Disappointing Brewers weighing changes, but Macha appears safe
Some Brewers could be upset by the return of Macha and his stern managing style
It seems likely Melvin will hire a third pitching coach since Mike Maddux departed
Milton Bradley should still be allowed free speech, even if it's idiotic free speech
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is said to be seriously weighing important changes after the talented team's surprisingly mediocre performance this season (74-77 through Tuesday), a year after the Brew Crew's first playoff appearance since 1982. But people familiar with Melvin's current thinking believe that while the GM is likely to hire a third pitching coach since well-respected Mike Maddux departed for Texas a year ago and has all but decided not to give manager Ken Macha a contract extension, Melvin also appears likely not to make the biggest change. That is, Melvin is said by people in the know to be planning for a second year with tough taskmaster Macha at the helm -- a decision that may disappoint some Brewers players.
Melvin agreed by phone that it's been a disappointing year in light of raised expectations following the team's first postseason appearance in a quarter century, but he declined to make pronouncements about Macha or any of the coaching staff. In regard to Macha, Melvin said he would "meet in the next week" to discuss plans with the manager.
According to associates, Melvin much prefers not to have a lame-duck manager. However, it is thought his feelings about that issue may have been assuaged to some degree by the knowledge that managerial icons Joe Torre and Jim Leyland both entered recent seasons with lame-duck status. Macha readily agreed to a short, two-year contract when Melvin offered him a chance to return to managing last winter after a largely successful but occasionally stormy tenure with the Oakland A's and had to understand this was a possibility.
Some Brewers players who have grown to view Macha as a tough boss may see Macha's likely return as something of a disappointment, although no players are likely to say anything disparaging publicly once the decision is announced, as there's no point in making mixed or negative comments about a returning boss. Melvin may be hopeful that Macha can forge a closer connection with the young team in his second season, though that isn't absolutely necessary as long as the team plays to expectations next season.
No announcement is expected until after Melvin meets with Macha in coming days.
The very intelligent Macha's style is seen by both Brewers players and front-office people as stern, especially in comparison to the Brewers' two managers of a year ago, Ned Yost and Dale Sveum, who were viewed as "players managers." Yost may actually now be recalled in an enhanced light by players, as Macha proved to be much more likely to chastise them when things went awry.
In another switch, Brewers management generally has been pleased by the erudite Macha's game management, which engendered no significant public criticism, a departure from the Yost regime. There are people who believe Macha was somewhat handicapped, as well, because a few of the key coaches were organizational choices.
That may not change, however, as two of those choices, Sveum and Willie Randolph, are seen as having done very nice jobs and are expected back. The Brewers' hitting certainly was not the main issue in Sveum's first year as hitting coach (although they relied very heavily on stars Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, while J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart took steps backward and the team had trouble hitting in the clutch), Meanwhile, people close to the situation say Brewers bosses believe Randolph did an excellent job tutoring infielders Rickie Weeks and Fielder and also brought attitude to the job.
Randolph, who spent time with Melvin in the Yankees organization and has remained close to him, is the logical manager-in-waiting. But one person close to Melvin suggested the fact that a strong managerial candidate operates on Macha's coaching staff wouldn't adversely affect Macha's chances to remain in his role, another hint he's coming back for a second year.
Brewers management feels the team has underachieved, but Melvin candidly conceded the pitching may just not have been good enough. They were once 31-20 and leading the league in quality starts before injuries and poor performance took their toll. "It came down to starting pitching," Melvin said. "Overall, we lacked depth. When we had to reach down ... (it wasn't there)."
Melvin's trade for CC Sabathia last year was easily the single most important move in their stirring playoff run, and while he added second baseman Felipe Lopez to replace the injured Weeks this year, Melvin obviously determined not to gut the system to enhance the staff of a team that was only on the fringe of the race this year. Melvin said by phone they were "somewhat serious" about Roy Halladay, but it's doubtful he wanted to part with either Alcides Escobar or Mat Gamel, and Halladay was never traded, anyway. Melvin won the claim for ex-Brewer Doug Davis but never offered anything more than to take his contract and said their most serious talks might actually have been for Wisconsin native Jarrod Washburn but that ultimately he "didn't want to give up pitching for pitching." They also looked at veteran comebackers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Brad Penny, but chose "not to go down that path."
Meanwhile, the pitching problems persisted. While Macha will likely return, people familiar with the situation say Melvin is likely to replace Chris Bosio, the interim pitching coach. The team's pitching issues ultimately undermined the fine young nucleus (the starters' ERA is an NL-worst 5.20), and while it can't be viewed as being completely Bosio's fault, he isn't believed as likely to win the full-time job. Melvin said Bosio has "done a good job," but also said that that situation would be reviewed at the end of the year.
The loss of Maddux, who left for Texas to become one of baseball highest-paid pitching coaches (a salary that's believed to be about $600,000), was a major loss. Melvin and Maddux used to attend Marquette basketball games together, but Maddux is also close to Rangers president Nolan Ryan, and Melvin recalled advising Maddux not to pass up Texas' offer "if you have the chance to make that kind of money."
Now Melvin will likely be making his third hire to replace his old friend. But to be fair, it might have taken a miracle worker to make it work this year. A year ago they got 48 starts from Sabathia and Ben Sheets, who, as Melvin noted, combined to have a 2.50 ERA over those starts. They added Braden Looper, but Manny Parra and Dave Bush disappointed. In retrospect, the starting pitching pool was somewhat shallow.
Melvin fired Bill Castro as pitching coach only halfway through his first season in that role after Castro had served ably as bullpen coach for more than a decade. The well-liked Castro will be back in some role next year -- though not pitching coach -- if he doesn't find a major league role elsewhere.
People close to the situation say all the forthcoming calls will be made by Melvin, who was signed to an extension after the team's superb 2008 season. Last year, club owner Mark Attanasio initiated the switch from Yost to Sveum that seemed to stem a September swoon and preceded the first postseason showing since 1982, but Attanasio generally makes it policy to let Melvin handle baseball matters.
This time, the calls are all Melvin's.
Whatever he ultimately decides (and it appears he'll bring back Macha as a lame duck but change pitching coaches), at the very least it's a hugely positive development that a .500 season is now looked upon as a major disappointment in Milwaukee.
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