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12/10/08 12:30 AM EST

Macha hopeful for CC, Brewers in '09

New manager eager to grab reins of high expectations

LAS VEGAS -- Ken Macha said one of his first moves as the Brewers' new manager was to sit down on a Sunday afternoon and dial up some of his players.

About 14 of them picked up the phone. Macha never expected that free-agent left-hander CC Sabathia would be one of them.

"A lot of the guys were not answering the phone," Macha said. "They probably see that Pittsburgh area code and say, 'I don't know who this guy is.' So it was a Sunday afternoon, and my wife is in there, and I said, 'Well, let me try this guy. He's never going to answer. I called and he answered."

Macha made his pitch.

"I spoke to him for about five or six minutes. It was a good conversation. I complimented him on exactly what he did here in Milwaukee as far as carrying the team down the stretch. I knew he had a big decision to make for his family, and I wished him luck on it.

"Out of all those calls I made, I never thought he'd answer, and he wound up answering."

Outfielder Ryan Braun, reliever David Riske catcher Jason Kendall were among the other players who answered. Macha, in his typically upfront manner, explained that he did not leave voicemails for those who didn't answer.

"I'm not into leaving messages, OK?" Macha said. "Answer the phone."

Macha answered some questions on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings, a tradition followed by all of the Major League managers in attendance. He was asked about his managerial style, how he is preparing for the season and how he sees the National League Central stacking up.

But like so many others this week, the conversation started with Sabathia. Five weeks after submitting their initial proposal, the Brewers spent some time Tuesday mulling their next step.

"I just have my fingers crossed," Macha said. "For Doug [Melvin, Milwaukee's GM], who's trying to build the team, it's kind of difficult when it's getting stretched out like that because you're working under budget constraints and you've got to make everything fit.

"But the positive thing is that [Sabathia has not gone] anywhere else, and I think he has said already that it was a great experience for him in Milwaukee. He liked the team. He very much enjoyed the organization, and he sees the players on the field as a positive. So as long as he continues to have not signed anywhere else, there's still hope."

But there is also the very real possibility that both Sabathia and Ben Sheets will depart via free agency. Macha pointed out that he had been in that situation before, in 2004 with the A's, when he lost two-thirds of Oakland's vaunted big three.

Left-hander Mark Mulder was traded to the Cardinals and right-hander Tim Hudson was dealt to the Braves. The A's replaced those arms with Dan Haren, who came in the trade with St. Louis, and former first-round Draft pick Joe Blanton, and went on to win 93 games the following season.

Macha is also taking solace in the fact that while his Brewers still need to fill pitching holes, the position players are largely set. Another piece was formally added Tuesday when the Brewers finalized a one-year deal with Mike Lamb, an option to platoon at third base with Bill Hall.

"There's not a lot of clubs out there that can say they have all eight position players set," Macha said. "Now we have to sift through the pitching. ... If CC decides to go somewhere else, then we'll turn and focus on somebody else. [Melvin has] got a list up on the board with a bunch of possibilities for filling in the gaps both in the rotation and in the bullpen."

Since he was hired in late October by the Brewers, Macha has been studying scouting reports of division opponents. But he wants to see his own players with fresh eyes, so he has resisted the temptation to seek input on the Brewers' incumbents, especially the hitters.

"When I managed in the Minor Leagues with the Red Sox, our farm director always used to call me up and say, 'I'm sending this guy up here, he can do this, he can do that.' I said, 'I'll tell you in two weeks [what he can do]," Macha said. "Let me watch him play for two weeks and then I'll let you know.

He realizes he's inheriting a team facing newly-raised expectations. The 2008 Brewers won the NL Wild Card and appeared in the postseason for the first time in 26 years.

"I'd much rather have a team with expectations," Macha said, "than have a team that's looking just to fill out the season."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.