December 2010

Former Brewers exec Lajoie dies

Longtime baseball man Bill Lajoie, remembered for his role in building the 1984 World Series champion Detroit Tigers and less so for the two years he spent in the Brewers front office, died in his sleep on Tuesday afternoon. He was 76.
Lajoie most recently worked as a senior advisor to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, a role similar to the one he filled for former Brewers GM Dean Taylor in 2001 and 2001. According to CBS Sportsline’s Danny Knobler, he helped convince the Brewers to draft Prince Fielder in 2002.
For more on Lajoie’s 50 years in baseball, see Kelly Thesier’s story on MLB.com.
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Brewers reach deal with reliever Saito

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The Brewers have agreed to terms with veteran reliever Takashi Saito on a one-year contract, adding yet another new arm to a pitching staff that has undergone a complete overhaul since the calendar turned to December.
Saito’s base salary will be less than $2 million but he can earn bonuses for games finished to push his earnings close to the $3.2 million Saito pocketed from the Braves in 2010, when the right-hander posted a 2.83 ERA in 56 games. He will be 41 by Opening Day. 
The Brewers offices are closed this week for the holiday, so the club will not make an official announcement about Saito until next week. But a baseball source with knowledge of the deal confirmed it Monday, after the news started breaking in Japan. 
“He pitched a lot of eighth innings for the Braves, setting-up Billy Wagner, and [the Brewers] liked that about him,” the source said. “He’s almost a Solomon Torres-type, the kind of guy with experience in the late innings who could step in and save a game when you have three or four save opportunities in a row. Solomon was probably a little more of a workhorse, but [Saito] has the same experience.” 
Torres pitched for the Brewers in 2008 and eventually took over closer duties from Eric Gagne, helping the Brewers win the National League Wild Card. 
Saito has pitched the past five years in the U.S. Major Leagues after beginning his career in Japan and has a 2.19 ERA, 84 saves and a 1.022 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 292 appearances since the move. He’s pitched for the Dodgers, Red Sox and Braves. 
In Milwaukee, Saito will join a late-inning bullpen mix that includes fellow right-handed veteran LaTroy Hawkins and two young pitchers, second-year closer John Axford and left-hander Zach Braddock. Assuming Saito stays healthy, the Brewers could bump right-hander Kameron Loe to more of a seventh-inning role along with recently-added right-hander Sean Green. Left-hander Manny Parra is expected to fill another bullpen slot. 
If any of those pitchers experiences a setback before Opening Day, the Brewers will have right-handers Brandon Kintzler, Mike McClendon, Justin James and Rule 5 Draft pick Pat Egan all vying for big-league bullpen jobs in Spring Training, plus left-hander Mitch Stetter and nonroster invitee Mark DiFelice, a righty working his way back from a 2010 season lost to shoulder surgery. 
“There will be some competition,” the source said. 
When Saito’s contract is finalized, the Brewers’ 40-man roster will be full. His signing capped a busy December that began with the team trading for Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum and also included a blockbuster trade for Royals righty and ’09 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and the much less-heralded addition of former Mets reliever Green. 
Saito is represented by CAA Sports, the same agency that has Greinke and Brewers All-Star outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart.
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Hoffman at a career crossroads

Hoffman7.jpgFor those who missed it over the past two days, we featured Trevor Hoffman’s 600th save as part of MLB.com’s 10 for ’10 series, highlighting the biggest moments of 2010. I spoke to Hoffman just before the holiday and he had some interesting things to say about his future as 2011 loomed. 

