Brewers send Lee to Texas for four

Brewers send Lee, Cruz to Texas for four

MILWAUKEE -- It became clear to the Brewers on Thursday that free-agent-to-be Carlos Lee was going to walk. So in the wee hours Friday morning, they sent their best player packing.

The Brewers traded Lee and promising outfield prospect Nelson Cruz to the Texas Rangers for reliever Francisco Cordero, outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix and Minor League left-hander Julian Cordero. Lee was on the way to another career year -- he led the Brewers this season with 28 home runs and 81 RBIs -- but faced with the likelihood of losing him after the season and getting only compensatory draft picks in return, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin went shopping.

Mench presumably will replace Lee in left field and Francisco Cordero should help a bullpen that surely needs it. Nix and Julian Cordero were assigned to Minor League affiliates.

Melvin bunkered down with his top lieutenants at Miller Park on Thursday after Lee and his agent, Adam Katz, rejected an offer of four years and $48 million. The Brewers would have gone higher on the dollars but not the years, but Katz and Lee wanted a five-year commitment, something the Brewers were not willing to offer a player who turned 30 last month.

"The response from Carlos' representative was that we were too far apart to even counter," Melvin said. "When we got off the phone yesterday, we knew he was going to leave the Brewers."

Lee said repeatedly he wanted to re-sign with Milwaukee and that, "it's up to Doug Melvin," but according to several sources Lee may have been feeling pressure from Katz and the Players Association to help set the free agent market for marquee outfielders.

"It's frustrating and disappointing," said Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio. "On a personal level, I was very fond of Carlos and obviously he's an enormously productive player. On the other hand, as I'm learning, this is a business."

Since the Brewers acquired him from the White Sox at the 2004 Winter Meetings, Lee had played in 264 straight games, 10 shy of Robin Yount's Brewers record. Lee has played in 275 straight games including the end of his last season in Chicago, the fifth-longest active streak in the Majors, and Lee is well on the way to his fourth straight 30-homer, 99-RBI season.

In other words, the Rangers know what they are getting, at least for the next two months. The players headed to Milwaukee come with plenty of question marks.

Can Cordero, an All-Star in 2004, continue his stretch of success since moving from the Rangers' closer role to setup in late April? Can Mench produce as an everyday player? Can Nix finally reach his potential? Who is Julian Cordero?

Francisco Cordero, 31, allowed four runs to the New York Yankees in the eighth inning of an eventual Rangers loss on Wednesday, but he has been solid since Rangers manager Buck Showalter made Akinori Otsuka the closer and moved Cordero to a setup role. Before Wednesday, Cordero had not given up multiple runs in an outing in more than two months.

The Brewers could use a steady hand in what has been an inconsistent relief corps. Entering Friday's game, the Brewers' 5.17 bullpen ERA was the worst in the National League.

Mench, 28, has been on the trading block for weeks. He grabbed national attention by hitting a home run in seven straight games in April, a new club record and one short of a Major League mark, but had just five homers and 32 RBIs in 251 at-bats since the streak ended April 28.

Nix, 25, was Texas' Opening Day center fielder last season but suffered a shoulder injury and has spent most of this year at Triple-A Oklahoma trying to rebound. He was hitting .269 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs in 77 games. Julian Cordero, 21, was 2-5 in 27 games, five starts, at Class A Clinton.

Asked if the trade immediately improved the Brewers' roster, Melvin said it put the team "in better position for next year and the following years."

Mench will be eligible for his second round of salary arbitration this winter and will get a bump from his $2.8 million salary, and Melvin said the team intends to pick up Cordero's 2007 option at more than $5 million.

With those figures in mind, Melvin bristled at the mention of a salary dump.

"Combined, they'll be making close to $10 million," Melvin said. "These are two established players who have had a lot of success in the big leagues. They'll continue to earn money."

And they'll do that in Milwaukee. Melvin said at least one team called before the Brewers even formally announced the trade asking if the Brewers were willing to deal Mench, "and I told them we're not." Attanasio said another club had called on Cordero.

The Brewers have had luck in recent trades that created immediate public backlash. Melvin acquired pitchers Dave Bush and Zach Jackson and outfielder Gabe Gross from the Blue Jays for Lyle Overbay, opening first base for Prince Fielder and adding three players who have helped the Brewers this season. The team got Lee from the White Sox for popular outfielder Scott Podsednik, and Chicago went on to win the World Series while Lee became a Milwaukee mainstay. And the whopper came in December 2003, when Melvin dealt slugger Richie Sexson to Arizona in a nine-player trade that was at first blasted but is now considered one of the most one-sided deals in all of baseball over the past five years.

"We know he's popular with the fans. He's popular with us, too," Melvin said of Lee. "But that's the business part of the game that we all get faced with. ... If he feels that there is an opportunity to go out there and maximize his earnings as a free agent player when he's had the kind of year that he's had, then that's his decision. We respect that decision.

"We just felt that this was the best deal for us to make. It was a deal we felt we needed to make."

Melvin tried to get Mench and Francisco Cordero straight-up for Lee. But because the Rangers are only guaranteed Lee's services for two months -- a point Texas GM Jon Daniels made repeatedly during negotiations -- Nix and Cruz were included to "balance out the deal," Melvin said. Cruz is an exceptional prospect who hit his 20th home run for Triple-A Nashville on Thursday night.

The Brewers entertained offers from five other clubs. Detroit agreed to include top pitching prospect Humberto Sanchez, but the Brewers were concerned about a recent bout of elbow soreness. Houston became a serious player late Thursday, and the Cardinals had also shown some interest, but Melvin wasn't willing to deal Lee within the division. The Los Angeles Dodgers dropped out of the running after their poor start to the second half, but the cross-town Angels remained in the running to the end. Oakland and Minnesota also inquired.

"They were all for younger players, prospect-type players, that probably wouldn't have worn Brewers uniforms until the end of next year," Melvin said. "If you looked at what our other options were, this was the best deal that we could make."

Had the Brewers made one of the other deals, Melvin argued, critics' claims about waving the white flag on 2006 would have been warranted. But he made a case that the players involved could help the Brewers in the immediate and long-term future.

Mench and Francisco Cordero were expected at Miller Park on Friday night, when the team began a key three-game series against the Reds. Nix will head to Triple-A Nashville, and Julian Cordero is headed to Class A West Virginia.

Texas went into Friday's game against Kansas City in third place in the American League West, two games behind division-leading Oakland. Milwaukee was six games behind the NL Wild Card-leading Reds entering a weekend series at Miller Park, but five teams stood in-between.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.