Brewers 6-Pack: Questions for Melvin

Questions for Melvin

SAN FRANCISCO -- With a new contract extension that preserves his place atop the Brewers' baseball operations chain, general manager Doug Melvin worked over the winter to rebuild a roster that gave Milwaukee its first taste of postseason baseball in more than a quarter century. He sat down with in the days before Tuesday's season opener to answer a six-pack of questions about his team and its chances of repeating as contenders.

1. In your view, what are the strengths of this team and its vulnerabilities?

The strength is that we can run five starting pitchers out there. I look around at other teams, and there is a lot of competition for fourth and fifth starters. We don't have that, and we have five guys who are all capable of pitching and winning in the big leagues.

Then, the other big strength is that we have a lineup of eight regular players who are back from last year. I guess you can say there is a question about whether Billy Hall is going to be a regular everyday guy [at third base], but all of the other positions are guys capable of playing 140-150 games. There's no platooning, there's no competition at those positions. It's not like there's a rookie breaking into any position, or a rookie breaking into our rotation, for that matter.

Our concern will be our bullpen. But bullpens turn over, and you can see that in the way we built ours. Todd Coffey was a waiver claim. Mark DiFelice was signed out of independent ball. Mitch Stetter was a $1,000 sign out of the Draft. Carlos Villanueva was a trade for Wayne Franklin. Seth McClung was a trade for Grant Balfour, a trade where both guys were out of options. In your bullpen, there always seem to be a lot of questions on guys. There may be more uncertainty for us in our bullpen, but I have confidence in the guys we have there.

2. Are you concerned about filling the closer's role with Trevor Hoffman on the disabled list?

We don't think he's going to be down for long -- 10 days or so into the season. And if he misses 10 days, he wouldn't close all 10 games. So when you look at it that way, he's missing only four or five games. We don't anticipate much more, and if he is [out longer], we'll just have to figure it out.

3. He was one of four or five players in your camp fighting off rib-cage injuries. What do you make of that?

There is an injury each year that comes up that seems to be "the one," and this year, [rib-cage strains] seem to be it. It might be that some guys overtrain a little bit. We've always said that the core part of your body is so important, but maybe we're overtraining in that area. I can see it with hitters, because of the torque in your swing, but with the pitchers, I'm not sure. It reminds you that they're all vulnerable to any kind of injury at any time. You live in fear of injuries as a general manager.

4. Last season you added something like $7.5-8 million in second-half salary by acquiring CC Sabathia from the Indians and Ray Durham from the Giants. If you are in a similar position by midseason this year, do you have the flexibility to make a similar move?

Yeah, I think we're always open to it. It depends who the player is, how the team is doing and how we're drawing in attendance. That all comes into play. I do think players will be available. It depends on how teams are going, but if teams aren't playing well, I think they'll look to move some players more than in the past. If you have a need, it could be a good market.

In general, though, teams just aren't going to spend the money until they get a sense of the impact of the economy on your season. It's not an issue we sit here and talk about or worry about very much. Later on you have to, if you want to acquire a $10 million pitcher in July.

5. How did making it to the postseason in 2008 change life for guys like you and assistant GM Gord Ash?

It gave everybody the good feeling of the excitement that surrounds a playoff team, and you want to have it happen again. That's our goal every year. If anything changed, whenever you make the playoffs, it means you have players doing well, and that means their salaries go up. That probably has made our jobs a little tougher. As players' salaries go up, their performances don't automatically go up. That creates new challenges.

For example, we got 50 home runs from Prince Fielder [in 2007] for $450,000. Now he's going to make a lot more money, and he's deserving of that money, but that doesn't mean he's going to hit 50. His career-best season could have been the year he made $450,000. That happens with most players, not just ours. People judge players' performances off what they earn, and that's not always fair.

It's an awkward system. Personally, I would rather pay the player more money at the lower levels and not have to ever get to paying somebody $13, $14, $15 million. We should distribute the money more evenly, because markets like ours cannot afford to pay players $15 million. We lost our last three [major] free agents here -- Carlos Lee [who was traded before he hit free agency], Francisco Cordero and CC Sabathia.

6. Can we get you to predict a win total for your team?

We might do that in the office, just amongst ourselves. It's so hard to predict wins because the season is so long. I think 90 wins could put you into the playoffs.

People don't realize in our game how difficult it is to make it to the playoffs in baseball. We don't have a salary cap, and yet we have the fewest number of teams get in. That's backwards, if you think about it. But our goal is to put the team in position to be competitive and to make the playoffs every year.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.