Mr. Melvin's offseason "to do" list
One only has to look at ex-Brewers general manager Dean Taylor's length of tenure -- three years -- to realize things have gone horribly wrong at Miller Park.
Lifting a sunken and rotten ship to the surface is now the job of new team president and CEO Ulice Payne, Jr. and Taylor's replacement, Doug Melvin. Payne's job is perhaps more formidable, but it is Melvin who will have an immediate impact on the on-field product.
Though he landed the job at the end of the 2002 regular season, Melvin certainly isn't headed for the golf course now that the schedule is complete. As the Crew's 56-106 record (0.5 game better than Detroit and Tampa Bay, the co-worst teams in baseball) attests, there is an inexhaustible amount of work to do between now and Spring Training 2003. A couple items on the checklist:
1. Hire a (good) manager.
Melvin's comments regarding Jerry Royster last week could hardly be viewed as an endorsement. Royster will deservedly exit stage-left -- perhaps as early as press time. Not only did Royster fail to do much with the job for the entire year, but any GM inheriting a 106-loss team will clearly want to hire his own skipper for the reclamation.
Numerous names are out there, and numerous jobs are already available (Tampa, Detroit, Chicago Cubs). Buck Showalter has name recognition and helped build up the Arizona franchise from scratch; Jerry Narron may get fired in Texas and knows Melvin from his time there; D-Backs coach Bob Melvin interviewed for the job in April and is considered a very solid baseball guy (obvious question: how many Melvins is too many?); Dusty Baker may want out of San Fran, but he would likely end up in Wrigley Field before Miller Park; and Oakland coach Ken Macha, who has been Art Howe's bench guy for the last two years, is another up-and-comer with a shiny resume.
Robin Yount or Paul Molitor? Both sounded decidedly lukewarm on returning to Milwaukee in any capacity during the team's 1982 reunion in August.
Ideally, the coach has some experience doing something with nothing -- Baker and Showalter both fit that bill. However, both will be expensive, and Baker may only be posturing to gain leverage with the Giants.
2. Address glaring roster needs.
Though a tad embarrassing, it was good to the see the Brewers drop all pretense of competitiveness late in the season and go with a youth movement. Ben Diggins, Keith Ginter and Wayne Franklin -- these are players I can root for. As for guys like Matt Stairs, Paul Bako and Lenny Harris, what's the point? They simply won't be around if and when the team is ever competitive. In the meantime, they're comedic fodder for SportsCenter anchors.
But that doesn't mean the team should simply resign itself to 100-loss campaigns for the next few years while allowing the organization's threadbare talent to earn its spurs. The Brewers can't afford to lose that much at the gate -- especially after dropping about one million in attendance this year. Plus, the best way to develop players is to do so in a slightly competitive environment; the team needs to be technically alive in the wild-card race come June 2003.
To do so, Melvin should try to sign or trade for a couple key players. He needs someone to protect Richie Sexson in the lineup. Sexson is the team's best player, but he simply broke down under the weight of an overbearingly weak batting order this year -- witness his lack of production over the last six weeks.
Geoff Jenkins could be that guy, but he's once again coming off an injury. He was just starting to bounce back from 2001's injury problems this year before hurting his ankle. It's probably not safe to assume he'll be 100 percent and functioning at pre-'01 levels next year.
Secondly, the Brewers need a veteran presence on the mound. Ben Sheets had a very underrated second half -- one that will be critical to his development next year and beyond -- and Glendon Rusch ate up 200+ innings if nothing else, but they will also buckle if only AAA-ready guys like Franklin, Diggins, Nick Neugebauer and Dave Pember are behind them in the rotation. A veteran free agent -- Steve Trachsel or similar; an inexpensive, 3.50, 12-win guy -- could take some heat off the youngsters and perhaps match up with opposing aces every fifth day, allowing Sheets easier assignments.
In neither case should the Brewers break the bank, but Melvin needs to upgrade over the Stairs and Eric Young-type Taylor signings of years past; if not, go on to point three.
3. Plunge money into player development.
One of the big quarrels with this year's new labor deal was the lack of a guarantee that money redistributed via revenue-sharing will be spent on improving the lot of small-market teams. That's a point well taken, but the cash doesn't necessarily have to go to free agency. In the Brewers' case, the majority must be invested in the team's scouting and farm systems.
In addition to meeting with (and likely firing) Royster, Melvin will sit down with assistant GM Dave Wilder, scouting director Jack Zduriencik and player development head Greg Riddoch this week. All three are key positions to the team's future. With some talent prospectively in the pipeline, the latter two may be given a chance to work under Melvin. Wilder's status is unknown.
Melvin has had success building systems. During his 1996-2001 stint in Texas, he was named Baseball America's 1998 Major League Executive of the Year. He oversaw the development of Jeff Zimmerman, Kevin Mench, Mike Lamb and Ruben Mateo, all young players (sans the former) with solid major-league futures. The Rangers also won division titles in 1996, '98 and '99 before running smack dab into the Yankees in the ALDS.
But the Brewers' system has been a quagmire for years. Some felt Taylor was doing an admirable job building up a barren farm system, and his efforts in July and August of this year (dumping Mark Loretta, Tyler Houston and Jamey Wright for prospects) showed he was serious about following through with the job.
Now, those moves are to Melvin's benefit. The new GM can't be blamed for the current disaster in Miller Park, and he gets a head start on refreshing the team's minor-league talent base. And that is job 1 and 1A for Melvin once he determines who his next on-field boss will be for 2003.
Welcome aboard, Mr. Melvin.
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