Brewers' big moves pay off with playoffs

BY foxsports • September 29, 2011

The Milwaukee Brewers are a small-market team that thinks big.

Once again, it's paying off with a trip to the playoffs.

Under principal owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin, the Brewers haven't shied away from making high-profile moves to get marquee players. They traded for CC Sabathia in 2008, then acquired Zack Greinke and Francisco Rodriguez for this year's playoff push.

And while the Brewers have given up plenty of prospects in the process, making the playoffs twice in the past four seasons is quite the accomplishment for a team whose fan base previously hadn't had reason to watch October baseball since 1982.

''We've got to think big,'' Melvin said recently. ''The one thing with Mark, Mark wants to think big. I think we've done that, and I think we started that in 2008 when we got CC.''

The midseason addition of Sabathia was the main reason the Brewers made the playoffs in 2008, but it didn't last long. Milwaukee lost to Philadelphia and Sabathia moved on to the New York Yankees.

Now facing an NL division series matchup with the Arizona Diamondbacks beginning Saturday afternoon at Miller Park, the Brewers are out to prove they have some staying power.

Slugger Ryan Braun said the Brewers wouldn't be where they are if they hadn't moved for Greinke and another starter, Shaun Marcum, in the offseason.

''It's definitely exciting,'' Braun said. ''We're not at this point if we don't have the commitment from the front office, from ownership. They went out there this offseason and acquired two quality starting pitchers. I think that's been the key to our success, I think that's been the biggest reason for our turnaround from last year to this year is going out there and acquiring Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum.''

It's an ambitious attitude for a team that has to get by on a fraction of the local media revenue its big-city rivals rake in. But the Brewers don't particularly like the term ''small market,'' and don't use it as a crutch.

''We know who we are,'' Melvin said. ''And you have to be able to find any way you can to procure players. ... We have a very extensive pro scouting staff, too - larger than maybe some teams.''

They also have Attanasio's blessing to pursue big-name players - helped, no doubt, by a surge in attendance that exceeded 3 million this season.

''They certainly have put together a great team which we've seen this year,'' Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Attanasio and Melvin. ''They're never satisfied with it, they're always looking to improve. Even when we're on a roll. That shows me a lot. You can't sit back and expect everything to go well. You have to keep trying to improve, try to go forward with things and see where you are, not just this year or next year but the year after. I think they've got a good vision for that.''

The Brewers do have financial limitations, of course.

While the team has tied down Braun, starter Yovani Gallardo and other key players to contracts, first baseman Prince Fielder is nearly certain to leave via free agency in the offseason.

Rodriguez is likely a half-season rental, and the Brewers will have to worry about a potential extension for Greinke at some point.

But Melvin is all-in to win every year, even if it doesn't work every time.

''Some years you can think as big as you want, but if players aren't available, it doesn't matter,'' Melvin said. ''And we've done that before, too. You want to think big, but they're not available.''

They were available this year.

When the Brewers made an offseason deal to acquire Marcum from Toronto, it seemed just like the kind of smart, modest move that a well-run small-market team would make. But Melvin was just getting started, pulling the surprise of the winter when he made a trade with Kansas City to get Greinke.

It happened again in July.

The Brewers weren't necessarily in the market for a closer. But when they learned that the Mets potentially were looking to deal Rodriguez, Melvin got a deal done well before the non-waiver trade deadline.

Melvin's interest in Rodriguez was driven in large part because he didn't want to see the reliever go to a rival team. Melvin expected the San Diego Padres to deal Heath Bell before the deadline - they didn't - and figured whichever team didn't get Bell would go after Rodriguez.

''When 'K-Rod' became available, we were aggressive and did it,'' Melvin said. ''Because I thought whoever was the loser of the Heath Bell sweepstakes - and he never got traded - would jump in on K-Rod and it could have been a team from the National League that could have done that.''

Rodriguez now is a setup man for closer John Axford, and isn't necessarily thrilled with it. But if he helps the Brewers advance in the playoffs, it will provide more validation for the way Attanasio and Melvin approach their roster.

''Without the front office and ownership truly being committed to us winning baseball games, that doesn't happen. We're not in the position we're in today,'' Braun said. ''They certainly deserve all the credit for where we're at.''


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