LAS VEGAS -- Second base is the most obvious need, but it's not the only position at which the Brewers are exploring potential upgrades this week.Brewers officials had what a baseball source characterized as a "very good" meeting on Monday with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, who is on hand with
LAS VEGAS -- Second base is the most obvious need, but it's not the only position at which the Brewers are exploring potential upgrades this week.
Brewers officials had what a baseball source characterized as a "very good" meeting on Monday with free-agent catcher Wilson Ramos, who is on hand with his representatives at the Winter Meetings to meet with teams. Per his policy of not discussing specific trade or free-agent targets, Brewers GM David Stearns declined to talk about the meeting on Tuesday evening, or even confirm it happened. But Stearns did reveal that he's met with multiple free agents at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino this week.
Ramos, 31, an All-Star last season during a year split between the Rays and Phillies, carries injury risk but would represent an upgrade over Milwaukee's in-house trio of Manny Pina, Erik Kratz and 23-year-old prospect Jacob Nottingham.
Ramos slashed .306/.358/.487 with 15 home runs in 382 at-bats in 2018, while Brewers catchers combined to slash .237/.294/.363 for a .657 OPS that tied for 11th of 15 National League teams.
The Mets also reportedly have met with Ramos, whose other suitors include the A's and Twins. But Ramos' camp is said to have sensed "serious interest" from the Brewers, in spite of Milwaukee's current payroll constraints.
Stearns has acknowledged that the budget, by virtue of significant salaries for Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich next season and rising salaries for a large group of arbitration players led by first-time eligible Travis Shaw, is tighter than in the GM's first three offseasons with the club. But Stearns emphasized that owner Mark Attanasio has always been open to stretching the budget when the baseball-operations team believes in an opportunity, and Attanasio continues to encourage spending "when we see value."
The Brewers' current catching corps is already under control for 2019. Kratz signed for $1.2 million to avoid arbitration, and the Brewers tendered Pina a contract to take him into arbitration as a first-time eligible.
Asked about what he prioritizes in a catcher, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said, "I think different guys bring different things. … We've got two guys that I think are very sound defensively. I think obviously offensively, it's a position that they hit as [frequently] as Christian Yelich hits, so offensively they have an important job as well, so you need some offense from that position as well. They have a large job, and there's many ways to be good at it."
Whether it's Ramos or other free agents of interest to the Brewers, Stearns and Counsell said they both sense players view Milwaukee differently in light of the team's 2018 success.
"We used to have a hard time getting on the radar of some players," Counsell said. "Now we're on the radar of every player."
One milepost in the transition from rebuilding team to free-agent destination came in January, when Cain signed a five-year, $80 million contract. Even if the Brewers don't have the flexibility this winter to pursue the top if the market, they are at least on the radar of the next tier of players.
"I think over the last two years, I've certainly felt a change in our desirability compared to the first year or two," Stearns said. "Lorenzo Cain wanted to come here last year. I think that was a good example of it. And this year, we have a number of players who have directed their representatives to reach out directly to us to see if there is a fit."
Is there an advantage to meeting a free agent face to face?
"I think any time we have an opportunity to get in front of a player and the player has the opportunity to get in front of us … we're able to explain the attributes we think the organization has and we get to understand the player a little bit, as well," Stearns said. "Sometimes a player has very specific fits. Sometimes it's helpful to hear about that directly from the player to determine whether there's a match there or not."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.