Right now, the offers are sparse. But Hoffman, a light-hitting shortstop who converted to pitching in 1991 and made his mark over 16 seasons with the San Diego Padres, still isn’t resigned to retirement.
His best fit might have been with the D-backs, but they signed closer J.J. Putz to a two-year deal during the Winter Meetings.
“Arizona got hot there for a little bit, but that closed when J.J. signed,” Hoffman said. “It seemed like a pretty good opportunity.
“I haven’t come to grips yet whether, if something comes along, I want to pitch. That needs to be cleared up first,” Hoffman said. “I’m kind of enjoying being normal and having an offseason. Usually, after only a few weeks you’re beginning the process again of getting your body in tune. I haven’t really engaged in the continual workouts like I’ve done in previous years, and it’s been a little refreshing. I’m hoping it will bring clarity into the decision.”
It’s not just the opportunity to play dad to sons Brody, Quinn and Wyatt. Hoffman has been having fun himself — golfing, surfing, playing tennis with Tracy and road biking up the California coast. He’s keeping his arm in shape by throwing batting practice to his kids.
If he’s done, he’ll always have 600. The Brewers presented Hoffman with a painting commemorating the milestone, and it hangs in a “dig me” hallway at Hoffman’s home with other memorabilia from his big moments.
“I would have been really miserable right now had I not been able to get there,” Hoffman said from his San Diego home. “That’s for sure.”
For more on Hoffman and the rest of out 10 for ’10 series, click over to Brewers.com.
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Brewers sign reliever Green

Update at 4:45 p.m. CT: I’m hearing that Sean Green’s one-year contract with the Brewers pays $875,000. It’s non-guaranteed like most one-year deals.

The Brewers December spree continues:

The Milwaukee Brewers today signed free agent RHP Sean Green and re-signed INF Craig Counsell to one-year contracts.  The announcements were made by Executive Vice President and General Manager Doug Melvin.
Green, 31, missed most of last season while on the disabled list with a right intercostal muscle strain.  He was recalled by the Mets on September 6 and did not record a decision in 11 relief appearances, posting a 3.86 ERA (9.1ip, 4er).
Green owns a career record of 10-11 with a 4.36 ERA in 250 relief appearances during five Major League seasons with Seattle (2006-08) and New York (2009-10).
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Green attended the University of Louisville.  He was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 12th round of 2000 First-Year Player Draft.
Counsell, 40, batted .250 with 2 HR and 21 RBI in 102 games last season.  He made 35 starts (25g at SS, 9g at 3B, 1g at 2B).
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Gomez can cash in with regular play

The Zack Greinke trade was potentially lucrative to Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez, who can earn up to $100,000 in incentives if he’s the regular center fielder. 

The contract Gomez signed Friday pays a $1.5 million base salary, plus $25,000 each for 450, 475, 500 and 525 plate appearances. His chances of reaching those marks improved dramatically over the weekend when the Brewers traded Lorenzo Cain in a package to the Royals for Greinke. Gomez and Chris Dickerson are now the favorites to man center in 2011.
Last season, Gomez batted .247 in 318 plate appearances. He was the Opening Day center fielder, but later lost playing time to the rookie Cain. 
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More reaction to Greinke

Baseball was still buzzing with reaction to the Brewers’ trade for Zack Greinke on Monday, when the right-hander made his first appearance in the home clubhouse at Miller Park. After rounding-up some national reaction yesterday morning, let’s stay closer to our MLB.com home. 

