Doug Melvin and the Brewers Face a Major Dilemma as Trade Deadline Approaches

Boris YovchevCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2009

We are approaching the time for reshuffling in Major League Baseball.

With the All-Star Game in St. Louis right around the corner, the anticipation of fans and experts for major player moves has inevitably increased.  

Traditionally, this is the time when some clubs define themselves as sellers, writing off the remainder of the season with the clear goal of reloading their rosters with young and rising talent or, simply, with the intention of saving money.  

On the other hand, a number of clubs see a window of opportunity for the current season and decide to go for it by trading for already established players who can help the team immediately.

As has been the trend over the past couple of seasons, the Milwaukee Brewers are at the heart of trade talks and speculation due to the depth and quality of the club's farm system.

Milwaukee shook up the league last season by landing CC Sabathia from the Indians in a deal that immediately turned the team into a playoff contender.  

As part of the Sabathia trade, the Brewers parted ways with a total of four prospects, two of whom were rated among the top-10 players in the Brewers' farm system at the time—Matt LaPorta and Zack Jackson.

Principal owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin took a calculated risk, hoping to see the Brewers in the postseason for the first time since 1982.

The risk paid dividends when the Brewers indeed made the playoffs in 2008.

Financially, the club was able to break even due to the high support received from fans in the second half of the season. Twenty-one consecutive home game sellouts and a total season attendance of over three million helped the team recover the money spent on Sabathia.

The community embraced its team and rallied around it as the Brewers became an MLB leader in inside-the-ballpark merchandise sales.

Financials aside, the Brewers finally made some noise on the field, around the league, and in the media and were often mentioned as a dark horse for making the World Series.

Those hopes never transpired as the Brewers were defeated in the first round of the postseason by the eventual champions, the Philadelphia Phillies. The season, however, was still deemed a major success by most team followers and observers and the Brewers' management team.

Making the playoffs was a foundation on top of which the team was preparing to build its future successes.

This year, most experts expected that Milwaukee would take a step back after losing Sabathia and Ben Sheets. But things turned out much better than predicted, as many teams preferred to work with their current rosters and to not spend big money on free agents or highly-touted signings.

A series away from the All-Star Break, the Brewers are in the hunt for a spot in this season's playoffs. The club trails the St. Louis Cardinals by only two games in the NL Central.

The division has been wide open all year with no team being able to pull away.

For a second straight year, the Brewers are considering making some moves that would shake things up and help them make it to the offseason again.

Once more, the Brewers need pitching. Even Ryan Braun came out and said it, triggering a wave of emotions inside the club.

There have been so many different rumors about starting pitchers the Brewers may pull the trigger on that even I can't keep them straight anymore. At one point or another, I heard talks about Jake Peavy, Doug Davis, Javier Vazquez, Mark Buehrle, Jarrod Washburn, Erik Bedard, Brad Penny, and Cliff Lee.

Jesse Motiff, a Bleacher Report featured columnist for the Milwaukee Brewers, posted, on Wednesday, a very interesting article about Roy Halladay, discussing whether the Brewers would be willing to give up some top prospects for someone of Halladay's caliber.

This made me go back to the drawing board imagining for a moment that I was Melvin.

And I saw a dilemma.

Milwaukee has been reaping the benefits of conducting smart player moves and having successful drafts in recent years.

Homegrown talent constitutes the foundation of the team today, with All-Stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder leading the way. J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, the injured Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and Manny Parra comprise a core of young and talented players around which the Brewers have built their team.

Melvin has done a great job surrounding these players with seasoned veterans capable of assisting the immature Milwaukee stars in their growth and maturation process.

The results are visible.

Two seasons ago, the Brewers had a convincing lead in the Central, but late in the season, they did something that showed inexperience. They started focusing on what the Cubs were doing behind them when they should have been concentrating on their own game and eliminating the visible deficiencies in it.

The lead was erased, and the Brewers surrendered the division to the Cubs.

Last year, the team learned from its mistakes, and with the addition of Sabathia, it was able to clinch the NL wild card on the last day of the season.

Today, even with the naked eye, one can see the more disciplined approach adopted by most of the young players I mentioned earlier.  

