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Barmes nearing deal with Bucs; where do Brewers look next?

The Pittsburgh Pirates appear to be on the verge of signing free agent shortstop Clint Barmes to a multi-year deal, likely taking another free agent option off the list for the Brewers. Ken Rosenthal reports that the Brewers and Giants were both in play, but it sounds like the Pirates were willing to make the bigger commitment (Jon Heyman says 2 years, $11 million). Barmes’ previous relationship with Clint Hurdle, who managed him in Colorado, may have also played a role.

Barmes was the favorite target to replace Yuniesky Betancourt among Brewers bloggers, with the infatuation starting back in July before the trading deadline. The Astros ended up declining to trade Barmes, instead allowing him to become a free agent. Barmes will be 33 years old in 2012 and hit .244/.312/.386 in a hitter-friendly environment last year, but does play much better defense than Betancourt (and that batting line was better than Betancourt’s .252/.271/.381). Barmes was +12 (12 runs above average) in Defensive Runs Saved last season. Betancourt was -6 in DRS.

Barmes wouldn’t have been a savior, but most figured he’d provide better production than Betancourt for a similar price. For that reason, he was an attractive option. As is usually the case with the free agent market, though, it only takes one team to throw all rational thought out of the process.

Barmes is the type of player that should be getting a series of one-year contracts now that he’s out of his arbitration years (or one year and an option) — solid enough player, but not one you would go out of your way to avoid replacing.

The Pirates declined an option on Ronny Cedeno to start the offseason, and are close to signing Barmes to a multi-year deal. It’s a move that might’ve made more sense for the Brewers replacing Betancourt, but Barmes is only marginally better than Cedeno, and the Pirates likely aren’t going to be contending in 2012. It’s like their signing of Lyle Overbay last winter — they need guys to play every day, but it’s not a move that makes a ton of sense for a young rebuilding team.

With Barmes presumably off the market, the Brewers will need to go back to the drawing board. It seems like Betancourt returning at a lower salary remains the fallback option, and the interest in the likes of Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins is mild at best. So where does that leave the Brewers?

Cedeno is still out there. Alex Gonzalez is another shortstop cut from the same cloth, good with the glove (+15 in DRS last year), but subpar with the bat (.241/.270/.372). Rafael Furcal‘s agent apparently met with the Brewers, but the market is hot enough for Furcal that the Brewers could be priced out in a hurry.

The better options are starting to get snatched up, which is why the Yuni Fear is starting to build. It’s still early in the offseason, but a lot of worries could be calmed if the Brewers were able to re-sign Jerry Hairston to at least be a part-time option at short.