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Baseball Notes

Melvin prefers brewing deals before deadline

By Nick Cafardo
July 17, 2011

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Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is one of the best at reading trade markets, so when he needed a reliever at the back end of his bullpen, he considered those he believed were available, including the Padres’ Heath Bell. He decided to strike on the Mets’ Frankie Rodriguez rather than losing him to another team because of procrastination.

“Bell was out there but San Diego wasn’t a match for us,’’ Melvin said. “We had blown 10-12 saves - not John Axford, who has done a nice job for us - but we needed to help the back end of the bullpen. We haven’t had [Manny] Parra all year and [LaTroy] Hawkins had been hurt, though he’s pitching well right now. So we looked at all the issues and with our owner’s support we went out and did this. Our concern was getting the club better for the final couple of months of the season and that’s what we considered.’’

The Brewers were certainly aware of Rodriguez’s vesting option, which kicks in at $17.5 million if he finishes 55 games (he needed 21 more to reach it when the deal was made, and if he didn’t he could be bought out for $3.5 million). The Brewers and Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras, have since reworked the contract to make the vesting option mutual, at the expense of increasing the buyout figure to $4 million.

Without the risk of being locked into a $17.5 million commitment for next season, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke is free to use Rodriguez as a co-closer with Axford. Rodriguez also has a solid history with Roenicke from their days with the Angels.

Melvin is no stranger to impact deals. He acquired CC Sabathia from the Indians weeks ahead of the trade deadline in 2008, and Sabathia led the team to the playoffs.

Melvin said he has not sought starting pitching because “I don’t think there are any difference-makers out there. There are no Sabathias or Cliff Lees available.’’ Melvin said that in making calls and feeling out teams for what they might be willing to deal, he’s found that this trade market will be more difficult to navigate if you wait too long.

“There are teams that normally aren’t in it who are now in it, who won’t be selling players off and will be looking for the same things you’re looking for,’’ Melvin said. “All of the races are so tight and there are a lot of teams in the hunt so it’s going to be competitive out there and teams are going to hold out for more in any type of deal.’’

Melvin swung a deal in the offseason for Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, and while Greinke has had his ups and downs, he still gives the Brewers ace potential every time he takes the mound. Melvin also had to hold his breath and see what type of season Prince Fielder would have in his walk year.

While it’s assumed Fielder won’t be a Brewer next season, Melvin said, “I’ve been very impressed with the fact that Prince has really been focused on having an All-Star-type year. I give him a lot of credit because these can be pressuring for a player, but Prince has gone out there and made quite an impact for our team and proving that he’s one of the best in the game.’’

Melvin said he wants to improve his bench depth. It’s also evident the Brewers need a shortstop with Yuniesky Betancourt having an awful season.

He also knows that the National League Central race is there for the taking.

The Brewers seem to have the most balanced team, with good starting pitching and a productive lineup that includes Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Rickie Weeks.

It will be interesting to see what the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds do to counter the Brewers’ move.

“I don’t think you ever want to make a move for the sake of making a move,’’ said Melvin. “That usually doesn’t work out, so I’m sure teams in our division are just contemplating what might work for them.’’

The Reds are seeking a starting pitcher and have made overtures for Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto said the Reds “haven’t had that 5-10 game stretch where we’re rattling off some wins. It seems like every day has been a grind, win a one-run game or lose a one-run game. At some point I think it’s going to come easier for us.’’

Despite the fact that many view the Reds’ season as disappointing, Votto said, “I think we’re a better team this year. I really do. I think guys have really come into their own. Jay Bruce is having a great year. Mike Leake has pitched so well. [Aroldis] Chapman looks better. Those are important pieces to the puzzle. We really want to finish strong because we feel we have a great chance to repeat.’’

The Cardinals have Albert Pujols back. They’d like to acquire a starting pitcher and there have been reports they are dangling center fielder Colby Rasmus.

The Pirates find themselves in an odd position. After setting the American professional sports record with 18 consecutive losing seasons, they are at the point where they are competing for not only a winning season, but for the Central title.

So what do the Pirates do? Acquire veteran help or continue with their development?

The Pirates are in a tough stretch of games that won’t necessarily make or break them, but will give them a more realistic idea of where they are. The schedule gets tougher starting next week with a six-game homestand against the Reds and Cardinals, followed by a weeklong road trip to end the month against NL East powers Atlanta and Philadelphia.

