MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' top free-agent target fell off the board Thursday, when right-hander Ryan Dempster and the Red Sox reached terms on a two-year contract, a development that increased the likelihood Milwaukee will fill its starting-rotation vacancies from within.
General manager Doug Melvin confirmed that he had made a formal offer to Dempster, who made sense for the Brewers as an innings-eater, a quality clubhouse presence and a ground-ball pitcher with a long history of success at hitter-friendly Miller Park.
Dempster's deal with Boston is pending a physical exam. It was first reported by FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, who said Dempster would earn $26.5 million.
"I don't want to say what our offer was, but we made what we considered to be the best offer we could do," Melvin said after news of the deal broke. "He decided to go with the Red Sox. They have to make the determination about the gap, if there's a big gap in money. And there might have been. The other thing is, there might have been other teams involved, too."
Melvin said Dempster's agent, Craig Landis, never countered the Brewers' offer, which was probably for two years. Landis did send Melvin an email on Thursday afternoon saying the player had picked Boston.
Dempster will be 36 in May, but he appealed to the Brewers as a veteran complement to right-hander Yovani Gallardo, the only lock for next year's starting rotation. Dempster was often at his best against Milwaukee, pitching to a 2.65 ERA in 49 games, 27 starts -- including a 2.66 ERA in 26 games, 14 starts at Miller Park.
Now what? Potentially very little.
"I've said that all along, that we want to give an opportunity to our younger pitchers," Melvin said. "We haven't done that."
So the Brewers appear content going to Spring Training with in-house candidates vying for rotation spots behind Gallardo, a list that includes Marco Estrada, Chris Narveson, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers. Tyler Thornburg and the Brewers' 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Hiram Burgos, both ticketed for Triple-A Nashville in a perfect world, may have to be pushed up.
Those young arms would fit the team's financial plan, as the Brewers are in the process of reducing payroll by as much as 20 percent from a club-record $100 million-plus in 2012.
"Our young pitchers earned an opportunity last year, with the way they pitched, that they should at least be given a chance," Melvin said. "Dempster was one guy that we did think we had a chance on. We liked his character, we liked his experience of pitching in this division. Beyond him, I don't see the next level of starters that we're going to get involved with.
"We have some names there [in the system]. We're not going to get caught up in this frenzy of free agency. We still have to be smart with what we do."
The Brewers have openings in the bullpen, too. John Axford is back as the closer, with recently acquired Burke Badenhop penciled into a sixth- or seventh-inning role and 2012 midseason callups Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler currently the top candidates to work the eighth. That leaves at least three spots unspoken for, with a slew of unproven candidates in camp, including Johnny Hellweg, Michael Olmsted and Josh Stinson among the possibilities.
The Brewers were linked Thursday to one familiar free agent, Mike Adams, who pitched in Milwaukee from 2004-06 and was briefly Milwaukee's closer. Melvin said he had met with Adams' representatives, the Levinson brothers, but gave no indication that those talks had progressed.
"Most of these guys know where they want to go; they're just waiting for teams," Melvin said.
Asked whether the recent flurry of signings might spark trade talks with other teams, Melvin said, "There's not a lot of phone calls at this point. We've thrown some ideas, some names, out there, but nothing serious enough to pursue."
"There are still a bunch of names on the board," Melvin said. "We're still working and looking at add players. We're just making sure we're making the right decisions for the short term and the long term, too."
Which brought the conversation to outfielder Josh Hamilton, whose name was doggedly connected to the Brewers all winter because of his ties to Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron. Hamilton and Narron were paired previously in Cincinnati and Texas, with Narron serving as Hamilton's "accountability partner."
Hamilton reached terms Thursday with the Angels, reportedly for five years and $125 million. Melvin was asked whether the chatter about the Brewers' pursuit of the slugger was legitimate.
"All you have to do is look at the contract," Melvin said.