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Melvin looks to fill in rotation with free agents

MILWAUKEE -- On Day 1 of last year's free agent free-for-all, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin possessed a complete starting rotation. It was a luxury, considering that reliable pitching is the game's most elusive and expensive commodity, and Melvin was able to focus on filling some positional needs.

This year, the needs are reversed. The Brewers are mostly set on the field but have vacancies on the pitching staff, making it much more likely that Melvin is among the GMs seeking a starter in this year's market.

Yovani Gallardo will return atop a 2013 rotation that otherwise features question marks. Gone are Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson is coming off shoulder surgery. Marco Estrada was solid in Narveson's place, and the Brewers will have to decide which of their young stable of pitching prospects (Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers) is ready for full-time duty at the Major League level.

Manager Ron Roenicke would like to add least one veteran added to that mix of candidates.

"I don't want to say we 'need to,' but I think you would always like to," Roenicke said. "But who's out there, and for what number?"

In other words, if the numbers aren't right, might the Brewers stick with the in-house options and go with young starting pitchers?

Sure, that's an option.

"Do all of us have the nerve to do that? Do we have the patience to do that?" Melvin asked.

Of the Brewers' own free agents, right-hander Livan Hernandez and catcher Yorvit Torrealba already hit the market during the baseball postseason. Of the rest -- Greinke, Marcum and reliever Francisco Rodriguez -- only Greinke has a chance to return, and Melvin downplayed that possibility when he said he did not expect to pursue any of the top-flight free agents.

That market is open for business, and players can start signing with other clubs after 11 p.m. CT on Friday.

Contract issues
Free agents: SS Alex Gonzalez; RHPs Hernandez, Marcum and Rodriguez; C Torrealba.

Eligible for arbitration: RHPs John Axford, Marco Estrada, Kameron Loe, Jose Veras; LHPs Narveson and Manny Parra; 1B Travis Ishikawa; OFs Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan.

Options: None.

Non-tender possibilities: Veras, Morgan, Parra.

Areas of need
Starting rotation: Among the notable names on the open market are Joe Blanton, Ryan Dempster, Jeff Francis, Greinke, Jeremy Guthrie, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Francisco Liriano, Kyle Lohse, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brandon McCarthy, Anibal Sanchez and Dan Haren, if the Angels decline his option. There is some depth there.

Of course, Greinke is the first choice of many Brewers fans given his success in a season and a half at Miller Park. When the Brewers traded him to the Angels in July, Greinke left open the door to returning. It's up to fans to decide whether Melvin was being sincere or positioning himself for the winter when he said, "My gut feeling is we are not going to be involved in the high-priced free agents."

Melvin added, "That's my initial reaction at this time, but things change. You move pieces on a roster to make available for someone else. I don't anticipate us getting heavily involved in the 'top-tier' free agents."

Bullpen: Closer Axford re-established himself in the second half, but changes are likely to occur in the innings leading up to the ninth. Rodriguez and Hernandez are gone via free agency, and Loe, Parra and Veras could cost more in arbitration.

The Brewers had 29 blown saves in 2012, most in the Majors and a new franchise record. The process of rebuilding the bullpen began even before the season ended.

"We've had statistical people and scouts looking at how bullpens are put together. It's very difficult," Melvin said. "You take [the Rays'] Fernando Rodney, last year he wasn't very good, now he's one of the best in the game today. Oakland's bullpen, you look at their bullpen on where they've headed this year, they've had a lot of young guys that didn't have good statistical years in the Minor Leagues. Bullpens are tough to put together because they have such a short period of time to perform."

Shortstop: The Brewers must decide whether Jean Segura, 23 years old next March and acquired in the Greinke deal with the Angels, is ready for the everyday job. He batted .264 with a .321 on-base percentage and .331 slugging percentage in 44 games in August and September. If the club wants Segura to get more seasoning, or wants an experienced backup, then Gonzalez is a solid candidate to return. He was impressive in a Brewers uniform before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Outfield: Less a "need" than a possible place to add. If Corey Hart stays at first base, the Brewers would enter 2012 with Carlos Gomez as the everyday center fielder and Norichika Aoki in right. The possibility exists of a run at free agent slugger Josh Hamilton, who has already been linked to the Brewers this offseason as a plausible target if -- and this is a huge "if" -- he is unable to secure the sort of megadeal that would price the Brewers out. Hamilton would be a beast at Miller Park, and he could reunite with hitting coach Johnny Narron, who served as Hamilton's handler in both Cincinnati and Texas before taking the Milwaukee job.

2013 payroll:
The Brewers pushed their payroll to nine figures in 2012 for the first time, and will probably have to come back down. Greinke, Marcum, Wolf and Rodriguez cleared just shy of $39 million by departing, though some of that savings will be eaten up by raises due players like Aramis Ramirez ($6 million to $10 million), Ryan Braun ($6 million to $8.5 million) and Gallardo ($5.5 million to $7.75 million).

Milwaukee Brewers, Yovani Gallardo, Jean Segura