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
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
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
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
How badly will the Brewers miss injured second baseman Rickie Weeks? An early indication came Thursday, when veteran Craig Counsell, hitless in his last 38 at-bats over 48 days, won a spot in the starting lineup.
Weeks severely sprained his left ankle reaching for an infield single and will miss 2-6 weeks.
As of Thursday morning, the Brewers had four days to work the second base market ahead of Sunday’s 3 p.m. CT nonwaiver trade deadline. They had already shown interest in the Dodgers’ Jamey Carroll, though Los Angeles has not been moved by offers so far. The Brewers could also pursue Houston shortstop Clint Barmes, Rockies second baseman Mark Ellis (who has already been traded from Oakland to Colorado this summer), Marlins utility man Omar Infante or Mariners second baseman Adam Kennedy.
Kennedy was with Brewers manager Ron Roenicke in Anaheim from 2000-06, and is batting .253 this season with seven home runs, 32 RBIs and a .297 on-base percentage. Among Seattle’s wants are catching help or a hitting prospect.
“We don’t really know the second base market,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said Wednesday night. “Doug and his team, really, they look at every iteration possible. I’ve got to say, we haven’t really looked for second basemen because Rickie is an All-Star. It would be like looking for a left fielder or a first baseman.”
But Melvin’s staff is certainly prepared to jump into the market. The team gathered its pro scouts at Miller Park earlier this month to study the Major League and upper-level Minor League rosters of all 29 teams.
Roenicke and Melvin discussed available players on Wednesday night and again Thursday morning.
“He was making these calls anyway,” Roenicke said, “and now that you have a second baseman go down, now these other teams think it’s a dire need and they ask for more. It kind of makes it tougher when something like this happens. I don’t know if [asking prices] will go up, but I don’t think they’ll come down.”
He added: “All of these things may be answered in a few days.”
The immediate in-house option is Farris, who arrived at Miller Park about an hour before Thursday’s game.
The Brewers also discussed Nashville third baseman Taylor Green, who is having a comeback season at the plate. But “he’s a third baseman who has played a few games” at second, Roenicke said.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words at the moment,” Farris said after arriving. “I’m trying to get it all together. It’s been a mad 12 hours for me. I’m trying to get acclimated and have a little fun.”
– Adam McCalvy
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was offered an easy opportunity Tuesday to swat away the persistent rumor that Milwaukee is among the suitors for Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran.
Instead, Melvin said, “I don’t want to get into anything about their players.”
At first glance, the Brewers would appear a long shot for Beltran, the All-Star switch-hitter who is drawing interest from a number clubs with Minor League systems perceived as deeper than Milwaukee’s. But if there’s one lesson Melvin and Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio have taught, particularly over the past three seasons, it’s that you should never rule out Milwaukee.
Melvin has a knack for surprise blockbusters, from the CC Sabathia trade in July 2008 to a near-deal with the Blue Jays in December 2009 (Halladay had no-trade rights and preferred clubs that spend Spring Training in Florida) to the acquisitions of Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke last winter to last week’s out-of-nowhere deal for Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez.
None of those trades were rumored before they went down.
“If a deal is for the right player, I’m always open to making a deal,” Melvin said, speaking in general about trading for marquee players and not specifically about Beltran. “We’ve got some [Minor League] players we won’t give up in deals, though. Our system is a little deeper than most people say. …
“We’ve built a reputation as a club that wants to contend and wants to try to get the best players,” Melvin said. “We draw well, we have a good situation here. We’ve gotten a lot more marquee [free agents]. It’s not a situation where we’re going to try to win on marginal players. We don’t give up on it. We work hard at it. We want to be the best.”
The Mets will already get two Brewers Minor Leaguers in the K-Rod trade. They have until Sept. 1 to choose two players from a list of five, and Melvin told New York general manager Sandy Alderson that if he’d like to make those picks before Sept. 1, the Brewers would honor the request.
Brewers officials have remained tight-lipped about the players on that list. They can move freely throughout Milwaukee’s Minor League system, but may not be promoted to the Majors, Melvin said.
– Adam McCalvy
FoxSports.com says the Royals and Brewers remain in touch about Kansas City infielder Wilson Betemit but had not made substantial progress in trade talks. Betemit, 29, who would presumably replace slumping Brewers third baseman Casey McGehee, is hitting .281 with a .341 on-base percentage and has lost playing time to prospect Mike Moustakas. Betemit is a free agent after the season unlikely to qualify for Type A or B status.
– Adam McCalvy
Ryan Braun is back in the Brewers lineup tonight after missing Monday’s series opener with an illness. Manager Ron Roenicke said Braun had been feeling under the weather for the previous four days, struck by an upper respiratory viral infection. Considering the way the Brewers have been battered of late by their opponents, they need all the offense they can get.
Here’s the lineup for Game 2 against the Rays:
Rickie Weeks 2B
Nyjer Morgan CF
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Casey McGehee 3B
Corey Hart RF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Jonathan Lucroy C
Zack Greinke RHP
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The Brewers made a late-night roster move on Monday, placing reliever Takashi Saito on the 15-day disabled list with the right hamstring strain he suffered during a tough outing in Milwaukee’s home opener on April 4. The team recalled right-hander Brandon Kintzler from Triple-A Nashville to fill Saito’s spot.
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