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Brewers squarely in ‘sell’ mode

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

 

Brewers looking more and more like sellers

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

 

Greinke says report of Brewers’ offer ‘pretty accurate’

A report that the Brewers offered right-hander Zack Greinke a five-year contract extension in excess of $100 million was “pretty accurate,” Greinke said Friday.

But Greinke, a free agent after the season, felt uncomfortable revealing more, including whether he and agent Casey Close were receptive to such an offer, or whether talks would continue.

“That’s tricky stuff,” Greinke said. “I don’t want to get involved with telling you guys too much about it.”

CBSSportsline’s Jon Heyman reported the offer and said it was either in the neighborhood of, or equal to, the Giants’ spring extension with right-hander Matt Cain. That deal added five years and $112.5 million of new money to Cain’s contract.

Heyman reported that the Brewers made their offer more than a week ago, and wrote, citing an unnamed source, that, “there’s nothing yet to indicate [Greinke] will sign quickly and give up free agency.”

Greinke would not comment on that. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin declined comment this week about the club’s status with Greinke.

“I don’t know where those guys get that stuff,” Greinke said. “These guys must have their sources really good. It’s pretty interesting how political everything is; I guess with every job.”

We’ll have more on the Greinke situation in a story at MLB.com.

– Adam McCalvy

 

Brewers a mystery as Deadline looms

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin won’t reveal whether he has decided to buy, sell or hold at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, which looms less than two weeks away.

Which way is he leaning?

“Staying prepared,” Melvin said simply.

Like so many Major League teams, the Brewers are somewhere in the middle. On one hand, they have been playing much better — back to within three games of .500 at 44-47, only four games off last year’s pace, when they won 96 regular-season games and the National League Central.

On the other hand, the Brewers seem stuck in fourth place, seven games behind the co-division-leading Reds entering a crucial series in Cincinnati set to begin Friday night. While going 10-5 over their last 15 games, the Brewers have gained one game on first place. They also hold a valuable trade chip in Zack Greinke, a free agent to be who seems determined to test the market.

The outcome of the weekend Cincinnati series could push Melvin one direction or the other.

Or not.

“It’s a gut feel,” Melvin said.

I laid out Melvin’s three options — buy, sell or hold — in a story today while the Brewers enjoyed an off-day.

Melvin is in a tough spot — the Brewers will draw nearly three million fans to Miller Park this season, have not made a “sell” oriented move since 2006, and players like Ryan Braun still honestly believe the team can make a run for the postseason.  But, Melvin made some comments in my story boosting Greinke’s value in a trade, if the Brewers opt to go that way.

It’s going to be an interesting weekend in Cincinnati…

– Adam McCalvy

 

Let the Greinke trade rumors begin

CINCINNATI — The July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline is more than a month away, and teams are probably weeks away from making the first significant swaps, but the Zack Greinke trade rumors are already starting to fly.

FoxSports.com on Tuesday spoke to two rival executives who expect the Brewers to trade Greinke, a free agent-to-be, if they cannot sign him to a long-term contract by the deadline.

The Brewers were in direct talks with Greinke about an extension, but those discussions cooled when Matt Cain signed a $127.5 million extension with the Giants on the same day Greinke re-hired agent Casey Close. Since then, Melvin has not discussed publicly any negotiations, if any exist.

“We’ve got to make a decision on what we’re doing overall,” Melvin told FoxSports.com. “We’re hoping we can put a good week together. If we don’t, we’ve got to be prepared to go both ways. A lot more clubs are starting to call now. Clubs are calling on different players.”

Speaking specifically about the prospect of trading Greinke, Melvin told the website, “I haven’t sat down with ownership. I haven’t talked to any club yet to say, ‘Give names.’ I haven’t had that conversation.”

Greinke is 8-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 15 starts, including a no-decision against the White Sox on Friday in which he pitched nine scoreless innings. Greinke will start again on Wednesday against the Reds.

Keep an eye on the Brewers as the Trade Deadline nears. They entered Tuesday 7 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Reds and have some interesting potential pieces to move. Besides Greinke, due to hit the market are starter Shaun Marcum and reliever Francisco Rodriguez, plus starter Randy Wolf if the Brewers decline his $10 million option.

– Adam McCalvy

Day by day, the…

Day by day, the Brewers are more ready to publicly discuss a future without free agent slugger Prince Fielder.

“I think we’re at a point now where we have to consider moving on,” general manager Doug Melvin said Wednesday.

The Brewers have been a long shot all along for Fielder, the former first-round Draft pick who spent the last six seasons in Milwaukee’s starting lineup and is a free agent for the first time. Since they last had serious discussions with agent Scott Boras about an extension for Fielder in the spring of 2010, the Brewers have allocated their resources to long-term deals for outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart, second baseman Rickie Weeks and right-hander Yovani Gallardo, among others. With raises due those players, it is difficult to see the Brewers signing Fielder without leaving other holes on the roster.

Still, the Brewers will not close the door on Fielder until he signs with another team. They took a meeting late Tuesday with Boras at Boras’ request, and it included Milwaukee principal owner Mark Attanasio.

But Melvin downplayed the significance of that sit-down, saying Attanasio was simply in Dallas to sit-in on planning sessions during the Winter Meetings, as he does every year. The club’s contingent was at dinner when Boras called and asked whether they wanted to meet.

“They were somewhat updating us to where he’s at,” said Melvin, who said the discussion moved on to other Boras free agents.

Among the teams linked to Fielder this winter are the Cubs, Mariners and Orioles. New Cubs manager Dale Sveum is very close with Fielder and said if Chicago makes a run for him, he would participate in the sales pitch.

If Fielder leaves, the Brewers would probably use longtime prospect Mat Gamel at first base. Or, if they sign free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez, then incumbent third baseman Casey McGehee could shift to first.

– Adam McCalvy

 

Ramirez met with suitors’ skippers

Free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez has met in person with Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke since the end of the season, according to a baseball source, and those two teams, plus one other, remained in the running Wednesday for the 33-year-old Silver Slugger.

Ramirez is seeking a three-year deal and wants to play for a contender. He views both the Angels and Brewers as a fit, though Milwaukee’s advantage is that he could remain in the National League Central.

But both clubs’ pursuit of Ramirez remained somewhat complicated on Wednesday afternoon.

The Angels are also courting free agent left-hander C.J. Wilson, and their chances to land him may have improved Wednesday when another Wilson suitor, the Marlins, reached a four-year deal with fellow free agent lefty Mark Burhrle.

The Brewers, meanwhile, were in a holding pattern until they received word whether free agent reliever Francisco Rodriguez would accept their offer of arbitration. Rodriguez earned $13.5 million last season, and if he accepts by the 11 p.m. CT deadline, it would have a dramatic effect on the Brewers’ ability to address their other offseason needs.

Milwaukee already has third base options in right-handed hitter Casey McGehee and left-handed rookie Taylor Green, but Ramirez could help address the potential loss of free agent first baseman Prince Fielder. Ramirez would be a strong candidate to bat clean-up in Fielder’s place.

Agent Paul Kinzer informed the Cubs that he would decline their offer of arbitration. He is a Type B free agent, so he will not cost his new team a Draft pick.

– Adam McCalvy

 

Yuni Betancourt open to offers at SS, 2B

Brewers free agent Yuniesky Betancourt is drawing interest from clubs both as a shortstop — the position he’s manned exclusively since 2006 — and as a second baseman, agent Jaime Torres said Tuesday.

Betancourt was an everyday second baseman in his native Cuba and debuted in the Major Leagues with the Mariners at that position in 2005 before switching to shortstop. Two clubs are intrigued by the idea of using Betancourt at second base, according to Torres, and two others, including, presumably, the Brewers, are interested in him as a shortstop.

“He played second base in Cuba and enjoyed playing there,” Torres said. “He’s not one of those shortstops who’s afraid to go to another position.”

Betancourt, acquired from the Royals last year along with right-hander Zack Greinke, was a lightning rod all season for his subpar defense and inconsistent offense. He batted .252 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs for the Brewers in 2011 and started 146 games at shortstop.

The Brewers have a hole at that position since declining Betancourt’s $6 million option after the World Series in order to test the market. They had interest in free agent Clint Barmes, who instead signed a two-year, $11 million contract with the Pirates, and have also met with representatives for Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal and Alex Gonzalez while keeping open the door for Betancourt to return.

The Brewers have no known offers out to a shortstop. General manager Doug Melvin spoke briefly with Torres on Sunday but as of Tuesday afternoon they had not met since.

Torres declined to say whether any clubs had extended a formal offer to Betancourt but said he wouldn’t be surprised to have a deal by the conclusion of the Winter Meetings on Thursday.

– Adam McCalvy

 

Counsell still weighing next step

Craig Counsell’s agent said the veteran infielder remains undecided about his plan for 2012. At 41, will Counsell return for a 17th Major League season? Or will he begin a new career in the coaching ranks? Agent Barry Meister will gauge clubs’ interest in Counsell during this week’s Winter Meetings in Dallas. If he doesn’t like what he hears, Counsell could retire and go into coaching.

The Brewers have remained in contact with Counsell this winter, but have said publicly they are not interested in bringing him back as a player. Counsell, who lives in Whitefish Bay, Wis., has played six seasons with his hometown Brewers but had a tough year in 2011, batting  .178 in 187 plate appearances.

Meister confirmed that Counsell had spoken with new Cubs manager Dale Sveum, but could not say whether the Cubs had a standing offer to join Sveum’s coaching staff.

– Adam McCalvy

 

Brewers reacquire F. Lopez in depth deal

The Brewers have acquired Felipe Lopez from the Rays for cash, giving them another option to fill-in for injured second baseman Rickie Weeks. Lopez, who batted .320 for the Brewers during the second half of 2009, is expected to report to Triple-A Nashville on Friday, “and then we’ll evaluate,” Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said.

Now 31, the switch-hitting Lopez was with the Rays’ Triple-A Durham team, hitting .305 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs. He’s had a tough couple of years since his months with Milwaukee, batting .233 for three teams in 2010 and just .216 in very limited duty — 97 at-bats — during two big-league stints with the Rays in 2011.

Lopez has experience all over the infield and has made 300 career starts at second base. The Brewers have a big hole there as of Thursday morning, when Weeks was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a severely sprained left ankle. He’s expected to miss 2-6 weeks.

Melvin was busy making and taking phone calls as Sunday’s 3 p.m. CT nonwaiver Trade Deadline looms. The Brewers had already been actively seeing middle infield depth, but I asked him whether the Weeks injury changed the team’s strategy for the next four days.

“Not necessarily,” Melvin said. “We’ve been through all of those names, we know who’s available and who’s not. We’re brainstorming and evaluating the best way to cover ourselves. It’s probably not going to be one person. It’s going to be a combination of guys.”

– Adam McCalvy

 

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