MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers are still being linked to the top position player available in free agency, outfielder Josh Hamilton, despite general manager Doug Melvin's repeated insistence that he's out of the club's price range. Now it looks like Melvin may have to swat away similar rumblings about the market's top pitcher.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported from the General Managers Meetings on Tuesday that Melvin made an off-hand comment about a recent chat with Zack Greinke, the right-hander who pitched a season and a half for the Brewers before being traded to the Angels.
Melvin downplayed that chat, telling Heyman that he and Greinke just like talking baseball. But, Heyman writes that, "pitching is obviously Milwaukee's need, and Melvin seemed to at least have inquired about Greinke's desires when he reported back that Greinke 'didn't tip his hand.' Neither did Melvin. Not too much, anyway."
Publicly, Melvin has consistently said that he expects Greinke to garner an open-market contract out of reach for the Brewers, who are in the process of paring payroll after pushing over $100 million last season for the first time in club history.
Heyman enumerates the obstacles in the way of a Brewers push for either Hamilton or Greinke, including that the club already has a reliable -- at least a defensively reliable -- center fielder in Carlos Gomez, and that the Brewers do not have endlessly deep pockets. Melvin had joked to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that while the Brewers have a connection to Hamilton in the form of hitting coach Johnny Narron, Hamilton's former "accountability partner" in Cincinnati and Texas, they would need a connection to US Bank to come up with enough cash to make a deal work.
Heyman asked again this week whether Melvin considered the Brewers a long shot for Hamilton, and Melvin responded with one word: "Very."
As for Greinke, the Brewers publicly moved on after offering a nine-figure extension in late June or early July and being turned down by the pitcher, who, along with agent Casey Close, indicated a desire to gauge interest in the open market. The Angels want to re-sign Greinke badly. The Dodgers and Braves could get involved, among other teams.
Could this be a slow play by Melvin, to wait around on the fringes of the Greinke sweepstakes? Sure. If the fit makes sense, Melvin and principal owner Mark Attanasio have shown on multiple occasions a willingness to bust the budget and "go for it." Melvin loves Greinke as a person and as a pitcher, and Greinke was sincere when he said he felt like he fit well in Milwaukee.
The Brewers do have room in their rotation for him. Of the five members of the team's 2012 Opening Day pitching rotation, only Yovani Gallardo is a lock to return. Internal candidates for the other openings include left-hander Chris Narveson, who is coming back from shoulder surgery, right-hander Marco Estrada, plus youngsters Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers.
The Brewers are likely to pursue at least one established starting pitcher in free agency, but Melvin hinted after the season that he was not likely to shop the top shelf.
"My gut feeling is we are not going to be involved in the high-priced free agents," he said. "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."
Asked specifically about Greinke during an Oct. 31 appearance on Milwaukee's 1250-AM WSSP, Melvin said, "I'm sorry, but I don't think that's going to happen. As much as Zack liked it here and enjoyed it here, there's a couple clubs that are going to get heavily involved with him."
So, were Melvin and Greinke just two baseball fans catching up? Or was it something more? Considering the Winter Meetings are more than three weeks away, and the start of Spring Training about three months away, we'll have to wait to find out.