Milwaukee general manger Doug Melvin is coming off one of the more interesting offseasons in club history. Melvin answered questions online from fans about the changes he's made and looks to make, the Brewers farm system and the 2005 Major League club.
pcklmn: Congratulations on the great start to the season. Where do you want to focus adding more depth in the minor league system besides pitching -- third base, catching?
Doug Melvin: One area that we do not have a front line product is third base and we continue to look for starting pitching.
bjkrautk: Are you at all concerned about carrying only four outfielders on the active roster?
Melvin: That was a concern when we made the final roster cuts, but we felt comfortable with Bill Hall in the outfield. Ultimately, a left-handed reliever was more valuable for us at the time.
stinger11: Hey Doug, great job in the direction you have the Crew headed. Just curious as to your impressions of how Wes Helms came back this spring and what your plans are for him with Russell Branyan and Jeff Cirillo playing so well.
Melvin: Wes Helms came to camp in top physical condition both defensively and at the plate. He looked so much better this spring than he did the second half of last season. What made it difficult for Wes was the way Jeff Cirillo played this spring, but we still feel that Wes can make positive contribution to our team.
bjkrautk: Considering the numbers he put up as a pitcher in 2004, what factored into the decision to release Brooks Kieschnick?
Melvin: We went into the spring looking at Brooks strictly as a pitcher while his bat was a contributor for the past two years. We did not feel we would be able to carry Brooks in the dual role as we did the past two years.
David_Dean: Doug, I like the direction you have the Brewers pointed. Realizing that our only surplus asset is the fantastic farm system, thanks to Jack Zduriencik and his great crew, have you ever considered trading a top prospect for another top prospect?
Melvin: Yes, that goes through our minds on a regular basis. The tough part of making that kind of deal is that we know our own players better than we know another organizations' player.
Diane_Danielson: How close are you to a long-term contract with Ben Sheets? Can we expect something in the next month?
Melvin: We continue to talk, however, those talks are confidential.
mlb_com_member_3: Looking ahead, Prince Fielder will likely be ready to contribute to the Major League team in the near future. What are the plans with Prince and Lyle Overbay?
Melvin: It's a good problem to have, but first off, Prince will have to have a good season at Nashville (AAA). Lyle will have to keep hitting like he did last season. That will probably be one of my top priorities in the offseason. I've been asked if either Prince or Lyle could convert to the outfield, but with the addition of Carlos Lee in left field and Geoff Jenkins in right field, it's not likely that Fielder or Overbay will be converted to the outfield.
Keith_Gauger: After seeing Nelson Cruz in Arizona and being very impressed, I was rather surprised he was sent to Huntsville. Is that an indication of his pecking order in the system behind Brad Nelson?
Melvin: No, Nelson Cruz played half a year of Double-A last year and we feel that he needs at least half a season at Double-A this year. Brad Nelson is a half step ahead of Cruz due to the number of bats he got at Double-A last season. We are impressed with both Nelson and Cruz and we feel that they both have good offensive potential.
mlb_com_member_2: What is the team's biggest strength coming into the season?
Melvin: We think our offense has improved since last year due to the additions to Damian Miller and Carlos Lee. Also, one of our strengths that goes somewhat unnoticed are the No. 1 and No. 2 starters -- Ben Sheets and Doug Davis. They have gone unnoticed by the national media for what they do.
bjkrautk: Barring injuries, when is the earliest that fans can expect to see some of the prospects (Dave Krynzel, Corey Hart, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ben Hendrickson, Jose Capellan) called up?
Melvin: In most cases, those players are better served to play Triple-A in case of injuries at the big league level. For position players it will take an injury to get here, but if our pitchers falter at the Major League level and our Triple-A pitchers are doing well, it is conceivable that we will call them up to pitch.
Base_Ball: I have a gut feeling that J.J. Hardy is going to be a special player for the Brewers. Am I correct in saying that Hardy, along with solid defensive skills, has some immeasurable intangibles that have allowed him to make a leap to the Majors?
Melvin: Your assessment of J.J. is very accurate. Those intangibles are the reason he's in the big leagues and is bypassing Triple-A. He's a young player who makes few mistakes and we feel that he has the mental make-up to be able to handle the Major Leagues.
Bill_Batterman: Julio Santana has come a long way since he was the top prospect in the Rangers farm system while you were that club's GM. Were you impressed with him in Spring Training? Do you see him as a potential contributor at the big league level this season?
Melvin: Julio came close to making our ballclub. He needs to get ahead of the count and put hitters away. I can see him coming up later in the season and helping our ballclub. He showed one of the better power arms in Spring Training.
kuehlebohnen: What is the most difficult trade you have ever made? Does it ever get difficult to stay objective and look at things from a business standpoint, and what would be best for the team, when you really like a player?
Melvin: The most difficult was the first trade I ever made as a GM. I traded Jose Canseco (a popular player at the time) for Otis Nixon (an older player) but it was the best thing for our ballclub at the time. Nixon provided the intangibles to help the club win and play as a team, as opposed to individual accolades such as home runs and RBIs. I have traded two star players -- Richie Sexson and Juan Gonzalez. Those trades are always difficult, but you need to make them to better the ballclub. I think in today's climate fans and ballplayers have become used to the possibility of trades.
bjkrautk: Was there any temptation to keep Ben Hendrickson on the 25-man roster as a long reliever? What more can he do at the Triple-A level?
Melvin: We view Ben as a starting pitcher only. He needs to command all three of his pitches and continue to have success at the Triple-A level. With our schedule the way it was with the number of off days at the beginning of the season, we did not need a fifth starter and felt it was better for him to get the ball every five days.
brewcity78: With the new ownership, will the Brewers be able to spend more money on decent players?
Melvin: Yes, if you look in today's USA Today, it is evident that the new ownership will have an impact on our ballclub. We increased our payroll by 45 percent this past season which was the second highest increase of all 30 teams. So it's evident that Mark Attanasio and his ownership have already made an impact.
brewerfan21: What do you see as Jeff Cirillo's role this year? He is a huge fan draw. Glad you gave him a chance.
Melvin: Jeff will be used as a veteran, off the bench, in a pinch-hitting role or defensive replacement. He also may see more playing time than originally expected due to his numbers at Spring Training.
superbish: How encouraging is it that in the first two games of the season, everything -- from the reliability of the top two starters, to the purported productivity of the lineup -- has panned out exactly as planned?
Melvin: I think we are all pleased, the Brewers front office employees and the fans, to see the results of the first two games. It was a total team effort with good defense and good timely hitting.
mattbrewerfandotnet: Rickie Weeks struggled with his defense in Spring Training. Have you ever considered a move to third base or center field?
Melvin: No, Rickie has played center field and shortstop in college. I think it's best to focus and perfect one position. One of the problems is maybe he has been moved to too many positions in the past.
Brent_Chabbas: I know this year is pretty much history for him, but is there any hope to salvage Mike Jones in the coming years? Does his role as a future starter remain a possibility?
Melvin: This year it's pretty much a loss while he rehabs from shoulder surgery. There is still hope that he will recover, but it won't happen this year.
Melvin: Thanks for your interest today. I appreciate your support from last year and your continued support for 2005 with better things to come.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.