Friday, December 31, 2010

Brewers agree to one-year deal with Saito

The Brewers have agreed to terms with veteran reliever Takashi Saito on a one-year contract, adding yet another new arm to a pitching staff that has undergone a complete overhaul since the calendar turned to December.
Saito's base salary will be less than $2 million, but he can earn bonuses to push his earnings close to the $3.2 million Saito pocketed from the Braves in 2010, when the right-hander posted a 2.83 ERA in 56 games. He will be 41 by Opening Day.
The Brewers' offices are closed this week for the holiday, so the club will not make an official announcement about Saito until next week. But a baseball source with knowledge of the deal confirmed it Monday, after the news started breaking in Japan.
"He pitched a lot of eighth innings for the Braves, setting up Billy Wagner, and [the Brewers] liked that about him," the source said. "He's almost a Solomon Torres-type, the kind of guy with experience in the late innings who could step in and save a game when you have three or four save opportunities in a row. Solomon was probably a little more of a workhorse, but [Saito] has the same experience."
Torres pitched for the Brewers in 2008 and eventually took over closer duties from Eric Gagne, helping the Brewers win the National League Wild Card.
Saito has pitched the past five years in the Major Leagues after beginning his career in Japan and has a 2.19 ERA, 84 saves and a 1.02 WHIP in 292 appearances since the move. He's pitched for the Dodgers, Red Sox and Braves.
In Milwaukee, Saito will join a late-inning bullpen mix that includes fellow right-handed veteran LaTroy Hawkins and two young pitchers, second-year closer John Axford and left-hander Zach Braddock. Assuming Saito stays healthy, the Brewers could bump right-hander Kameron Loe to more of a seventh-inning role along with recently-added right-hander Sean Green. Left-hander Manny Parra is expected to fill another bullpen slot.
If any of those pitchers experiences a setback before Opening Day, the Brewers will have right-handers Brandon Kintzler, Mike McClendon, Justin James and Rule 5 Draft pick Pat Egan all vying for big league bullpen jobs in Spring Training, plus left-hander Mitch Stetter and non-roster invitee Mark DiFelice, a righty working his way back from a 2010 season lost to shoulder surgery.
"There will be some competition," the source said.
When Saito's contract is finalized, the Brewers' 40-man roster will be full. His signing capped a busy December that began with the team trading for Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum, a blockbuster trade for Royals righty and 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and the much less-heralded addition of former Mets reliever Green.
Saito is represented by CAA Sports, the same agency that has Greinke and Brewers All-Star outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Royals deal Greinke to Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers made a stunning and bold move by agreeing to acquire ace Zack Greinke in a six-player trade with the Royals, has confirmed.
The Royals will receive speedy outfielder Lorenzo Cain, young shortstop Alcides Escobar, right-handed pitching prospect Jake Odirizzi and a player to be named later for Greinke and veteran shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, who presumably will take Escobar's place in the Brewers' infield. Kansas City will also send $2 million in the deal to Milwaukee to cover part of the salary of Betancourt, who is to make $4 million this year and has a $2-million buyout on 2012.
The deal is pending physicals and the commissioner's approval.
The Royals felt they had little choice but to trade Greinke, who has occasionally expressed displeasure about the team's progress toward contention and is reported to have requested a trade within the last week. An announcement regarding this trade is expected sometime today.
There is no reason to expect any holdup in the trade because the Royals and Brewers have agreed on contingency plans should one of the prospects be found to have a medical issue.
The Brewers were not on Greinke's list of 15 teams to which he would be traded to without approval, but Milwaukee was on previous lists of teams he'd accept. Locale was potentially an issue in some cases because of Greinke's past battle with social anxiety disorder but he is said to like Milwaukee.
Greinke, 27, was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA last season. He won the AL Cy Young in 2009 after going 16-8 with 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts and in six seasons with the Royals, was 60-67 with a 3.82 ERA. He was drafted No. 6 overall in 2002.
The Royals were looking for middle infield help and very much like the talented Escobar, who many believe underachieved as a rookie last year in Milwaukee. The Royals were also seeking pitching help and would have preferred to get a pitcher closer to the big leagues than Odirizzi, but he is said to have huge upside. Cain is highly-touted and was sought by several teams.