MLB.com national columnist Peter Gammons:
When the Zack Greinke deal was agreed upon, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told Royals GM Dayton Moore, “What’s nice about this trade is that it isn’t a big market taking from a small market.”
Melvin understands Moore’s predicaments. Milwaukee has become a mid-market team that has competed, having made the 2008 playoffs and drawn 3 million fans. Of course, when one traces the franchise’s history back to the Seattle Pilots, the fact remains that it has never won a World Series and until 2007 had gone since 1992 without so much as a winning record.
According to one market survey, Milwaukee and Kansas City (along with Cleveland) are the three Major League cities not in the top 40 urban markets in the U.S.
“Teams in markets like ours cannot go out and sign a Cliff Lee or a top free-agent pitcher,” said Melvin. “We have to rely on scouting and development and try to do what we did with CC Sabathia and now Greinke.”
In July 2008, Melvin traded four players for Sabathia, and the Brewers rode the left-hander’s heart and soul into their first postseason appearance since the 1982 Harvey’s Wallbangers, as Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA for his new club.
“When you’re in a smaller market,” Melvin said, “there are things you can do and things you cannot. The margin for error is small. Sometimes people do not understand why you do the things you do, but necessity is something you can’t spell out for fans, because they don’t want to hear it.”
The past two days have brought a flurry of beware-the-Brewers fanfare. With the addition of former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, Milwaukee has suddenly become a trendy pick to contend in, if not actually win, the often chaotic National League Central.
To which the only really appropriate response is: Welcome to the bandwagon.
Because the Brewers were actually a team to take seriously in the Central even before they added Greinke. With the ex-Royals ace on board, they’re more than that. They may very well be the favorites in a division in which no other contender has seriously improved itself this winter.
The Brewers featured a potent offense in 2010, one that scored the fourth-most runs in the NL. Their bullpen, a mess early in the year, sorted itself out nicely by season’s end and looks like an asset going into 2011. Yovani Gallardo is a front-of-the-rotation starter, and recent acquisition Shaun Marcum will likely look like one, too, now that he’s been traded from the American League East to the NL Central.
So if it had merely added another innings-eater, a useful but not spectacular talent like Carl Pavano, Milwaukee would be worth watching. With Greinke on board, look out.
It started with Marcum. And when the backlash builds — people advising about putting too much stock into one move — remember that. It’s two moves, two big ones. Marcum is 29 and coming off an outstanding year in baseball’s toughest division, the AL East. He struck out 165 in 195 1/3 innings and posted a 3.64 ERA while starting nearly a third of his games against the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox.
Then they added Greinke, a Cy Young Award winner just one year ago. Greinke endured a relatively rough 2010 but still pitched at a very high level, and he admitted to some motivation issues while pitching for a struggling Kansas City team. The Brewers believe that by putting he right-hander in a pennant race, they’ll energize him and will see a pitcher more like the ’09 Greinke than the ’10 edition.
If that’s the case, this suddenly becomes one of the three or four best rotations in the NL. Add that to what should again be a top-four offense, and you have a contender. Especially in the Central.
The Brewers can win the World Series.
I know, I know, it’s December and a lot has to go right during the course of a long season to even make the playoffs. But, there is no question, the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers have the “bones” of an actual finish-line-championship team.
 
Zack Greinke is a game changer. He immediately goes to the top of Milwaukee’s rotation giving all subsequent slots an advantage on every other rotation match-up outside the Phillies. The offensive weapons are in place and will arrive to the ballpark each day burden-free, knowing they don’t need to score six runs to have a chance to win. In Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, and Shaun Marcum, you have three pitchers who were all Opening Day starters and aces of their respective staff’s last season.  
 
The current starting rotation of Greinke (10-14, 4.17 ERA), Gallardo (14-7, 3.84), Marcum (13-8, 3.64), Randy Wolf (13-12, 4.17), and Chris Narveson (12-9, 4.99) is perhaps…take a breath…on paper…THE BEST ROTATION EVER ASSEMBLED IN 41 YEARS OF BREWERS BASEBALL. 
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Greinke wants to win now

