Last fall, Brewers president and general manager Doug Melvin marked his 10th anniversary with the club running its baseball operations. That makes this is his 11th season at the helm for the organization. It’s the second longest tenure, behind the great Harry Dalton, and it’s had its high points and well as its lows. First, we’ll take a look at the ups, the 10 best decisions made by Melvin in his tenure. Later today we’ll look at some of the decisions that have blown up in Melvin’s face. I look forward to reading the comments section to see what I may have missed or where I just completely missed the mark.
10) Signing Mike Cameron.
By the opening of the 2008 season, center field had become something of a revolving door for the Brewers. Players like Scott Podsednik and Brady Clark had some success there in Melvin’s tenure, but they also faded in their second go-rounds and the team hadn’t had a true offensive and defensive weapon in many years. When Melvin signed veteran Mike Cameron to a one year deal with an option for a second year, it was something of a risk since he would begin the year suspended for 25 games for violating the new prohibition on amphetamines. Once he did find his way to the field, he was every bit the two-way weapon that Melvin envisioned. In the two seasons, Cameron accrued 8.1 total Fangraphs wins above replacement for the total pricetag of 16.25 million, or just barely two million per win. The Brewers also didn’t have to give up a draft pick or make a long-term commitment and the move was made just in time for the Brewers 2008 playoff run. All in all, a very nice pickup.
9) Trading JJ Hardy for Carlos Gomez.
It’s telling of how much things can change over time, because before the 2012 season this move probably could have gone on the “worst moves” list. Gomez did play good defense his first two and one half seasons in Milwaukee, but it wasn’t until the second half of 2012 that Gomez turned his considerable offensive tools into above average production. One could perhaps make the case that Melvin should have sought starting pitching instead of hitting when moving Hardy, but it’s hard to quibble too much considering what Gomez has done and since we will never know what Melvin was offered in the way of pitching when he put Hardy on the market in late 2009.
8) The Ben Sheets extension.
This one may raise a few eyebrows, but the reality is that even though Sheets missed some starts over the life of the contract, he was excellent enough when on the mound to still earn his money and then some. From 2005 to 2009, Ben Sheets made 94 starts, posted a 3.45 ERA (126 ERA+), struck out 521 and walked only 120. That was worth an even 14 fangraphs wins and it came at the cost of a little over 40 million, or just under three million per win. Sheets wasn’t the durable, inning-eating ace that Brewers fans wanted, but compare his career with that of the Cardinals Chris Carpenter. Carpenter frequently missed time, multiple whole seasons in fact, but the Cardinals put enough around him to make what he could give very valuable. The fact that Sheets didn’t have the teams around him until the very end to take advantage of his contributions doesn’t lessen what they were. Sheets also gave everything that he had to give, quite literally, to trying to get the 2008 Brewers into the playoffs. Not every player would take it upon themselves to make that sort of sacrifice at the expense of their future earnings.
7) Trading for Carlos Lee.
The 2004 Brewers were obviously missing a right-handed power bat, and after that year Melvin went out and traded for a pretty good one when they shipped Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino to the White Sox for Lee. El Caballo wasn’t much of a defender and, with his contract expiring at the end of 2006 was pretty clearly not a long-term solution for the team, but he was the right fit for the moment and came at a pretty modest cost. Lee immediately became the middle-of-the-order force that the Brewers needed to make the transition from the Geoff Jenkins and Lyle Overbay era to the young guns who would be called up over the next few years. If Melvin hadn’t botched the trade sending him out of town (more on that in the next piece), perhaps they could have leveraged his value into even more production after he was gone.
6) Signing Norichika Aoki.
Nori Aoki may be the only good thing that came from Ryan Braun’s positive test during the 2011 postseason, and it seems to have been mostly by accident. The Brewers didn’t scout Aoki before making the winning 2.5 million dollar bid for him that December, and had to bring him in for a workout only afterwards. We’ll never know just how much Braun’s impending possible suspension played into the team eventually signing him to a two year contract or if they even would have made the move if that wasn’t a possibility. Regardless of how it happened, though, it’s been a fantastic success for Melvin. In fewer than 200 big league games, Aoki has already accrued 3.8 Fangraphs WAR for the Brewers and at a total cost of under 5 million in salary plus the posting bid. The Brewers also have a 1.5 million dollar option for next year and three years of arbitration control following that.