In all, Kansas City added to one of the more impressive lists of prospects in baseball. The Royals' top prospects include third baseman Mike Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer, infielder Cristian Colon and catcher Wil Myers. Colon is seen as a possible shortstops but the importing of Escobar could force a move to second base for Colon, who should be ready in the near future. Most of the Royals' best prospects are a year away, though, which hastened Greinke's departure since he's only under contract for two more years.
The Royals came close to a trade with the Nationals earlier this winter, according to sources, but Greinke told the Royals he wouldn't go to Washington, halting those talks. The trade discussions with the Nats revolved around young right-hander Drew Storen, shortstop Daniel Espinosa and others, sources say. Greinke, who is to make $13.5 million in each of the next two seasons, has expressed a desire to pitch for a winner and people familiar with his rejection of the Nats say he was not convinced they'd contend soon.
The Brewers, which earlier added pitcher Shaun Marcum, look like a contender in the NL Central now. Star first baseman Prince Fielder, previously thought to be a potential trade candidate this winter, looks certain to stay now. Milwaukee had been talking to Carl Pavano, who will now consider the Twins and perhaps the Nationals, Rangers or others.
The Blue Jays were another team that tried this winter to land Greinke, while the Rangers were among many other teams that talked to the Royals about the ace, who won the American League Cy Young award in 2009.
Greinke within the past several days told the Royals he's consider a trade to the Yankees even though they also were not on his list, but some family members were skeptical as to whether New York would be the right place for him, as were the Yankees. The reason Greinke was open to New York is that he wants to win. The teams talked a couple times in the past week but never came close to a trade.
The player to be named in the deal could change, depending on medicals. However, all sides are confident a deal will not be jeopardized.
The deal was first mentioned by Bernie's Crew Blog, a fan site on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel web site and then by

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Hoffman to decline Brewers' arbitration offer

In a surprise move, the Brewers offered salary arbitration to free-agent reliever Trevor Hoffman on Tuesday, positioning the team to receive a compensatory pick in next year's Draft should Major League Baseball's all-time saves leader sign elsewhere for 2011.
The Brewers and Hoffman struck a gentlemen's agreement ahead of time whereby Hoffman will decline the offer, according to a baseball source. Because he was rated a Type B free agent by the Elias Sports Bureau, the move does not at all affect his negotiations with other teams.
"It's the right thing to do," the source said.
An arbitration primer is in order:
Hoffman was the only Brewers free agent who qualified for compensation. Under the rules, if a Type B player is offered arbitration, declines the offer and then signs with a new team, his former team receives an extra pick between the first and second rounds of the subsequent First-Year Player Draft.
If a player accepts the offer, he is considered signed for the subsequent season and his salary is determined through arbitration. Per the rules, his salary cannot be cut by more than 20 percent.
Hoffman earned more than $7 million during a disappointing 2010 season that saw the Brewers identify a number of younger, cheaper bullpen options, and he turned 43 in October, factors that led most observers to believe that the Brewers would not extend an arbitration offer. But teams occasionally strike deals in which compensation-eligible players agree ahead of time to decline the offer. For Type B players, there's no negative effect because, unlike Type A free agents, their new team is not required to forfeit a Draft pick.
The Yankees and fellow Type B player Javier Vazquez reportedly made such an agreement this week by which Vazquez, who earned $11.5 million in 2010, agreed to decline an arbitration offer.
Hoffman, the all-time leader with 601 saves, notched 37 saves for the Brewers in 2009 and made the National League All-Star team, but he lost Milwaukee's closer role in May after suffering five blown saves in his first 10 chances of 2010. He rebounded in the second half and reached the 600-save milestone on Sept. 7 at Miller Park, but said later that month he expected to depart via free agency. The Brewers have handed closer duties to right-hander John Axford, who went 24-for-27 in save chances as Hoffman's replacement.
Hoffman became a free agent after the World Series when the Brewers declined his $7.5 million option for 2011, opting instead to pay a $750,000 buyout.
Hoffman's agent is Rick Thurman of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, the same firm that represents Axford.
Hoffman lives in San Diego and likely will look for a West Coast team willing to offer at least a chance to close games. He expressed interest in the D-backs to earlier this month, but is still weighing his options for next season and might not pitch at all.