I shot some video of Zack Greinke’s first visit to Milwaukee since the weekend trade, and you’ll be able to check it out on Brewers.com later today. For now, here’s a taste of the story I filed for the site:
Zack Greinke knows how hard it is to pull off a trade. He tried to deal for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Greg Jennings in his fantasy football league and couldn’t get it done. 
“It fell through,” Greinke said with a shrug. “The problem, probably in baseball, too, is you always want to get something, but you like what you have. It’s hard to give up what you have.” 
The Brewers gave up a lot to get the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner from the Royals along with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin parted with four premium, young players with 23 years of Major League club control ahead of them, including the team’s starting shortstop (Alcides Escobar), it’s potential starting center fielder (Lorenzo Cain), a possible future closer (Jeremy Jeffress) and a top pitching prospect (Jake Odorizzi) who’s been compared to Greinke himself. 
So it was with some degree of appreciation that Greinke visited the Brewers clubhouse for the first time on Monday, a day after Milwaukee and Kansas City announced their six-player blockbuster. Greinke joins a re-made Brewers starting rotation that he thinks might just pitch the team into October. 
“I don’t have much playoff experience, so I don’t know how it all works,” he joked. “I’m just hoping to get there.” 
Greinke has precisely zero games of postseason experience in seven Major League seasons with the Royals, and he’s joining a Brewers club that has not fared much better. They did win the 2008 National League Wild Card before bowing-out to the eventual World Champion Phillies, but with Greinke and incumbent ace YovanI Gallardo atop a rebuilt rotation, hopes are high. 
Thanks to Brewers photographer Scott Paulus for the photos:
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Brewers out on Pavano

The Brewers had been one of the teams showing interest in free agent right-hander Carl Pavano, but the weekend trade for Royals ace Zack Greinke means Milwaukee is out of that hunt. 

“I contacted his agent and told him we were no longer in,” general manager Doug Melvin said.
The Twins, Nationals and at least one other club have been in contact with Pavano and his agent, Tom O’Connell.  
So, you can safely pencil-in left-hander Chris Narveson for that No. 5 starter spot behind right-handers Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and lefty Randy Wolf. Greinke just met with reporters in the clubhouse at Miller Park, and I’ll pass along some of his comments shortly.
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Reaction to Greinke trade

