Kendall may not return to Brewers

Kendall may not return to Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin made more comments on Tuesday hinting that Jason Kendall won't be back with the Brewers in 2010.

For the second time in five days, Melvin touted prospect Jonathan Lucroy as at least a part-time starter in Milwaukee next season, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "We paid $5 million for [the catching] position in the past. I don't know if we can do that again."

Melvin was to meet Tuesday night with Kendall's agents to wrap up the brief General Managers Meetings in Chicago, according to the newspaper. Kendall signed with Milwaukee as a free agent prior to the 2008 season and earned $4.25 million that year while playing enough to trigger a $5 million vesting option for 2009.

The Journal Sentinel report piggy-backed Melvin's interview last week with Milwaukee radio station 1250-AM WSSP in which the GM said the team would "look seriously" at Lucroy as a candidate to start behind the plate next season, despite the fact Lucroy has not played above the Double-A level.

Milwaukee's third-round Draft pick in 2007, Lucroy is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. He has leap-frogged Angel Salome as Milwaukee's top catching prospect after Salome's somewhat disappointing 2009 season at Triple-A Nashville.

The Brewers also have incumbent Mike Rivera, who is arbitration-eligible. But neither Melvin nor Brewers manager Ken Macha have indicated that they view Rivera as a 130-plus start player. Assuming he cannot bring back Kendall at a discount, Melvin would look at other catchers on the free agent market before settling on Lucroy.

Kendall is a Type B free agent, but to reap a compensatory pick in next year's Draft should Kendall sign elsewhere, the Brewers would have to offer him arbitration.

"I think Jonathan Lucroy is going to be [competing for the job in Spring Training]," Melvin told the radio station on Friday. "He's playing very well. I just got back from Arizona and saw him play, and we're very impressed with Jonathan. Angel Salome did fine last year, but I still think he can do better in his development process. I talked to Salome just last week and he promised me he's pointing all of his energies in the right direction to get better and become a big league catcher.

"But Jonathan Lucroy is an advanced player," Melvin continued. "We went through the list of players who jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, and there's a pretty large list of them, from Russell Martin to Chris Snyder of the Diamondbacks to [Kurt] Suzuki with Oakland. Jason Kendall did it in his career. Pudge Rodriguez. There are a number of catchers who have jumped from Double-A to the big leagues, and it might be because of need as much as anything."

Of those players, Martin most fits what could lie ahead for Lucroy. Martin had just turned 23 and had played only 23 games at Triple-A before debuting with the Dodgers in 2006. He batted .282 with 10 home runs and 65 RBIs in 121 games that season.

Snyder also was 23 when the D-backs promoted him in 2004, but unlike Lucroy, who never played an inning over the Class A level before 2009, Snyder had played parts of two seasons at Double-A before his Major League debut. Snyder struggled at the plate in his first full big league season in 2005. Suzuki was also 23 when the A's came calling in 2007 and put up numbers in his final Double-A season extremely similar to Lucroy's output in 2009, but Suzuki played more than two months at Triple-A before his promotion.

Then there is Kendall, who was only 21 when the Pirates made him their Opening Day catcher in 1996 after a season-plus at Double-A. Kendall hit .300 in his first big league seasons, but the Brewers don't necessarily see that kind of output from Lucroy. He profiles more as a Terry Steinbach-type.

Lucroy batted .267 at Double-A Huntsville in 2009 with nine home runs, 66 RBIs and a .380 on-base percentage. He walked 78 times versus 66 strikeouts.

"We're probably going to look seriously at Jonathan," Melvin said. "He can handle a pitching staff. He gets more walks than strikeouts. In fact, Ken Macha called me last week in Arizona and said, 'I'm just calling to see how Lucroy is doing.' And just as he asked me, Lucroy hit a line drive over the left-field fence, so the timing was good. He's getting a lot of praises in Arizona, seriously enough that we are going to consider him a candidate."

Lucroy, who won't turn 23 until June 24, would skew the Brewers even younger. When Melvin traded shortstop J.J. Hardy to Minnesota on Friday he received the team's new starting center fielder in return, and Carlos Gomez won't turn 24 until Dec. 4. The trade also opened the shortstop position for Alcides Escobar, who won't be 23 until Dec. 13.

Those youngsters could play behind projected Opening Day starter Yovani Gallardo, who turns 24 on Feb. 27.

Melvin was in meetings all morning on Tuesday and did not return a call from MLB.com seeking his thoughts about the team's catching situation. Kendall, who formally filed for free agency on the first day to do so last week, also did not return a call.

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