The Brewers' other free agents -- Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, Craig Counsell, Doug Davis and Gregg Zaun -- did not qualify for Draft compensation under the Elias system.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kranitz replaces Peterson, as Crew reveals staff

The Brewers on Monday announced the coaching staff for the 2011 season, which includes the return of hitting coach Dale Sveum, bullpen coach Stan Kyles and third-base coach Ed Sedar, who was previously the first-base coach.
New to the staff next year will be pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who replaces Rick Peterson, bench coach Jerry Narron and first-base/infield coach Garth Iorg. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin made the announcement about the staff, which will work under first-year manager Ron Roenicke.
"The new members of the coaching staff bring an energy and work ethic needed for the marathon baseball season," Melvin said. "Each share the same goal of getting the Brewers back to the postseason. They have experience in both the development of young players and the ability to relate and teach players who are extending their Major League careers. The returning members of the staff are also excited and looking forward to working with new manager Ron Roenicke."
Kranitz, 52, joins the Brewers from the Orioles, where he served as the pitching coach from 2008 through last season. As pitching coach with the Marlins from 2006-07, Kranitz guided a staff which had four rookie pitchers produce at least 10 wins each in 2006.
In addition to his roles as a Major League pitching coach in Baltimore and Florida, Kranitz spent 22 years coaching in the Cubs' organization, holding positions at every level in the Minor Leagues, along with stints in the Majors as assistant pitching coach (1996-98, 2000-01) and bullpen coach (2002). Kranitz pitched for five seasons in the Brewers' farm system after being selected by Milwaukee in the fourth round of the 1979 Draft.
Narron, 54, takes over for Willie Randolph and brings more than three decades of experience in professional baseball as a player, coach and manager. He last worked in a Major League dugout as the manager of the Reds from 2005-07 and was previously manager of the Rangers (2001-02).
Narron has twice worked as a bench coach, coming in 2003 with the Red Sox and from 2004-05 with the Reds. The former catcher played eight seasons in the Major Leagues from 1979-87 with the Yankees (1979), Mariners (1980-81, '87) and Angels (1983-86).
Iorg, 56, spent the last four seasons as roving infield coordinator for the Brewers. He also spent time at the Major League level with Milwaukee, serving as third-base coach under interim manager Sveum in 2008. Iorg's previous first-base coaching experience came with the Blue Jays from 2001-02. The former infielder played nine Major League seasons, all with the Blue Jays (1978, 1980-87).
Sedar returns after briefly accepting a job with the Astros as their Minor League outfield/baserunning instructor, and he will make the move to third base from first base, where he will replace Brad Fischer. Sveum, who has been on the coaching staff since 2006, has served as hitting coach since '09, and Kyles will enter his third season as bullpen coach.
In addition, the Brewers named John Shelby outfield instructor/eye in the sky and Josh Seligman strength and conditioning specialist.
Shelby, 52, spent the last three seasons with Baltimore as first-base/outfield coach. He also held those positions with the Dodgers (1998-2005) and Pirates (2006-07). The former outfielder played 11 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Orioles (1981-87), Dodgers (1987-90) and Tigers (1990-91).
Seligman, 35, replaces Chris Joyner. He spent the last four years as Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator with the Marlins. He earned his bachelor's degree in sports medicine from Willamette University in 1998, and his master's degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Hawaii in 2004.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Brewers prospects keep learning at Maryvale

Spring Training is about three months away, but Maryvale Baseball Park is open for business. It never really closes.
From February through March, players are there for Spring Training. From April through May, some participate in extended Spring Training. From June through August, players participate in the Arizona Rookie League. September and October is instructional league. All the while, players come in and out for rehabilitation assignments and training.
November through January might seem like the only period that the future stars of the organization have some time to relax, but Maryvale is still buzzing during that time with players participating in the Winter Development Program.
"We really are working on creating that complete player," said Reid Nichols, Brewers special assistant to the general manager and player development director. "This program is really about setting a foundation for the rest of their careers. It is just a way to give them a good base, get them stronger, faster and smarter."
Currently in its fifth year, the Brewers Winter Development Program is aimed at having players prepare for the upcoming season in a structured environment. It is open to any player in the team's system, and some players receive a scholarship to participate. It is mostly made up of younger players, and anywhere from 35-55 players participate each year.
The program is divided into three sessions. The first two sessions are each two weeks long and focus mostly on conditioning. With the players just coming off a long professional season, this part of the program was developed to give players a bit of a mental break following the season.