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Welcome to the offseason of the unexpected, in which the Brewers can trade for Zack Greinke, the Phillies can come out of nowhere to sign Cliff Lee and the Nationals can swoop in for Jayson Werth. If nobody sees it coming, you can bet it’s going to happen. 
The prevailing baseball wisdom was that the Brewers, after trading top positional prospect Brett Lawrie at the Winter Meetings for Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum, didn’t have enough left in their prospect pool to pry Greinke from the Royals. So the Brewers instead looked at free agent Carl Pavano, continued conversations with fellow free agent Chris Capuano and talked with teams like the Braves and Marlins about lesser trades for younger, unproven arms. 
Then, over the weekend, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin made his stunning move, acquiring 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Greinke along with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and $2 million for a package of four premium young players: Shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. 
Reaction from around the game was plentiful. Here’s a taste:
Prospects. All you hear in baseball, all the time, is that certain prospects are too valuable to trade.
Brewers GM Doug Melvin evidently does not believe in that premise. And he is gambling his job that he will be proven right.
Melvin made the most surprising trade of the offseason on Sunday, acquiring Royals ace Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt for four of the Brewers’ best young players.
Two of the Brewers’ projected regulars, shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain, are part of the package for Greinke. So are two of the team’s top young arms, right-handers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi.
Odorizzi, 20, actually draws comparisons to Greinke, but some rival clubs believe he could end up in the bullpen. Jeffress, 23, has tested positive three times for marijuana, but throws in the upper 90s and made an impressive debut as a reliever last season.
Melvin clearly is trying to win next season, which almost certainly will be the last in Milwaukee for first baseman Prince Fielder and perhaps the last for second baseman Rickie Weeks.
Earlier this offseason, Melvin made a similar but less extravagant deal, trading perhaps his top prospect, infielder Brett Lawrie, for Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum.
Which is why one rival executive, upon learning of the Greinke deal, used the term “gutted” to describe the state of the Brewers’ farm system.
That description might very well be accurate. But if the Brewers reach the postseason in Fielder’s last hurrah, Melvin will simply figure out the rest later. …
Too many current GMs are afraid of trading prospects, afraid of making deals that will come back to “haunt” them. Well, the idea isn’t to win the Baseball America organizational rankings. The idea is to win the World Series.
Three years ago, the Tigers traded six players to the Marlins for third baseman Miguel Cabrera and left-hander Dontrelle Willis. The Marlins received the two jewels of the Tigers’ farm system, center fielder Cameron Maybin and left-hander Andrew Miller. Both flopped and were traded this offseason.
Prospects are fine, but Doug Melvin needs players.
He’s getting one of the best.
Not long after the Milwaukee Brewers spiraled deep into the standings at the outset of season and speculation began about whether manager Ken Macha might be fired, I wrote here about how awful the Brewers pitching was, and how no manager would have won with that group.
Within hours, I got an e-mail response to that piece — about how it was a dead-on assessment of Milwaukee’s troubles, and how poorly the team’s general manager had done in building a pitching staff that could contend.
The note was from someone uniquely qualified to render an opinion on the matter: Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.
He will not repeat his mistakes going into next year, with the additions of Shaun Marcum — who figures to be a high-end National League starter, along the lines of a Tommy Hanson — and now Zack Greinke. Suddenly the Brewers might have the best rotation of any NL team other than the Phillies and Giants.
The big surprise, of course, was that Milwaukee had enough talent in its system to make the deal. Sources told ESPN.com last week that the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers didn’t match up very well with Kansas City. But Toronto and Washington appeared to be ahead of the Brewers in the pecking order.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, an ardent Greinke suitor, appeared to make an awfully inspired move two weeks ago when he traded Marcum to the Brewers for minor league infielder Brett Lawrie.
The deal looked brilliant on two fronts: (1) By sending Marcum to Milwaukee, Anthopoulos lessened the Brewers’ need to rush out and acquire another starter; and (2) by acquiring Lawrie, Milwaukee’s top prospect, Anthopoulos took away one of Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin’s main trade chips.
Little did we know. Melvin was thinking two steps ahead, and Moore found his match in Milwaukee.
It will take time, of course, to hand out the grades for the two teams. But if Escobar and Cain are even average big league regulars, [Royals GM Dayton] Moore probably did OK. And if Odorizzi builds on the potential he showed in 2010, when he was Milwaukee ‘s minor league pitcher of the year, or Jeffress works through his off-field issues and becomes an effective closer for Kansas City, Moore did better than OK.
With a single, unexpected move, the Brewers may have become NL Central favorites. … The addition of Greinke makes the Brewers five to six wins better than they were without him, a gain they give back some of with the shortstop exchange, but not nearly enough to change the deal for them. This is a significant step for the Brewers, an even bigger move than the acquisition of CC Sabathia that propelled them into the 2008 playoffs. …
The Royals didn’t break the bank with this deal. This isn’t their Mark Teixeira trade. They took their upside in the arms of Jeffress and Odorizzi and got low-service-time, low-cost position players who have some potential to become good regulars, though not stars. It’s easy to see all four of these guys as contributors to the 2016 World Champions; it
‘s just hard to see any of them as MVPs or Cy Young winners. Then again, that’s the job of Eric Hosmer and [Mike] Montgomery.
