Brewers explore options with Fielder testing market

With or without free-agent slugger Prince Fielder, the Milwaukee Brewers want to be a force again in the NL Central. General manager Doug Melvin of Chatham, Ont., has plans for both scenarios.
Led by Prince Fielder, left, and Ryan Braun, the Brewers won the NL Central division title and advanced to the league championship series where they fell to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Milwaukee Brewers are considering their options while star slugger Prince Fielder tests the free agent market. With or without him, they want to be a force again in the National League Central.

General manager Doug Melvin has plans for both scenarios. The Chatham, Ont., native says the Brewers, who won the division title in 2011, are balancing the finances of Fielder's potential salary versus filling holes for 2012.

Melvin and Brewers owner Mark Attanasio met with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, on Tuesday at the general managers meetings in Milwaukee.

"Obviously, the budget will change if we can keep Prince Fielder. That has to be an opportunity-driven budget," Attanasio said Wednesday. "For the same reason, Doug has been meeting with some premium free agents, and if it's the right fit for our club, then we'll make a move. But we're not going to fill the payroll just for the sake of filling payroll."

The 27-year-old Fielder and St. Louis star Albert Pujols are the biggest names in the free agent market this off-season. Fielder, teaming with left-fielder Ryan Braun, who signed a five-year, $105 million US extension in April, helped the Brewers win the division title and advance to the league championship series.

"We think we can compete even if we aren't able to get Prince back," Attanasio said. "There are potential free agents but for right now, we want to leave that spot open for Prince."

While Milwaukee was examining possible approaches should Fielder leave, the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs were trying to decide on a new manager.

Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated reported Wednesday night that the Cubs had offered their opening to Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum. A Cubs spokesman declined comment when asked about the reports.

GM search progressing

"We're trying to move to a conclusion," new general manager Jed Hoyer said earlier Wednesday. "There are multiple teams looking for a manager and we're going to keep things close to the vest."

Hoyer said his team had contacted some of the candidates again. Sveum, Mike Maddux, Sandy Alomar Jr., and Pete Mackanin got in-person interviews and DeMarlo Hale had a phone interview. Former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who talked with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein several times, withdrew his name from consideration during a radio interview Wednesday.

Hoyer also said to his knowledge there was no resolution to the compensation issue between the Cubs and Red Sox for Epstein leaving Boston with a year to go on his deal.

Boston owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner had lunch with Sveum on Wednesday.

"We're going to continue our discussions," Werner said after returning to a downtown Milwaukee hotel with Henry.

Owners, who arrived Wednesday, and general managers were to finish their meetings Thursday. And owners were expected to approve the sale of the Houston Astros from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane. McLane bought the team in November 1992 for about $117 million.

Major League Baseball told Crane it wouldn't approve his purchase of the Astros unless he agreed to move the team to the American League, a person familiar with the negotiations told the The Associated Press.

Crane reportedly agreed to the move in exchange for a drop in the sales price valued earlier this year at $680 million. The person who spoke to the AP couldn't confirm the sales price.

"We'll let baseball talk about that. There were a lot of adjustments, so we'll just wait and see what they have to say [Thursday]," McLane said Wednesday night.

Mixed emotions

McLane said he's leaving with mixed emotions, something that hit him as he attended a meeting with other owners Wednesday.

"Last night when I went to bed, I thought about it. I can remember 19 years ago how elated I was. It's been a wonderful, wonderful ride," he said.

"Each of these owners have been my friends for 19 years. One of the strange things is, I'm one of the older owners right now," McLane said. "There's only seven or eight that have been here longer than I have. Been a world of turnover."

If the Astros switch to the AL West, it would create two 15-team leagues of three five-team divisions each. It'll be difficult for McLane -- at least at first -- to see his team in the other league.

"I've always been a National League fan," he said. "Change is a big part of my life and what I've tried to do in business. I think it's going to be interesting to see the American League teams come in and getting a rivalry with the Rangers. That won't be too bad. It's going to be good."

Rangers president Nolan Ryan, who pitched for the Astros during his Hall of Fame career, said he has some of the same feelings.

"I grew up an Astros fan and I look at the Astros as a National League team but I understand the desire to balance out the two leagues," Ryan said Wednesday.