"This is still intense training," Nichols said. "But it isn't the baseball mental grind they are used to during the season. We try and take baseball out of the equation and focus on the conditioning to give players that break. We still try and do everything with a little bit of competition to keep the intensity up."
A typical day during the first session of camp includes general conditioning workouts, speed training, vision training and lifting. Players also travel in vans to the local Lifetime Fitness Center, where they participate in weekly spin, pilates, yoga and water aerobics classes.
"It is nice to switch things up a little bit and get them off the complex," said assistant player development director Tony Diggs, who organizes the schedule of the program. "Those classes give them a pretty good core routine. It is good for them to see the different ways they can condition their bodies."
Ultimate Frisbee is a group favorite during the winter program and bowling nights are also a part of the schedule.
"We like to keep the atmosphere light, while at the same time make sure they are getting their work in," said Diggs. "We also like to emphasize camaraderie and teamwork among the players as they will all be coming up together in the organization and building a future together. The bowling tournament can get pretty competitive."
Camaraderie between players is one thing, Nichols said, but it also helps with staff.
"It is good to get to know the players on a personal note and for them to get to know us," Nichols said. "We want to have that relationship with the players and vice versa because it is important to develop that bond of trust with the players."
As a part of the program, players also work on off-the-field life skills that come along with being a professional baseball player. The team participates in community service activities and has worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs, Children's Hospital, Phoenix-area food banks and, most recently, the Special Olympics.
"These players need to be prepared for this type of thing as they will be doing community service and giving back at every professional level," Diggs said.
Players even traveled to a fine-dining restaurant in the Phoenix area and took etiquette lessons from restaurant staff.
"We really don't want to take things for granted, especially with some of the younger guys," Nichols said. "A lot of these guys will being going to many nice dinners throughout their careers with agents and other business people. It just comes back to our goal of creating a complete player."
In the past, sessions on financial planning, English classes (for Spanish-speaking players) and Spanish classes (for English-speaking players) have been offered to players.
The program is currently in a break, with the second session beginning on Nov. 28. When the third session starts following the holiday season, Diggs notices the numbers grow in the workouts.
"We begin to focus more on baseball in the third session," Diggs said. "This will take them right into Spring Training. The conditioning that they learned in the first two sessions is continued with the third session, but the focus now turns to baseball and more traditional baseball-related drills."
Brewers outfielder Corey Hart, pitcher Mitch Stetter and, while he was a member of the Brewers, shortstop J.J. Hardy, all have been regular participants in the third phase of the program. All three are residents of the Phoenix area and used the program to prepare for Spring Training. Current Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain is a graduate of the full Winter Development Program.
The program is a part of the organization's overall goal of making Maryvale Baseball Park a place where the younger players in the organization can go to build a foundation for their futures and the future of the Brewers.
"We tell our players that we are open for business here at Maryvale anytime," said Nichols. "We want our players to utilize what we have to offer them because it will make them better players."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peterson still in running as pitching coach

Rick Peterson is still under consideration to remain as the Brewers' pitching coach after a pair of meetings last week with new manager Ron Roenicke, but Roenicke plans to spend his first full week on the job sifting through other candidates before making a final decision.
Peterson still has one season left on his two-year contract, but general manager Doug Melvin is giving Roenicke freedom to select his own staff.
"The meeting with me and [Peterson] went well," Roenicke said. "But bench coach, pitching coach, those two spots are so important to a new manager. I really have to make sure I have the right person, whether it's Rick, whether it's somebody else. I need to make sure."
Roenicke wants to make his decision soon, partly so Peterson knows where he stands heading into 2011.
Peterson stated his case to stay in a pair of meetings with Roenicke last week. The men did not know each other before those sit-downs, but Peterson probably made the point that he's been in that situation before. He did not know Ken Macha before they were paired together at Double-A Trenton in 1997, and he did not know A's manager Art Howe before joining Oakland as its pitching coach in '98.
In both cases, the relationship worked, because Howe brought Peterson to the New York Mets in 2004, and Macha brought him to Milwaukee before the '10 season.
In addition to the pitching post, Roenicke is also in the market for a bench coach, first- and third-base coaches and a bullpen coach. The only spot spoken for belongs to hitting coach Dale Sveum, who signed a two-year contract extension last month.
