Coming off of the first non-losing season since 1992 many to most fans of the
Milwaukee Brewers are entering the offseason with an excitement not felt in
quite some time. General Manager Doug Melvin has led the team to that magical
mark, and now he is shouldered with the load to take the team to the next level.
New owner Mark Attanasio may be just as important if he provides Melvin with the
financial resources necessary for the Brewers to make any necessary improvements
for the team to take the next step. This feature will point out specific dates
to look forward to this offseason while breaking down some of the areas the team
may be looking to improve.
The biggest question is when? When does free
agency start? Free agency starts after a 15-day period that allows potential
free agents to officially declare their eligibility. Once that period is over,
free agency begins. That date this year is Friday, November 11th.
Friday November 11th also marks the first day of the new waiver period.
Waiver wire acquisitions are of particular interest to the Brewers, since this
is how notable reclamation projects such as Scott Podsednik and Derrick Turnbow
were acquired. It should be noted that in the past few years the Brewers have
had close to first dibs on players since the waiver priority order is determined
by the reverse standings in Major League Baseball from the start of the last
waiver period. Starting November 11th, as the 15th best team in all of
baseball, they have to wait until the 15 teams worse than them have had the
chance to make their waiver claims.
Teams must align their 40-man rosters and minor league rosters in preparation
for the Rule 5 draft by November 18th. The Rule 5 draft will take place on
Thursday, December 8th, the final day of the Winter Meetings.
The Winter Meetings, the big annual event that is often pointed to as the
pinnacle for offseason transactions, takes place December 5-8.
December 7th marks the last day teams may offer their own free agents
arbitration. If the team declines to offer one of their free agents arbitration
they lose the rights to sign that player until May 1st of 2006. Also by
declining to offer a free agent arbitration, the team forfeits the ability to
receive draft pick compensation should that player sign with another team.
Offering or declining arbitration also pertains to players that aren't free
agents yet whose 2006 contracts can be determined by an arbitrator if they can't
come to a deal with their parent team. Players that are denied arbitration are
non-tendered, and therefore they become free agents. Tomo Ohka has been
identified as a possible non-tender target should the Brewers deem he isn't
worth the $3.5-4 million dollars he will likely command for the 2006 season.
December 19th marks the last day in which a free agent can accept or decline
an arbitration offer made by their previous team (this obviously only applies to
free agents that have not yet signed). If a player accepts arbitration they can
still sign with another team or negotiate a new contract with their previous
ballclub. If no contract is reached, the player will enter the arbitration
hearings in which his 2006 contract will be in the hands of the arbitrator. If
the player declines arbitration, his previous ballclub may only negotiate with
the said player until January 8th, 2006.
Brewers Free Agents
The Brewers have already picked up the 2006
option on outfielder Carlos Lee, so the Brewers only have three players that are
eligible for free agency: Wes Helms, Rick Helling and Jeff Cirillo. According
to reports, Helms and the Brewers have mutually agreed that it would be best for
Helms to test the free agent waters, as the Brewers likely wouldn't want him
back for money close to the $2.7 million he made this past year. He could serve
as a valuable backup providing depth to the infield corner positions while
offering a proven bat, particularly against left-handed pitchers.
Rick Helling on the other hand is a player the Brewers would very much like
to have return. He proved to be quite valuable over the last month of the
season, filling in admirably for the injured Ben Sheets. Adding a cutter to his
repertoire seemed to give Helling a new life in the big-leagues. He could be a
very valuable swing-man, filling in the rotation when needed while offering a
solid, veteran arm in the bullpen that can pitch more than a few innings when
needed. Helling could be sought out by other teams as a cost-effective solution
to round out a rotation, and might be offered a contract more than what the
Brewers are willing to spend to keep him in Milwaukee.
It is possible that the Brewers will offer both Helms and Hellling
arbitration. They would do so with Wes Helms in the event that another team
signs him and he brings a compensatory draft pick in return. He likely wouldn't
be rated higher than a Type C free agent (the Elias Sports Bureau ranks all
players and assigns a letter grade to them based on their production from the
previous two seasons), but that would still give the Brewers an extra pick after
the second round (a Type C free agent does not cause the signing team to lose a
draft pick). The Brewers may choose not to offer Wes Helms arbitration, since
they would have to pay him no less than 80% of the money he received from the
previous season, or $2.16 million. While that may not seem like much money,
it's a lot to pay a part-time player. The only other hitch with Type C free
agents is that they can not have been a free agent in a previous year, which
isn't an issue with Helms who is a free agent for the first time in his career.
The Brewers would probably be willing to gamble on arbitration with Rick
Helling, if it goes that far. Doug Melvin has a history with Helling dating
back to their days with the Texas Rangers, and Helling likely is grateful to the
Brewers for giving him another chance to prove himself. By offering Helling
arbitration, who made the league minimum in 2005, they can continue to negotiate
with him into 2006.
Cirillo is expected to return for close to the league minimum after joining
the Brewers as a minor league free agent last season.
