Brewers hint Gamel will be at first

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
— You could almost see the Milwaukee Brewers’ roster changing before your eyes Tuesday.

Team owner Mark Attanasio, general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash met with agent Scott Boras, who represents free agent Prince Fielder, amid growing indications that the Brewers were preparing to move on to Mat Gamel at first base.

Melvin announced that he wouldn’t try to re-sign free-agent infielder Craig Counsell, a Whitefish Bay native who played for the club the past five seasons and six overall. Another veteran reserve moved on when free-agent outfielder Mark Kotsay agreed to a one-year deal with San Diego.

And the Brewers’ search for a starting shortstop continued. Next up is a meeting Wednesday with agent Barry Meister, who represents free agent Clint Barmes.

The Brewers’ contingent took time off from the combined general man-agers/owners meetings at The Pfister to meet for one hour with Boras. No proposals were presented by either side and no meeting was set for further talks.

“We left it open,” said Melvin. “We tried to establish a timeline. This stuff doesn’t happen fast or quick. It was just ‘selling.’ We know the timetable. The next meetings are in Dallas (in early December).”

Before meeting with Boras, Melvin indicated he didn’t expect much of substance to come from it. It was basically touching base to see what each side was thinking, but if Fielder signs elsewhere as expected, Melvin reiterated that he is inclined to give Gamel a chance at first.

“My gut feeling right now is to give Gamel the chance,” said Melvin. “He has hit wherever he has played in the minor leagues and has markedly improved at first base. I’d hate to not give him a chance and then he gets a chance with somebody else and becomes a good player.

“At some point, we have to make some decisions and move on.”

At the end of the Brewers’ postseason run, Attanasio said he expected to be involved in the market for Fielder, but the extent remains to be seen. The team’s salary structure has changed since a five-year, $100 million offer was made to Fielder—and dismissed—in the spring of 2010.

With guaranteed salaries and projected costs for arbitration-eligible players, the Brewers already are at about $70 million for next season. And their payroll is not expected to increase much if any from the $95 million level of 2011.

“Your math is correct,” said Attanasio. “That’s the challenge for the owner. I don’t like to comment on what our payroll is because it’s opportunity-driven. Some of our salaries have gone up, without question.

“The free-agent process takes time. And people should remember there’s a backdrop where a CBA (collective bargaining agreement) is being negotiated. I think from a timing standpoint, what people think of as typical timing may not be typical this year.

“Mathematically, you can’t fill all the openings we have with premium players. We’re going to have to take a flier on some of these spots. Analyticals change from year to year. We have to be smart at every position.”

Boras spent much of the meeting pointing out how special the 1-2 punch of Ryan Braun and Fielder made the Brewers’ offense. He also said he didn’t consider the Brewers “passive” at this stage for not making an offer.

“This is a new process for Prince, the first time he’s been outside of a Brewer uniform,” said Boras. “They understand it is a process and that Prince needs clarity about what he wants to do. He took all the risks, did all the things and he wants to look in this window and talk. But we certainly want Milwaukee in the picture.

“That’s up to Mark and Doug. But when you’re talking about this kind of talent and the rarity of it, it would be hard for them to emulate a 3-4 combination (in the lineup) like they had without him. There just isn’t that kind of talent out there, especially at this age (27). That’s rare. It decreases the risk factor.”

As for whether the Brewers could fit Fielder into their salary structure, Boras said, “The owner of the Brewers is a very successful man. It’s certainly a choice rather than something they can’t do. That’s the value of having an owner as successful as Mark. He’s a good one.”

Melvin, who later in the evening was named co-executive of the year by The Sporting News along with Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski, must find some bench help after opting not to make an offer to Counsell and learning that Kotsay had signed with the Padres for $1.25 million. Counsell, 41, played in 107 games for the Brewers in 2011, batting a career-low .178 with one homer and nine RBI.

Kotsay, who will be 36 on Dec. 2, played in 104 games. He batted .270 with three homers and 31 RBI in 255 plate appearances, including a .293 mark as a pinch hitter.

Melvin said it won’t be easy to replace the influence that Counsell and Kotsay had on the club.

“It was a great experience for me to be able to have them during my career here,” said Melvin. Counsell said he had not yet decided to retire but was open to “non-playing” opportunities that already had surfaced.

“I really enjoyed playing for the Brewers but this time comes for every player,” he said. “You move on and see what’s next. I’m not sure what I will do. I’m kind of listening to everything that comes along.

“I definitely would say I haven’t retired but I’m listing to things outside of playing. I might talk to the Brewers about that at some point but we haven’t talked yet.”

Melvin hopes to re-sign utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. but noted that “he was a little more involved than Craig or Kotsay” in game action after coming from Washington in late July.

Barmes, who batted .244 with 12 homers and 39 RBI in 123 games with Houston, is the latest free-agent shortstop to draw the Brewers’ attention. Melvin is doing due diligence on every shortstop on the market—Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal, Barmes and their own free agent, Yuniesky Betancourt.

Last updated: 6:55 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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