Historically, the Milwaukee Brewers have not been much to write home about. Sure, they have made a World Series appearance, but that was all the way back in 1982. Other than that magical season (which ended in a World Series defeat at the hands of the still hated Cardinals), there has been an awful lot of middling teams, aimless seasons, underwhelming prospects, and losses. Lots and lots of losses. In fact, from 1969-2002, the Milwaukee Brewers had a total of 10 winning seasons, and none after 1992. The team had two playoff appearances, coming in consecutive seasons in 1981 and 1982. Their cumulative record of 2,545-2,821 during that period was good enough for only a .474 winning percentage, culminating in the franchise worst 56-106 season of 2002. Near the end of that season, however, the front office underwent a dramatic shakeup, including then-owner Wendy Selig-Prieb stepping down as president and Dean Taylor vacating his position as general manager. The franchise finally took a step in the right direction on September 26th, 2002, when Doug Melvin was hired as General Manager of the Milwaukee Brewers.
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When Doug Melvin took over, the Milwaukee Brewers were about to finish the worst year in franchise history. While Geoff Jenkins and Richie Sexson were strong hitters in the lineup and Ben Sheets was coming into his own on the mound, a roster filled with players like Ruben Quevado, Jose Cabrera, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Ronnie Belliard were certainly nothing to write home about. After a quiet first offseason, Melvin got to work reshaping the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers experienced their first significant milestone under Doug in 2005. Boosted by the addition of all-star outfielder Carlos Lee and the arrivals of highly touted prospects like Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and J.J. Hardy, the Brewers ended their streak of losing seasons at 13, finishing the season 81-81. Two years later, in 2007, the Brewers experienced their first winning season under Melvin, and made their first playoff appearance in 2008. The Brewers won the NL Central in 2011, and had winning seasons in 2012 and 2014. Since Melvin took over the team in 2002, the Brewers have gone 956-957, and that record would look a lot better if not for the consecutive 94 loss seasons Melvin and the Brewers endured during the first two years of his tenure, while the team was rebuilding. Since their breakthrough season of 2007, the Brewers have been realistic contenders for a playoff berth in just about every season.
Melvin has been able to turn the franchise around despite working in the smallest market in the major leagues. Things were especially bleak at the beginning, with payroll bottoming out below $30 mil for the entire 40 man roster in 2004, prior to the sale of the team to current owner Mark Attanasio. Still, during the course of Melvin’s time as GM of the Brewers, the team has never had higher than a $104 mil Opening Day payroll (that in 2014), and has never finished higher than 10th in overall spending. The Brewers average payroll rank during Melvin’s time as GM has been between 19th and 20th, yet the team has had the same amount of winning seasons (five) under Doug as it did during the previous 20 seasons before his arrival.
Doug has shown that he can thrive even with the Brewers’ small market limitations. Melvin’s been quite adept at the trade, both the “seller” kind and the “buyer” kind. He dealt Richie Sexson and two minor leaguers to the Diamondbacks in 2003, receiving six players in return that would all be major league contributors for the Brewers in the following seasons. He got top 100 prospects in return for Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo. He has also gotten big names like C.C. Sabathia, Shawn Marcum, and Greinke to come to Milwaukee via trade, and without these deals neither of the Brewers’ two playoff appearances over the last decade would have happened.
Doug has also shown a willingness to write the big check for players, as well. Though the deal didn’t work out as well an anyone hoped, the signing of Jeff Suppan laid the groundwork for Milwaukee to become a viable free agent destination once again. Following the Suppan deal, the Brewers were able to lure big names like Randy Wolf, Mike Cameron, Francisco Rodriguez, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza off the open market to come to Milwaukee. Doug also was willing to go to the hundred million dollar range for players like C.C. and Prince, despite those two choosing to sign elsewhere. Melvin has shown the willingness and ability to lock up the Brewers’ young talent, as well. Ben Sheets, Bill Hall, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Ryan Braun (twice), Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez all signed deals to stay in Milwaukee for the long-term after making names for themselves with the Brewers. Though some of those deals have worked out better than others, the willingness and ability to lock up the players that Milwaukee has developed at reasonable prices is important to maintaining success in a small market.
