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Disappointing Brewers weighing changes, but Macha appears safe

Brewers general manager Doug Melvin is said to be seriously weighing important changes after the talented team's surprisingly mediocre performance this season (74-77 through Tuesday), a year after the Brew Crew's first playoff appearance since 1982. But people familiar with Melvin's current thinking believe that while the GM is likely to hire a third pitching coach since well-respected Mike Maddux departed for Texas a year ago and has all but decided not to give manager Ken Macha a contract extension, Melvin also appears likely not to make the biggest change. That is, Melvin is said by people in the know to be planning for a second year with tough taskmaster Macha at the helm -- a decision that may disappoint some Brewers players.

Melvin agreed by phone that it's been a disappointing year in light of raised expectations following the team's first postseason appearance in a quarter century, but he declined to make pronouncements about Macha or any of the coaching staff. In regard to Macha, Melvin said he would "meet in the next week" to discuss plans with the manager.

According to associates, Melvin much prefers not to have a lame-duck manager. However, it is thought his feelings about that issue may have been assuaged to some degree by the knowledge that managerial icons Joe Torre and Jim Leyland both entered recent seasons with lame-duck status. Macha readily agreed to a short, two-year contract when Melvin offered him a chance to return to managing last winter after a largely successful but occasionally stormy tenure with the Oakland A's and had to understand this was a possibility.

Some Brewers players who have grown to view Macha as a tough boss may see Macha's likely return as something of a disappointment, although no players are likely to say anything disparaging publicly once the decision is announced, as there's no point in making mixed or negative comments about a returning boss. Melvin may be hopeful that Macha can forge a closer connection with the young team in his second season, though that isn't absolutely necessary as long as the team plays to expectations next season.

No announcement is expected until after Melvin meets with Macha in coming days.

The very intelligent Macha's style is seen by both Brewers players and front-office people as stern, especially in comparison to the Brewers' two managers of a year ago, Ned Yost and Dale Sveum, who were viewed as "players managers." Yost may actually now be recalled in an enhanced light by players, as Macha proved to be much more likely to chastise them when things went awry.

In another switch, Brewers management generally has been pleased by the erudite Macha's game management, which engendered no significant public criticism, a departure from the Yost regime. There are people who believe Macha was somewhat handicapped, as well, because a few of the key coaches were organizational choices.

That may not change, however, as two of those choices, Sveum and Willie Randolph, are seen as having done very nice jobs and are expected back. The Brewers' hitting certainly was not the main issue in Sveum's first year as hitting coach (although they relied very heavily on stars Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, while J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart took steps backward and the team had trouble hitting in the clutch), Meanwhile, people close to the situation say Brewers bosses believe Randolph did an excellent job tutoring infielders Rickie Weeks and Fielder and also brought attitude to the job.

Randolph, who spent time with Melvin in the Yankees organization and has remained close to him, is the logical manager-in-waiting. But one person close to Melvin suggested the fact that a strong managerial candidate operates on Macha's coaching staff wouldn't adversely affect Macha's chances to remain in his role, another hint he's coming back for a second year.

Brewers management feels the team has underachieved, but Melvin candidly conceded the pitching may just not have been good enough. They were once 31-20 and leading the league in quality starts before injuries and poor performance took their toll. "It came down to starting pitching," Melvin said. "Overall, we lacked depth. When we had to reach down ... (it wasn't there)."

Melvin's trade for CC Sabathia last year was easily the single most important move in their stirring playoff run, and while he added second baseman Felipe Lopez to replace the injured Weeks this year, Melvin obviously determined not to gut the system to enhance the staff of a team that was only on the fringe of the race this year. Melvin said by phone they were "somewhat serious" about Roy Halladay, but it's doubtful he wanted to part with either Alcides Escobar or Mat Gamel, and Halladay was never traded, anyway. Melvin won the claim for ex-Brewer Doug Davis but never offered anything more than to take his contract and said their most serious talks might actually have been for Wisconsin native Jarrod Washburn but that ultimately he "didn't want to give up pitching for pitching." They also looked at veteran comebackers Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Brad Penny, but chose "not to go down that path."

Meanwhile, the pitching problems persisted. While Macha will likely return, people familiar with the situation say Melvin is likely to replace Chris Bosio, the interim pitching coach. The team's pitching issues ultimately undermined the fine young nucleus (the starters' ERA is an NL-worst 5.20), and while it can't be viewed as being completely Bosio's fault, he isn't believed as likely to win the full-time job. Melvin said Bosio has "done a good job," but also said that that situation would be reviewed at the end of the year.

The loss of Maddux, who left for Texas to become one of baseball highest-paid pitching coaches (a salary that's believed to be about $600,000), was a major loss. Melvin and Maddux used to attend Marquette basketball games together, but Maddux is also close to Rangers president Nolan Ryan, and Melvin recalled advising Maddux not to pass up Texas' offer "if you have the chance to make that kind of money."

Now Melvin will likely be making his third hire to replace his old friend. But to be fair, it might have taken a miracle worker to make it work this year. A year ago they got 48 starts from Sabathia and Ben Sheets, who, as Melvin noted, combined to have a 2.50 ERA over those starts. They added Braden Looper, but Manny Parra and Dave Bush disappointed. In retrospect, the starting pitching pool was somewhat shallow.

Melvin fired Bill Castro as pitching coach only halfway through his first season in that role after Castro had served ably as bullpen coach for more than a decade. The well-liked Castro will be back in some role next year -- though not pitching coach -- if he doesn't find a major league role elsewhere.

People close to the situation say all the forthcoming calls will be made by Melvin, who was signed to an extension after the team's superb 2008 season. Last year, club owner Mark Attanasio initiated the switch from Yost to Sveum that seemed to stem a September swoon and preceded the first postseason showing since 1982, but Attanasio generally makes it policy to let Melvin handle baseball matters.

