Three Days in ... Cincinnati

A nine-game trip to open the second half for Milwaukee, going first to Arizona, then to San Francisco and concluding July 23 against Cincinnati, might bring clarity for General Manager Doug Melvin. His ballclub nears the trading deadline in wild-card contention -- and with starters Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka close to returning to the rotation -- but with only a few months left on Carlos Lee's contract.

The Brewers' payroll is just north of $50 million, and a club source says Lee's requests for an extension are well above what the club is willing to foot.

Consistently around 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in during his previous three seasons, Lee, at 30, has made a walk-year push that has him on pace for 47 homers and 131 RBIs. That's big-time leverage now and in the off-season, where his main competition in free agency would be Alfonso Soriano.

Melvin's inner debate: a) play it out, take the draft choices when Lee walks; b) play it out, pay Lee soon; c) trade Lee by July 31.

The probables:

Friday -- Chris Capuano vs. Bronson Arroyo; Saturday -- Dave Bush vs. Elizardo Ramirez; Sunday -- Zach Jackson vs. Eric Milton.


They Left Out a Huff

Aubrey Huff has left last place for a pennant race and might have a regular place in the lineup in Houston, meaning the run on disgruntled former Tampa Bay Devil Rays will begin and end with Toby Hall.

The Devil Rays were going to let Huff walk at the end of the season, and the Astros were enthralled with Huff's ability to play any of the four corner positions. If by "play" they meant standing out there with a glove on one hand, they have it right. He's probably best at third base, meaning former Trojan Morgan Ensberg (a .216 May, followed by a .145 June) will take a playing-time hit.

The Dodgers were once in on Huff, but not recently, and weren't as convinced about Huff's versatility on defense as the Astros are.

In the weeks before Cesar Izturis returned from elbow surgery and Andre Ethier established he would hit big league pitching -- when the Dodgers' needs at third base and the outfield appeared pressing -- the Devil Rays asked for a package well above and beyond James Loney, and the Dodgers passed.


On Bonds, Trading and Dye Jobs

Baseball -- recalling that Ray Lewis was accused of murder and Kobe Bryant of rape, and knowing that neither missed a game -- doubts it would have any legal standing if it were to suspend Barry Bonds over a perjury or tax evasion indictment. Commissioner Bud Selig could use his best-interests-of-the-game powers, but that probably would be overturned and, as a San Francisco Giants official said recently, "They'd be hit with a major lawsuit." There is a slight chance Selig would pull that trigger anyway, if only to declare his position, knowing it probably wouldn't keep Bonds off the field.... At the core of Thursday's Washington-Cincinnati trade, the Reds had cooled on right fielder Austin Kearns, who is getting expensive, and Felipe Lopez, the former All-Star whose 14 errors are second-most in the National League. Rafael Furcal has 19.... Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, when Jermaine Dye complained after last Sunday's 19-inning win: "Jermaine was the only one who was sore. I'm like, 'All you do is stand out there. You caught, like, two balls.' "


One More Thing From ... Albert Pujols

On the erratic St. Louis Cardinals, whom he does not believe are erratic -- got it? -- in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "There's no reason for anyone to be negative. ... This is a great team. It's what I believe even if people want to pick us apart."

In other news, the great Cardinals will start Jeff Weaver on Monday against Atlanta.

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