MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' remodeled starting rotation may lack the star power of the Philadelphia Phillies and the World Series rings of the San Francisco Giants. But it's good enough to have outfielder Ryan Braun & Co. thinking like a legitimate contender. "We were looking to get better this offseason, and I don't think we could have possibly accomplished more than we did," Braun said Sunday afternoon. "I don't think anyone thought this was possible without trading somebody like Prince [Fielder]." Fielder is still a Brewer for 2011, and so are the club's four other 20-plus home run, 80-plus RBI guys from last season: Braun, outfielder Corey Hart, third baseman Casey McGehee and second baseman Rickie Weeks. General manager Doug Melvin found other ways to make two major additions to the starting rotation.
The team on Sunday added 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke in a stunning trade with the Royals that came two weeks after the Brewers acquired Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays. Greinke and Marcum will join Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf and probably Chris Narveson in a new-look rotation. Gallardo, Greinke and Marcum are all right-handers who started on 2010 Opening Day. Wolf and Narveson are left-handers who finished last season strong for the Brewers. All five pitchers logged at least 167 2/3 innings last season and posted ERAs under 5.00, and all but Wolf averaged at least 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Greinke and Wolf each topped 200 innings, and Marcum was close at 195 1/3. "Any time you make an acquisition like the two guys we just got, your rotation is improved instantaneously," said new Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who has spent most of his career in the AL. "I know these two guys [Greinke and Marcum] better than guys like Gallardo, Wolf and Narveson, so I know what kind of pitchers these are. When you add those pieces, goodness, it gives you a chance to win every day." For backup, the Brewers have left-hander Manny Parra, who has been slow to reach his potential and will probably begin the year in relief. The team has also been working this winter to re-sign another lefty, Chris Capuano, who looked good last season after returning from his second Tommy John surgery. With Greinke in the fold, the Brewers can continue their cautious approach with starting pitching prospects like Mark Rogers, Amaury Rivas and Wily Peralta. The big league group isn't as star-studded as the Phillies' top four of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, and the Brewers' foursome doesn't have World Series rings like the Giants' Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner. But it has Braun more than a bit excited for the start of 2011. "Excited would be a severe understatement," Braun said. "It just shows the players, the fans, once again the commitment to winning from our ownership and management. It's really exciting. We just got one of the best players in baseball [in Greinke] and I can't wait to get started." The Brewers have struggled since the free-agent departures of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets after the 2008 season. In '09, Brewers starters combined for a 5.37 ERA, dead last in the 16-team NL. In 2010, after spending big for free agent Wolf, they improved only marginally to a 4.65 ERA, 15th in the NL. "There's no doubt that we're far better heading into the season than we have been in any of my five years with the team," Braun said. "You've seen recently the value of starting pitchers and how difficult it is to acquire them, and when that rare opportunity comes to acquire something this good, which almost never happens, you have to do what you can. That ownership and management made this move is a huge statement to us players and the fans. "There's so much that has to happen between now and then, and looking at it on paper and going out and performing are two different things. But it certainly looks good." Braun had seen rumors of the Brewers checking in on Greinke this winter, but he didn't expect a deal to get done. "We were able to acquire two great starting pitchers [in Greinke and Marcum] without trading Prince," Braun said. "That's remarkable. It's pretty amazing."