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Brewers stay pat on opening day of Meetings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Brewers are indeed interested in free-agent starting pitcher Ryan Dempster, then it was clear on a quiet Day 1 of the Winter Meetings that general manager Doug Melvin prefers to remain quiet about his pursuit.

Melvin said little when asked about the Brewers' level of interest in the 35-year-old Dempster, a fellow Canadian who could make sense for Milwaukee because he's an innings eater and has had success at Miller Park.

As of Monday evening, Melvin and Dempster's agent, Craig Landis, had no plans to meet, though that could change in the coming days.

"While he's here, we might as well [meet]," Melvin said. "We like the starters that we have, though. You've got [Yovani] Gallardo, you've got [Marco] Estrada and [Mike] Fiers, [Wily] Peralta, Mark Rogers, [Chris] Narveson. Is it time to give our young guys a chance and find out about them?"

Fiers and Peralta have Minor League options remaining. 

Melvin also mentioned Hiram Burgos and Tyler Thornburg in the depth department.

The Brewers are also in the market for relief help, but would rather stick to one- or two-year contracts for pitchers. The Brewers are understandably hesitant about entering longer-term contracts after recent experiences with David Riske, Jeff Suppan and Randy Wolf soured at the end. Suppan signed a four-year pact in 2006 and Wolf signed for three years plus an option in 2009, and the Brewers wound up releasing both pitchers during the final season of those contracts.

Adding to the Brewers' caution with Dempster is his age -- 35, four years older than Suppan at the time he signed with Milwaukee and two years older than Wolf -- and the fact the team is in the process of paring payroll.

But Melvin did not entirely rule out going past two years for the right player.

"It's up to the individual player, who it is. It's up to the dollars," Melvin said. "I'll do a 10-year deal if the money is right. If you want $1 million a year, I'll do 10."

Asked whether the Brewers' unwillingness to go to three years would be a deal breaker for Dempster, Landis said, "Right now, yeah."

Melvin was more open about his interest in some of the available relievers, saying he had spoken recently to agents for players including Sean Burnett and Jason Grilli. The Brewers have significant interest in both of those players, among others.

Burnett is left-handed -- a priority for the Brewers since they non-tendered Manny Parra last week. Melvin said he would prefer to fill that hole via free agency rather than a trade, saying, "You don't like to trade guys for left-handed relievers if you can help it."

Mike Gonzalez, Randy Choate and Hideki Okajima are among the other lefty relievers on the market.

Melvin said Burnett's agent, Jim Munsey, is not at these Winter Meetings, and Burnett and his wife just had a baby, "so you can tell we talked to them," Melvin joked.

Grilli's agent is familiar to Brewers fans: former shortstop Gary Sheffield. Grilli, 36, missed all of 2010 with a serious knee injury but has returned to post the two best seasons of his career. He has a 2.76 ERA in 92 games for the Pirates over the last two years.

"Maybe he's just adjusted to the bullpen. Maybe he's better conditioned," Melvin said. "Sometimes when guys miss years and they're rehabbing, they get their entire body in better condition. I heard Cliff Lee say that once, that when he was out with an injury, he came back [better] because all of the conditioning and physical therapy that they do. He said his core was stronger, his legs were stronger, and the ball came out of his hand 2-3 mph faster."

Other right-handed relievers on Milwaukee's radar: Kevin Gregg, Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor. There will also be terrific opportunity for in-house options, like Jairo Asencio, Fautino De Los Santos, Johnny Hellweg, Arcenio Leon and Michael Olmsted.

Other tidbits from Melvin's afternoon briefing with reporters:

• As if there were any doubt, the Brewers view Estrada and Narveson as starting pitchers at this time.

• Melvin said he had no active trade talks, and that the trade market in general was quiet. That should pick up after some of the top free agents sign.

• Melvin said some of his meetings with agents were at the agents' request, to run through their stable of available players. That's standard operating procedure during the Winter Meetings.

• Melvin had not received any recent inquiries about Corey Hart, who is entering the final year of his contract, nor has he had talks with Hart's agent, Jeff Berry, about an extension. Melvin wouldn't say whether he believed recent deals signed by B.J. Upton with the Braves (five years, $75 million) and Angel Pagan with the Giants (four years, $40 million) had driven up Hart's price.

"I don't know what the price is. I haven't met with them," Melvin said.

• The Brewers have had some teams ask about their catchers, Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado. But Melvin likes the idea of retaining depth behind the plate, and said a team would have to come to him with a strong offer.

If he traded Lucroy, who is signed through 2016, or Maldonado, who is not arbitration-eligible until 2015, Melvin would then have to find a backup catcher for the big league club.

• The Brewers have one opening on the 40-man roster at the moment, and a need for relievers, but Melvin said he didn't expect to make a selection in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft. The Brewers will review their options anyway -- a process led by pro scouting director Zack Minasian.

Milwaukee Brewers, Hiram Burgos, Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Yovani Gallardo, Corey Hart, Jonathan Lucroy, Chris Narveson, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg