Doug Melvin was in-studio for an interview on 540 ESPN Milwaukee earlier this week, and the audio clip is now online for those who missed it, or like myself, live outside the broadcast area (the link takes you to the audio vault; do a Ctrl+F search for "melvin" and you'll find it). The conversation lasted over 30 minutes, and had some interesting tidbits that may give us a few clues as to what Melvin is preparing to do in the coming weeks. It's important to note that while Melvin is a bit more straightforward with the media than most other GM's, he's still been known to throw a smokescreen out there every now and then (the most famous example being that he "wasn't motivated to trade Lyle Overbay" with Prince Fielder waiting in the wings..a few days later, Overbay was a Toronto Blue Jay).
With that said, here are a few highlights from the interview.
Could the Brewers pass on offering arbitration to Mike Cameron and Felipe Lopez?
While answering a question about the current draft system, Melvin seemed to subtly hint that the Brewers might not offer the two Type B free agents arbitration: "If we sign a Type A player in the free agent market we lose our second round draft pick. For us to get that back, we have to offer arbitration to Cameron or Felipe Lopez and those kind of players, and if we don't, we don't get the draft picks. Clubs like ours -- mid-market clubs -- can't take that risk of offering a player arbitration. He might take it, and you're just not able to balance that into your payroll."
While it was never a sure thing that the Brewers would offer those two arbitration, this comes as a bit of a surprise. You'd think that there would be enough interest on the free agent market in both players to justify offering them arbitration just for the sake of collecting the sandwich round picks. And really, given the Brewers' problems with infield depth in recent years with injuries, would it be such a bad thing if Lopez unexpectedly takes the Brewers up on the offer? Both Rickie Weeks and Casey McGehee will be coming off surgery, and Alcides Escobar is far from a sure thing at this point. With Craig Counsell possibly going elsewhere, it might be good to keep a guy like Lopez around. I still believe it's extremely unlikely that either Cameron or Lopez would accept an offer of arbitration -- odds are they could get more money elsewhere and remain a starter while doing it.
Is Mat Gamel's future in the outfield?
Doesn't look like it, at least for now. Melvin says it's not something he would decide to do over the winter, like they did with Ryan Braun following his rookie season. Quoth the Mustache: "If that happens, we could probably explore it in spring training. It's not something I can sit here today and say 'We're gonna move Corey Hart and put Gamel out there.' It's too much of a risk because he's never played out there. ... In spring training it might happen, to say 'Mat go out there and see what you can do after taking some fly balls in the infield.'"
Of course, in order for the Gamel conversion to take place, the Brewers would first need to figure out something with Corey Hart. Presumably, it would mean that Hart would be traded, and preferably for pitching. There are rumors of a possible Hart-for-Derek Lowe swap, but Melvin danced around those rumors in the interview, and it's probably not something the Brewers should be taking seriously, anyway -- they're about to get out from under one horrible pitching contract, why take on another? If Gamel does move to the outfield, it's probably a good thing they'll have Carlos Gomez patrolling centerfield, because the defense from the corners would be laughably bad.
Can Hart return to being a productive player?
Melvin mentioned that they asked Hart to take a different approach at the plate in 2009, and he may not have been better for it: "I look at Corey (Hart) and we asked him to be more selective at the plate, and he was. His walks were up from the previous year ... we asked him to be more patient, and he was more patient but less aggressive, so his on-base was better but his production was down. It's a fine line of what you're asking a player to do. Corey's a better player when you tell him to just go up there and be aggressive, run the bases, and be an aggressive player."
You can tell that Hart's never been one for patience at the plate. He is, after all, the guy who famously said "What am I supposed to do, go up there and take a walk?" while he was in the middle of one of his prolonged slumps a couple years ago. It goes to show you that not everyone is cut out for this high OBP thing, but on the other hand, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun have shown that it is possible to be both aggressive and selective. The difference between those two (who are clearly elite hitters) and Hart is that they have good enough pitch recognition to balance the two. Hart has never really shown that ability, no matter the approach, and it pretty clearly hurt him this past year. While he was being more selective, he was constantly choosing to swing at the wrong pitches -- sliders low and away, pitches spiked in the dirt, etc. It's easy to criticize, but perhaps the best philosophy for Hart to follow is "Keep it stupid, simple."
What will the 2010 batting order look like?
Melvin said that the lineup is more Ken Macha's responsibility, but did throw out the possibility of the Brewers batting the pitcher 8th again, given the unique make-up of the 2010 roster. With more speed guys in the order than we're used to seeing, Melvin noted that studies show that lineups that bat the pitcher 8th tend to score 30 more runs per season. On the topic of where Escobar and Gomez specifically will fit into the order: "I'll leave that up to Ken; that'll be a discussion we have in the spring. Maybe he'll rotate them around or I don't know if he wants both of them down at the bottom of the order."
If the Brewers do end up batting the pitcher 8th again, I think I would like the 2010 version better than the 2008 or 2009 version that had Jason Kendall batting in the last spot. With a speed guy like Escobar or Gomez at least hitting 9th, you have another speed guy hitting ahead of Rickie Weeks, as opposed to a plodding catcher. Right now I have more faith in Escobar as a hitter than I do Gomez, so I would probably place Escobar 7th and Gomez 9th. Given Ken Macha's aversion to trusting young players, however, we'll probably see the opposite early in the year --- Gomez 7th and Escobar 9th.