Macha speed: Brewers looking to run

Macha speed: Brewers looking to run

INDIANAPOLIS -- After a season spent extolling the virtues of staying put, Brewers manager Ken Macha said he'll embrace the running game in 2010.

The philosophical shift is driven by personnel changes this winter, particularly a Nov. 6 trade that sent shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Twins for speedy center fielder Carlos Gomez, freeing shortstop for top prospect Alcides Escobar and closing the door on a pursuit of outgoing free agent Mike Cameron.

Hardy had a down year in 2009 but he still averaged 20 homers over the past three seasons, and Cameron has topped 20 homers eight times in his career including both of his two years in Milwaukee. Gomez, meanwhile, stole 33 bases as the Twins' regular starter in 2008, and Escobar swiped 42 bases in 109 games last season at Triple-A Nashville.

The Brewers also expect speedy second baseman Rickie Weeks to return after a 2009 season lost to wrist surgery, and right fielder Corey Hart (assuming the trade rumors don't turn into an actual trade) should "have his legs under him" after missing time last year following an appendectomy. There's also left fielder Ryan Braun, who stole 20 bases in 2009 despite hitting in front of slugger Prince Fielder.

"We've got some guys that can run this year, so it's going to be a little different," Macha said on Tuesday at the Winter Meetings. "The games may be a little more exciting with the guys who do get on base. ... We've got five guys in the lineup who are definite stolen-base threats."

Macha conceded that he's concerned about losing Cameron's and Hardy's power, but Weeks' return should help in that area and the Brewers also picked up veteran catcher Gregg Zaun, who's no Johnny Bench but should provide more homers than outgoing free agent Jason Kendall.

In 2009, Macha's first season at the helm, the Brewers swiped only 68 bases, third-fewest in the Majors ahead of the Braves (58) and Cubs (56). Macha said he discussed the topic with general manager Doug Melvin near the end of the regular season, when Macha was offered assurances that he would be back for the second year of his contract.

Macha pushed back against the notion that he favored a station-to-station approach.

"I think you're branding me as, 'This is your type of baseball,' but, no," Macha said. "I try to do what's best for the players that we have there. I think you look at the club we have [for 2010] and there's going to be a little more activity on the bases this year."

Other notes from Macha's meeting with reporters on Tuesday:

-- The skipper said he's not concerned about having such young players at the key, up-the-middle positions.

"I've done that before, going with Bobby Crosby as a rookie [in Oakland]," Macha said. "With Escobar, I think the fans are going to see -- and they did last year in the last month -- that occasionally there's going to be a spectacular play and occasionally he's going to boot an easy one. Those are the growing pains of a young guy.

"Is there a concern? I think some of that concern is tempered because I'm fortunate to have [bench coach and infield instructor] Willie Randolph, who's had excellent rapport with Alcides. The good thing is that [Escobar's] eyes are open and he wants to learn.

"As far as Gomez in center field, sure there is concern there [about his offensive game]. But everyone I've talked to said this guy can fly. He can cover ground and play defensively out there. Just, occasionally, he gets a little excited and he may overthrow the cutoff man."

-- Macha said he's on board with the team's moves this offseason to free payroll to bolster the pitching staff.

"We had to free up some areas, salary-wise, to fit it into the budget," Macha said. "What are your options? One of the options is Escobar, one of your top prospects who can plug in there and make minimum salary and free up that money. That's just the way it is.

"Hopefully, we've got enough money set aside that we can fill a hole or two [on the pitching staff]. That would be a big help."

-- Macha identified only two locks for next year's starting rotation: right-hander Yovani Gallardo, of course, but also left-hander Manny Parra, who was 11-11 with a 6.36 ERA in an inconsistent 2009.

"I think he's going to be there, yeah," Macha said.

He didn't name right-hander Jeff Suppan, who has one year left on his contract and will be the Brewers' highest-paid player, or Dave Bush, who is arbitration-eligible following an injury-plagued season. Those decisions could be impacted by the team's other offseason additions.

"I couldn't answer 100 percent that all those guys are going to be in there," Macha said.

-- He resisted the idea that the Brewers might be facing a rebuilding year in 2010.

"That's not my mind-set at all," Melvin said.

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