Whatever the analytic angles, the story here is that this trade is fantastic for baseball. In an offseason dominated by what the East Coast scary monsters have done, the big-market dollars spent by Boston and Philadelphia and even Washington, it’s refreshing to see a legitimately small-market team make an aggressive move to win now. The Brewers are living off the talent generated by the time Jack Zduriencik spent with them, watching it on the field and using it in trades. This step, though, using some of that bounty to accelerate the process and put a winning team on the field — a championship team on the field — is not one that every organization can navigate. Doug Melvin earned his pay with this deal, trading some of the team’s future to enhance its present, the one where his lineup is loaded with at-peak hitters and his team has money to spend.
Melvin still has work to do. Betancourt is a terrible player who needs to be replaced. He may have to find an alternative for center field, where Carlos Gomez has failed to be a solution. Without Jeffress, the Brewers could use a power arm for the ‘pen. Having traded for Greinke, the Brewers have made it very clear what they’re trying to do; it will do them no good now to hold back financially as they look to put the best team they can on the field next year.
Today, throughout baseball, people are talking about the Milwaukee Brewers. That’s a good thing, no matter who you root for.
Rather than settle for more Jeff Suppan-level solutions and digging up the next Doug Davis, Melvin has gone out and acquired what the free market did not have on offer in any number, spending prospects to acquire quality starting pitching. Trading for Shaun Marcum already armed the Brewers with a quality starter for the next two seasons, but dealing Brett Lawrie was just the first step in a massive amount of prospect off-loading to try and get at least one more divisional flaglet or wild-card invitation to October. As the Giants just demonstrated, anything can happen once you get there, and if you’re armed with your own stock of quality starting pitching, you can beat anybody, even the latest employer of Cliff Lee. It’s an entirely sensible adaptation to a market where few top free agents are going to decide that they’ve always wanted to spend their best years in Milwaukee. …
To merely call this deal a win/win trade understates what the Brewers achieved, because their medium-term future with Lawrie at second, Jeffress in the pen, and Cain in center wasn’t guaranteed to do much more than deliver more of the immediate same, 80-win teams and honorable also-rans. By the time Odorizzi might have arrived, Melvin’s head could have long since rotted off the pointed stick it might have been mounted on after not getting any more than one wild-card appearance from a win-now cadre of talent.
So, no more half-measures. If the Reds can win the NL Central, then going for it seems like an appropriate order for the day.
The Brewers might be trying to win now, but … traded away three Major League-ready players. Both Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar were penciled in as starters, and Jeremy Jeffress was a likely candidate for the bullpen. Unfortunately, the Brewers don’t have solid replacements for any of those players.
Carlos Gomez is expected to start in center field following Cain’s departure. While Gomez dazzles in the field and on the base paths, his career .293 OBP leaves much to be desired. Despite his struggles at the plate, Gomez’s defense should make him a useful contributor during the upcoming season. In his first press conference with the Brewers, Ron Roenicke emphasized being aggressive on the bases, which should play into Gomez’s strengths.
The scariest aspect of the Yuniesky Betancourt acquisition is that (gulp) Melvin has already penciled him in as a starter. Betancourt carries a rather infamous reputation among the stat-community, and it’s safe to say he isn’t the answer for the Brewers. There is a chance that Craig Counsell returns to the team, but likely as Betancourt’s backup. Offensively, the Brewers will need to succeed despite employing both Betancourt and Gomez as starters.
Their pitching rotation, however, has drastically improved this off-season. The acquisitions of Greinke and Shaun Marcum give the Brewers one of the best rotations in the National League. Though many considered Greinke’s 2010 a let-down, he was still worth 5.2 WAR, better than any pitcher on the Brewers’ roster. Yovani Gallardo might be named the opening-day starter, but Greinke will be the best pitcher on the team next season.
Shaun Marcum carries incredible value as a third starter. Despite missing the entire 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Marcum turned in the best season of his career in 2010. Though most pitchers typically struggle with control following the surgery, Marcum posted one of the best BB/9 rates of any starting pitcher last season. Brewers’ starters posted the worst BB/9 rate in the league last season, so Marcum’s ability to limit walks will be a welcome addition to this rotation. …
Of all the teams in the Central, the Brewers have made the largest strides this off-season. While the Reds and Cardinals focused on marginal improvements, the Brewers completely overhauled their rotation. The Reds and Cardinals should compete for the division, but the Brewers’ off-season acquisitions will be tough to beat.
Big markets trade highly rated prospects for established players with the objective to win now.
Small markets typically shed salary for young guys and don’t really care if anyone buys tickets when the product stinks because, well, there’s always the revenue-sharing money to pocket.
Thankfully, the Brewers don’t slink through the small-market loophole. They honor the responsibility to be competitive for the 3 million-plus who fill Miller Park in good times and bad. You could say the team is merely fulfilling its obligation, but it has become much more than that in this rare place where an uncommon level of trust has been established between customers and management.
What general manager Doug Melvin has accomplished is just this side of remarkable. In a matter of days, the Brewers have been transformed from a team that had no chance because of its pitching staff to a genuine contender with Greinke and Shaun Marcum added to the rotation.
Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and someone else may not match what the Philadelphia Phillies have assembled, but it makes the Brewers very competitive in their own division because Melvin has completely rebuilt the pitching staff without touching the everyday core.
Ryan Braun is still a Brewer. So are Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee and Corey Hart.
And so, too, should Prince Fielder.
Now there is absolutely no incentive to move Fielder before his contract expires after the upcoming season. With Fielder in the
middle of a lineup that is more than occasionally capable of double-digit scoring – but now doesn’t have to shoulder the load because the rotation is suddenly trustworthy and solid – the Brewers are dangerous.
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Now it’s your turn. What do you think of the Brewers’ big moves this month?
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Braun fired up about Greinke trade

