Melvin has busy agenda planning for 2012

Melvin has busy agenda planning for 2012

Melvin has busy agenda planning for 2012
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin asked his baseball operations staff to stay away from Miller Park for two days after the club was eliminated, which unintentionally translated to one day for each win the Brewers fell short of the World Series. On Wednesday, it was back to work.

Welcome to the offseason, the ultimate misnomer for Melvin & Co.

There is nothing "off" about the coming months at all. Consider the GM's immediate to-do list, which includes a chat with each of the coaches as part of a staff-wide organizational review, trips to Los Angeles for a review with principal owner Mark Attanasio, to Phoenix to see some Arizona Fall League games and to the Dominican Republic for a grand opening of the team's new academy there.

Then there are GM Meetings in Milwaukee on Nov. 14-15 and the Winter Meetings in Dallas Dec. 4-8. Soon enough it will be Feb. 18, the date Brewers pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training.

"We still want to get to a World Series and win a World Series," Melvin told an afternoon gathering of reporters at Miller Park. "Our goals haven't changed. Our mindset hasn't changed. The roster probably does change. The roster changes every year in baseball."

It was those changes ahead that dominated the discussion in Melvin's annual Brewers "postmortem," which included questions about Prince Fielder's pending free agency and the hole at first base he may leave behind, plans for the left side of the infield and bullpen, and Melvin's own contract status.

The plan for Fielder will be formulated during the first week of November, when Melvin meets in person in Los Angeles with Attanasio. That timeline indicates the Brewers will not have any formal discussions with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, during the team's post-World Series window of exclusivity, which comes as little surprise at all considering top free agents almost always wait to test the open market.

Attanasio made clear on Sunday that the Brewers will be players for Fielder. Melvin was asked whether Boras and Fielder would be more concerned about the number of years or the total dollars in proposed contracts.

"We haven't even had a conversation to be able to answer that," Melvin said.

When asked about potential in-house replacements for Fielder, Melvin mentioned longtime prospect Mat Gamel, who moved from third base to first near the end of 2011 Spring Training to acclimate to the position in case Fielder signs elsewhere. Gamel, 26, batted .310 over the past two seasons at Triple-A Nashville, but is a .222 hitter with the Brewers in parts of four seasons.

"I look at guys like [the Rangers'] Nelson Cruz and [the Cardinals'] David Freese," Melvin said, referring to a couple of late bloomers. "Mat Gamel has had as good of years as they have in the Minor Leagues. He just hasn't had the chance [in the Majors] because we haven't given him the chance. David Freese is 27 years old, Nelson Cruz is 31. Mat Gamel is 26, so is it the time to give Mat Gamel the chance? That's something we have to seriously consider."

Right fielder Corey Hart, a first baseman in the Minor Leagues, is not an option to replace Fielder, Melvin said.

Other highlights from Wednesday's session:

• Last year at this time, Melvin's objective was clear: Improve the starting pitching. What is the priority this winter?

"There were two areas in the lineup we didn't hit very well -- the fifth and the sixth slot," Melvin said.

But Melvin made clear that he is happy with the core of players under club control, including all five starters in a pitching staff that ranked second-best in baseball in ERA after the All-Star break, plus a young closer (John Axford), a young starting catcher (Jonathan Lucroy) and a slew of hitters locked up to long-term deals (Hart, left fielder Ryan Braun and second baseman Rickie Weeks).

Melvin also hinted that the center-field tandem of Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez, both arbitration-eligible, would be back in 2011.

"Again, priorities. On a 96-win team, if I could pay all of these guys the same money, I would have them all back, probably," Melvin said. "But that's not the way it works. I would be glad to go to war again with this team. There's not anybody I'm backing up a truck to get rid of; there was a lot of heart and soul."

• Starting pitching carried the Brewers to the NL Central crown, but aside from two great Yovani Gallardo starts and one by Randy Wolf, essentially disappeared in October. What happened?

"Well, the Cardinals led the National League in runs scored," Melvin said. "This year, it seemed like offenses overmatched the pitching a little bit. The Cardinals got hot at the right time, but they were pretty consistent all year. The old pitching-and-defense formula didn't necessarily work this year for certain teams."

Part of Melvin's review with manager Ron Roenicke will center on why the Brewers did not pitch inside to Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols on a more consistent basis.

• Melvin said little about his plans for the left side of the infield, where third baseman Casey McGehee is arbitration-eligible for the first time and the Brewers must decide on Yuniesky Betancourt's $6 million club option. They received $2 million in last December's trade with the Royals to cover Betancourt's $2 million buyout.

"I thought Yuni Betancourt was a better player than what the critics had said," Melvin said. "I thought he did a very good job. If you look at the on-base percentage, that's the thing that always seems to hurt him. [Defensively] I thought he made a lot of very good plays, a lot of outstanding plays. ... I'm very surprised about some of the critics on him, personally."

Of McGehee's 2011 downturn compared to his career-best 2010, Melvin said, "We'll have to figure that out."

• Free agent Francisco Rodriguez is likely gone, said Melvin, who conceded that, "K-Rod wants to be a closer and he should be a closer."

But the Brewers appear open to talks with right-handers LaTroy Hawkins (39 in December) and Takashi Saito (42 in February) about returning in 2012.

"I think LaTroy and Saito both did an outstanding job," Melvin said. "They're both in pretty good shape, too."

• Melvin will meet in person in the coming weeks with infielder Craig Counsell, who, at 41 and coming off his worst Major League season, must make a decision about retirement. If Counsell decides to call it a career, the Brewers may be even more likely to pursue re-signing versatile Jerry Hairston Jr., who provided the team a boost after a July trade from Washington.

• Melvin said he had not yet spoken with ownership about his own contract, which is guaranteed only through 2012.

"You don't go and ask for an extension," Melvin said.

The GM always comes armed with a statistic you didn't think of, and Wednesday it was this: Including Spring Training, the Brewers played 203 games in 228 days before finally bowing out with a loss to the Cardinals on Sunday night.

With that, a Cardinals-Rangers World Series was set and the Brewers' season, one that included a club-record 96 regular-season wins, was over.

"It's nice to be the third-last team disappointed," Melvin said.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.