A handful of teams are said to be ready and willing to pay the price to land an ace.
Remember, it was only a year ago when Milwaukee offered CC Sabathia a $100 million deal, so the Brewers clearly are prepared to pay big dollars for a big-time starting pitcher. And they have a clear need: Even with rising star Yovani Gallardo anchoring the staff, Milwaukee ranked dead last in starters' ERA at 5.37 and 27th in rotation innings this past season.
The Brewers conceivably could enter into trade conversations for Vazquez or Halladay, but this course would be problematic. Milwaukee traded aggressively in 2007 and 2008, most notably for Sabathia, and this depleted its farm system. Trading a top young player for a one-year rental like Vazquez or Halladay might not make sense.
It probably would make more sense for the Brewers to take a serious run at Lackey, who as a free agent would not cost them talent in trade. He would take pressure off Gallardo and fit their team culture.
The Brewers also could easily structure a Lackey deal to fit their payroll into the future. Jeff Suppan's contract will expire after next season, and the only real long-term obligation the Brewers have set in stone is to young slugger Ryan Braun, who is signed through the 2015 season. Milwaukee just reduced salary obligations by trading J.J. Hardy to the Twins and replacing Mike Cameron (who made $10 million last season) with Carlos Gomez.
Look, there will be questions about the Brewers' lineup next season given that they will have a group of hitters who don't do certain things very well -- Gomez doesn't get on base consistently, Jason Kendall doesn't hit for power (a .305 on-base percentage this past season), Rickie Weeks doesn't seem to stay healthy and Corey Hart has been a picture of inconsistency.
But the Brewers cannot win unless they improve their starting pitching dramatically, and Lackey, if healthy, would do that.