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Brewers cry ‘Wolf,’ and he answers

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Tom Haudricourt
December 10, 2009
— The Milwaukee Brewers got their man.

Actually, before the day was done Wednesday, they got two.


The Brewers acquired the starting pitcher they targeted from the outset when they agreed with free-agent left-hander Randy Wolf on a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth year. The deal guarantees $29.75 million to the 33-year-old Wolf.


The Brewers then made another splash on the third day of baseball’s winter meetings by agreeing to a two-year, $7.5 million deal with reliever LaTroy Hawkins. The veteran right-hander, who will be 37 later in the month, will serve as one of the set-up men for closer Trevor Hoffman.


The Brewers did not announce either agreement because the pitchers have to pass physical examinations to make the deals official. General manager Doug Melvin couldn’t address either pitcher specifically but admitted to “a sense of accomplishment” at the end of the busy day.


“We came here hoping to fill one of our starting roles and add pitching, looking to add a power arm in the bullpen to be with Todd Coffey in the back end,” said Melvin. “We wanted to get some certainty to our pitching as opposed to waiting.”


The signings committed most of the money the Brewers cleared by making other roster decisions earlier in the off-season. Melvin would like to add another starter but said he’ll take a “step back” now and assess the market as well as possible trade scenarios.


“We still have some flexibility to do some things, but less flexibility,” said Melvin. “That’s why we wanted to be able to put two pegs in the holes right now.


“Now, we can take a bigger, wider view of what’s out there and not feel like you’re pressured into making a deal you didn’t want to make. We stepped forward in these cases. Now we can maybe step back and let the market come to us and review it.”


Wolf made 34 starts last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 11-7 with a 3.23 earned run average. In 214 1/3 innings, he allowed 178 hits and 58 walks, with 160 strikeouts. He has pitched in the major leagues for 11 seasons, posting a 101-85 record and 4.13 ERA. In 279 games (275 starts), he has a 1.315 WHIP (walks and hits per inning).


Melvin showed Wolf and agent Arn Tellem how serious the Brewers were by traveling to Los Angeles last week to have lunch with them and team owner Mark Attanasio. In a telephone interview, Wolf said that move left a big impression.


“It was really nice,” said Wolf, who lives in the Los Angeles area. “From Day 1, they told my agent and then relayed it to me that I was their top priority this off-season. That’s a good feeling when they feel that way about you.


“They really believe they can win and I believe them. They’re in it to win. They have a good, young nucleus and a lot of exciting players.”


Wolf said one other team was “pretty aggressive” in negotiations. He wouldn’t reveal the club but Tellem met the previous day with the New York Mets.


“They wanted more time,” said Wolf. “In fairness to Doug, I knew he wanted to get this thing done. They showed me that wanted me to be there. I wasn’t going to wait and see if the other team got more aggressive.”


The Brewers knew three years at more than $9 million per year was a stretch but also realized they had to do something to improve their starting rotation. The Brewers’ starting pitchers posted a 5.37 ERA in 2009, tied with Baltimore for the worst in the majors.


It was that rotation meltdown that doomed the Brewers to a losing season (80-82) after making the playoffs the previous year.


“I don’t think the starting pitching will be as bad next year,” said Wolf. “I think it was a little bit of a fluke. They weren’t happy with the way this year went and believed I could help. That’s very flattering. I’m very excited.”


Wolf had much more success on this market than last winter, when he settled for a one-year, $5 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He helped get the Dodgers to the playoffs but was not offered arbitration as a Class A free agent.


Had the Dodgers offered arbitration to Wolf, the Brewers would have surrendered a second-round draft pick in 2010 to Los Angeles.


Wolf does have an injury history. He had “Tommy John” reconstructive elbow surgery on July 1, 2005, with Philadelphia and didn’t return until the middle of the next season. In 2007 with the Dodgers, he had shoulder surgery and missed half of that season.


But Wolf has been healthy the past two years, making 33 starts in 2008 and 34 last season. He is not overpowering (88-90 mph fastball) but has a deceptive motion, tantalizing curveball, above-average changeup and the know-how to set up hitters.


Hawkins, who turns 37 later this month, had a strong 2009 season for Houston, going 1-4 with a 2.13 ERA in 65 games, with 16 walks and 45 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings. When Houston closer Jose Valverde was injured, Hawkins filled that role and converted 11 of 15 save opportunities.


Melvin said he preferred to add a setup man with closing experience in the event something happened to Hoffman. Hawkins was the primary closer at one time for Minnesota and later for the Chicago Cubs.


Hawkins was on hand after the agreement, but said he could not comment until the deal becomes official.


In 753 career appearances, including 98 starts, Hawkins is 60-81 with a 4.51 ERA and 87 saves. He helped take control of his negotiations by accompanying agent Larry Reynolds to the winter meetings and meeting with clubs, including the Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks.


“I played with Hawkins in Houston,” said Wolf. “He’s an awesome guy. He wants to win. He’s one of those guys who can really help a team. He’s got great stuff and he never seems to age.”



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