So prepare for the unexpected next week, because the Brewers are open for business.
The Brewers essentially have two spots locked up, one more spoken for and two completely up for grabs. Right-hander Yovani Gallardo was solid outside of an awful August and made his first National League All-Star team. Randy Wolf's second-half surge made everybody feel better. The Brewers will probably bring back left-hander Chris Narveson (12-9, 4.99 ERA) for the back of the rotation because he's still a cheap, pre-arbitration option. Then, the question marks arise. The Brewers have already extended an offer to free agent Chris Capuano, but considering his health history, he'd need insurance.
The team is trying to bring back versatile veteran infielder Craig Counsell, and he expressed optimism a deal will get done. If Counsell goes elsewhere, there would be an opening for an infielder. The team could also look at defensive-minded backup catchers considering George Kottaras' trouble controlling the running game in 2010.
We'll leave this spot for needs that open as the winter progresses. For example, if the Brewers trade Fielder to get the pitching they need, they would have to pick up a first baseman. The club does not have an obvious first-base prospect knocking on the door of the big leagues, so it would have to move somebody -- right fielder Corey Hart or third baseman Casey McGehee, perhaps -- but that would open a need at those spots.
Who they can or need to trade
The Brewers do not need
to trade anyone, but Melvin is going to have to consider dealing everybody not named Gallardo to get what he wants. Fielder -- a free agent after '11 -- will be a big name in the rumor mill. The Brewers reportedly wanted two pitchers for him last year and couldn't get them, and Melvin concedes that the closer a player inches toward free agency, the more difficult it becomes to get fair value for him. The Marlins' trade of Dan Uggla to the Braves last month proved that.
Second baseman Rickie Weeks could be available for the same reason as Fielder -- he's a free agent after the '11 season. The Brewers have a second prospect coming along in Brett Lawrie, and if talks with Weeks about a contract extension progress, Milwaukee could have a powerful trade chip in Lawrie.
The situation is similar at third base, where McGehee has established himself as a starter and still has four more years of team control. Behind him is Mat Gamel, an intriguing young bat who has been in trade talks before.
In other words, almost everybody could be on the block.
The current Brewers regime is known for developing position players, and they still have a few gems in the system in Gamel, Lawrie and outfielders Lorenzo Cain, Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer. Cain will battle for a big league job next spring. Schafer was set back in 2010 by injuries. For the first time in a while, Brewers officials are even higher on their pitching prospects, a list topped by their Minor League pitcher of the year Jake Odorizzi. The righty pitched last season at low Class A Wisconsin, but two other prospects -- Rogers and Jeffress -- debuted in the Majors during 2010. Other top pitching prospects include right-handers Wily Peralta, Kyle Heckathorn, Amaury Rivas, Andre Lamontagne and Cody Scarpetta.
Big contracts they might unload
Fielder, Weeks, center fielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Manny Parra, Kameron Loe and Carlos Villanueva.
The Brewers' payroll topped $90 million in a very disappointing 2010, though it could slip back because of the money coming off the books (Jeff Suppan, Trevor Hoffman among them). Even if it falls below $90 million, the Brewers figure to fall in the middle of the payroll back, and aggressive owner Mark Attanasio is always open to taking on salary for the right play