MILWAUKEE -- It has been a few years since the Brewers' model was compared to the Oakland Athletics', but it may be time to dust off the comparison. The A's won the American League West while using 12 rookie pitchers, including all five members of their season-ending starting rotation. Rookies started 101 of the A's 162 games, and the team won 94 times. "Do all of us have the nerve to do that?" Brewers general manager Doug Melvin asked Friday at Miller Park. "Do we have the patience to do that?"
Melvin and his staff will ponder that question during an offseason that began Thursday, the day after the Brewers finished 83-79 in a season saved by a comeback in late August and September, fueled in part by their own rookie starting pitchers. Meeting with reporters at Miller Park on Thursday morning, Melvin, assistant GM Gord Ash and manager Ron Roenicke tied a bow on the season and looked ahead to 2013, when the Brewers will open with a starting rotation that figures to look much different than it did at the start of 2012. The only sure bet is Yovani Gallardo, who has topped 200 innings and 200 strikeouts each of the past four seasons. Zack Greinke has long since been traded, Randy Wolf was released and Shaun Marcum is exiting in free agency. So the Brewers' in-house options to fill-in behind Gallardo include Chris Narveson, who has 63 Major League starts and is coming off shoulder surgery; Marco Estrada, who has 32 starts and has yet to appear in an Opening Day rotation; plus rookies like Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers. Does Melvin feel comfortable about fielding a contender with such a young starting staff? "That's the one thing that we need to look at," Melvin said. "Going into this year we were counting on Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum, Wolf, Narveson, so we had five veteran guys. That's probably one of the challenges we'll look at." Among the other topics covered Thursday: -- Don't expect the Brewers to chase Greinke in free agency. "My gut feeling is we're not going to be involved in the high-priced free agents," Melvin said. "That's my initial reaction at this time, but things change. Sometimes you move pieces on a roster to make [resources] available for somebody else. But I don't anticipate us getting heavily involved in the top-tier free agents." The Brewers offered Greinke an extension in excess of $100 million before they dealt him to the Angels in July. -- Melvin and Roenicke each expressed the club's commitment to closer John Axford, who finished 35-for-44 in save opportunities with a 4.67 ERA but was effective down the stretch. "He's been our closer for 18 months -- three years now. There's only been two months where he's had more than one blown save in any month," Melvin said. "So 16 out of 18 months, he's had one blown save or less. You look at hitters, hitters go in slumps for a month. Take a position player who has played 18 months, I guarantee you they've had more than two month of a slump." Said Roenicke: "I like his make-up for that role, and I love his stuff." Melvin said there would be changes to other spots in the bullpen and spoke of having more flexibility next year, saying he may have been tied to too many relievers with guaranteed contracts at the start of 2012 and was dissuaded from making adjustments earlier in the year. -- Corey Hart will probably be back at first base next season and Norichika Aoki will probably return as the regular right fielder. "I don't see any reason for that to change," Melvin said. Hart moved from right field to first base after the Brewers lost Mat Gamel to a season-ending knee injury. That move made sense because Aoki had proven he would play in the U.S. Major Leagues. Hart finished the season with 30 home runs while playing terrific defense at first base, and Aoki was an effective leadoff hitter who set a club record for a rookie with 37 doubles. Gamel will probably have to win a job as a utility man, backing up at first base, third base and the outfield. He will play all of those positions in the Dominican Winter League, said Melvin, who discussed the situation with Gamel before sending him home for the winter. Melvin said there was no rush to engage with Hart about a contract extension, something the player expressed interest in this season. Hart is signed through 2013. -- Shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who also suffered a season-ending knee injury in May, expressed a desire to return to the Brewers, Melvin said. The Brewers will have to decide two days after the World Series whether to exercise a $4 million club option on a player who will turn 36 in February. Ash said the reports on Gonzalez's recovery are "very favorable." That decision will dictate the 2013 plan for rookie Jean Segura, a shortstop who was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Greinke to the Angels. He batted .264 in 44 games after the Brewers called him up in August. "We love Segura. We think he's a Major League shortstop," Melvin said. "But you know over the course of a year you have depth, too. Depth is so important, especially at a position like that." Added Ash: "What's compelling to me is there are choices now. This time last year, we didn't have choices at that position." -- Melvin conceded the Brewers' strong finish changed his view of the club moving forward. The team won 24 of 30 games in one stretch to pull within 1 1/2 games of the National League's second Wild Card. "It built the confidence in some of the young players we have," he said, pointing to Peralta, Rogers, Segura and catcher Martin Maldonado in particular. "But I'm not going to get comfortable and say that any of those players have jobs for next year. They have to come in and earn them. But they do have some performance on their resume now that gives us some hope and a little more confidence."