Brewers’ Mike Cameron almost was a Yankee
That’s all it would have taken for Mike Cameron to be wearing the pinstripes of the New York Yankees this spring instead of the blue and white of the Milwaukee Brewers.
“It was about as good as done, from what I heard,” Cameron said.
Had Yankees general manager Brian Cashman gotten back to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin the Monday after the winter meetings ended in December, a deal almost certainly would have been struck. Cameron would have gone to New York for centerfielder Melky Cabrera and left-hander Kei Igawa.
Cashman was busy that day, ironically, sealing the $161 million free-agent deal that lured left-hander CC Sabathia from Milwaukee. The Yankees also were in the process of locking down another free-agent pitcher, A.J. Burnett.
By the end of the week, when Melvin hadn’t heard back from Cashman, he called off the deal. The primary motivation for moving Cameron was to shed his $10 million salary to free up money for pitching help, but Melvin decided the club was better off with the veteran centerfielder.
“I called Mike and told him (a trade) was close but ’at this point we feel you can help us and contribute.’ I told him the only reason we were considering it was because we got a little worried about getting the money to sign a pitcher. Players understand, today.
“I told him I couldn’t guarantee that nothing would happen (at the time). I’m glad we have him. I’m glad we didn’t make the deal. I’m not so sure the money was going to help us. It wasn’t going to allow us to keep CC.”
Cameron, 36, doesn’t get worked up about many things, and took the turn of events in stride. He knew if he got traded to the Yankees, he’d be going to a championship-caliber team and reuniting with his friend, Sabathia.
But Cameron also enjoyed his first season with the Brewers, from the camaraderie of a tight-knit clubhouse to the excitement of breaking the franchise’s 26-year playoff drought.
“I would have understood if they (had made the trade),” said Cameron. “I know it was to give them some financial space. I was kind of surprised when they picked up my option because of the situation they were in, with so many young guys coming into arbitration.
“It’s a blessing to be here still. I would have missed these guys for sure. I really enjoyed last season with these guys. This team has one of the best young cores of anybody in baseball.”
It’s been awhile since Cameron was included in any club’s “young core” but that doesn’t mean he can’t keep up with his younger teammates. Still at a lean 205 pounds after more than 12 years in the majors, Cameron has extended his career by remaining in peak shape.
Along the way, Cameron has experimented with various forms of exercise and physical regimens. Over the winter, he incorporated another twist to his workouts, taking regular yoga lessons.
“I got into it a little bit more this year,” he said. “I’ve been working on flexibility. As you get older, you have to try something different.
“I just try to listen to my body. I don’t really get out of shape. I might get out of baseball shape but not physical shape. I run around with the kids. That helps.”
In fact, Cameron often shows up in camp with sons Dazmon and Mekhi in tow. All three don Brewers uniforms and head out to the field for morning workouts, with the young Camerons peeling off for their own fun and games.
It was the willingness of club management to allow father-son bonding at the ballpark that made Cameron quickly get over the trade rumors in December. It also was a factor in the acquisition of free-agent closer Trevor Hoffman, who was told he could bring his three sons to camp at his desire.
“That’s really important to me, to have that,” said Cameron. “I don’t know if the Yankees would allow that. It’s a good thing. We understand the business side of it, but they help with the family side of it here, too.”
When Cameron isn’t chasing his children around, he’s chasing down fly balls in center field. The Brewers figured they were getting a defensive upgrade when they signed three two-time Gold Glove winner to a free-agent deal in January 2008, and he didn’t disappoint, committing one error in 119 games.
“Without CC and (Ben) Sheets, our pitching may not be as good, so it’s important to have a guy out there who can run some balls down,” said Melvin. “The ball is going to be put in play more so it’s important to have that defense.
“He had two young outfielders (Ryan Braun and Corey Hart) on either side of him last year. It’s nice to know you have a guy like that in the middle.”
While a model of consistency in the field, Cameron runs hot and cold at the plate. He still has a lot of pop in his bat—he socked 25 home runs in 444 at-bats last season — and has the patience to draw walks (54).
But Cameron also can whiff with the best of them, going down on strikes a club-high 142 times in ’08. And that was after sitting out the first 25 games on a suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant the previous season with San Diego.
Cameron knocked in 70 runs and swiped 17 bases but batted only .243 with a .331 on-base percentage.
Accordingly, critics wondered why Melvin exercised the $10 million option in Cameron’s contract. If that maneuver was made with the intent of moving his salary in a trade, Melvin changed his mind after the verbal tango with the Yankees before Christmas.
“He’s streaky on offense; strikes out a lot at times,” said Melvin. “But his defense and base-running can really help a team.
“And he brings a looseness to the club. He can help the guys relax and laugh. Look at how many times he has been on a playoff team. Then he comes to us and he’s on a playoff team again. There’s something to that.”