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Melvin keeping close tabs on deep relief market

MILWAUKEE -- Jonathan Broxton's three-year, $21 million deal with the Reds on Wednesday further reinforced a rich market for free-agent relievers -- a group the Brewers will have to tap before the winter is over.

Yet, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin insisted in the wake of the Broxton deal that he was not daunted.

"Every year, the first signings are always a little bit more than what you'd think -- that's why the players sign them," Melvin said. "Free agency drives up the [cost] every year. I feel like you have to look at each player individually. Every player has an idea of where they want to go and at what cost."

Melvin and his staff have been working through the list of free agents and potential trade targets in advance of next week's Winter Meetings in Nashville. His task is to remake a bullpen that ranked last in the Majors in relief ERA (4.66) and blown saves (a franchise-record 29).

So far, the cost for relief arms is high. Among the high-profile early signees are left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who returned to the Giants for three years and $18 million, right-hander Brandon League, who signed with the Dodgers for three years and $22.5 million, and Broxton, who is guaranteed $21 million and could earn up to $29 million if the Reds exercise an option for a fourth season.

Notably, both League and Broxton are expected to be their club's closer. The Brewers have an in-house option for that role in John Axford, who reclaimed the job down the stretch after losing it in July, and can focus on middle relief and setup arms.

The market for setup men will be more forgiving, with Affeldt at the very high end. In one early example, the Rays re-signed Joel Peralta for two years and $6 million guaranteed.

Among the notable relievers still available in free agency are Rafael Soriano, Jose Valverde, Matt Capps and Joakim Soria -- all closer types, though Soria is coming off a second Tommy John procedure -- plus left-handers Sean Burnett, Randy Choate and J.P. Howell and right-handers Mike Adams, Francisco Cordero, Chad Durbin, Jason Grilli, LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Lindstrom, Brandon Lyon, Kyle McClellan, Koji Uehara and Jamey Wright.

"We're making contacts right now," Melvin said. "There are a lot of relievers still out there. They sit there and wait until the big guys sign."

A group of Brewers staffers led by pro scouting director Zack Minasian has also built a list of pitchers potentially available in a trade. The Phillies are reportedly going that route, working a deal with the Astros for right-hander Wilton Lopez on Wednesday. Lopez finished last season as Houston's closer.

Milwaukee Brewers