The Brewers’ remodeled starting rotation may not have the star power of the Philadelphia Phillies or the World Series rings of the San Francisco Giants. But it’s good enough to have outfielder Ryan Braun & Co. thinking like a legitimate contender. 
“We were looking to get better this offseason, and I don’t think we could have possibly accomplished more than we did,” Braun said Sunday afternoon. “I don’t think anyone thought this was possible without trading somebody like Prince [Fielder].” 
Fielder is still a Brewer for 2011, and so are the Brewers’ four other 20-home run hitters from last season: Braun, outfielder Corey Hart, third baseman Casey McGehee and second baseman Rickie Weeks. General manager Doug Melvin found other ways to make two major additions to the starting rotation. 
The team on Sunday added 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke in a stunning trade with the Royals that came two weeks after the Brewers acquired Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays. Greinke and Marcum will join Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and probably Chris Narveson in a new-look rotation. 
Gallardo, Greinke and Marcum are all right-handers who started on 2010 Opening Day. Wolf and Narveson are left-handers who finished last season strong for the Brewers. 
For backup, the Brewers have left-hander Manny Parra, who has been slow to reach his potential and will probably begin the year in relief. The team has also been working this winter to re-sign another lefty, Chris Capuano, who looked good last season after returning from his second career Tommy John surgery. With Greinke in the fold, the Brewers can continue their cautious approach with starting pitching prospects like Mark Rogers, Amaury Rivas and Wily Peralta. 
The  big-league group isn’t as star-studded as the Phillies’ top four of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and the Brewers’ foursome doesn’t have World Series rings like the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. But it has Braun more than a bit excited for the start of 2011. 
“Excited would be a severe understatement,” Braun said. “It just shows the players, the fans, once again the commitment to winning from our ownership and management. It’s really exciting. We just got one of the best players in baseball [in Greinke] and I can’t wait to get started.” 
The Brewers have struggled since the free agent departures of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets after the 2008 season. In 2009, Brewers starters combined for a 5.37 ERA, dead last in the 16-team NL. In 2010, after spending big for free agent Wolf, they improved only marginally to a 4.65 ERA, 15th of 16 NL teams. 
“There’s no doubt that we’re far better heading into the season than we have been in any of my five years with the team,” Braun said. “You’ve seen recently the value of starting pitchers and how difficult it is to acquire them, and when that rare opportunity comes to acquire something this good, which almost never happens, you have to do what you can. That ownership and management made this move is a huge statement to us players and the fans. 
“There’s so much that has to happen between now and then, and looking at it on paper and going out and performing are two different things. But it certainly looks good.” 
Braun had seen rumors of the Brewers checking-in on Greinke this winter, but he didn’t expect a deal to get done. 
“We were able to acquire two great starting pitchers [in Greinke and Marcum] without trading Prince,” Braun said. “That’s remarkable. It’s pretty amazing.” <
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