It's no secret the Brewers are going to need to acquire pitching if they want to be successful in 2010, and unfortunately the list of potential candidates is slim. And since one of the Brewer's largest trading chips, JJ Hardy, was traded to the Twins for CF Carlos Gomez, it is clear Melvin is going to go after the free agent market. And the name on top of that list is John Lackey.
John Lackey in any other year would be the 2nd or 3rd best starter in the free agent pool, but by chance, he is easily the first name teams will be targeting. Being the most sought after free agent usually carries a hefty price tag, but with the state of the economy, many teams might be a little more cautious on a 31 year old pitcher who's ERA was a 3.83 in 2009. This coupled along with the clearing up of money from Mike Cameron's likely departure, could present a window of opportunity for the Brewers.
Lackey made $10 million last year, and look for him to command about $13-16 million/year, which if you consider in 2010 Jeff Suppan will be making over $12 million, that wouldn't be a terrible bargain for a pitcher who has had success over the course of his career, not just a few playoff games. At 31, Lackey will likely want a long term deal which would probably mean he's looking for 4+ years. Do I think Melvin would be willing to toss a $60-$70 million dollar offer on the table for four or five years, and do I think it would be a good idea? Yes, and yes.
A lot of money is coming off of the books with Cameron's departure and the young Gomez replacing him. After 2010 Doug Melvin's black eye (Jeff Suppan) of $12.5 million is freed up along with Bill Hall's contract. That only covers two years, but the Brewers core players are still young, and many are still under control or arbitration eligible for a few more years. The only major cash guzzler will be Prince Fielder, who let's face it, won't be a Brewer by 2012. Also, come 2011, you can expect Lucroy to be potentially starting at catcher, once again a young player under control for many years to come. What I'm saying is, paying Lackey a contract of that size, will not damage the Brewers long term plans, and not break Attanasio's bank.
The main question is, would Lackey accept a contract of 4 or 5 years for $60-$70 million? If the Yankees or Red Sox get in the mix, doubtful, the asking price would probably shoot up around $80 million which would be too rich for the Brewers to even think about considering for Lackey. The good news on that front is, both the Yankees and BoSox have young prospects that they have been holding on to, in Hughes and Bucholz respectively to fill in if needed.
Always a major question in free agency is, would Lackey even be interested in playing in Milwaukee? This is of course unknown, but when proven, stand-up, veterans like Trevor Hoffman, Mike Cameron, and even Jason Kendall all express their genuine fondness about the club and the city, it has to bode well.
While this is all speculation, and I've made these numbers up in thin air, I do think that Doug Melvin is going to make a serious push for Lackey. He's already mentioned him by name after the Hardy/Gomez fallout, something Melvin rarely does. Yes, there are still far too many factors to consider and plenty of time before most free agents will really start getting serious about signing, but this could be a real possibility. I know many of you would cringe at the idea of signing another pitcher to a deal like that after we've been burned with Suppan, but to win you need to take chances, and this isn't an unreasonable chance to take. Once again, Lackey has proven himself over the course of his career, and also AL pitchers generally thrive in the NL. After Lackey the next top talent not named Ben Sheets, is Joel Pineiro....I'd rather not see another Cardinal reject moving to Milwaukee after one above normal season.
Based on nothing.....I'll give this a 58.34% chance of happening. I would say 50%, but that's boring. Start working your negotiation skills Dougie.