Trent Durrington, Victor Santos, Chris Magruder and Julio Santana also became
free agents after declining outright assignments to AAA Nashville. Don't look
for any of those four players to return unless they sign a minor league deal
with an invite to spring training.
Unless the team chooses to upgrade one of their current
positions on the field, the starting lineup for the Brewers likely will be
relatively the same in 2006. First base really is the only position expected to
change, with Lyle Overbay a popular candidate to be traded with Prince Fielder
waiting in the wings. Bill Hall may continue to serve as a super-utility
player, but he seems poised to get the majority of the playing time at third
The Brewers could use some added depth, particularly in the outfield. Chris
Magruder didn't deserve to be on the big-league roster last year, as the team
needs to find a way to improve their fourth (or fifth) outfielder. That may be
addressed in-house if the team decides to carry Corey Hart, Nelson Cruz and/or
David Krynzel on their opening day roster. I have a feeling Doug Melvin may
look outside of the organization for a proven outfielder that bats left-handed
and can play a centerfield when needed to give players like Carlos Lee and Brady
Clark much deserved days off. A few possibilities on the free agent market that
fit this description include Orlando Palmeiro, Todd Hollandsworth and Terrence
The Brewers may also decide to upgrade their catching depth. Chad Moeller is
your typical backup catcher that doesn't do any one thing particularly well and
doesn't provide much thunder in the lineup with his bat. Don't expect the
Brewers to throw a lot of money to upgrade their backup catcher, but they may
have their eyes on a few players that could provide a modest improvement.
Every team in baseball could upgrade their bullpen, and the Brewers are no
exception. However, the Brewers have proved over the last several years that
they have been able to assemble a group of quality pitchers that make up a
productive bullpen. From Dan Kolb to Matt Wise to Derrick Turnbow, the team has
always been able to benefit from taking on other team's castoffs.
Ideally the team could use a situational lefty if Dana Eveland is returned to
the starting rotation as expected, either with the big-league club or at AAA
Nashville, even though the team didn't use Eveland in that strict of a role.
Jorge de la Rosa's numbers prove that he is actually more effective versus
right-handed hitters than lefty sluggers, so he isn't made to be a specialist.
The team hasn't had a lefty specialist since they dealt Ray King a few years
ago, and have survived well enough without one, so it remains to be seen if
Melvin plans to get that picky this offseason while piecing together his 2006
It would seem unlikely that the Brewers would spend a lot of money to upgrade
the bullpen. A name to watch is Dan Kolb, who is expected to be non-tendered by
the Braves this offseason and may be interested in returning to the Brewers
given his success with the team in 2003 and 2004. In-house options that may
move up from the minor leagues to contribute include two members of the 2004
bullpen, Mike Adams and Jeff Bennett, as well as southpaw Mitch Stetter.
The biggest team need for 2006 is a starting pitcher. Doug Melvin seems
content heading into next year with Ben Sheets, Doug Davis, Chris Capuano and
Tomo Ohka taking the one through four spots in the rotation. Melvin is also on
record as saying that he isn't impressed with the free agent crop, and likely
won't have the money to spend to land a big fish from a small pool of talent.
Melvin could just be posturing, and Mark Attanasio may give him a flexible
enough of a payroll to go out and sign a bigger name free agent pitcher, with
Wisconsin native Jarrod Washburn being a popular name. Washburn is on record
saying he would like to return to Wisconsin, but before you get too excited keep
in mind that his agent is Scott Boras, who rarely is involved with hometown
discounts. A.J. Burnett offers the biggest name on the free agent market, but
likely will draw a ludicrous multi-year contract that the Brewers would be wise
to avoid handing out to a pitcher that has had his share of injuries.
However, the Brewers have not ruled out that the organization may have an in-
house solution to the fifth and final rotation spot. Dana Eveland is probably
the leading candidate to fill such a role, with Ben Hendrickson, Dennis Sarfate
and possibly even Rick Helling, should he re-sign with the club, serving as
Keep in mind that the Brewers could lose their first-round pick depending on
how active they are on the free-agent market this offseason. By finishing with
the 15th best record in all of baseball last year, they will pick 16th in next
June's amateur free agent draft, and therefore would lose their pick if they
sign any Type A or B free agents either before the December 7th, the last day a
team may offer a player arbitration, or after that time if the free agent's
previous team did indeed offer such a player arbitration.
Keep an eye out on Brewerfan.net's Fan Forum for a list of the free agent
rankings as they become available.
Of course the bigger topic of the offseason as briefly
discussed above is the situation at first base. Lyle Overbay, affectionately
known as "O" by the fans, is blocking super-prospect Prince Fielder. As
talented as Fielder is, he is still unproven at the big-league level, and there
are perceived problems to varying degrees of speculation about his weight,
attitude, defense and choice of agents (Scott Boras). However, he is one of the
most gifted young hitters in all of baseball, and many would be surprised if he
didn't make the proper adjustments to big-league pitchers. He showed his
potential in limited action during the 2005 season, and hit at every level as he
moved up the minor league ladder. Fielder has the potential to be an impact
hitter, and along with Rickie Weeks he could form the most dynamic right-sides
of the infield in all of baseball. With J.J. Hardy and Billy Hall, they could
form one of the most dynamic young infields overall.
