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Buy or Sell? Brewers a mystery as Deadline looms

MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin won't reveal whether he has decided to buy, sell or hold at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, which looms less than two weeks away.

Which way is he leaning?

"Staying prepared," Melvin said simply.

Like so many Major League teams, the Brewers are somewhere in the middle. On one hand, they have been playing much better -- back to within three games of .500 at 44-47, only four games off last year's pace, when they won 96 regular-season games and the National League Central.

On the other hand, the Brewers seem stuck in fourth place, seven games behind the co-division-leading Reds entering a crucial series in Cincinnati set to begin Friday night. While going 10-5 over their last 15 games, the Brewers have gained one game on first place.

The outcome of the weekend Cincinnati series could push Melvin one direction or the other.

Or not.

"It's a gut feel," Melvin said.

Three scenarios are open to the Brewers' longtime boss:

1. Buy.

The Brewers could surprise everyone, which they have done before. Remember the out-of-nowhere Francisco Rodriguez acquisition, two minutes after the 2011 All-Star Game?

The Brewers could use relief help again, though they just reshuffled the bullpen, and are hopeful of a turnaround. Shortstop duties have shuffled between three players since starter Alex Gonzalez was lost to a season-ending knee injury, and a regular starter would be nice.

But considering the dearth of available shortstops, the Brewers' place in the standings and number of prospects with whom Melvin has parted in recent years to add the likes of CC Sabathia, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, it would be another shocker if Melvin made any significant additions.

So, he might...

2. Sell.

Also known as, the Greinke Sweepstakes.

Greinke, a free-agent-to-be, is slumping through July and did not pitch this week as scheduled, a move by the Brewers to get their most valuable commodity back on track. He remains the Brewers' best pitcher, 9-3 with a 3.57 ERA, and has been scouted by the Rangers, Angels, Dodgers and Braves, among other teams.

Two developments could lessen the Brewers' potential return, should they decide to sell. One, the ill-timed skipped start. Two, a significant change to Major League Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Under the old rules, a team could reap two premium picks in the following First-Year Player Draft for a two-month rental who departs via free agency after the season. That was the bonus for the Brewers after they acquired Sabathia from the Indians in 2008, rode him to the postseason and then watched him sign with the Yankees that winter.

But under the new rules, midseason additions no longer qualify their new teams for compensation. Prevailing wisdom has the change diminishing the value of a player like Greinke.

Melvin doesn't buy it.

"In 2008, when we made the Sabathia trade, the focus wasn't necessarily on Draft picks, the focus was on getting into the playoffs," Melvin said.

Yes, Melvin said, the Draft picks were part of the Brewers' calculation when they parted with then-top prospect Matt LaPorta and two other players including current Indians center fielder Michael Brantley. But not the key to the equation.

Would Melvin part with those players today, knowing that under current rules he would not get top Draft picks on the back end?

"We might have," Melvin said. "It depends -- at that point, we wanted to get in. We hadn't been to Postseason in 25 years. You think Pittsburgh wants in? Do you think they should worry about next year's Draft picks? You think the Braves want in after losing the way they did late last year? You think the Angels, after the money they spent, want in? Think the Tigers, after the money they spent, want in?

"Draft picks -- they can always say that. They just have to make their own decisions."

As for the argument that Greinke skipping a start diminished his value, Melvin countered that, "You can look at it the other way -- if he goes somewhere, you're going to get a guy that's fresh and right and ready. That's the way I look at it."

Rodriguez could also be a trade target of other teams, especially now that he's back in the closer role. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez, in the first season of a three-year contract, has also drawn some interest, most notably from the Dodgers.

The Brewers, by the way, have not made a "sell" oriented trade since dealing free-agent-to-be Carlos Lee to the Rangers in 2006, and that deal brought back Major League players in reliever Francisco Cordero and outfielder Kevin Mench.

"I'm open to the best deal, whatever that is," Melvin said. "And I'm still open to winning games."

Which means he might...

3. Hold.

All-Star left fielder Ryan Braun best articulated this argument. He believes that the Brewers, as presently constructed, are a contender.

"In the last month, we've played really well -- a lot better than our record would indicate," Braun said. "We've lost six or seven games we were winning and should have won. We recognize the Trade Deadline is fast approaching, and we knew we had to play well coming out of the All-Star break. We have.

"We still really believe we can make a run at this thing. Marcum is going to come back eventually [from an elbow injury], and our starting pitching has been unbelievable lately. [Catcher Jonathan] Lucroy is coming back. Rickie [Weeks] over the last month is back to being the guy we've known over his career. That's like adding three All-Stars."

He was bullish heading to Cincinnati.

"You just don't know. You never know," Braun said. "And Joey Votto is out for the next month -- that completely changes the dynamic of the division. When one of the teams ahead of you loses its best player for a month, that changes everything.

"I really think everybody will look at what St. Louis did last year and use it as a rallying cry for the next 10 years. The likelihood of that happening again is not high, but with the new Wild Card, there are so many things that can come into play and factor in. There is no reason to give up hope.

"We know that we are as good as anybody in this league when we play well. We are," Braun said. "We've shown glimpses of it. I don't think any of these other teams atop the division are so much better that somebody is going to run away with it. So there is no good reason to give up being optimistic right now."

If they hold, the Brewers presumably would make another run at re-signing Greinke, who had direct talks with Melvin in Spring Training about a contract extension. Those talks ceased when the Giants' Matt Cain inked an extension that added five years and $112 million to his contract, and Greinke hired agent Casey Close.

Told that Brewers fans would like an idea of whether the Brewers planned an effort to re-sign Greinke before July 31, Melvin wouldn't budge.

"Don't have to," he said.

Don't have to tell, or don't have to make an offer?

Both, Melvin said with a smile.

Does he expect a busy trading season?

"If you go by the Internet, there's going to be tons of trades," Melvin said. "If you go by my phone calls, there's going to be nothing."

He added: "There's still a lot of baseball left, and people don't understand that. The normal fan doesn't understand how many games are left, that one bad week could turn the thing upside down, and so could one good week."

Milwaukee Brewers, Zack Greinke, Aramis Ramirez, Francisco Rodriguez