Brewers meet with Orioles on Day 1
Milwaukee GM Melvin may use outfield surplus to advantage
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Brewers' contingent met on Monday with officials from the Baltimore Orioles and one other club regarding Milwaukee's stable of corner outfielders, but it was a mostly quiet Day 1 of baseball's Winter Meetings.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said that he had two face-to-face meetings at The Dolphin Hotel and discussed options with "a bunch" of other clubs on the phone. Much of the talk centered on outfielders Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench, but the Boston Red Sox were among a handful of clubs that inquired on the availability of deposed Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow.
"The clubs we're talking to don't ask about our pitching for the most part," Melvin said. "They know that our outfield is where our depth is. That's our strength. Maybe they'll ask about a reliever, but they know we're not going to trade [Chris] Capuano or [Dave] Bush."
The Orioles and Brewers have been paired in trade rumors for some time. A number of reports out of Baltimore over the last month said that the two teams had discussed a Mench-for-Rodrigo Lopez swap, a move that would give the Brewers another experienced right-hander in the starting rotation. Milwaukee currently has Ben Sheets, Capuano, Bush and Claudio Vargas in the starting mix, and young right-hander Carlos Villanueva is considered the front-runner for the No. 5 spot.
Lopez has been the Orioles' Opening Day starter in three of the past four seasons. It's believed that the Orioles are also considering offers for veteran right-handers Jaret Wright and Kris Benson.
"Primarily, most of the teams that we spoke with today were conversations regarding Rodrigo -- expressing interest in him," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Jim Duquette.
Said Melvin: "We talked about names, but I can't say it's anything interesting at this point. I don't want to get into specifics, but the clubs we met with today were looking at outfielders. A lot of the free agents are still holding that up."
The marquee free agent outfielders, a list topped by Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano, have already signed, but mid-level players like Luis Gonzalez, Cliff Floyd, Trot Nixon, Kenny Lofton, Steve Finley and Jay Payton are all available. Baltimore has reportedly extended an offer to Gonzalez.
Melvin said that the interest from other clubs in Jenkins and Mench was split about 50-50. Both players are coming off down years; Jenkins was benched in August and suffered the longest power drought of his career before a strong finish, and Mench struggled after a midseason trade from Texas to Milwaukee. Jenkins is due $7 million in 2007, and his contract calls for a $9 million club option for 2008. Most of the calls on Mench, who is arbitration-eligible, have come from American League teams, but Melvin said that some National League teams are also in the mix.
"People might be surprised in the interest in [Mench] from other clubs," Melvin said.
In return, the Brewers are seeking pitching, preferably starters. Meanwhile, the Brewers themselves continued Monday mulling Finley and Lofton as options for center field.
"I don't think we're going that road, but we have the right to change our minds later," Melvin said. "If you could put the two of them together, it would be nice. That's the problem; Finley is a good defensive guy, but his offense has gone the other way. Kenny is the other way around -- he fits the mold of a top-of-the-order guy, but he struggles defensively."
Other notes from The Dolphin:
-- Boston has cast a wide net in its search for a closer, and inquired Monday on Turnbow. A midseason All-Star, Turnbow lost the job in the second half to Francisco Cordero, who will be back as Brewers closer in 2007. Turnbow seemed to struggle with confidence and fastball command, but he threw in the 96-98 mph range all year with a sharp slider.
"I'm not motivated to move him," Melvin said.
Turnbow, who turns 29 in January, has two years remaining on the three-year contract he signed last winter which will pay him $2.3 million in 2007 and $3.2 million in 2008.
-- Melvin is also not motivated to move veteran catcher Damian Miller, who was bumped to a reserve role when the team dealt Doug Davis, Dana Eveland and David Krynzel to Arizona for catcher Johnny Estrada and pitchers Vargas and Greg Aquino.
Miller told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after the trade that he would be surprised if the team kept a $2.25 million backup catcher. But that seems to be exactly Melvin's plan.
"Right now, we think it's better to have the depth," Melvin said.
-- Dan Lozano, who represents free agent infielder Tony Graffanino, is not expected to respond to the Brewers' offer of salary arbitration until Thursday's deadline. But according to Melvin, Graffanino phoned recently expressing disappointment that the Brewers shifted course last week and signed veteran Craig Counsell.
"I think he's disappointed, but that's the way the system is," Melvin said. "A club like ours, if the system allows us to do certain things, then we have to look at it and take advantage of it. We're not disappointed -- we either get the draft picks or we get a nice player back."
If Graffanino declines arbitration and signs with another club, the Brewers will get extra draft picks next year. If he accepts, Graffanino will be considered signed for 2007 and Melvin and manager Ned Yost will have to find enough playing time for both he and Counsell. Together, Graffanino and Counsell would earn more than the Brewers' four starting infielders combined.
-- Melvin confirmed that the Mets inquired last week about Sheets and were told he's not available.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.