5) Signing Doug Davis.
Yes, younger fans, there was a time that Doug Davis was a fantastic value pickup for the Brewers. Davis pitched some and with little success for the Melvin-era Rangers and briefly for the Blue Jays before being released and eventually signed by the Brewers in July of 2003. He quickly became a stalwart for the rotation and would provide the team 10 Fangraphs WAR from 2004 to 2006. He cost the team just a bit over six million dollars in that time, which may make him the best dollar for dollar bargain on this list.
4) Trading away Zack Greinke.
Yes, there is a lot of future projection since Segura has not even played a full major league season at this point. Maybe it’s tempting fate to put it this high on the list already, but this has all the earmarks of a all-time steal of a trade. It’s made all the more remarkable due to the fact that it’s gotten consistently harder and harder over the years to get back good prospects when trading away short periods of control of a player. That fact didn’t stop Melvin from being able to leverage the Angels’ want to get Greinke (and keep him away from the rival Texas Rangers) into Segura plus pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, though. This has the potential to be a defining moment for the next half dozen years of Brewers history, maybe longer if the Brewers can extend him and turn him into a cornerstone for years to come.
3) Trading away Richie Sexson.
On December 1st, 2003, the Milwaukee Brewers made a key move when they traded Richie Sexson and a couple of spare parts for a package that included Chris Capuano, Lyle Overbay, Craig Counsell, Junior Spivey, Chad Moeller and Jorge De La Rosa. It’s hard to imagine a player with only one year remaining before free agency like Sexson getting back that sort of package now, but at the time the lack of established big leaguers and the fact that the Brewers were shedding payroll drew cries of ”here we go again” from many fans. What Melvin got was two future mid-rotation starters in Capuano and De La Rosa, a solid starting first basemen in Overbay who could later be flipped, a couple of solid placeholder middle infielders to tide the Brewers over until their own prospects were ready and a backup catcher who liked the Grateful Dead. That may not have impressed people at the time, but it was excellent asset management on Melvin’s part and would pay dividends for years to come.
2) Extending Ryan Braun’s contact the first time.
When Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio gave Ryan Braun an eight year, 45 million dollar contract in May of 2008, it was the largest contract in baseball history for a player with less than a full year of big league service time. Braun was coming off a rookie-of-the-year season, but was still more than nearly six years away from free agency and so the deal made sense for both sides and was widely praised. It’s hard to imagine the deal working out much better than it has. Braun has racked up 30.0 Fangrpahs WAR since the start of the 2008 season, and the current deal doesn’t expire until after the 2015 season. If not for this deal, Braun would have been eligible for free agency after the current season. Instead, the Brewers were able to buy out 2014 and 2015 for an average of 11 million a year. On the open market, he easily would have fetched more than double that, and for a considerably longer length of time.
1) Not firing Jack Zduriencik.
It may seem strange to list a move not made as the best move of a tenure running a team, but here it is and it’s really hard to see a way that it doesn’t rank #1 on the list. Jack Z was originally hired to run the Brewers’ drafts by former GM Dean Taylor, and, starting with his very first draft in 2000, he would draft a future all star in each of the next six drafts. Corey Hart, JJ Hardy, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and Ryan Braun would go on to form the backbone of two playoff teams, but it definitely didn’t have to happen that way. Many GM’s fire their scouting director to bring in their own guy, but Melvin saw what Zduriencik was doing, recognized a good thing when he saw one and kept him around. Beyond those guys, he also drafted Jonathan Lucroy and some key trade pieces in Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Brett Lawrie, Jake Odorizzi. Jack also missed some, and notably failed to draft much impact pitching. On the other hand, he gave Melvin so much cheap, controllable talent that Melvin should have been able to trade for and sign enough pitching to get by. The fact that Melvin failed so often to do that shouldn’t diminish the decision to keep Jack around.
Just missed the list: extending Jonathan Lucroy’s contract, signing Aramis Ramirez, extending Yovani Gallardo’s contract, extending Carlos Gomez’s contract.