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The Brewers appear to be trending downward after a long uphill climb to respectability. The team has followed their first trip to the postseason in 26 years by winning the National League wild card in 2008 with 80-82 and 77-85 seasons.

However, the situation is not as bleak as the record would indicate. The Brewers finished this season without anyone older than 28 in a lineup that featured five who hit 23 or more home runs.

Being the general manager of the Brewers is not as daunting as it might seem on the surface. With that in mind, here is what I would do in the upcoming offseason if I were Doug Melvin.

The first order of business is finding a new manager after the Brewers decided not to pick up Ken Macha's 2011 club option. However, that is not the most important item on the winter docket. The highest priority is finding help for the starting rotation. It is also second on the priority list because the Brewers need more than one starter if they want to leverage their young lineup and make a run at getting back to the postseason.

The Brewers were 14th in the NL and 27th in the major leagues in runs allowed this season with an average of 4.96 a game. Yovani Gallardo led the rotation with 4.3 SNLVAR, but that ranked just 48th among major-league pitchers. The only other starters to provide at least two victories over a replacement-level pitcher were left-handers Randy Wolf (3.6) and Chris Narveson (2.3).

Those three pitchers are good enough to stay in the rotation for 2011 and Gallardo has the makings of a top-of-the-rotation starter. However, the Brewers need another starter who can pitch toward the top of the rotation and another to help prop up the bottom.

Even though Mark Attanasio is willing to spend more than other small-market owners, the Brewers' resources aren't unlimited. Thus, only one of the two starters can be bought through free agency. The other one would have to be acquired by a trade.

The player to trade in order to land a top-flight starting pitcher is first baseman Prince Fielder. The slugger is a free agent at the end of next season and there is no way he is returning to the Brewers as agent Scott Boras doesn't offer hometown discounts.

Furthermore, Fielder seemed disconnected in the clubhouse this year and was not on speaking terms with Macha. It's a classic case of a player needing a change of scenery and a team needing a likely distraction in 2011 to go away.

I would make it be known to all the other 29 GMs that Fielder could be had but would focus on five teams: the Braves, Red Sox, Athletics, Giants, and Dodgers. All could use Fielder in their lineup and all would have to least consider the idea of giving up a frontline starting pitcher as part of a package to land the big man. I would ask for the Braves' Tommy Hanson or Jair Jurrjens, the Red Sox' Clay Buchholz, the Athletics' Brett Anderson, the Giants' Jonathan Sanchez, and the Dodgers' Chad Billingsley.

Acquiring one of those six pitchers would give Gallardo some much needed help. Wolf is a solid third starter and you could do worse than Narveson at fifth, meaning that a fourth starter or better would need to be purchased on the free-agent market.

To that end, I would try to right a Melvin wrong by targeting Jorge De La Rosa, the left-hander traded by the Brewers to the Royals during the 2006 season for infielder Tony Graffanino. De La Rosa was a hard thrower who lacked control back in his younger days but he's a much better pitcher now. He would slot in nicely behind Gallardo and whatever pitcher would be acquired in the Fielder trade while pushing Wolf down a spot in the rotation, where he would be one of the better fourth starters in the game.

The Brewers' pitching woes weren't completely contained to the rotation. However, the bullpen would figure to improve just from having to absorb less innings if the starting pitching improved. Furthermore, there are some pieces in place to put together a decent relief corps.

When all-times saves leader Trevor Hoffman imploded early in the season, rookie John Axford stepped into the breach and proved he could be a solid closer. Left-hander Manny Parra and right-handers Todd Coffey, Kameron Loe, and Carlos Villanueva are all eligible for arbitration and I would be willing to bring back all but Coffey without flinching. Parra and Villanueva's strikeout rates suggest there is room for growth.

In Coffey's case, I would offer him a one-year contract with a slight raise over his 2010 salary of $2.025 million because despite his 4.76 ERA last season he still has struck out 8.1 batters per nine innings since being acquired from the Reds in 2008. If he did not accept, I would put him on the trading block and then non-tender him if I found no takers.

The Brewers were fourth in runs scored in the NL with 4.64 per game and would still have a good lineup without Fielder. Second baseman Ricky Weeks, left fielder Ryan Braun, and right fielder Corey Hart form the nucleus of the offense, third baseman Casey McGehee proved in 2010 that his rookie season was not a fluke, and the three rookies who finished the season as regulars—catcher Jonathan Lucroy, shortstop Alcides Escobar, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain—all should improve. As far as a first baseman, Mat Gamel, who has yet to get his footing in the major leagues, could be moved across the diamond from third base.

The Brewers hold 2011 options on the contracts of Hoffman, left-handed starter Dave Bush, and catcher Gregg Zaun, and declining those options on all three is an easy decision. I would also bid adieu to free-agent lefty Doug Davis but make offers to retain lefty Chris Capuano, who would provide starting depth and serve as a long reliever, and utility infielder Craig Counsell.

Center fielder Carlos Gomez and utility infielder Joe Inglett are also arbitration-eligible. I would try to find someone willing to gamble on Gomez's raw talent and flip him for some pitching depth, but keep him as a bench player if I couldn't trade him. Inglett has his uses but at or near the minimum salary. Thus, he would be non-tendered.