“We have the talent to do it and, more importantly, we have the right attitude to do it,’’ said Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. “We’re focused on just the day at hand. We don’t dwell on wins and we don’t dwell on losses. We just get ready for the next day. Our focus has been good since the first day of spring training.’’

SACRIFICE SITUATION
Family first for Sox draft pick A onetime top-50 high school player, Matt Marquis risked his professional career to take care of his parents, who have battled different forms of cancer since 2008. Marquis, from Annandale, N.J., was originally selected as an outfielder in the 28th round of the 2008 draft by the Red Sox out of high school, but decided to honor his commitment and scholarship to Vanderbilt, where he made the varsity team as a freshman.

After breaking his hand in a sliding drill and missing his sophomore season, Marquis decided to leave Vanderbilt and enroll at Maryland. His dad, whose bladder cancer was in remission, redeveloped the ailment after his mom had gone into remission for Stage 4 uterine cancer.

“We had a tough talk after I was diagnosed about what his role would be in taking care of his mother and three wonderful sisters if I didn’t make it,’’ said Al Marquis, a business investor in the New Jersey area. “There were a lot of questions facing our family. Matt made the decision that he wanted to spend quality time with me and put his baseball career on hold.

“We talked through the ramifications of doing what he did and the risk involved, but he decided that he wouldn’t be able to have his head where he needed it to be and he wanted to be home with me.

“I guess I was so angry and yet so satisfied. Angry, because of what had happened to me he was making such a sacrifice. As a parent you’re supposed to worry about and take care of your kids, your kids shouldn’t have to worry and take care of you. But we spent six wonderful weeks together.’’

Marquis, a 6-foot 2-inch, 200-pound righthanded hitter, got some at-bats his senior year, but his stock had surely fallen.

The Red Sox stayed with him, and drafted him in the 41st round (he’s expected to sign pending a physical) hoping that the skills they first saw as a high school player and then in college can be built upon.

“I can’t say enough about the Red Sox organization,’’ Al Marquis said. “They have been so supportive and receptive to Matt and what he’s gone through.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better situation.’’

POWER SURPLUS
Chester gives the ball a ride Nobody knows whether first baseman David Chester will make it to the majors, but the former University of Pittsburgh slugger had a nice day Thursday at Eddie Popowski Field in Fort Myers, Fla., in a loss to the Gulf Coast Rays. Chester, a 33d-round selection of the Red Sox, struck out twice, but also blasted two long home runs to left field that easily cleared the fence.

Chester, is 6-5, 270 pounds, and a former Oklahoma high school tight end who passed up football scholarships to play baseball first at Seminole State College in Oklahoma and then Pitt. Chester hit 16 homers and drove in 60 runs to go with a .346 average in 56 games his senior year. He had big numbers at Seminole State, hitting 18 homers in each of his two years.

“That was a good day,’’ Chester said after doing sprints in 100-degree heat after the game.

“I’m starting to feel better after getting some at-bats. It had been almost a month playing between the end of the college season and by the time I signed. So it was a struggle at first, but now I’m seeing the ball real well. I’ve always had the power, but my main concern is getting some good at-bats right now.’’

Chester said he’s lost about five pounds playing in the Florida heat every day.

He said the organization isn’t as concerned with his weight as it is about reducing his body fat in an effort for him to become more agile defensively.

In an organization that doesn’t have much power, Chester could emerge as a classic slugger. He’ll always be a high strikeout guy, but when he connects, he really connects.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. Seems quiet on the Red Sox trade front at the moment, but stay tuned; 2. Fans attending the All-Star Game in Phoenix did not acquit themselves very well, booing virtually everything. Felt like Philly; 3. Saw Brewzer, the clubhouse dog, in Fort Myers. Sends his best; 4. Gulf Coast Red Sox manager Dave Tomlin is one tough son of a gun; 5. Why would a judge declare a mistrial when he easily could have reprimanded the prosecution for introducing improper evidence in the Roger Clemens perjury trial?

Updates on nine 1. Heath Bell, closer, Padres - He remains a target of the Phillies, Yankees, Rays, and possibly Cardinals. Bell has given the OK to be used as a setup man, but for this season only. “I definitely want to close next year, but if I have to go somewhere to set up this year, I would do it,’’ Bell said. “I like the National League because I know everybody and I look at the American League and they really don’t know me. But I don’t think at the major league level you can fool anybody or trick anybody.’’

