by Troy Sparks
As Milwaukee Brewers fans, we have been through this promise before. This year, it is supposed to be a new day, if we believe what the powers that be said at the annual “Brewers On Deck” event, Jan. 30, at the Frontier Airlines Center.
Supporters came out by the thousands to the exhibit room on the third floor of the FAC to stand in line for autographs, buy merchandise and listen to another year of hope and change for the ballclub.
When principal owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin preached to the choir this year the same thing they did last year, it sounded like we heard it before.
The bar was raised after the Brewers made it to the playoffs in 2008, which was the first time since 1982. They bowed out to the Philadelphia Phillies in four games, 3-1.
Hiring former manager Ken Macha didn’t do any good. The success he had with Oakland didn’t transfer to winning over here. The Athletics made the playoffs under his leadership. Unfortunately, the young Brewers didn’t thrive under Macha.
After interviewing managerial candidates for the job in Milwaukee, Melvin settled on former Anaheim Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke. He is the right fit for this ballclub, even though he had no big league managerial experience.
“One thing that stood out for me was that Ron said, ‘I may not have experience as a manager, but I’ve experienced a lot,’ ” Melvin said. “And that’s what stood out for me, because he has been a bench coach. He was a first round draft pick. He’s been a minor league manager, so he performed in a lot of different roles.”
In the offseason, Melvin did some wheeling and dealing to compensate for the disappointment of last season’s failed experiment of the acquisition of experienced pitching. He made the deal for Zack Greinke, the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner with the Kansas City Royals. The deal was quietly done without any publicity in 48 hours and without giving up first baseman Prince Fielder. However, the Brewers gave up two players on last year’s roster and two top minor league prospects. No need to worry about depleting their farm system. The Brewers have future prospects ready to make the jump to the majors in 3-5 years.
Greinke was the second free agent pitcher to sign with Milwaukee after the pickup of Shaun Marcum from the Toronto Blue Jays in a separate deal. They will likely make up a strong group of starting pitchers along with Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf.
“With Randy, and having Yovani in the mix, and getting a guy like Zack, it just made that trade that much more pleasurable,” Marcum said. “I texted Doug when I found out on ESPN about the trade and how excited I was. To be a part of the rotation I wouldn’t think would exceed expectations. In talking to the guys, (I said) ‘We’re not here to pitch at the end of September. We’re here to pitch at the end of October, and I think that’s what’s going to happen, if Zack lives up to his Cy Young abilities (laughter from crowd).”
Around here we can’t take that kind of thing seriously from a guy like Marcum. It would be great if the staff and the bullpen can hold down the fort and the Brewers can put their bats to use. Their bats are smoking the ball all over the place in April and May. Too bad the season isn’t over by May. And when June-September rolls around, our hitters are swinging at air, or they’re not putting good wood on the ball to score enough runs.
Melvin had to upgrade the roster to compete with the other teams in the NL Central Division. “It’s a very competitive division,” he said. “Cincinnati has improved. They have some good young players obviously in (Joey) Votto and Jay Bruce. Scott Rolen played a big part of the veteran leadership on that ballclub. They’re still the team to beat.”
St. Louis is always a threat to win the division. We want to beat the Reds, the Cardinals, and especially the hated Chicago Cubs. There’s no way that Houston or Pittsburgh will jump ahead of us in the division. If they do, then Attanasio would have been better off stacking his money that he dished out to improve the club and setting it on fire.
Greinke had more leverage than most pitchers on the open market. He had a list of 12 teams that he considered. Atlanta was his top choice and Milwaukee was second, he said. It didn’t matter which team Greinke wanted to play for; he’s ours now.
Both Marcum and Greinke are relieved to escape the American League and the bruising designated hitters they faced every time they were on the mound. The switch to the National League will benefit both pitchers in two ways: They will throw to opposing pitchers who will bat ninth, and they get to step up to the plate to take a few hacks themselves in the game.
According to assistant general manager, Gord Ash, the club is still in negotiations with second baseman Rickie Weeks. The Brewers’ leadoff hitter was second in the National League in on-base percentage. Fielder agreed to a one-year deal with the Brewers. There were no serious takers for him in the offseason, and he’s a free agent after the 2011 season.
When the Brewers go to New York to play the Yankees in their interleague matchup, they will reunite with CC Sabathia, who helped the Crew reach the playoffs. After Sabathia show Fielder around the sights and sounds of the Big Apple, maybe he can convince Fielder that looking good in pinstripes will make him feel like a winner. Sabathia might show Fielder his big World Series championship ring as bait to reel him in hook, line and sinker. We’ll worry about that next year. We want to win, and we want to win right now.