MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said it's hard for any team to improve on a franchise-record 96-win season and an NL Central title. It will be even harder if they lose Prince Fielder in free agency.
"It was a special year for all of us, a special year for a lot of the players, too," Melvin said Wednesday. "There wasn't a whole lot of people that picked us to go to the World Series or to even win our division."
Milwaukee lost to St. Louis in the NL Championship Series on Sunday night, finishing with two error-filled flops after being within two games of reaching the World Series.
"I'm not going to feel lousy about two or three bad games," Melvin said. "I feel disappointed, but I'm not going to feel lousy about it."
Melvin declined to answer most questions about Fielder and potential negotiations with the soon-to-be free agent because his staff is still in the process of evaluating the season. Melvin said he hasn't had any conversations yet with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras.
The Brewers will have an exclusive window of five days after the World Series ends to negotiate with Fielder, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll immediately make an offer.
Melvin said he plans to meet with principal owner Mark Attanasio and manager Ron Roenicke in a few weeks in Los Angeles to map out a strategy. Attanasio has said the Brewers will be part of the "sweepstakes" to sign the 27-year-old first baseman.
"It's easier for me to meet face-to-face with Mark than over the phone," Melvin said. "That probably won't happen until early November."
Fielder, who was picked by the Brewers in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft, made $15.55 million this season -- a record one-year contract for an arbitration-eligible player. He's expected to command a significant raise over a multiyear deal in his first crack at free agency after hitting .299 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs.
But several of Milwaukee's key players will receive large raises, meaning it will be hard to retain Fielder without a vast increase in payroll.
"It's not as easy as a player's salary coming off (the payroll), so you have that much to spend," Melvin said. "It doesn't even come close to working that way because there's so many other players' salaries (that) increase."
Without mentioning losing Fielder, Melvin talked about the organization's depth at first base.
Those options include prospects Mat Gamel and Taylor Green, as well as current third baseman Casey McGehee, who struggled and ended up being benched through the postseason. Hart, who began his career in the minors playing first, would not be an option there, Melvin said.
All of those factors are reasons why it's likely Fielder will depart. The Brewers drew 3 million fans in three of the last four years, but are the smallest TV market in the league. The club already operates a tight budget and likely can't significantly increase the payroll, which started last season at nearly $85.5 million.
There are lots of bright spots in Milwaukee, however.
The team had one of the most dynamic offenses in the league and will return its entire starting rotation, closer and at least six position players. Melvin wouldn't make a commitment to picking up shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt's $6 million team option, but the free agent market appears thin at the position.
"We can sit here and say well, we need a third baseman or a shortstop or whatever. It doesn't mean that players are going to just automatically become available," Melvin said. "Part of what we're doing now is creating a strategy and a game plan of who is available, who is not available. I'm not one to go chase someone who is not available."
Melvin indicated that he was satisfied moving forward with a center-field platoon that includes the eccentric Nyjer Morgan and defensive specialist Carlos Gomez, and that former Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, acquired at the All-Star break, would likely sign elsewhere.
"We really took off when we got K-Rod," the GM said. "He keeps you on the edge of your seat. But that was our whole season, wasn't it? Edge-of-your-seat-games. And that's what was fun about this year."
The Brewers also have a knack for pulling off bold trades.
In the span of two weeks last December, Melvin acquired starting pitchers Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke to vastly improve the rotation. The additions helped the team to its record season and deepest postseason run since losing in Game 7 of the 1982 World Series.
"It's a great experience, but we'll have to move on," Melvin said. "We had so much fun with this, everybody had so much fun with it we're going to do everything we can to sustain that kind of success."