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Three key items remain on Brewers' to-do list

Counsell embraces challenge of improving on a winning ballclub
December 30, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- The way Brewers manager Craig Counsell sees it, when you're good, it gets harder and harder to get better.That's essentially how Counsell explained his team's tedious offseason to date, coming off the thrill of 96 regular-season victories and a National League Central title, a sweep of the Rockies

MILWAUKEE -- The way Brewers manager Craig Counsell sees it, when you're good, it gets harder and harder to get better.
That's essentially how Counsell explained his team's tedious offseason to date, coming off the thrill of 96 regular-season victories and a National League Central title, a sweep of the Rockies in the NL Division Series and playing the Dodgers to Game 7 of the NL Championship Series. The Brewers acquired two Major League players before breaking for the holidays: Left-hander Alex Claudio, acquired in a trade with the Rangers on the final day of the Winter Meetings, and outfielder Ben Gamel from the Mariners in exchange for Domingo Santana on Dec. 21.
But that's not a bad thing, Counsell argued.
"I think it's certainly challenging ... [to] come up with ways to make your team better," he said. "The margins are smaller. It's hard to subtract from a big league team and do moves if you're really trying to make yourself better. I think most teams that are having success probably find it that way.
"But that's the new challenge of an offseason like this."
With the offseason waning, here are three things on the Brewers' to-do list before Spring Training:
1. Who's at second?
It won't be Mauricio Dubon or Keston Hiura at second base for the Brewers on Opening Day. General manager David Stearns has made that clear. The in-house options are Hernan Perez and Tyler Saladino -- or perhaps Travis Shaw if the Brewers acquire a third baseman instead. But Stearns' preference is to return Shaw to third and bring in a second baseman from a deep pool of free agents and trade targets. That market began to move right before Christmas, but plenty of candidates remain to bridge the gap to the Brewers' prospects.
Beyond second base, the Brewers entered the holiday break with no glaring holes, another explanation for the quiet offseason. Stearns has been looking at possible upgrades at catcher, and he is open to trading away a player from an area of relative depth (rotation, outfield, first base).

2. Find another Wade Miley
Every team adds depth as Spring Training nears, and the Brewers will be no different. Last year, their best under-the-radar signing was Miley, who came to camp as a non-roster invitee, suffered a groin injury just as he was poised to be awarded a roster spot, then rehabbed only to injure an oblique during the first half of the season. Once he cleared all of those hurdles, Miley was a most useful pitcher for Counsell, logging a 2.36 ERA in 95 1/3 innings including the postseason. Former GM Doug Melvin used to say that every good team needed a surprise contributor or two, and Miley was it for the 2018 Brewers.
So who will it be in 2019? The Brewers have already signed a handful of non-roster invitees, including Deolis Guerra, the 29-year-old veteran of the Pirates and Angels who has modest peripheral stats but Major League experience and who will get a fair shot to win a roster spot in the spring. With so many of their positions around the diamond filled by returning players, the Brewers might face more of a challenge recruiting players on Minor League deals, but they'll give it a shot.

3. Forge trust with key coaches
New hitting coach Andy Haines attended the Winter Meetings, giving him an opportunity to get to know Counsell, Stearns and the rest of the team's baseball operations staff, including some of the data analysts who will feed Haines information to pass on to players. New pitching coach Chris Hook didn't attend, but he has the benefit of coming from within the organization and knowing many of the young pitchers he will now tutor at the Major League level.
So the process has begun. But it is sure to continue in the weeks ahead, as Haines and Hook talk via telephone to the players under their watch before hopefully hitting the ground running at Maryvale Baseball Park.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.