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Roenicke under gun to win now

Ron Roenicke better be tough. He has taken on a rough job, stepping into his first managerial job with the expectation that he will guide the Brewers into the playoffs.

To get there, Roenicke will have to lead them past the newly confident Reds who feature MVP Joey Votto and a stable of talented young pitchers that includes the electrifying Aroldis Chapman. He also has to get by the Cardinals, anchored by Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.

He will be trying to duplicate a feat first-time managers have pulled off only twice since 2000. Most of that group were dead in the water by the end of April, more the result of overmatched teams than oversized expectations.

Bob Brenly and Ron Gardenhire were the only guys in this bunch to engineer immediate success after taking over also-rans, taking the 2001 Diamondbacks and the 2002 Twins to the playoffs, respectively. While Ken Macha took the A's to the playoffs in his first season, he did so with a team that had won 103 games the year before.

The likes of Mike Scioscia, Joe Girardi, Charlie Manuel, Ozzie Guillen and Ron Washington needed some time to build their winners, and a whole bunch of guys like Lee Mazzilli, A.J. Hinch, Willie Randolph, Eric Wedge and Buck Martinez never got it done.

Given that this probably will be Prince Fielder's final season with the Brewers and that Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum are under the Brewers' control only through 2012, it's clear Roenicke will have to come out with guns blazing in April.

All new managers try to have an immediate impact, of course. But baseball's history shows managerial changes are more often fool's gold than safe investments.

Gambles are especially heavy when first-timers take over.

Every team that won 91-plus games made the playoffs last season. This means Roenicke needs a 14-game improvement from the Brewers, who were 77-85 under Macha last season. That seems possible given the addition of Greinke and Marcum to work alongside Yovani Gallardo at the front of the rotation.

But among 28 first-time managers in the last decade, only Don Wakamatsu (2009 Mariners) provided an instant improvement of more than 12 victories. Brenly and Gardenhire gained their division titles with teams that had won 85 games under Buck Showalter and Tom Kelly, respectively.

Roenicke trained for the job in the same way Joe Maddon did before taking over the Rays. He served as bench coach for the Angels' ultra-prepared, ultra-communicative Scioscia.

He has hired a strong coaching staff. Jerry Narron, hired to serve as his bench coach, learned to be prepared from the late Johnny Oates with the Orioles and Rangers. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz, a former Cubs coach, did excellent work with the Marlins and Orioles.

Roenicke knows he has a luxury working with a starting rotation that includes three guys with the stuff to be No. 1 starters.

Greinke established himself by winning the American League Cy Young in 2009. Gallardo and Marcum have flashed similar potential and had a chance to learn from CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay, respectively.

The Brewers' lineup appears set, the only question being whether Melvin trusts the newly acquired Yuniesky Betancourt at shortstop. He's an easy target but was more productive in 2010 than Alcides Escobar, who went to the Royals in the Greinke trade.

Boras wins again: The Yankees weren't dealing from a position of strength when they signed Rafael Soriano. Agent Scott Boras produced for Soriano the way he had for Jayson Werth earlier this winter, putting together a deal beyond what most expected.

Having failed to sign Cliff Lee and anticipating Andy Pettitte's retirement, the Yankees opted to build a killer end-of-the-bullpen rather than acquire starters who would have them crossing their fingers. Less than a week after GM Brian Cashman said the Yankees wouldn't give up their first-round pick to sign a free agent, they did just that.

Soriano, who led the AL in saves a year ago, agreed to a three-year, $35-million deal to serve as setup man for Mariano Rivera.

Boras got Soriano an unbelievable contract. In addition to the guarantees, it gives the 31-year-old reliever the chance to opt out after either 2011 or '12. Like Werth, who got a seven-year, $126 million deal from the Nationals, Soriano changed agents shortly before his free-agent run, switching from Peter Greenberg to Boras.

Need remains: With only Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett set behind Sabathia, the Yankees are exploring ways to trade for starting pitching. They could appeal to the White Sox with an offer to take Mark Teahen, who is due $10.25 million over the next two years, alongside Edwin Jackson or Gavin Floyd. But it appears Soriano was the last free agent who really intrigued White Sox GM Ken Williams, so payroll flexibility alone isn't enough to tempt Williams to cut into his depth. The Yankees would have to blow away the White Sox in a trade.

John Danks is the pitcher the Yankees really covet. He would be a very tough guy for a team to deal when it's mapping out a playoff run, but the Matt Garza deal between the Rays and the Cubs shows how big the return could be if Williams did deem Danks expendable.

The last word: "If I'm going to do something else, I don't want it be sort of 'It's nice to have you on board.' I want to be useful. I think that's the intriguing part. Even though it could keep me busy, it could be intriguing too." — Joe Torre on being considered to replace Sandy Alderson as baseball's top on-field authority.

progers@tribune.com

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