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Melvin, Roenicke extensions speak volumes

Both Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke richly deserved to have their contracts extended. It is just that the way the Milwaukee Brewers' season has gone so far, you don't know whether to offer them congratulations or condolences.

Actually, by extending the contracts of Melvin, the general manager, and Roenicke, the manager, at a time when the team was struggling, Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio was underscoring his complete confidence in both men.

Any owner can extend a contract of a GM or a manager when the team is in first place and rolling. In this case, it was done at a moment when the Brewers were tied with the Chicago Cubs for fifth place in the National League Central.

And the Brewers were hurting in more ways than in the standings. They had already lost for the season through injuries lefty starter Chris Narveson, newly-minted first baseman Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez, a shortstop whose defensive play had reached the level of inspirational.

For Attanasio, extending the contracts at this time demonstrated his faith in the direction of the franchise and the abilities of both Melvin and Roenicke.

Melvin's contract was extended through 2015 and Roenicke's through 2014, with a club option for '15. Before Tuesday's announcement, both were in the final guaranteed years of their deals.

Melvin, 59, also got a promotion. He's now president of baseball operations-general manager. He was previously executive vice president-general manager.

It ought to be recalled that the year before Melvin took over as GM, the Brewers were on the doorstep of competitive oblivion, putting up a record of 56-106 in 2002. Melvin and his crew patiently put together what has been a highly productive Minor League system, at least in turning out All-Star-quality position players.

That talent formed the basis of the 2011 team that won the franchise's first division title in 29 years and first postseason series in 29 years, advancing to the NL Championship Series.

Up until recently, the Brewers had not had the same kind of success in developing front-line pitching talent. Thus, Milwaukee has had to seek pitching help on the free-agent and trade markets. Some of its earlier attempts in those directions were notably unsuccessful, such as the signings of Eric Gagne and Jeff Suppan.

But more recently, a trade for CC Sabathia allowed the club to earn the NL Wild Card berth in 2008. And in 2011, offseason trades for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum transformed the starting rotation and lifted the Brewers to the top of the NL Central and into the postseason. Those trades were made possible by the wealth of prospects that the Milwaukee farm system had developed. That kind of systemic success will have to persist for the Brewers to have continued success.

Roenicke was a rookie big league manager last year, but that description alone didn't do him justice. He won the support of his players early, helped to foster a singularly positive environment, and he had the Brewers playing an aggressive brand of baseball. The devout sabermetricians thought he bunted too much. The old-school-percentage people thought he didn't use the intentional walk enough. But Roenicke's results won the argument, because his team won a franchise-record 96 games in the regular season.

Now the Brewers, who not that long ago went 15 years between winning seasons, have high expectations. As Attanasio put it Tuesday: "We have reached a point where we expect to field a perennially competitive team,"

Not that long ago, this would have been seen in Milwaukee as empty rhetoric. Now, it is a reasonable set of expectations.

It still won't be easy. Milwaukee is still the smallest media market in the Majors. There isn't ever going to be Yankees money available. There will be the occasional, but painful, loss of a major talent to free agency, just as in the case of Prince Fielder's departure.

But this is no lost cause. Between the retractable roof on Miller Park making baseball plausible, comfortable and enjoyable from April into October, and the willingness to spend sensibly yet aggressively on the part of Attanasio's ownership, the Brewers have drawn more than three million fans in three of the past four seasons.

Melvin and Roenicke have just been entrusted with the foreseeable future of the franchise's on-field operations. Their tasks will be anything but easy, particularly now, in light of an injury epidemic. But success is now the expectation. Melvin and Roenicke have done their parts to raise those expectations, and their rewards are suitable: more opportunities to create further success.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Milwaukee Brewers