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It's never too surprising when the team with the worst record changes managers. What is surprising in Roenicke's case is the timing: Doug Melvin celebrated the season's first winning series by firing his manager. Ouch.
In fairness to Melvin, Roenicke had been on borrowed time. Dating back to last season's All-Star break, the Brewers were 36-55 in their past 91 games—or a 66-win pace over a full schedule. Given how well the Brewers played to begin 2014, Melvin could have blamed their second-half collapse on Roenicke and booted him during the offseason. But Melvin instead allowed Roenicke more leash, albeit not too much, as his dismissal is the earliest such firing in at least a decade.
The good news for Roenicke is he did enough to earn consideration for a future managerial gig. He produced a winning record in three of his four full seasons, and in 2011 guided the Brewers to within two wins of a World Series appearance—a run that left him with the second-most playoff victories in franchise history. Roenicke's strategical choices weren't always welcomed—Brewers fans called him Runnin' Ron for a reason, and his tendency to squeeze (among other things) revealed the Gene Mauch in his blood—but it's hard to place the collapse at his feet.
The Brewers were unlikely contenders from the gun. Teams need 30 to 35 competent players to make it through a competitive season; Milwaukee just didn't have that kind of depth, meaning a playoff run would require absurd health. The Brewers got absurd health, but not in the good sense. Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, and Scooter Gennett hit the disabled list before appearing in a dozen games. Meanwhile, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez scuffled, leaving the offense in shambles. The rotation did nothing to help matters, with Jimmy Nelson's 96 ERA+ serving as the highlight. Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza—the supposed reliable vets of the bunch—combined for three quality starts in 11 tries. You can keep going; the point is Roenicke didn't have much influence over the Brewers' poor start.
Likewise, Roenicke didn't have much influence over the Brewers' wishy-washy offseason. Melvin added Adam Lind and a few bullpen parts, but also subtracted Yovani Gallardo. The Gallardo trade was noteworthy, partially because it signified (or at least hinted) Melvin knew he could be trading away veterans before long. So with that mindset, why can Roenicke now instead of last November—or why now instead of letting him moil through the summer and see what shakes out?
Part of any managerial firing is the PR aspect. Fans expect change when a team plays as poorly as the Brewers. That's a given. You wonder, though, if the Brewers feared they could lose Counsell to another team. With his stock on the ascent, he interviewed for various openings during the offseason, including the Rays' managerial opening. At some point, Milwaukee was going to have to promote him—to manager, general manager, whatever—in order to keep him in the organization. Here, Melvin and company have gifted him a five-month run with training wheels in the form of low expectations. The Brewers almost have to play better, which will reflect well on Counsell. And if they play worse . . . well, hey, the team stunk already and he's learning the ropes.
Of course results apathy doesn't make Counsell's job easier. So far, he's saying all the right things, and you get the sense he's more of a modern manager than Roenicke was—if only because he's barely removed from the field and has zero previous managerial experience. If Counsell's quality reputation translates to the dugout, he has a chance to stick. But then, isn't that true for every rook manager?
As for Melvin, he has to figure out who and when to trade. Rumor has it the Brewers are open for business on that front. If so, expect Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez—each signed cheaply through at least next season—to draw the most interest. Otherwise, Lohse and Garza will have to repair their early-season damage before another team considers taking them on, and Ramirez is unlikely to net much in return. Braun, meanwhile, probably stays no matter what. Melvin hasn't had a good farm system in years, but if he's embracing a seller's mindset, then he could reload the system quickly—provided, that is, he nails the Gomez and Lucroy returns.
Therein lies another question: will Melvin be the one calling the shots? There were murmurs last season that he could be dismissed following the collapse. Those proved, at best, premature, but it's worth keeping an eye on. Melvin has ran Milwaukee since 2002, and while the Brewers have had a fair amount of success under his watch—two postseason appearances, six winning seasons—he's also working on his fourth manager. At some point Melvin, like Roenicke, is going to run out of time.
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