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Brewers look forward as Greinke lands in new city

MILWAUKEE -- Zack Greinke's six-year, $147 million contract with the Dodgers, finalized on Tuesday, makes him only the latest of a series of high-profile players to say, "Thanks, but no thanks," to the Brewers before finding record-setting riches in free agency.

"We're a pretty good farm for big free-agent contracts," Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said.

He rattled off some examples. The Brewers offered left fielder Carlos Lee a four-year, $48 million extension in 2006 and were rebuffed, so they traded Lee to the Rangers and figured he might get $60 million when he reached free agency after the 2007 season. Instead, Lee got six years and $100 million from the Astros. That same winter, the Brewers offered closer Francisco Cordero four years and $42 million to stay, plus an option for a fifth year, but he signed instead with the Reds for four years and $46 million. In 2008, the Brewers tried hard to retain left-hander CC Sabathia, but were blown out of the water by the Yankees' seven-year, $161 million offer.

Lee's deal was the richest in Astros history and made him the third-highest-paid outfielder in baseball history in terms of average annual value. The total value of Cordero's contract made him the richest relief pitcher ever, second in average annual value only to the Yankees' Mariano Rivera. Sabathia's deal with the Yankees was the largest contract ever for a pitcher.

Now comes Greinke, whose $24.5 million average annual value sets a Major League record, just topping Sabathia's $24.4 million. The total value of Greinke's contract makes him the richest right-handed pitcher in baseball history.

All four of those players -- Lee, Cordero, Sabathia and Greinke -- were acquired by the Brewers in trades. Then there is Prince Fielder, the home-grown first baseman who bolted the Brewers last winter for a nine-year, $214 million contract with the Tigers. Among first basemen, only Albert Pujols was better compensated.

None of this surprises Melvin.

"That's the way free agency works," Melvin said. "That's the business we're in. That's the system in place right now. We keep doing what we can do, and that's it.

"I don't blame players for taking the money that they're getting. I don't think anybody in any business is going to turn down money that's offered to them."

Just like Sabathia four years earlier, the Brewers made clear they were willing to offer a lot of money. In late July, with the Brewers struggling and rival teams beginning to inquire about trades, Melvin communicated to Greinke's agent, Casey Close, that the Brewers would be willing to top $100 million for Greinke, and asked whether that was in the ballpark of what Greinke was seeking.

The answer was no, so the Brewers, rather than risk losing Greinke in free agency, traded him to the Angels on July 27 for shortstop Jean Segura and two pitching prospects, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena.

After that, "I figured [Greinke] would get the top pitching contract out there," Melvin said. "There's no reason not to. These things have been going this way for a long while. [Cole] Hamels signed in Philly, Matt Cain signed with the Giants, and it created an opportunity for Zack to go out there at [29] years of age as the top free agent pitcher on the market."

He exceeded those other pitchers mentioned by Melvin. Hamels signed for six years and $144 million. Cain, a fellow right-hander with comparable statistics to Greinke, re-signed with the Giants for five years and $112.5 million at the end of Spring Training, an agreement that essentially severed the Brewers' concurrent talks with Greinke. Days later, Greinke, who had been speaking directly with Brewers officials, re-aligned with Close. Negotiations with the Brewers never really resumed.

Once he reached free agency, Greinke was pursued by the Angels, Dodgers and Rangers. His choice came down to the Dodgers and Rangers, and he picked L.A., where he will work in a pitcher's park and get to hit.

The Brewers, meanwhile, are looking at the lower tiers of free agent starters including Ryan Dempster, or they might stick with the young arms already in-house. Among their haul for Greinke was Segura, pegged as Milwaukee's starting shortstop for 2013, and right-hander Hellweg, who will compete for a spot in the bullpen.

The Brewers' payroll will be in the $80-$90 million range on Opening Day. The Dodgers' current projected payroll is about $225 million, which would be a Major League record.

Does that disparity concern Melvin?

"No," he said. "Everybody has to do what they have to do, make whatever deals they feel are best for their own situation. Everybody's parameters are different."

Zack Greinke