 starts.
If the risk is deemed too high for the likes of Dempster, Edwon Jackson or any of the other second-tier free agent starters available on this year’s market, the Brewers may be content to fill their rotation with internal candidates behind top starter Yovani Gallardo. Current options include young right-handers Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers, plus the moderately more established Marco Estrada and Chris Narveson.
If the Brewers went young, they would be using last year’s Oakland A’s as a model. General manager Doug Melvin could then funnel his available resources to the bullpen, which is in the process of a total makeover. Among the Brewers’ needs there is a left-hander, and they are already being linked to the top available free agents including 30-year-old former Washington National Sean Burnett.
You can also expect the Brewers and Josh Hamilton to be linked all week, though, logically, that’s still a stretch. If Hamilton doesn’t get any mega-offers on the open market, would the Brewers make sense? Definitely, because of the presence of hitting coach Johnny Narron, who was Hamilton’s “accountability partner” for years in Cincinnati and Texas. But what are the odds Hamilton doesn’t get any monster offers? I’d say slim.
– Adam McCalvy
The Miller Park war room was quiet as Tuesday’s nonwaiver Trade Deadline came and went, but keep an eye on Milwaukee in August. Remember, teams can still swing deals if they pass players through waivers first, and the Brewers have two or three potential candidates in starter Shaun Marcum, reliever Francisco Rodriguez and maybe starter Randy Wolf. Marcum would have to get healthy and Rodriguez and Wolf would need some better results to entice buyers, who would have to acquire a player by Aug. 31 to have him eligible for postseason play.
Marcum is the Brewers’ most attractive chip, assuming he can get over the stiff elbow that has sidelined him since mid-June. Before that injury, Marcum owned a 3.39 ERA in 13 starts and a .227 average against. He is a free agent after the season.
He’s scheduled to throw another bullpen session today or tomorrow, then a simulated game over the weekend in St. Louis before heading out for a rehabilitation assignment. Marcum could be ready to rejoin the Brewers’ rotation after his stint on the 60-day disabled list ends Aug. 14.
– Adam McCalvy
After a winless road trip, it’s no longer a matter of whether the Brewers will trade Zack Greinke. It’s a matter of when and to where.
General manager Doug Melvin stopped short of declaring that the Brewers would swap Greinke before Tuesday’s 3 p.m. CT nonwaiver Trade Deadline, saying instead he was seriously weighing offers for the right-hander and could have a deal any day.
Greinke’s next scheduled start is Sunday against the Nationals.
“If he’s still a Brewer, he’s pitching Sunday,” Melvin said.
Melvin’s comments to MLB.com measured compared to a USA Today report earlier Thursday that said unequivocally that the Brewers planned to trade Greinke before the Deadline.
“I just said there was that possibility,” Melvin said. “I don’t think there’s any secret, with the Trade Deadline, that this is a possibility. Zack knows that. We know that. Other teams know that.
“He’s the best pitcher out there. A guy that could be a difference-maker. There are teams that understand that.”
– Adam McCalvy
The Brewers arrived at Great American Ball Park knowing this could be the weekend to decide their season. Would they make a break for the top of the National League Central? Or would they break the other way?
By Sunday night, they had their answer.
A 2-1 loss loss to the Reds capped a Cincinnati sweep and dealt a crushing blow to the Brewers’ faint hopes of repeating as division champs. You have to wonder whether it was also the team’s last gasp before general manager Doug Melvin starts selling.
“This was the time,” third baseman Aramis Ramirez lamented in the morning, even before the Reds swept the Brewers out of town with a trio of sensational starting pitching performances.
The Brewers fell to 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Reds, capping a 4-5 stretch against the three teams they trail in the division – Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Cincinnati.
Remember how everybody called the first nine games out of the All-Star break a crucial stretch for the Brewers? Well, after promising series wins at home against the Pirates and Cardinals, it turned into a bust.
“We’re a distant fourth right now, and we should be,” left fielder Ryan Braun said. “All three of those teams have played better than us. They just have. The ability is there, we just haven’t executed.”
Meanwhile, Melvin was back in Milwaukee pondering some big questions. Does his team have what it takes to make an improbable climb up the standings? Where does free-agent-to-be Zack Greinke (more on him here) fit into the club’s future? If Greinke’s time in Milwaukee appears short, is it time to press the reset button?
Among the players Melvin could trade are Greinke, reliever Francisco Rodriguez and perhaps Ramirez, who spoke earlier Sunday about the surprising rumors including his name.
The answer to those questions should become clear by the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
“We’ll see what happens, but this sure set us back,” manager Ron Roenicke said.
– Adam McCalvy