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The Brewers' Garza Surprise
Why Milwaukee's unexpected move should've been expected all along.

Matt Garza’s Milwaukee Brewers marriage blindsided nearly everyone, but in retrospect, we probably should’ve seen it coming.

The move didn't have to be for Garza. It could've been another impressive move for another impressive name. But make no mistake, we certainly should've expected something.

All winter long, the Brewers had been church-mouse quiet in the Hot Stove League. Their biggest news wasn’t about which free agent they signed, but which one they didn’t. And when Corey Hart left Milwaukee’s beer for Seattle’s coffee, the Brewers were left scrambling to find a first baseman.

So they signed a couple of past-their-prime veterans – all-or-nothing slugger Mark Reynolds and former friend Lyle Overbay – to minor league deals (though most expect they’ll make the big-league roster). And the only other significant Milwaukee move was trading fan favorite Nori Aoki to Kansas City for left-handed swingman Will Smith, which opened up an outfield spot for promising youngster Khris Davis.

Prudent though those moves may have been, few saw any of them as game-changers. Sure, first base would less of a black hole than 2013. Yes, lefty relievers are important, and Davis has middle-of-the-order potential. But for the most part, rather than giving the Brewers big pushes forward, these moves mainly prevented the team from backsliding further.

And if that’s all the Brewers were going to do, then the key factor in Milwaukee’s 2014 gameplan was hope. They’d hope young pitchers like Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg would continue to develop. They’d hope fewer injuries and older first basemen were enough to shore up the lineup. They’d hope Ryan Braun’s on-field offense would rebound enough to make folks forget about Ryan Braun’s off-field offense.

It was, in essence, an offseason built around maintaining the status quo.

And Mark Attanasio’s Brewers tenure has never been about the status quo. So why, in the wake of his most frustrating season with the Brewers, would we expect things to change?

Attanasio’s aggressive enabling of GM Doug Melvin’s wheeling and dealing is why the Brewers have as many playoff berths in the past six seasons as in the previous 38. This is the team that swung out-of-the-blue deals for CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke. That another one was in the offing shouldn’t be so surprising, especially for a team that desperately needs to power-wash away the stench of 2013.

Not that Matt has the pedigree of Sabathia or Greinke. He’s a notch below those guys, but only a notch. And Garza doesn’t answer all of the Brewers questions, but his presence sure does reduce the ones about Milwaukee’s starting pitching. There’s a good chance he’ll edge Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse as the Brewers’ best hurler in 2014.

Here’s one other thing to keep in mind. The Garza signing, and Milwaukee’s other moves, need not be the ones that put the Brewers over the top. They just have to be enough to keep Milwaukee in the mix through the first half of the season, just good enough to make the Brewers buyers at the trade deadline, just long enough to give Attanasio and Melvin reason to be aggressive again.

Because you can already see that move coming.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag. And listen to me talk sports with Mitch Teich once a month on WUWM's "Lake Effect."

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