The Brewers have also seen a marked increase in their participation on the international market under Melvin. Two of the Brewers’ current top prospects, Orlando Arcia and Gilbert Lara, were international signees (with Lara receiving a club-record bonus). Ace-in-waiting Wily Peralta was signed as an international free agent, as well. The Brewers opened a state-of-the-art baseball academy in the Domincan Republic in partnership with former closer Salomon Torres in 2011. The Brewers have even gone as far as Japan to find talent, as well, signing Nori Aoki in 2012. Aoki would be a two year starter and strong lead off hitter for the Brewers on a VERY team friendly deal before being dealt to Kansas City.
Melvin’s most significant asset to a small market team like Milwaukee, however, is his ability to find value in hidden places. The Brewers have a long history of picking players up off the scrap heap and striking gold with them for a period of time. Derrick Turnbow, John Axford, Zack Duke, Brandon Kintzler, and Jeremy Jeffress were all under the radar acquisitions that experienced a period of strong success in the Brewers’ bullpen (though Jeffress was a former Brewers’ first rounder that was included in the Greinke trade). Casey McGehee and Scott Podsednik were waiver claims that were in the hunt for Rookie of the Year awards by the time they were finishing their first seasons’ in Milwaukee, and Brady Clark had a string of strong seasons in Milwaukee after being picked up off the waiver wire as well. Melvin and his staff’s ability to find diamond’s in the rough extends to the draft, as well. Despite the Brewers notable misses at the top of the draft, later round picks and under appreciated prospects like Lucroy, Khris Davis, Scooter Gennett, Mike Fiers, Jake Arrieta, Michael Brantley, Andrew Bailey, Lorenzo Cain, and even Hunter Pence were all drafted in the later rounds under the Doug Melvin regime and have gone on to experience success in the big leagues, though obviously not all made it with Milwaukee.
No general manager is perfect, and Doug has made his mistakes. The drafts of 2009 and 2011, especially in the high rounds, were very unsuccessful. The firing of Ned Yost was less than graceful, and the hiring of old, crotchety Ken Macha as his replacement was ill-fated from the start. Suppan’s deal obviously is what it was, and extensions for Derrick Turnbow and Bill Hall didn’t turn out very well for Milwaukee. Scott Linebrink was a less than valuable addition via trade, and the Carlos Lee trade to Texas didn’t help the Brewers much, either. Even with these blemishes, though, Doug has had a good deal more hits than misses during his time in Milwaukee.
Doug Melvin is the fifth longest tenured General Manager in major league baseball, having taken over at the helm for the Milwaukee Brewers in late 2002. However, entering the final year of his contract, Doug still finds himself without job security beyond next season. Melvin has by far been the Brewers’ most successful GM; the two playoff appearances and five winning seasons the Brewers’ have enjoyed under Melvin were more than the team saw in the 20 seasons before Doug arrived. Melvin has been able to accomplish all this despite the fact that the Brewers play in baseball’s smallest market and work with a below average payroll nearly every season. To all those that say that Doug Melvin needs to go, I can only shake my head and wonder if anyone remembers what the Brewers’ teams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s looked like. Doug Melvin has brought a relatively sustained era of success and a winning mindset to Milwaukee since his arrival, and the Brewers’ would be foolish to allow Melvin to walk away after this season. After the Brewers gave Ron Roenicke an extra year of job security earlier this spring, an extension for Melvin (hopefully a multi-year one) would only be the next logical step for the Milwaukee Brewers. Doug Melvin has done enough to prove that as long as he wants the job as Milwaukee Brewers’ General Manager, he deserves to have it.