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Brewers say their roster is set for Spring Training

Melvin: 'We've got a team that can play tomorrow'
MLB.com @philgrogers

Most teams are just shifting into gear for the Hot Stove activity ahead. But not the Brewers.

They're just about ready to head to Arizona.

Most teams are just shifting into gear for the Hot Stove activity ahead. But not the Brewers.

They're just about ready to head to Arizona.

"We can play tomorrow,'' Brewers GM Doug Melvin said. "We've got a team that can play tomorrow. We've got [our lineup]. We've got six starting pitchers. We have some depth. We could play tomorrow if the season was starting.''

That's a nice feeling for an executive, even if his team didn't feel like a finished product at the end of the season. Melvin made his biggest move on Nov. 1, acquiring first baseman Adam Lind from the Blue Jays for Marco Estrada, and now can focus on adding to his bench and bullpen as other teams grab the headlines by spending heavily in free agency or trades.

This is the same basic plan that the Royals followed last winter. GM Dayton Moore made a trade on Dec. 5 (acquiring right fielder Nori Aoki from the Brewers for left-hander Will Smith) and followed that with a free-agent signing (of second baseman Omar Infante on Dec. 16), then rested on those two relatively matter-of-fact moves.

No team raised its profile more in 2014 than those Royals, and the Brewers are poised to follow a similar path in 2015.

It was the acquisition of James Shields before the 2013 season and guys like Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar before the '11 season that helped Kansas City get to the World Series. Melvin has done similar legwork in previous seasons, adding Matt Garza on a four-year, $50 million contract last January and shortstop Jean Segura in 2012.

Those moves could pay their biggest dividends next season, when the Brewers are certain to enter Spring Training as a sleeper in an National League Central in which the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates figure to be the buzz teams.

After all, this is a team that got off to a 51-32 start last season and led the division by 1 1/2 games on Aug. 25 before collapsing. There was some thought that 9-22 record down the stretch would lead to widespread changes but Chairman Mark Attanasio retained Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke, with hitting coach Johnny Narron and first-base coach Garth Iorg the only two significant casualties.

Attanasio and Melvin essentially opted to maintain the status quo, giving the nucleus of the team they've put together since Prince Fielder's departure another chance to click.

Fielder signed his massive contract with the Tigers after 2011. Melvin points out that there are only five players remaining on the roster from the start of the next season, however. That core of Yovani Gallardo, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy represents about half of the team's payroll (a combined $51.4 million in 2015).

"If you look back, there's always constant movement in the game,'' Melvin said. "You sort of get pressured. You have to move players, turn your club over. It's hard to sustain success. You've got to change out your souvenir shop every couple of years. Change the jerseys up.''

Melvin knows that to win it will take many of his players to turn in improved performances.

"We have to make sure we have depth on our ball club,'' Melvin said. "And our current players, there are some players who had little bit of down years.''

Despite the rotation being built around veterans Gallardo, Garza and Kyle Lohse, the Brewers didn't have a 200-inning starter. The loaded lineup that had been second only to the Rockies in the first half of the season outscored only two teams (the Reds and Braves) after the All-Star Game.

Braun returned from his PED suspension to hit .266 with 19 homers and 81 RBIs in 135 games. His OPS plummeted from .994 in his MVP season in 2011 to .777, which ranked 26th among the NL's batting title qualifiers (sandwiched between Matt Adams and Starlin Castro).

Braun was bothered by nerve damage in his right thumb throughout the season. He had surgery to correct it after the season, providing some hope he'll rediscover some of his lost power, but Melvin says he didn't see him as a disappointment last season.

"Offense was down this year, so if his offense was down, a lot of guys' offense was down,'' Melvin said. "I think he's going to be fine. He's a very determined guy. He played through some discomfort, I guess I can say that. But a lot of players do that.''

Fielder's anticipated departure wasn't initially a major blow as Corey Hart filled in nicely as the Milwaukee first baseman in 2012, hitting .270 with 30 home runs. But the position has been an area of concern since Hart underwent surgery on both of his knees, which caused him to miss all of '13 before the Brewers allowed him to leave as a free agent.

The Brewers have ranked 15th in OPS at first base in each of the last two seasons, with an improvement only from .629 to .642 after Melvin brought in Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay on one-year contracts. You can understand why he jumped to get a deal done when the Blue Jays made Lind available. He came with two contract options, earning $7.5 million next season and $8 million if the Brewers bring him back for 2016.

Health is an issue for Lind, who battles back issues and missed time with a non-displaced fracture in his foot last season. But he hit .321 and despite a drop in power generated an .860 OPS, his best since 2009. If he can stay healthy and duplicate those numbers, he could be a difference-maker in the Brewers' lineup.

Melvin moved even earlier to deal with a potential issue at closer. He acquired Jonathan Broxton from the Reds on Aug. 31, essentially replacing free agent-to-be Francisco Rodriguez while he was still on the roster.

"I've always said that relievers are the guys you pursue at the July deadline,'' Melvin said. "Bullpens are always going to be stretched out. There are no more complete games anymore. The workload on relievers is always going to be there.''

Broxton couldn't help stop the slide that had begun before he arrived from Cincinnati. But he'll figure prominently as the Brewers try to copy the path of the Royals.

Despite the late slide, Milwaukee won 82 games last year -- only four fewer than the Royals did in 2013. They'll have to improve a little more than Kansas City did to grab a postseason spot but the pieces are in place.

Melvin is betting they'll add up to more in 2015 than they did in '14.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Milwaukee Brewers