This time, the calls are all Melvin's.

Whatever he ultimately decides (and it appears he'll bring back Macha as a lame duck but change pitching coaches), at the very least it's a hugely positive development that a .500 season is now looked upon as a major disappointment in Milwaukee.

Astros management had a very high opinion of the team, much higher than anyone else. And that ultimately spelled the end for manager Cecil Cooper.

Cooper was one game over .500 in his nearly two-year tenure for the Astros, which seems about right since they have appeared -- at least to outsiders -- to be a fairly mediocre team. Cooper ultimately didn't appear all that popular with Astros management or players, so it's probably just as well they get a new man who will undoubtedly also be expected to deliver a lot more than is humanly possible.

Upon firing Cooper, Astros GM Ed Wade said he would "review every facet" of the organization. But apparently no one's reviewing Wade, whose streak as a non-playoff GM is now into its second decade.

Cooper himself predicted the Astros would win 90 games, which seemed preposterous during a spring training in which the Astros were easily the worst team in baseball. But Cooper probably understood by then that his bosses overrated the team, and he had no choice but to play along.

Realistically, this was probably a .500 team from start to finish. So Cooper did no better or worse than should have been expected. Yet in the end, even his well-known rapport with commissioner Bud Selig didn't help him in Houston, and he's gone.

It's hard to blame Cubs GM Jim Hendry too much for suspending Milton Bradley for the rest of the year in the wake of Bradley's latest griping, told to the Arlington Heights, Ill. Daily Herald. Hendry has to be at wit's end with Bradley's kooky and melancholy approach. However, Bradley should still be allowed free speech, even if it's idiotic free speech.

There's irony in Bradley saying there's too much "negativity" surrounding the Cubs, as negativity has surrounded Bradley throughout his career. This season he's had blowups with manager Lou Piniella and hitting coach Von Joshua, he ripped Cubs fans and caused his greatest supporter (Hendry) to resort to draconian punishment. Cubs beat writers also sounded on twitter like they were celebrating the suspension.

However, it's doubtful the Cubs can enforce this suspension. Bradley's diatribe was merely Milton being Milton and did not rise to the level of a season suspension. It was nothing more than the rantings of a depressed, troubled man.

Hendry must be second-guessing himself for the gamble that's become the winter's worst signing. And that's understandable. But there's no cause for a suspension lasting through the end of the season.

• One GM said before the latest incident that the Cubs would have to pay about half the $21 million left on Milton Bradley's contract to trade him. But another guessed they'd have to pay "practically all" of it. Now, the second guess seems much more likely. The other option would be to trade Bradley for another player with an exorbitant contract, such as Oliver Perez. The Mets will be seeking an outfielder this winter, anyway. New York may not be the best place for Bradley, but as one tweeter pointed out to me, New York has some excellent mental health facilities.

Adam Dunn, who's homered exactly 40 times in the four previous season, has 37 and is on pace for exactly 39.96 homers this year. Amazing.

• The second-most consistent player has to be Bobby Abreu, who puts up the same numbers every year. The only thing that changes from year to year is his salary.

Orlando Hudson has been a bargain for the Dodgers at $3.38 million guaranteed, but he is hurting again. Good job by the Dodgers to add Ronnie Belliard to the mix.

• The Twins' moving to within two games of the Tigers after Saturday probably clinched the AL MVP for Joe Mauer. Mark Teixeira has the second-best case for MVP. Oddly enough, neither man was a factor at all early. Teixeira was awful in April, while Mauer didn't play at all that month. A-Rod didn't enter the season 'til mid-May and he should receive significant top-10 or even top-five support. The team transformed once he returned (and Teixeira got a lot better, too.)

Zack Greinke should have the Cy Young wrapped up now after his 5-1 victory over Boston Tuesday. The notion that he doesn't have enough wins is silly. Nobody honestly thinks that.

• Good for the Royals that they are spending much more money now, as evidenced by their signing of first-rounder Aaron Crow. They also make a nice spoiler, as they play it out 'til the end (unlike some teams).

• The A's are another also-ran still playing hard.

Jason Giambi (11 RBIs in 15 at-bats) has been an excellent pickup for the Rockies.

• Rangers prospect Justin Smoak and Pirates prospect Pedro Alvarez have been by far the most impressive players at the Baseball World Cup over in Europe, according to people with the U.S. team. The Rangers may be fortunate Toronto didn't trade Halladay to them for Smoak and others.

• Rangers vaunted hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo may be coveted as a free agent. He's already believed to be baseball's best-paid hitting coach at about $600,000 per. Considering owner Tom Hicks's financial difficulties, it's uncertain whether they can bring him back. The Rangers have to run everything they do past Major League Baseball since MLB met Texas' payroll earlier. Several entities are bidding to buy the team, and the Dallas Morning News reported the interested groups have been told the team will likely be sold for somewhere in the range of $450 million to $525 million. The paper also reported that former superagent Dennis Gilbert, now a Chicago White Sox exec, is heading one of the groups.

Derek Jeter became the seventh player to have logged 200-hit years before age 25 and after 34. According to YES Network, those who did it previously were Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Paul Waner, Pete Rose and Tony Gwynn.

• Congrats to the Yankees for being the first to enter the playoff derby with the win over the Angels on Tuesday night. They haven't hid the fact they'd choose the AL playoff series with two off days, which shows you how much (or how little, actually) they want Joba Chamberlain starting a game in the first round.

• A belated congrats to worthy Branch Rickey winner Torii Hunter.

• He's no twit. But find my twits here: http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.

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