Once Sabathia was off the table, Melvin moved to alternative options and ended up signing right-hander Braden Looper to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2010. Looper is second to Gallardo among the team's starters with 11 wins, a 4.88 ERA and 155 innings, but the rotation ranked dead last entering the Pittsburgh series with a 5.26 ERA.
But looking back, Melvin argues that the free-agent market didn't offer anything better.
"I go back and look at what we could have acquired," Melvin said. "John Smoltz wasn't the answer. Brad Penny wasn't the answer. Oliver Perez wasn't the answer. CC would have been the answer. A.J. Burnett has a four-and-a-half ERA. Derek Lowe has an ERA over 4.00, and Braden Looper's numbers are identical to Lowe's other than the home runs."
And the contract. Lowe signed with the Braves for four years and $60 million and is 12-8 with a 4.48 ERA and 82 strikeouts this season (Looper is 11-6 with a 4.88 ERA and 85 strikeouts). Smoltz and Penny were released by the Red Sox, though Smoltz has subsequently signed with the Cardinals. Burnett got five years and $82.5 million from the Yankees and is 10-8 with a 4.10 ERA. Perez signed a three-year, $36 contract but posted a 6.82 ERA before a season-ending injury.
For Milwaukee, it came down to Looper, Jon Garland or Randy Wolf. Melvin targeted Looper.
The Brewers might have had more luck via a trade for someone like Edwin Jackson, who went from Tampa Bay to Detroit and has had a breakthrough year. Or Javier Vazquez, acquired by the Braves in an offseason trade with the White Sox. Melvin said he had discussions about both players before they were dealt.
Milwaukee was also mentioned as a suitor for Giants starter Matt Cain, but those rumors were completely unfounded, Melvin said.
In the end, Brewers officials entered the year believing their starting rotation could compare favorably to the Rockies' staff. Gallardo, Bush and Parra matched with Colorado's Ubaldo Jiminez, Aaron Cook and Jorge De La Rosa. Offseason pickups Looper and Marquis could be seen as comparable. And then Suppan would match with the Rockies' Jason Hammel.
"We had to have everybody stay healthy and pitch up to their capabilities, and that's what Colorado has had," Melvin said. "They only missed three starts until Cook went down [with a shoulder strain] and everybody pitched to their capability."
It won't get much easier for Melvin this offseason, though he could potentially have all five of his starters back. The question mark is Looper, whose contract includes a mutual option for 2010. The team will likely exercise its half, but Looper could be tempted to seek a multiyear deal because the rest of the free-agent pitching market is extremely weak.
Available arms include Doug Davis, Rich Harden, John Lackey, Marquis, Joel Pineiro and Jarrod Washburn. Melvin might even consider Ben Sheets, who apparently has given up on trying to return from elbow surgery this season.
"It's going to be tough," Melvin said. "You're still going to have to look at the free agency, or you're going to have to trade for someone who's having a down year [in 2009]. It's going to be the same talk show stuff: 'Why would you get this guy? He has a 5.50 ERA.' You have to hope you can turn a guy around. You're not going to be able to trade for a guy with a 2.00 or 3.00 ERA."
What if Melvin were willing to trade one of his premier players? Prince Fielder, for example, is under team control for two more seasons after 2009, and some are already wondering if the Brewers should consider trading the slugger while his value is at its peak.
"I'm not sure if you could even do that," Melvin said. "Teams don't have enough pitching. ... People ask me, 'Why do the Giants have Cain and [Tim Lincecum]?' Well, it's because we have Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. They would love to have Fielder and Braun, we would love to have Cain and Lincecum, but you can't have them all. They've got some good pitchers, but their hitting is [not as strong]. So they got a big year out of [Pablo] Sandoval; we didn't get a big year out of any of our pitchers."
Asked again whether he would consider trading Fielder, Melvin responded, "I'm not certain I want to do that. All you're doing is opening up another hole. You're trading a strength, a unique player on your club."
MIL: RHP Yovani Gallardo (12-10, 3.51 ERA)
Gallardo inched closer to reaching the 200-strikeout plateau in his last start Aug. 24 against Washington, as he got the win with five innings of one-run ball, striking out eight while walking four to raise his season total to 179. The right-hander, who has become the most reliable young starter in the Brewers' rotation after missing most of 2008 with knee injuries, looked like he might be en route to another low-scoring loss before the team unloaded six sixth-inning runs to get him the victory.
PIT: RHP Kevin Hart (4-3, 4.14 ERA)
In four starts since being traded to the Pirates, Hart has yet to show great command. Granted, he has kept Pittsburgh in each game he has started, but none of those starts have been especially sharp. Getting his command back is the main focus moving forward, especially when it comes to being able to put away hitters after he gets ahead of them. Hart has made six appearances against the Brewers in his career, though only one has come as a starter. In all, he is 1-0 with a 4.61 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.
The Brewers do not intend to recall shortstop J.J. Hardy from Triple-A Nashville before Sept. 1, and as a result, Hardy will not have the Major League service time he needs to qualify for free agency following next season. Instead, he'll have an extra arbitration year before reaching the open market in the winter of 2011. ... Catcher Jason Kendall paired with Parra on Friday because Kendall entered the night 5-for-8 against Pirates starter Zach Duke. Usually, backup catcher Mike Rivera handles Parra's starts. ... Manager Ken Macha met with Melvin on Friday afternoon to discuss September callups. The plan calls for three pitchers, two infielders and one outfielder, but those promotions will be staggered through the first week of September, because the Triple-A Nashville Sounds are bidding to make the playoffs. The Sounds' regular season ends Sept. 7. ... Another topic for Melvin and Macha was shortstop Alcides Escobar. The Brewers must decide this winter whether Escobar is ready to take the everyday job from Hardy. "I don't think the window has been big enough to judge Escobar yet," Macha said.
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Official game notes
Sunday: Brewers (Jeff Suppan, 5-8, 5.38) vs. Pirates (Ross Ohlendorf, 11-8, 4.10), 1:05 p.m. CT
Tuesday: Brewers (Braden Looper, 11-6, 4.88) at Cardinals (Joel Pineiro, 13-9, 3.11), 7:15 p.m. CT