Mutual fit: Crew, Gorzelanny agree on two-year deal
Contract worth $5.7M with bonus, potential incentives; lefty initially ticketed for 'pen
MILWAUKEE -- Free agent left-hander Tom Gorzelanny chose the Brewers because they made him a strong offer and he's a Midwestern guy. But there was also a bit of an "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" element to the two-year pact that was sealed Friday, after Gorzelanny passed his physical exam.
The former Pirates and Cubs pitcher owns a 5.08 ERA in 12 career starts and four relief appearances against the Brewers, including a 7.63 ERA in seven games at Miller Park.
General manager Doug Melvin does not view this as an issue.
"He won't be facing Ryan Braun, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks anymore," Melvin said.
No, Gorzelanny will be playing alongside that Brewers duo after formally signing a two-year, $5.7 million contract. He will get a $300,000 signing bonus plus base salaries of $2.6 million in 2013 and $2.8 million in 2014.
Gorzelanny can also earn incentives for games started, but the immediate plan is to use him in relief, where he made all but 16 of his 75 appearances for the Washington Nationals over the past two seasons and compiled a 3.56 ERA. In 2012, he made 44 relief appearances and only one start, finishing the season with a career-best 2.88 ERA.
After last year's All-Star break, Gorzelanny pitched to a 1.33 ERA out of the bullpen (27 innings, four earned runs), tying for seventh among Major League relievers who logged at least 25 innings.
"It turned out to be a good role," he said. "Obviously, I would like to be a starter, and if there was ever a chance to be one, I would be interested, but I also enjoy being a reliever and being in those situations late in a game where you're depended on. I thought this was the best place for that."
The Brewers had Major League Baseball's worst bullpen in 2012 in terms of ERA (4.66) and blown saves (29, a franchise record). So Melvin broke it apart, letting Francisco Rodriguez go via free agency, non-tendering Manny Parra and hastening the departures of Kameron Loe and Jose Veras by outrighting them from the 40-man roster.
That left closer John Axford and setup men Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler. Melvin added a similar pitcher to Loe by trading with the Rays for Burke Badenhop, and says that at least one of the pitchers competing for a spot in the starting rotation will probably end up in the bullpen. Prospects like Johnny Hellweg, one of the players acquired from the Angels for Zack Greinke, will also get a shot. Josh Stinson could make the cut as a long man.
But there was a need for experience and versatility, Melvin said, and Gorzelanny fit the bill. The fact he was left-handed helped. Without Parra, all of the Brewers' internal bullpen options were right-handed.
"His versatility is going to be important," Melvin said. "Our plan is to go predominantly with our younger starters ... and he can give you more than one inning. A lot of the other left-handers, the Randy Choates and so on, will give you a couple of batters. [Gorzelanny] can give whatever you ask of him, or he can go in and get a left-hander out later in the game. He was someone we've had an eye on in the past, even farther back as a starting pitcher."
Gorzelanny's best season as a starter was 2007, when he was 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA for a 94-loss Pirates club. But he had a 6.66 ERA in 21 starts in 2008, and since then has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen for three teams, finally settling into a relief role in Washington in 2012.
Gorzelanny described his role with the Nationals last season as "utility pitcher."
"I did everything," he said. "I did long, I did short. I got a save in a game [on April 25, when he worked three effective innings against the Padres]. I got a couple of holds. And then I made a start at the end of the year.
"I think that for a future of being in the bullpen, it was a great experience to do everything and get a good feel for each role and what you have to do every time you get called upon."
Milwaukee also made great geographic sense for Gorzelanny, who grew up on Chicago's South Side and now lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
"I was definitely looking forward to finding a team that was close to home," said Gorzelanny, who plans to head home during the summer when off-days allow. "And I was also really happy with the [Brewers] and their direction, and that they're a good team already. It was kind of an easy choice."
He could prove the Brewers' first and last significant free-agent acquisition. Asked whether the Brewers were continuing to pursue players, Melvin said, "I think we're getting close to where we're done."
"We may dabble a bit to see what else is out there," he said. "But we're getting to the point now where you're starting to lose flexibility when you have guys guaranteed a roster spot."