Braun is now taking walks besides hitting home runs; Fielder is more patient at the plate; Weeks seemed destined to have a breakout year prior to picking up a season-ending wrist injury; Hardy, even if he's streaky at the plate, is turning into a great defensive shortstop; and Gallardo has been the true ace of the staff in his first full season as a Brewer.

Time flies, and with it, the kids are starting to grow and turn into established players.

With time, however, come concerns about contracts and salaries—and this is where I spot Melvin's dilemma.

When Attanasio took over the club in September of 2004, the Brewers bore little resemblance to what they stand for today.

Attanasio immediately began building bridges with fans. His and Melvin's idea of transforming the team lay in raising homegrown talent that fans would appreciate.  

As previously mentioned, this has created the Brewers' current identity.

On the other hand, the current baseball and economic environment presupposes that a team would have to face and make difficult decisions related to player contracts, all the while trying to stay competitive or, at the very minimum, aiming to stay afloat.

The Brewers are no exception to that rule, especially considering small-market Milwaukee's inability to afford an ever-expanding budget—something many other baseball franchises do not have to worry about.

So, what exactly does that mean for the Brewers?

Braun is tied into a long-term contract, so there are no concerns there.  

But Fielder, Hardy, Hart, Weeks, Gallardo, and Parra are all approaching the time when they will either need to sign contract extensions for far more money or will need to be traded.

There, of course, is the possibility that the Brewers would use some of these players until their contracts run out, but I doubt Melvin would let this happen and miss out on a opportunity to land some young prospects or seasoned veterans in exchange for his established players.

The Brewers also have two of the most highly touted prospects in all of baseball—Mat Gamel and Alcides Escobar.

So, Melvin has a choice.  

He and the Brewers can either continue doing what they have been doing in recent years, all the while hoping that their drafts will yield players who possess the same talent as their current stars, or they could wager the future with the hope of winning now.

Motiff's column from Wednesday made me wonder which scenario is better.

The reality is that, as highly regarded as Gamel and Escobar might be, the Brewers can't predict the future. It is also true that, with only two or three players ready for the majors, the team may still have too many holes to fill unless they are able to do that by trading players like Hardy, Hart, and Fielder.

Even then, the new roster will have to gel and learn to work together while learning from past mistakes.

Regardless, the result will be unknown until the smoke has cleared, and the Brewers can give themselves a fair grade of how well they did in the process.

The other option is to adopt an open mind to parting with one or more of the highest-rated prospects in the Brewers' farm system in order to get a difference-maker. The team is already on the brink of being considered a contender, and an ace may push Milwaukee over the top.

Halladay is one such difference-maker.  

If the Brewers would like to pick him up, they would have to inevitably move either Gamel or Escobar. Toronto is in need of a shortstop, so Escobar would be the likely target.

If the trade indeed transpired, the Brewers would have to once again give up top prospects, which goes against the recent history of the club—notwithstanding the CC Sabathia deal from a year ago—and this type of trade is typically not something that small-market teams can do without putting themselves in the hole down the road.

With the goal being to win, however, Melvin has to decide whether the wins will be able to come at a later time if the Brewers were to keep their prospects or whether he should wager the future by adding an ace to a roster that is already known for having a potent offense.

Missing the current window of opportunity and focusing on the next generation of players may solidify the team as a dark horse for years to come, but it is unknown if the pieces will come together to give the team a chance to fight for a title.

After evaluating all options, my personal conclusion was that Melvin should try to win now and go for another stunning trade.

If trading Escobar or Gamel lands Halladay, or someone of his caliber, so be it.  

Halladay would be tied up with the Brewers until the end of next year, and with all of the other established players still in place, Milwaukee could quickly turn into one of the favorites to win the title, this year and next year.

Financially, there should also not exist a major barrier, as the Brewers are going to inevitably get a major boost from the growing number of fans. Not to mention that some of the Brewers' worst contracts are coming off the books soon, too.

But my name is not Doug Melvin, and I am not the general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. I am simply an opinionated observer sharing an open-mind perspective.

Doug Melvin, the last call is yours, and the clock is ticking!


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