With budget in mind, Roenicke focused on bullpen
Ideal scenario includes adding starter, but relief corps holes more pressing
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has not changed in his desire to see the team add a veteran starting pitcher this winter, but he understands that you don't always get what you want.
"There's lots of things that I think I would like," Roenicke said with a smile on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings.
The Brewers need relievers and are looking hard at starters this week, but Roenicke said he understands that general manager Doug Melvin's task is complicated by the fact the club is paring its payroll, from more than $100 million last season to as low as $80 million for 2013.
So Melvin is shopping with limited funds, some of which will have to be directed to a bullpen that currently has at least three vacancies.
"With what our budget is going to be at, Doug has certain things he can do, and so no matter what is out there and what we would like to have, we need to make decisions on what we can do," Roenicke said Tuesday. "I can name a lot of the free agents out there that I would love to have on our team. Is that really a reality that can happen? Probably not."
Does he see a priority between adding a starter or filling out the bullpen?
"We've talked about both," Roenicke said. "It's more as to who's available that fits in. Obviously, any time you can get a good quality starter, that's important. But if what we're looking at isn't that much better than what we have with the young guys, then all of a sudden it becomes more important to look at the bullpen.
"Because, there are holes in the bullpen. There aren't holes in our starting rotation. We've got actually one too many starters."
Those starters are Yovani Gallardo, a lock, plus Marco Estrada, a near-lock as things currently stand, plus rehabbing left-hander Chris Narveson and young right-handers Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers and Mike Fiers.
Roenicke believes the principal challenge for Narveson, who missed most of 2012 following left shoulder surgery, will be regaining his command. Roenicke said Narveson threw two simulated games in Arizona before taking a winter break, and one was excellent and the other erratic.
For Peralta, Rogers and Fiers, the challenge is replicating their brief stints of success in 2012 throughout a full season in 2013.
Considering the Brewers are returning entirely intact an offense that led the National League in runs, home runs and stolen bases, Roenicke believes the team could be championship-caliber next season even if it does not add a high-profile starter.
"If they pitch the way they did last year for that short period, yes we are," Roenicke said, "That's asking a lot, for four guys to be able to do what they did for two months over a six-month period. That's asking for a lot."
Other tidbits from Roenicke's meeting with reporters at the Opryland Hotel:
Mat Gamel, last season's Opening Day first baseman, is progressing "really well" in his rehab from knee surgery and is being pegged for a utility role in 2013, with Corey Hart at first base.
"We're going to try to get [Gamel] more versatile," Roenicke said. "So he's going to play a lot of outfield in Spring Training, probably more right field, but some in left because [Ryan Braun] doesn't play all the games in spring.
"[Gamel is] still learning first base even though he played it the year before and did a nice job there. So, I think just trying to get him more versatile to where he can help us in any situation that comes up. If we have a right fielder that goes down, maybe he can play it every day. If something happens with Corey Hart, maybe he can play [first] every day. He's still able to play third base when we need him to play third base.
"Being versatile is very important for him, and he wants to do it. He wants to do anything he can to make sure he's on that team next year."
Roenicke is still debating whether to bat right fielder Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot and second baseman Rickie Weeks in the two-hole, or vice versa. He will raise the topic with club officials and coaches closer to Spring Training.
He saw enough of Jim Henderson during the second half of last season to be comfortable with Henderson as the primary setup man to closer John Axford. But Roenicke stressed that the Brewers are not finished adding bullpen pieces.
By this time last year, Roenicke had already met with the Brewers' top free-agent target, Aramis Ramirez, who wound up signing about a week after the Winter Meetings. This year, Roenicke has not had any face-to-face meetings with potential targets.