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After adding 2, Crew staying patient at Meetings

@AdamMcCalvy
December 10, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The Brewers, who arrived at the Winter Meetings with eight openings on their 40-man roster, filled two of those spots on Day 1 by re-signing oft-used reliever Alex Claudio to a one-year deal and claiming infielder Ronny Rodríguez off waivers from the Tigers. If there’s a theme

SAN DIEGO -- The Brewers, who arrived at the Winter Meetings with eight openings on their 40-man roster, filled two of those spots on Day 1 by re-signing oft-used reliever Alex Claudio to a one-year deal and claiming infielder Ronny Rodríguez off waivers from the Tigers.

If there’s a theme to Milwaukee’s offseason so far, it’s the notion that slow and steady wins the race. While acknowledging that there is much roster building yet to do, Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns did not sound inclined to deviate from his patient approach.

For example, when asked which pitchers are penciled into Milwaukee’s starting rotation, Stearns said, “Frankly, at this point, we don't think too much about that.”

On whether the club will continue to pursue relievers after bringing back Claudio, Stearns said, "I imagine later in the offseason, we'll explore some available relief arms."

This winter is shaping into a test of the Brewers’ disciplined approach under Stearns, who assigns value to an asset and typically sticks to it. That worked well last winter, when the Brewers were able to land what proved a pair of All-Stars -- catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Mike Moustakas -- on one-year contracts when the market did not provide the right multiyear offers. But this offseason has been different, with much more action than a year ago. Stearns acknowledged the differences but remains confident in his group’s ability to find solutions to openings at first base and third base and throughout the pitching staff.

“There are still a whole lot of options left, both in the free-agent market and via trade,” Stearns said. “We have to be disciplined. We think that has served us well over the long run. I think it’s one of the reasons we have been able to allocate our resources effectively and create a competitive team here, because we have stuck to our evaluations on players.

“That fact that so many teams are trying to compete right now is a good thing for the sport. … While it may make the free-agent market slightly less efficient for teams like us, for the sport in general, it’s a positive.”

They did realize cost efficiency in Claudio, who led the Majors and tied a franchise record with 83 appearances in 2019, but was non-tendered last week because the club believed it could sign the left-hander for less than the $2.2 million or so he was projected to cost in arbitration. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported that the new deal pays $1.75 million plus incentives.

The Brewers, who acquired Claudio from the Rangers at last year’s Winter Meetings, originally favored the using him against hitters from both sides of the plate. But he proved most effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .218 average (.274 vs. righties). Manager Craig Counsell figures to use him again in that role in 2020, alongside left-handed relief ace Josh Hader, though a new rule – the three-batter minimum – has the potential to add a new wrinkle.

“It probably changes a little bit of his usage,” Stearns said. “With that said, the vast majority of his appearances last year were three batters or more. On top of that, [the] rule change would be three batters or end of an inning. So there were also plenty of instances where he came in, got the out, and you go to commercial break. That would function the same way.

“So, are there going to be instances where Craig has to think a little differently about his usage? Absolutely. Do we think there’s still a spot for him on this team? Yeah, we do.”

Rodríguez, 27, is a right-handed hitter who has made double-digit starts for the Tigers at all four infield positions over the past two seasons and also has played each corner-outfield spot while slashing .221/.254/.396 over 500 total plate appearances. He looks like a potential replacement for another former Tiger, Hernán Pérez, who opted for free agency earlier this offseason after the Brewers outrighted him from the 40-man roster.

Rodríguez is a little like Perez with more power.

“He can play multiple positions. The thump in the bat is generally the calling card,” Stearns said. “We were happy we were able to get the claim.”

Other tidbits from Day 1:

-- Stearns wouldn’t say how seriously he was considering trading Hader, his most valuable pitching asset. Stearns didn’t rule it out, which is not surprising since doing so would serve little practical purpose. But Stearns did make one thing clear: He places high value on Hader.

“I think we consider him the best reliever in baseball right now,” he said.

-- According to multiple reports, the Brewers remain engaged with free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius, even though they already traded for Padres prospect Luis Urías and re-signed Orlando Arcia. Gregorius "seems likely" to get a multiyear contract worth $14 million to $15 million per year, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

-- The Brewers made an attempt to re-sign reliever Junior Guerra after non-tendering him last week for the same reason they cut loose Claudio -- they hoped to strike a deal for less. Guerra, however, found a contract to his liking from the D-backs.

“We’ve had a lot of industry movement to this point in the offseason, but we are still very early,” Stearns said. “There is a lot of time left.”

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On whether the club will continue to pursue relievers after bringing back Claudio, Stearns said, "I imagine later in the offseason, we'll explore some available relief arms."

This winter is shaping into a test of the Brewers’ disciplined approach under Stearns, who assigns value to an asset and typically sticks to it. That worked well last winter, when the Brewers were able to land what proved a pair of All-Stars -- catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Mike Moustakas -- on one-year contracts when the market did not provide the right multiyear offers. But this offseason has been different, with much more action than a year ago. Stearns acknowledged the differences but remains confident in his group’s ability to find solutions to openings at first base and third base and throughout the pitching staff.

“There are still a whole lot of options left, both in the free-agent market and via trade,” Stearns said. “We have to be disciplined. We think that has served us well over the long run. I think it’s one of the reasons we have been able to allocate our resources effectively and create a competitive team here, because we have stuck to our evaluations on players.

“That fact that so many teams are trying to compete right now is a good thing for the sport. … While it may make the free-agent market slightly less efficient for teams like us, for the sport in general, it’s a positive.”

They did realize cost efficiency in Claudio, who led the Majors and tied a franchise record with 83 appearances in 2019, but was non-tendered last week because the club believed it could sign the left-hander for less than the $2.2 million or so he was projected to cost in salary arbitration. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported that the new deal pays $1.75 million plus incentives.

The Brewers, who acquired Claudio from the Rangers at last year’s Winter Meetings, originally favored the using him against hitters from both sides of the plate. But he proved most effective against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .218 average (.274 vs. righties). Manager Craig Counsell figures to use him again in that role in 2020, alongside left-handed relief ace Josh Hader, though a new rule – the three-batter minimum – has the potential to add a new wrinkle.

“It probably changes a little bit of his usage,” Stearns said. “With that said, the vast majority of his appearances last year were three batters or more. On top of that, [the] rule change would be three batters or end of an inning. So there were also plenty of instances where he came in, got the out, and you go to commercial break. That would function the same way.

“So, are there going to be instances where Craig has to think a little differently about his usage? Absolutely. Do we think there’s still a spot for him on this team? Yeah, we do.”

Rodríguez, 27, is a right-handed hitter who has made double-digit starts for the Tigers at all four infield positions over the past two seasons and also has played each corner outfield spot while slashing .221/.254/.396 over 500 total plate appearances. He looks like a potential replacement for another former Tiger, Hernán Pérez, who opted for free agency earlier this offseason after the Brewers outrighted him from the 40-man roster.

Rodríguez is a little like Perez with more power.

“He can play multiple positions. The thump in the bat is generally the calling card,” Stearns said. “We were happy we were able to get the claim.”

Other tidbits from Day 1:

• Stearns wouldn’t say how seriously he was considering trading Hader, his most valuable pitching asset. Stearns didn’t rule it out, which is not surprising since doing so would serve little practical purpose. But Stearns did make one thing clear: He places high value on Hader.

“I think we consider him the best reliever in baseball right now,” he said.

• According to multiple reports, the Brewers remain engaged with free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius, even though they already traded for Padres prospect Luis Urías and re-signed Orlando Arcia. Gregorius "seems likely" to get a multiyear contract worth $14 million to $15 million per year, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

• The Brewers made an attempt to re-sign reliever Junior Guerra after non-tendering him last week for the same reason they cut loose Claudio -- they hoped to strike a deal for less. Guerra, however, found a contract to his liking from the D-backs.

“We’ve had a lot of industry movement to this point in the offseason, but we are still very early,” Stearns said. “There is a lot of time left.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.