The Brewers made Cirillo, 37, a one-year offer late last week, but general manager Doug Melvin could make no promises about playing time. The team's starting infield is set, and the original plan was to bring back Cirillo while attempting to re-sign free agent Tony Graffanino. When Graffanino's agent was slow to respond to a contract offer, the Brewers instead pursued -- and quickly signed -- veteran Craig Counsell. Then, last week, Graffanino accepted an arbitration offer, meaning he will also be back with the team.
Counsell's contract guarantees $6 million over the next two years, and Graffanino will receive a raise from the $2.05 million he earned in 2006. The Brewers' offer to Cirillo was believed to come in about $1.2 million, and he says Melvin was candid about the team's crowded infield.
"I'm torn because you want to be loyal to the Brewers and the fans have treated me so well there," Cirillo said. "But at the same time, I would have been relegated to pinch-hitting. I know how hard it is to be the 'pinch-hit guy.'
"I also know that things happen every year. Baseball is a long season and guys get injured. But the role I'll be playing in Minnesota will probably get me three times as many at-bats. It came down to playing time."
The Brewers drafted Cirillo in the 11th round in 1991 and he was in the big leagues three years later. He made his first National League All-Star team as a Brewer in 1997 and hit a career-high .326 in 1999, then was dealt to Colorado and had two more solid years and made another All-Star team.
But his career took a downturn beginning in 2002, when Cirillo played the first of two seasons with his home-state Seattle Mariners. He was traded to San Diego for 2004 and was later released, leaving Cirillo looking for work and searching for his swing in the Mexican Winter League. After a few personal calls to Melvin, the Brewers offered a Minor League contract and an invitation to Spring Training. Cirillo stuck.
"I couldn't have done anything without Doug Melvin and the comfort level of playing in Milwaukee," said Cirillo, who hit .281 in 2005 and a team-best .319 in 2006. "I've always had a good relationship with the Brewers and I will always have a good relationship with the Brewers. I just can't see myself being only a pinch-hitter and being happy."
Arbitration deadline: The Brewers will tender contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that outfielder Kevin Mench will get a second chance to make a first impression at Miller Park.
Mench, pitchers Chris Capuano and Claudio Vargas, catcher Johnny Estrada and infielder/outfielder Bill Hall are all eligible for salary arbitration this winter. If an eligible player is nontendered he becomes a free agent, but the decision to tender contracts before Tuesday's deadline was a no-brainer, Melvin said.
Mench batted .230 after a midseason trade from Texas to Milwaukee, and was mentioned prominently in trade talks at last week's Winter Meetings. The Brewers plan to move Hall to the outfield next season and Corey Hart is expected to start in one of the corners, leaving Mench and veteran Geoff Jenkins available in potential trades.
Mench, 28, earned $2.8 million last season. The Dodgers were reportedly interested in Mench and/or Jenkins, but they signed free agent Luis Gonzalez. The Orioles were another potential trade partner, but on Monday they signed Jay Payton. Still, Melvin said, the interest in Mench has been strong.
"We've had more calls on him than just about anyone," Melvin said. "We have to look at what he did before he got here when we make our evaluations."
With the Rangers and Brewers in 2006, Mench hit .269 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs, but just of the homers and 18 of the RBIs came in his 40 games with Milwaukee. In each of the previous two seasons, Mench hit at least 25 home runs with at least 70 RBIs.
Good cause: The Brewers have organized an online auction to benefit the families of those lost in an industrial explosion near Miller Park last week. Beginning at 9 a.m. CT on Tuesday and continuing until 5 p.m. CT on Monday, Dec. 18, the Brewers will post five packages for bid on Brewers.com, and funds raised will go to the Falk Family Survivors' Fund. The fund was set up to assist the families of the three men who died in an explosion last week at the Falk Corp.
Flashback: FSN North, the Brewers' cable carrier, will televise the first of 17 classic Brewers games on Friday night at 7 p.m. CT. The series, hosted by analyst Bill Schroeder, will begin with right-hander Carlos Villanueva's Oct. 1, 2006 gem against the St. Louis Cardinals. The series concludes March 30 with a re-airing of Game 5 of the 1982 World Series between the Brewers and Cardinals.
For the full schedule, see the official release.
Staff addition: The team this week named Chris Joyner as its new strength and conditioning specialist, replacing Rick Spenner. Joyner previously served as a Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator for the Blue Jays. He joins Roger Caplinger and Dan Wright on the Brewers' athletic training staff.