"We want to [set the staff] as quickly as we can," Roenicke said. "We also know it's important to get the right people, so we don't want to rush into it. Doug and [Brewers assistant GM] Gord Ash have gotten together a bunch of names for me to look at, people they really like, and they've come up with some nice names."
The Brewers introduced Roenicke at Miller Park on Thursday as the 18th manager in franchise history.
He returned home to California over the weekend, but will travel to Phoenix later this week to meet with Melvin, Sveum and the Brewers' development staff there. Roenicke will be back in Milwaukee several times over the coming months, including in late January for the team's "Brewers On Deck" event.
"Once we get the coaching staff together, I've got the numbers for all of the players, and I want to start calling them," Roenicke said. "It's going to be pretty busy here for the next couple of weeks."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Roenicke ready to assemble coaching staff

MILWAUKEE -- Ron Roenicke got right to work on Friday, his first full day as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. The first order of business is to set his coaching staff.
Hitting coach Dave Sveum will return under a two-year contract extension, a deal that was sealed last month with Roenicke's approval while he was still just a Brewers candidate. The only other coach with a contract for 2011 is pitching coach Rick Peterson, and his situation was still in flux as of Friday midday.
Roenicke and general manager Doug Melvin met in person with Peterson on Wednesday night in Milwaukee, and Roenicke sat down privately with Peterson again on Thursday.
"The pitching coach job is really important to me," Roenicke said. "We want to take time and make sure that this is the right person for me. Whether it's Rick, whether it's somebody else, I want to make sure we get it right."
The Brewers hired Peterson in October 2009 to reunite with manager Ken Macha. Milwaukee didn't exercise Macha's option after a 2010 season in which the club finished with a 4.58 ERA, which was third to last in the National League.
But Peterson had something to do with the emergence of young bullpen arms like John Axford and Zach Braddock, and with the second-half resurgence of veteran starter Randy Wolf. And the Brewers had Major League Baseball's third-best ERA (2.96) in September and October. Only the Giants and the Angels were better over the final month.
"When the season was over, I felt really, really excited about having some of these pieces to the puzzle together for coming into next year," Peterson said after arriving home in New Jersey on Friday. "There was some major growth of some of the younger guys, as well as really developing a relationship with a 10-year veteran [Wolf] where you're on the same page and having a great dialogue.
"I really feel I'd be a major asset for Ron. I feel good about what I've done here so far, and I feel good about the feedback we have from the Minor Leagues. To be successful at pitching in this league, you need a vertical system in place."
As for the Brewers' other coaches, expect some new faces. Bench coach Willie Randolph was not interviewed for the managerial vacancy, a sign he will not be back. Third-base coach Brad Fischer was brought in by Macha. First-base coach Ed Sedar already moved on to be an outfield and baserunnning instructor in the Astros' Minor League chain.
If any of the Brewers' other former coaches is to return it could be bullpen coach Stan Kyles, but like the others, his contract expired last month.
Roenicke declined to offer any names under consideration.
"We've got some ideas," he said. "We've talked a little bit, and we're definitely going to talk [on Friday] and try to figure out things in the next few days."
What is he looking for in his coaches? Roenicke was more interested in what he is not looking for.
"I'm a little strong-headed at times, [but] people can convince me of things," Roenicke said. "I don't want a bunch of coaches who are just saying yes to me."
Roenicke and Melvin will likely spend significant time talking about the bench coach position, a key spot that Roenicke filled for Angels manager Mike Scioscia for the past five seasons. Before that, he was Scioscia's third-base coach but earned a promotion after Joe Maddon was hired away by the Rays.
When Scioscia first presented Roenicke with the job offer, he was hesitant.
"When I was third-base [coach], we butted heads some," Roenicke said. "I wanted to run more. I wanted to be more a little more aggressive, and he wanted to be sure that we were safe when we ran. So I told him, 'Mike, if I'm the bench coach, we're going to butt heads more than we did when I was third-base coach.
"He says, 'Ron, I want it. I don't want a coach who's just going to say yes.'"
Roenicke wants the same type of environment.
"I want my coaches to help me out," he said. "If they're just saying, 'Yes, Ron,' they're not helping me out. I need to know when I'm being too aggressive. I need to know when it's time to back off a guy, when it's time to let the starting pitcher go back out there for the eighth inning. ... There are things that coaches see that sometimes managers don't because we have so much going on."