The Milwaukee Brewers have signed pitcher Braden Looper to a one-year, $4.75 million contract with a mutual option for 2010.
Looper, a 34-year-old former reliever who moved into the St. Louis Cardinals' starting rotation two years ago, is expected to bolster a Brewers starting five with talent but little depth.
"It's a really good match for me and my family," said Looper, who lives in the Chicago suburb of Palos Heights, Ill. "The big thing is that Milwaukee gives me a chance to win. I'm just a piece, but the nice thing about this team is that the pieces are there offensively and defensively and this gives me a chance to win."
To make room for him on the team's full 40-man roster, Wisconsin native Vinny Rottino, a catcher, was designated for assignment.
Looper will earn a $4.75 million base salary in 2009, and at least $6 million in 2010 if both sides exercise the option. The 2010 base salary will bump to $6.5 million of Looper starts at least 30 games in 2009.
The Brewers have until 10 days after the end of the World Series to decide on their half of the option, and Looper then must make his own decision three days after that. If the Brewers decline the option, they must pay Looper a buyout based on his '09 starts.
Looper earned $5.5 million last season and went 12-14 with a 4.16 ERA in a career-high 33 starts. The Orioles were probably Milwaukee's most serious competitor for Looper's services, at least according to published reports, and the Pirates also reportedly showed some interest. Looper picked Milwaukee for several reasons, chief of which was geography. During the offseason, he and his wife, Shannon, adopted a baby girl from China who required medical care, and the chance to play home games an hour and 45 minutes up the road from his real home was appealing.
So was the opportunity to remain in the National League. Looper was the Cardinals' first-round draft pick in 1996 and has pitched in the NL since 1998 for the Cardinals, Marlins, Mets and the Cardinals again. From 1998-2006 he was a reliever but has found success since moving to the starting rotation before the start of the 2007 season.
"I feel like starting has given me a second life," Looper said. "I watch the games more now, and I feel like it's actually taught me a lot about baseball. It's difficult to explain, but I definitely don't regret the change."
With Looper in the fold, the Brewers head into Spring Training with six viable starters: Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Looper, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra and Seth McClung. The Brewers will probably wait to make any decisions until later in the spring, but assuming good health for all of the competitors, it could make sense for the team to shift McClung back to a relief role, where he had success in 2008.
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin described Looper as, "an innings-eater and a grinder." Looper's 199 innings last season would have led Milwaukee pitchers.
"We'll have to sit down as a staff and figure out with McClung, do we want him to extend out [as a starter] or do we want him in the bullpen," Melvin said. "We still have to figure that out."
Melvin said he had not spoken with McClung since coming to terms with Looper late Monday. McClung has said in the past that he prefers to be a starter.
Finalizing Looper's deal was the Brewers' second order of business on Thursday. Earlier in the day, the team claimed 24-year-old right-hander Nick Green off waivers from the Angels and designated reliever Luis Pena for assignment. Green has two Minor League options remaining and will probably start the year at Triple-A Nashville.
Looper and Green will get right to work. Brewers pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale Baseball Park on Friday for the start of Spring Training. Players are scheduled to undergo physical exams on Saturday—Looper already has his out of the way—and then participate in the first formal workout of the year on Sunday.
Well, I'm glad the Brewers pulled the trigger with Looper. He's not a huge name, but like Melvin described him, "he's an inning's eater." Looper should unquestionably be the Brewers' fifth, possibly even fourth starter.
There's almost no doubt that that will be the last major move before the season starts. I think the Brewers had a pretty mediocre offseason. It's a pretty big deal when you lose your two best starting pitchers.
It will definitely be an interesting year, and I can't wait for things to get started!