While the general assumption is that Brewers general manager Doug Melvin will wait to trade first baseman Prince Fielder in the off-season, when there are no deadlines and more suitors can get involved, he has pulled the trigger on big deals before the July 31 deadline in the past.
On July 31, 1998, as general manager in Texas, Melvin stayed behind in his hotel in Toronto to work the phones after the Rangers finished a series against the Blue Jays. Before the day was over, he had acquired right-hander Todd Stottlemyre, third baseman Todd Zeile and shortstop Royce Clayton, all key pieces in Texas' surge to the playoffs that season.
On one telephone, Melvin was talking to St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty. Across the room, assistant Dan O'Brien was talking trade with Florida general manager Dave Dombrowski.
Melvin was working on acquiring Stottlemyre and Clayton from the Cardinals but needed that trade to go through before working out a swap with the Marlins for Zeile.
"I didn't need Zeile if Walt didn't take (young third baseman) Fernando Tatis," Melvin said. "Tatis was a good, young player, but Walt wanted him in that deal. Once we did that, we did the deal with the Marlins for Zeile."
Melvin sent Tatis, left-hander Darren Oliver and outfielder Mark Little to St. Louis for Stottlemyre and Clayton, then picked up Zeile from Florida for a couple of minor-leaguers.
"We made those deals, and it just deflated the Angels," said Melvin, referring to the Rangers' chief opposition in the American League West that season. "We went out and beat the Angels in a big series and won the division."
Melvin has made two big trades before the deadline with the Brewers, shipping out one star in one deal and adding a star in the other. On July 28, 2006, he traded slugger Carlos Lee and minor-league outfielder Nelson Cruz to the Rangers for closer Francisco Cordero and outfielders Kevin Mench and Laynce Nix.
Two years later, Melvin acquired pitching ace CC Sabathia from Cleveland for minor-league prospects Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley and a couple of other minor-leaguers. Sabathia almost single-handedly led the Brewers to the National League wild-card berth, ending a 26-year playoff drought.
When the Indians said they wanted LaPorta, the Brewers' top prospect, Melvin said they had to do the deal now. No waiting. No shopping it around. By giving the Indians what they wanted, the Brewers got two starts out of Sabathia before the all-star break, which made the difference in making the playoffs on the final day of the season.
That's exactly what Texas did in acquiring left-hander Cliff Lee from Seattle before the break this year. The Rangers were willing to put top prospect Justin Smoak in the deal if the Mariners pulled the trigger that day, which they did.
It's the only way the Brewers will trade Fielder before July 31. If Melvin gets exactly what he wants, Fielder will be moved. Otherwise, talks will be tabled until the off-season.
Rightfielder Corey Hart presents a more interesting dilemma because his trade value never will be higher than now, after the best first half of his career. Like Fielder, Hart can be a free agent after the 2011 season. And, also like Fielder, Hart's agent always has valued his client more highly than the club.
So, do you trade Hart now and risk losing a power-hitting rightfielder coming into his prime? Or do you keep him and gamble that he won't revert to his previous inconsistent play?
Think about that the next time you say you could do Melvin's job.
And, despite all the rumors flying around, I have it on good authority that Melvin has not received one legitimate offer thus far for either Fielder or Hart. Let's see if that changes over the next two weeks.