As far as the manager, it would be important to find someone who can communicate with the players, especially in light of Macha admitting that he rarely talked with Fielder or Braun. Former Mariners and Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin fits that mold and is just three years removed from being the National League Manager of the Year. He would be the ideal guy to take over a team that isn't that far from being a contender despite the declining record the last two seasons.

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asstarr1
10/19
Thanks for the article John! Any chance the Brewers could get Anthony Rizzo along with Bucholz in a deal with the Red Sox? They seem desperate for a 1B solution although they are more enamored with Adrian Gonzalez.
DanoooME
10/19
How quickly people forget. Some guy named Youkilis is already playing 1B for the Sox. Moving along...
dethwurm
10/19
That guy played 3B reasonably well in the past, and that Beltre dude might be off to greener ($$$) pastures...
rosiework
10/19
Gamel isn't showing the bat for third base - why would anyone think that translates across the diamond? I'm not sure that works even as a place holder.
azynkewl
10/19
i liked the article, BUT seeing how teams are now attaching higher value to their prospects and cheap young pitchers especially as Fielder is in his last year of arbritration, and will be rather expensive. as such there is absolutely no way the Brewers will get Hanson or Anderson. it's less impossible (but still unlikely) that they will get Buchholz, Sanchez or Billingsley unless the Brewers give up something as well. Jurrjens is the most likely.
vtadave
10/19
The Dodgers have two gaping holes in their rotation WITH Billingsley. Can't imagine him going anywhere, particularly given the ownership situation and resulting lack of resources to effectively replace Billingsley.
Agent007
10/19
Bush is right-handed, not a lefty. What about the Orioles, who need a first baseman and have a fistful of young pitchers?
mikehollman
10/20
I doubt the O's would go after a guy who is just going to test free agency in a year.
Richie
10/19
What azy said, only stronger. Jurrjens possibly, who's nowhere near as productive as Fielder in the immediate term. The other 5 guys, might just as well try petitioning Commissioner Bud to give his home-town team 4 outs an inning.
ofMontreal
10/19
I don't see the Braves ponying up for Fielder regardless. They have that kid but he may still be a year away. IF they think Jurrjens is an accident waiting to happen I can see them going for a year of Fielder. But I'd be very wary if I was Melvin and Atl jumped at such a proposition. The Giants might be a better target but I figure most teams will want to negotiate with Fielder before making a good offer and that will drag shiv out for months.
harpago17
10/19
I'd be very suprised to see the Braves show any interest at all in Fielder. Frank Wren has already come out this offseason and said that the 1b job is Freedie Freeman's going into 2011, after he put up a great AAA season at age 20. Braves are much more interested in a right-handed power bat to play LF....Brewers have anyone that fits that description?
pjbenedict
10/19
One thing I'd like to see with these articles is a final lineup/rotation with the cost of the team. Regardless, I love this series.
chriscaroy
10/19
Fielder can't possibly command any of the SP's named (buchholz, anderson, etc) in his walk year, right? You said yourself he'll be hitting the FA market no matter what, so who would possibly give up ~3 years control of talented young pitching for him? And as much as I love watching the guy hit, as a terrible fielding 1b who saw his iso-slugging fall to a career low, you're not exactly selling high. Why not try to sign de la rosa (and/or buy low on a javy vazquez-type), and take one last shot with that phenomenal offense in a weak NL central? They can always sell him for a little bit at the trade deadline if they're out of the race, or take the picks if he walks after 2011...
dethwurm
10/19
Given the Rays' impending fire sale, and their need to make room for Hellickson, I'd see if they'd be willing to part with Matt Garza for Brett Lawrie (and possibly/probably Mat Gamel and others). That way the Brewers could bolster their rotation AND keep Prince for one last playoff run. If they do trade Fielder, another partner that makes sense is Toronto, who needs a real first-baseman, has Overbay's contract expiring, and has good starting pitching coming out their ears. Romero and Morrow are probably untouchable, but I'd imagine they'd entertain offers for just about anyone else.
chriscaroy
10/19
I'm sorry, but Matt Garza for Brett Lawrie (a 2b in name only) and Mat Gamel (a stalled AAA hitter with no real position)?!?! Seems like a case of wishful thinking, but if Doug Melvin can pull that off it might make up for one year of that Suppan contract...
Richie
10/19
What chris says. Absolutely the way to go.
momansf
10/20
While Fielder would maybe make sense for the Giants, I can't see them go after him. Both Aubrey Huff and the Giants want for Huff to play for the Giants next year. Sure, Huff could play some outfield, but with Huff roaming the outfield, along with Pat Burrell and Cody Ross (assuming they also resign him, after how he's been playing), that leaves a bench of Andres Torres, Aaron Rowand and Nate Schierholtz. You also have to remember that Mark DeRosa will be back for next year and will also battle for some outfield time. The infield is crowded as well, with Freddy Sanchez, DeRosa, Pablo Sandoval, Juan Uribe, and Mike Fontenot, all competing for three slots. Fielder might be the right move, it's just unlikely for Brian Sabean to realize that his team from this year may regress. He'll go after the heroes from this year instead of the guys who could be bigger heroes in the future.