Crew begins bullpen rebuild at Winter Meetings

Crew begins bullpen rebuild at Winter Meetings

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Brewers made a Winter Meetings splash by trading Tyler Thornburg but did most of their work in the background. They met with agents in an effort to rebuild a depleted bullpen and talked with teams about a myriad of trades, positioning general manager David Stearns for a busy next two months as the rebuild rolls on.

"I don't know that we look at any particular Winter Meetings as successes or failures," Stearns said. "We try to make contact with as many teams as possible and continue to understand how the industry values certain players, what different teams are looking for. In that regard, we were able to accomplish those goals."

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Stearns departed the Winter Meetings with active trade talks in progress on multiple fronts, including on their relative surplus of starting pitchers. But in the public sphere, it was a week devoid of Ryan Braun rumors. The Brewers remain open to trading the six-time All-Star, but as Stearns told MLB Network on Wednesday afternoon, "No one's gotten over the bar that's compelled us to move him."

High Heat: Stearns on Brewers

"We're actively engaged on a number of different levels, but it's challenging to figure out exactly when a deal might be executed," Stearns said.

Thornburg was the fourth closer-type player traded by the Brewers in 12 months when he went to the Red Sox on Tuesday morning for infielder Travis Shaw, prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington and a player to be named later or cash. The one-time top Brewers prospect did not see the move coming.

"I'm fairly surprised, not going to lie," Thornburg said. "But I'm definitely excited for the opportunity. I'm going to miss Milwaukee like crazy but I'm excited to be playing for the Red Sox now."

Stearns on deal with Red Sox

One of Milwaukee's primary objectives entering the offseason was to acquire left-handed bats, which Stearns has accomplished with the pre-meetings deal for free-agent first baseman Eric Thames and Tuesday's acquisition of Shaw to play third base. With Shaw in the fold, switch-hitting Jonathan Villar is likely to get the majority of starts at second base.

"We've balanced out our lineup nicely," Stearns said. "Left-handed, right-handed complements. We think we have some appropriate platoon options at various positions if we want to make use of them. So it just gives our coaching staff and [manager Craig Counsell] additional flexibility in terms of how they want to write out the lineup card every day."

Besides the question of whether Braun will be traded this winter, the Brewers' bullpen needs bodies after 2016 trades that sent Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit, Jeremy Jeffress to Texas, Will Smith to San Francisco and Thornburg to Boston. Milwaukee met with representatives for the tier of free-agent relievers just below closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon but were tight-lipped this week about which options top their wish list. One notable player, former Royals closer Greg Holland, met with teams in person, though Stearns declined to say whether the Brewers were one of them. The Brewers did scout Holland's showcase last month.

Other free-agent relievers with saves on their resume include Santiago Casilla, Neftali Feliz, Sergio Romo, Fernando Salas, Drew Storen, Koji Uehara and Brad Ziegler. Joe Blanton is also drawing interest after a solid season setting up Jansen in Los Angeles.

"There are a lot of relievers who like our opportunity, who like the potential to pitch in high-leverage innings," Stearns said.

• Crew continues to mine market for bullpen help

The Brewers selected left-hander Caleb Smith in the Major League portion of the Draft, but it was part of a pre-arranged trade with the Cubs, who will send cash to Milwaukee in the deal. That selection came after the Padres, via a trade with the Twins, took Brewers pitching prospect Miguel Diaz with the first overall pick. Diaz is 22 years old and was ranked No. 21 on's list of Milwaukee's top prospects, but he has yet to pitch above the Class A Midwest League.

"We have to be open on our entire roster, whether that's [trading] starting pitching, a position player, bullpen. We listen to every call that comes our way. We have some depth in our Major League starting pitching, and not a lot of teams have that right now. So certainly we have fielded calls about that segment of our team, and I imagine we will continue to do so."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.