With Lyle Overbay, you know what you're getting. He doesn't hit for much
power, but he is a smooth, consistent hitter that is going to get his base hits
while drawing a lot of walks. He plays good defense, and is about as humble as
they come. However, by the standards of first basemen, he is only average.
Overbay is entering this offseason as arbitration eligible for the first-time in
his career, meaning his rights can be retained by the Brewers for three more
years before he becomes a free agent. He is due for a modest pay raise, one
that the Brewers could easily afford.
Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio have both addressed the issue at first base,
noting that they don't have to move Overbay and could afford to have both he and
Fielder in the same organization for another year. But let's be realistic,
they're both posturing, knowing they don't want to let every single team in
baseball know that they want to and have to move Overbay, therefore lessening
his trade value. I have pondered dealing Fielder like many other fans have, but
unless I received a similar player in return (such as a young, dynamic starting
pitcher) I just couldn't bring myself to losing a potentially dominant offensive
Also, the stars may align properly for it being a near-perfect offseason to
have an extra first baseman to be dealt. With several teams looking for
improvement at first base, and since Paul Konerko is the only notable first
baseman on the free agent market, Doug Melvin without a doubt will receive a lot
of interest from other teams with interest in his surplus at the position.
And while I don't expect Melvin to make any other major trades, don't for one
minute think he's going to fall too far in love with his current team to ignore
the possibility of improving it. Geoff Jenkins and Carlos Lee both have rather
large contracts, and while the Brewers seem as though they can easily afford
both of them right now, I'm sure both could be moved if the right deal came
along. Few players on the team have the trade value that Billy Hall does. I
doubt Hall gets moved, but with J.J. Hardy having shortstop for his own for
years to come, the Brewers may entertain offers for Hall given his rare power at
a premium defensive position.
Keep in mind that Doug Melvin has stated again and again that any players he
receives in trade will be big-league ready (or really, really close) and will
help the future of the team. He's not likely to go after a one-year solution,
nor low-level prospects.
As noted above, it is possible that the Brewers non-tender
Tomo Ohka should they pursue a pitcher on the free agent market. Ohka made
$2.75 million last year, and likely will make $3.5-4 million next year.
However, he is a proven pitcher that has posted solid numbers throughout his
big-league career despite not being overpowering. Russell Branyan and Chad
Moeller could also be non-tendered if the team decides to go in a different
direction, but neither one is expected to make enough money to be considered a
burden to the payroll.
Also keep an eye on players signed to minor league contracts. This is how
the team originally acquired Jeff Cirillo, Rick Helling, Doug Davis and Dan
Kolb. Baseball America provides a full list of minor league free agents to
their subscribers, but the group of candidates isn't always reserved to minor
league players, such as was the case with Cirillo, Helling and Davis.
I wouldn't expect the team to pursue adding a player via the Rule 5 draft.
The Brewers passed on participating in this event last year after taking and
carrying two players (Enrique Cruz and Matt Ford) from the '02 draft on their
2003 roster and one player (Jeff Bennett) from the '03 draft in 2004. Such
players are typically projects, and as we found out with Cruz in 2003, those
players often don't receive much playing time given their need for added
development. With the Brewers thinking about bigger and better things for 2006,
they probably won't try to stow such a player on their roster next year, which
would take up a valuable spot from someone else that could contribute regularly.
I don't believe the Brewers will be active on the free
agent market, and for the most part will enter next year with basically the same
team they had this year. They will hope for a healthy, full year of Ben Sheets,
and with that should receive a boost of improvement by his presence alone.
Another year of seasoning for J.J. Hardy and Rickie Weeks should also bring
another few wins, and if Weeks' defense improves that alone could mean another
one to two win improvement. Lyle Overbay will be traded, and even if Fielder
struggles at times, there should not be a significant dropoff in production at
first base, and Fielder may just prove to be more productive. Overbay will be
traded for a youngish starting pitcher that has a couple of years of big-league
service under their belt. While I'm not going to cite a specific trade
proposal, Aaron Heilman of the New York Mets or Chien-Ming Wang of the New York
Yankees would be a good example of such a player. Players that are slated to
get a modest pay raise via arbitration similar to Ohka may also be strong
candidates, with Bronson Arroyo of the Boston Red Sox and Brian Lawrence of the
San Diego Padres as two more possibilities. The Brewers will sign a free agent
outfielder as a reserve that can play centerfield and bats left-handed as
discussed above. They will also address their bullpen, although they will not
sign an extravagant name on the free agent market to do so. A waiver wire
acquisition or minor league free agent may be a likely route in which this area
A dark horse candidate that I truly think the Brewers may be interested in on
the free agent market is Bill Mueller. A switch-hitting third baseman, Mueller
has proven that he is a very good defender at the hot corner, can hit for a good
average while exhibiting very good plate discipline. While the Brewers had some
good power hitters in 2005, they lacked high average hitters with the ability to
get on base.
Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net,
and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org