2. Tony Reagins, general manager, Angels - He has not been shy about making deals at the deadline, pulling the trigger on Mark Teixeira in 2008, Scott Kazmir in 2009, and Dan Haren and Alberto Callaspo last season. What will he do now? The Angels could use a power bat and Carlos Beltran and Aramis Ramirez remain on their radar. Garrett Jones talks with Pittsburgh have also been reported. The only untouchable is 19-year-old outfielder Mike Trout, but the Angels may still have enough to give back for someone significant. The only question is how much more over their $140 million payroll will owner Arte Moreno go?

3. Edwin Jackson, RHP, White Sox - He is a power arm who hasn’t had the best of seasons, but he is available as the White Sox try to determine what to do with Jake Peavy, who has been disappointing since being acquired from the Padres. Peavy could be facing bullpen time when John Danks returns from the disabled list.

4. Hiroki Kuroda, RHP, Dodgers - The Tigers need a No. 5 starter and will consider internal candidates, but Kuroda remains a possible fit. Tigers scouts have been watching Kuroda and it appears the Dodgers are about ready to start selling off players.

5. Hunter Pence, RF, Astros - One thing the Astros’ people agreed on when they met last week in Houston is that nobody on their team is off limits, but Pence is the face of their organization. The Astros would have to be completely blown away to deal him. He would be a terrific fit for the Red Sox, but not sure there’s a match. While the Astros have received a lot of inquiries on lefthander Wandy Rodriguez, it would also take a big return package to make a deal happen. Brett Myers, however, is in play. The Astros might have a decent market for Myers, who could solidify the back end of a rotation and also add postseason experience to a contender.

6. Pat Burrell, OF, Giants - Much speculation that the veteran righthanded hitter, who is struggling at .233 (7 homers, 21 RBIs) and went on the 15-day DL last week, could be gone if the Giants can secure another hitter such as Beltran. The Mets’ switch-hitter remains a top priority for the Giants, who may be dangling lefthander Jonathan Sanchez.

7. Melky Cabrera, OF, Royals - According to multiple league sources, the Royals have been active in getting out word about the availability of some of their players. Cabrera remains front and center, and they would also consider moving Jeff Francoeur. The switch-hitting Cabrera is only 26 and hitting .293 with 11 homers, and 52 RBIs with a .784 OPS. Cabrera seemed lost in Atlanta last season, but has found his talent level again. Francoeur can hit lefties (.310, 7 homers, 20 RBIs) and has been on Boston’s radar.

8. Ryan Ludwick, OF, Padres - The Phillies, Red Sox, Indians, and Reds are teams that have interest in the righthanded-hitting outfielder who could be a key offensive piece in either league. The Padres, who will use Bell and perhaps Mike Adams as major trade pieces, expect to get a decent return for Ludwick.

9. Dan Wheeler, RP, Red Sox - The team would entertain a deal for Wheeler if it could get a prospect in return. The Sox have had difficulty finding a role for Wheeler since they signed him as a free agent last winter. If Bobby Jenks (back on the DL) smooths out his performance and the rotation gets healthy - which would move Alfredo Aceves back to the bullpen - it’s not far-fetched that the Sox would deal the experienced reliever.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck files: “Joe Maddon of the Rays loves using pinch hitters, sending 73 to the plate this year which is more than the Royals (31) and the Mariners (32) combined.’’ And, “You think the new Yankee Stadium leads the majors in homers? You think wrong. It’s surrendered 116, but the Rangers’ home in Arlington has given up 142.’’ Also, “lefthanded batters have out-tripled their righthanded counterparts, 276-213, despite over 13,000 fewer plate appearances.’’ . . . The top college players in the country will compete in the 47th Cape Cod League All-Star Game, at Fenway Park, July 29, at 7:05 p.m. Played at Fenway for the third straight summer, the event features a pregame home run derby, autograph session, and silent auction with baseball memorabilia. Discounted concession items will also be available. The game will be dedicated to the memory of Christina-Taylor Green, 9-year-old victim of the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson in which US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured. Green’s grandfather is former major league manager Dallas Green. Tickets are general admission and priced at $10. They can be purchased at www.capecodbaseball.org or www.redsox.com/capecod, or by calling 877-REDSOX-9. Tickets will also be available at Cape League games . . . Wish Rolando Arrojo (43) and Mike Greenwell (48) a happy birthday tomorrow.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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