In a division that underscores parity, Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin dealt his team into the role of the National League Central favorite during the past month.
First he acquired right-handed starter Shaun Marcum from Toronto and then Zack Greinke from Kansas City, and suddenly Yovani Gallardo no longer had to carry an unrealistic burden for the rotation, which means the Brewers no longer have to hope they can outscore the opposition to win.
Oh, the moves came at a price, for sure. Four of the players ranked among the Brewers’ top 10 prospects were sent packing. Brett Lawrie, ranked the No. 2 overall prize in the organization, was sent to Toronto for Marcum.
Kansas City, meanwhile, gave up Greinke for a package that included shortstop Alcides Escobar (ranked No. 1 in the Milwaukee system a year ago), outfielder Lorenzo Cain (No. 8) and right-hander Jake Ordozzi (No. 9). The Royals also acquired right-hander Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers’ No. 1 pick in 2006, who may have the best pure stuff of anybody in the Milwaukee system, but was ranked No. 21 primarily because he has twice failed the minor-league testing program and was suspended for marijuana usage for 50 days in 2007 and 100 days in 2009.
That’s a lot of the future that Melvin has given up, but in reality, rather than mortgaging the Brewers’ future, Melvin is trying to secure his own.
The pressure is on Melvin to win this season.
With the holidays passing and a new year about to begin, baseball starts to focus on the start of spring training, the hopes of the upcoming regular season and the men who find themselves on the hot seat headed into the 2011 season.
Melvin is definitely among them, along with fellow general managers Jim Hendry (Chicago Cubs), Tony Reagins (Los Angeles Angels), Jack Zduriencik (Seattle Mariners) and Neal Huntington (Pittsburgh Pirates), plus field managers Eddie Rodriguez (Florida Marlins), Buddy Black (San Diego Padres), Jim Riggleman (Washington Nationals), Ozzie Guillen (Chicago White Sox) and Joe Girardi (New York Yankees).
Melvin is headed into his eighth year on the job and has overseen a resurrection of the Brewers’ franchise. But ownership expects success, which was never more evident than in the final two weeks of the 2008 season when over Melvin’s objections, manager Ned Yost was fired with the Brewers leading the NL wild-card race and coach Dale Sveum was given the job in an interim basis.
The Brewers went 7-5 under Sveum, made it to the postseason for only the second time in franchise history, and after they were eliminated in the first round, Ken Macha was hired to manage the team. Macha was fired at the end of last season.
Now the focus is on Melvin, who decided to make the move on Greinke after it became apparent the market he was hoping to develop for potential free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder never materialized and the Brewers decided to open the season with Fielder on the roster.
And there is an upside if the Brewers were to struggle. They could still try and replenish the farm system with late July trades of Fielder and possibly Greinke, who is signed through 2012.
Hendry has finally been allowed to build up the Cubs farm system, and was allowed to replace manager Lou Piniella with a personal favorite, Mike Quade, instead of Cubs icon Ryne Sandberg. The Ricketts family, in its second year of ownership, is going to want to see results on the field this year.
Huntington is in his fourth year with the Pirates, but carried the burden of the franchise’s 18 consecutive losing seasons, a professional sports record. The Pirates are the only one of the six NL Central teams that has not advanced to the postseason in the last six years. Huntington is in the final year of his contract, and with manager John Russell replaced by Clint Hurdle this offseason Huntington becomes the next scapegoat unless there are tangible signs of development.
Zduriencik, the scouting director who signed the talent in the Milwaukee system, was the toast of Seattle after his first year, 2009. But the Mariners were arguably baseball’s biggest disappointment last year. Suddenly the hands-on ways of Zduriencik and his mixing and matching of old-time scouting with new-age analysis that made for so much fun a year ago are coming under media scrutiny.
Reagins is a below-the-radar executive, but he has becoming a visible target for those concerned about how the Angels were victimized by free agency after the 2009 season. A year later, still nothing has been done to address the major needs of the franchise.
Rodriguez originally was supposed to be a three-day interim manager in Florida after Fredi Gonzalez was fired. Then it became a week-long job and then it was to finish out the 2010 season. Next thing anybody knew, owner Jeffrey Loria, without interviewing any candidates, gave Rodriguez a contract for 2011. Is he waiting to lure Ozzie Guillen to take over when the Marlins move into their new stadium?
Black is a quality baseball man and excellent handler of pitchers, who earned Manager of the Year honors for the way he guided the Padres into the NL West race last year when some thought they could be the worst team in baseball. Bottom line, however, is the Padres have come a victory short in playoff bids two of the four years he has been the manager, and the men who owned and ran the team when he was hired are no longer around.
Riggleman finds himself an easy target for an ownership group that is trying to create a splash and has overspent for free agents thinking that will convince fans they are serious about winning. When that proves to be false advertising, they will look at Riggleman as the scapegoat.
Guillen is a favorite of Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, but so is Sox general manager Kenny Williams, and the ongoing battles between Guillen and Williams will eventually force Reinsdorf to choose between the two. With Florida looming, Guillen could find a change of scenery welcome.
Girardi manages the Yankees. Nothing is ever for sure in the Bronx. The frustrations are growing with an offseason of being unable to make the big-time acquisition. If the Yankees were to fail to make it to the postseason for the second time in what will be the four years of Giradi’s managerial reign — the only two times since 1994 — a change will be in line.