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3 best, worst moves of Doug Melvin era

August 12, 2015

As longtime Brewers general manager Doug Melvin steps aside, let’s take a look at the best moves of his tenure.

Melvin made a number of blockbuster deals while in Milwaukee, including trades that brought CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke to town and others that sent Carlos Lee, Nelson Cruz and Brett Lawrie packing. Aside from a couple, there’s a fine line between his best moves and worst.

Best Moves

• Trading for CC Sabathia: This seems like a no-brainer, but at the time it looked like the Brewers had given up a lot for a rental. That was true, but in return they got one of the most dominant half seasons by any pitcher in the last decade. Sabathia went 9-2 with seven complete games and three shutouts over 17 starts for the Brewers, posting a 4.9 WAR.

While he may have run out of gas in the postseason, Sabathia undoubtedly carried the Brewers to the 2008 wild card. His celebration of the playoff-clinching out on Sept. 28, 2008, goes down as one of the most iconic images in franchise history.

• Trading for Zack Greinke: With as much as they gave up, you could make an argument for putting this trade in the worst moves category and you wouldn’t be wrong. But this was about winning now and Greinke gave the Brewers what they needed.

Greinke anchored the rotation and served as a much-needed ace for the Brewers. He helped lead Milwaukee to a franchise-record 96 wins and their first National League Central title. Though they fell short of the World Series, without Greinke that team may not have even made the playoffs.

• J.J. Hardy for Carlos Gomez trade: This looked like a perfect match for both sides, but in the end, the Brewers clearly got the better end of the deal. Hardy spent just one season with the Twins, posting a 1.3 WAR over 101 games. Gomez, on the other hand, filled a long-term need in Milwaukee.

He took some time to figure things out, but once he did Gomez became one of the best players in baseball. Over 51/2 seasons, Gomez posted a 19.9 WAR as a two-time all-star with the Brewers while playing gold-glove defense in center field.

Worst Moves

• Signing Jeff Suppan: As good as Melvin was in trades, he didn’t enjoy nearly as much success in free-agent pitching signings. Suppan is the poster child for what can and often does go wrong when signing aging veteran starting pitchers. The Brewers needed someone to help bolster their rotation, but Suppan was not the way to go.

The only thing worse than his -0.7 WAR over over 110 games in four years is the fact the Brewers continued to send Suppan out there every fifth day for so long. Game 4 of the 2008 NLDS epitomizes the mistake that was the Suppan era in Milwaukee. With the Brewers facing elimination, Suppan got the start and lasted just three innings before giving up five runs.

• Trading away Carlos Lee/Nelson Cruz: For the most part, the criticism of this trade is unfairly based on the benefit of hindsight. With Cruz putting up 11.8 WAR over eight years for the Rangers, it looks like Melvin got absolutely fleeced in the deal. In reality, even the Rangers had little idea Cruz would would develop into the four-time all-star he has become.

The real problem was how much the Brewers overpaid for such a lackluster return. Closer Francisco Cordero was the best of their return that also included Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix. Selling rental players unlikely to re-sign doesn’t give a GM much leverage, but that doesn’t excuse giving up so much for so little in return.

• Hiring Ken Macha: After reaching the playoffs a year earlier, ‘09 and ‘10 were lost years for the Brewers, thanks in part to the hiring of Macha as manager. It’s hard to blame much of a team’s success or failure on the manager, but looking back it’s also hard not to wonder what might have been with someone else at the helm.

When the faces of the franchise — Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder — clash with the man in charge, it should come as no surprise that things don’t go well. Macha’s old-school, businesslike approach didn’t mix with the younger makeup of the club. Sure, the Brewers may not have had the pitching to contend during those years, but having Macha in charge didn’t help their cause.

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