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Brewers lay groundwork for future roster moves

Club quiet but busy at Meetings as search for starter, reliever and shortstop continues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Last year, a quiet Winter Meetings set the stage for a flurry of Brewers activity, from the Alex Gonzalez signing as the team departed to the Aramis Ramirez deal and a trade with the Pirates for reliever Jose Veras the following week.

This winter might not be as active, Brewers officials have forecast. But roster moves are coming.

"We were busy," assistant general manager Gord Ash said before club officials checked out of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. "It just didn't result in anything -- yet."

Instead of new players, Brewers GM Doug Melvin departed with information about which free agents are off the board -- relievers of interest Sean Burnett and Randy Choate signed with clubs, and Jason Grilli appeared close -- and which of the remaining options have mutual interest in Milwaukee. On the relief side, Tom Gorzelanny and J.P. Howell look like the top left-handed options for Milwaukee. On the starting pitcher front, Melvin checked in with the agents for both Ryan Dempster and Edwin Jackson.

For any addition, the price will have to be right. It became clear during these Winter Meetings that the Brewers are serious about making a significant payroll cut from their $100 million level last season, perhaps as much as 20 percent.

"We said we weren't going to get into the free-agent frenzy," Melvin said. "There's 37-year-old guys getting three-year contracts."

That 37-year-old was Choate, who was a non-roster invitee to Brewers camp in 2008 but suffered a hand injury in an off-the-field incident and was eventually released. He has been excellent for the Rays, Marlins and Dodgers since then, and Wednesday received a three-year contract from the Cardinals.

On the trade front, it is even quieter for the Brewers.

"We met with certain teams, but I don't necessarily see trades happening with us," Melvin said. "Because if you trade a player, you have to replace a player. You're just creating another hole. So nothing [is imminent] in that regard.

"We still believe in our team. We believe in our younger players. We believe in the guys from last August on, it's just a matter of [covering] a 162-game season. That's the risk factor that we take."

Deals done: None

Rule 5 Draft activity: None in the Major League phase, though the Brewers had an eye on an unspecified player who was selected before them. In the Minor League phase, the Brewers, as expected, lost second baseman Eric Farris, who they had protected only at the Double-A level in the hopes a team would give him an opportunity. Farris was blocked in Milwaukee by Rickie Weeks, and prospect Scooter Gennett is expected to start 2013 at Triple-A Nashville.

Unfinished business: The starting-pitching market was still frozen as Brewers officials packed their bags, with everyone waiting for Zack Greinke to pick a team. Once he does, other players, including Dempster and Jackson, will move. The Brewers would still like to add a starter but are very hesitant to go past two years, and that could make it a challenge.

They will also continue to pursue relief. Milwaukee has no left-handers after nontendering Manny Parra, but Melvin downplayed the urgency of that need.

"We're not chasing left-handers," Melvin said. "If there's a left-hander who is available, [fine], but we've found them in the past with Brian Shouse and Mitch Stetter. It's hard to commit to a left-hander sometimes in the National League. You may have to carry 13 pitchers if you're carrying one situational lefty. Ron [Roenicke, the Brewers' manager] said, too, 'I don't have to have a lefty just to have a lefty. I want a guy who can get people out.'"

The Brewers are also in the shortstop market. They would like an experienced backup to 22-year-old starter Jean Segura and have strong interest in bringing back Alex Gonzalez, though he is seeking a starting job and is in a good position to get one, even though he is coming off knee surgery. The Brewers are also looking for a Double-A shortstop after Hector Gomez suffered a serious groin injury that will require surgery. Gomez was examined in Milwaukee on Thursday by Dr. William Raasch and could miss four months in one scenario or as much as eight months in another, Ash said.

Team's bottom line: "I think there was a lot of unfinished business here, a lot of unresolved conversations. I can't say it will be next week, but there will be some activity." -- Ash

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy.
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