Brewers know their window's open now

Brewers know their window's open now

PHOENIX -- Count Brewers right fielder Corey Hart among those who believe the Milwaukee's window to win might not be open forever.

The key is at the heart of the lineup, where left fielder Ryan Braun is signed through 2015 but first baseman Prince Fielder is only under team control for '10 and '11 before he's eligible for free agency. The Brewers have had some discussions with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, about an extension, but they will operate for now under the assumption that he will hit the open market.

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Hence, the closing window.

"You never want to say everything is based around one or two players, but if you look at it, our window is two years with Prince," Hart said. "Braunny and Prince are both All-Stars, and anytime you have two dominant players, you can do a lot of good things. Hopefully they can lock Prince up and our window gets bigger, but until then you have to say this is our chance."

Fielder is not the only Brewers player whose contractual status is coming into play.

Hart is also on track to reach free agency after 2011, and so is second baseman Rickie Weeks. Pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra are among the players on track to be arbitration-eligible for the first time after the '10 season, and particularly in Gallardo's case, that means his salary will skyrocket.

But the key players are Braun and Fielder, who combined for more RBIs last season -- 255 -- than any other Major League teammates.

"I'm a nice role player and we have some other role players who contribute in their own way, but those two guys make the difference in our season," Hart said. "Those two go for 30 [home runs] and 100 [RBIs each], and it's tough to argue that we can do something without them."

So Milwaukee will try to do something with them. General manager Doug Melvin invested heavily in pitching during the offseason beginning at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, where the Brewers added starter Randy Wolf on a three-year contract worth nearly $30 million and reliever LaTroy Hawkins for two years and $7.5 million. In both instances, the Brewers may have overpaid to land the pitcher their coveted; No other team was offering Wolf more than two guaranteed years, and no team was offering Hawkins more than one year and an option.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 2B Rickie Weeks
2 CF Carlos Gomez
3 LF Ryan Braun
4 1B Prince Fielder
5 3B Casey McGehee
6 RF Corey Hart
7 C Gregg Zaun
8 SS Alcides Escobar
9 RHP Yovani Gallardo
Projected rotation
1 RHP Yovani Gallardo
2 LHP Randy Wolf
3 LHP Doug Davis
4 RHP Dave Bush
5 LHP Manny Parra
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Trevor Hoffman
SU RHP LaTroy Hawkins
SU RHP Todd Coffey
MI LHP Mitch Stetter
MI RHP Claudio Vargas
MI RHP Carlos Villanueva
MI LHP Chris Narveson
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart
Melvin bid similarly high in January to complete the rotation with Doug Davis, who revived his career in Milwaukee from 2003-06 before he was traded to Arizona.

Oh yeah, along the way the Brewers re-signed Major League Baseball's all-times saves leader. Trevor Hoffman is nine saves away from being the first man to reach 600, but he is more interested in chasing a championship ring.

"I want to improve on the record we had last year and get a little closer to the top of the division," Hoffman said. "I think we have that ability in this locker room. Guys are not rookies any more. They've had a taste. ...

"I liken the core group of guys here getting a taste of the postseason [in 2008 in Milwaukee] to the '96 year we had in San Diego. We had a bit of a down year the next year and then in '98 you add a Kevin Brown. It's nice to add a top-notch guy like that."

Hoffman sees similarities today. Wolf might not be circa 1998 Kevin Brown but is nonetheless a quality starting pitcher. And Hoffman believes that another year of experience could be key for Gallardo.

But the real core, Hoffman agreed, is Braun and Fielder.

"They're getting farther away from those rookie seasons and free agency is coming up," Hoffman said. "They want to seize the moment. I think this is a prime time for us as a team."

The Brewers figure to contend once again with the defending National League champion Cardinals and the cross-border Cubs this season. The Reds appear greatly improved, too.

Hoffman is 42 years old. Despite appearances, he won't pitch forever, so add him to the list of Brewers feeling something of a sense of urgency.

"The reality is that we don't know how long we can keep everybody together," Braun said. "It's not something we can think about because it's not something we can control. Instead of viewing it as a window, I think you need to look at it as an opportunity. We know that this year we have a good enough team to compete for a spot in the postseason. Anytime you have a team like that, there's a sense of urgency."

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