GM's maverick mentality pays off for Brewers

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Milwaukee Brewers.

2010 record: 77-85
Finish: Third place, NL Central
2010 final payroll: $94.6 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $83 million

Offseason action

Part of what makes Doug Melvin such a gem of a general manager, aside from the resplendent mustache left over from the prop room of a Tom Selleck movie, is his strict adherence to nobody's philosophy but his own. The impunity with which Melvin gutted his farm system this offseason was spectacular. Teams hoard prospects like kids used to Pokemon cards, and to that practice, Melvin slowly raised a finger. Which finger is rather easy to guess.

For the massacre, Melvin has three things to show: Zack Greinke(notes), Shaun Marcum(notes) and a damn good chance at winning a wide-open NL Central. After the Brewers crept toward a $100 million payroll last season and finished short of .500, an overhaul was necessary. That Melvin traded his best prospect (Brett Lawrie) for Marcum and still was able to wrangle Greinke (for shortstop Alcides Escobar(notes), center fielder Lorenzo Cain(notes), reliever Jeremy Jeffress(notes) and minor league pitcher Jake Odorizzi) was an ode to his creativity. While some GMs make short-term moves to save their jobs – take a high-powered pair of binoculars and focus them exactly 90 miles south – Melvin's acquisition of a legitimate ace and a fine No. 3 were instead that of seized opportunity. Melvin is self-aware enough about his team and confident enough in his scouting department that depleting his kiddie corps is a risk worth taking, and the boldness with which he did it stunned baseball and earned him more respect than he already has.

Melvin made the moves that would paralyze so many others with fear. Escobar has five years before free agency, and the others have six. That's 23 years for two of Greinke and one of shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt(notes), who's the busted sound system to Greinke's Bentley. The sooner Melvin realizes Betancourt hurts the Brewers, the better their chance at beating Cincinnati and St. Louis and Chicago improve.

Still, it's difficult to call the Greinke and Marcum deals anything other than a resounding victory. The Brewers got proven talent for unproven talent, the domain of the Bostons and Philadelphias and New Yorks. The hubris of Melvin to consider the Brewers in that stratum. It's like he actually wants to win.

Reality check

Yes, the Brewers' offseason was most excellent. Now that they've done well in the paper championship chase comes their quest for an actual one, and much of that will depend on their first two months.

Should the Brewers struggle as they did last season, when they found themselves with a double-digit deficit by game No. 55, Melvin will face the tricky question of what to do with Prince Fielder(notes). Trading him is the smartest bargain should Milwaukee face even in the slightest bit of strife. Fielder would fetch at least three strong prospects, enough to refill the Brewers' farm system, and plenty more than they'd get with the late first-round and second-round picks they'd receive from him leaving via free agency – if such compensation is even in the new collective-bargaining agreement.

If supposing trade ideas for Fielder seems defeatist, well, get used to it. The only way to silence such thoughts is an incendiary start, and with nine of their first 22 games against returning playoff teams, the Brewers need Greinke, Marcum, Yovani Gallardo(notes) and Randy Wolf(notes) to start the year in midseason form.

Otherwise, the Fielder issue will remain a constant distraction. He wants $200 million in free agency. Milwaukee, it is safe to say, will not fork over $200 million for anyone, let alone an overweight defensive sinkhole at a position with limited value beyond the bat, even if he will be just 27 and owns the ninth-most home runs and 16th-most walks since his debut in 2005.

Should the Brewers get a typical Fielder season, a bounceback from Ryan Braun(notes) (who lost nearly 75 points off his career slugging percentage last year), repeats of '10 from Rickie Weeks(notes) and Corey Hart(notes), and enough from the other positions, they are the likeliest to unseat Cincinnati. New manager Ron Roenicke left the Angels' sinking ship and replaces Ken Macha, who had lost the Milwaukee clubhouse long before he was fired.

And for Greinke, Marcum and Takashi Saito(notes) (at $1.75 million no less), Roenicke can thank Melvin. The GM did his job. Now it's up to the players and the manager to turn his vision it into something not on paper but engraved.

Brewers in haiku

Still not quite sure how
Prince, nearing three bills, can be

Next: San Francisco Giants