By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Oct 04, 2007 at 5:03 AM

Disappointment and progress.

Those were the two words used by General Manager Doug Melvin as he tried to sum up the 2007 Milwaukee Brewers, who finished the season 83-79, three games behind the Chicago Cubs in the National League Central Division.

In an hour-long meeting with local media, Melvin talked about the strides the organization made during the season; Prince Fielder becoming the youngest player in Major League history to hit 50 home runs, the franchise setting a new attendance record and the first winning season for the Brewers since 1992.

Still, the Brewers are still sitting home in October. A 24-10 start was washed away -- as was what once was an 8½-game lead in the Central -- as the Cubs finally started playing like a team with a payroll of nearly $100 million and the Brewers started to play more like the young squad they were. Fans are watching the post-season on television for the 25th straight year thanks in large part to the complete and total meltdown of the team's starting rotation.

In 2006, starters pitched into the seventh inning 62 times. This season, that number went down to 33. Chris Capuano looked nothing like the left-hander that went to the 2006 All Star game. He won his first five decisions before losing 12 in a row and being demoted to the bullpen. The team lost in his last 22 appearances (18 starts). Dave Bush was up-and-down all season and Jeff Suppan -- who signed a $42 million free agent deal last winter -- went 12 starts without picking up a victory from June 22 to Sept. 2.

"Our bullpen was the reason we got off to a good start," Melvin said. "And then we asked them to take on an extra workload when our starting pitching faltered. There's a lot of innings there that we had to pick up, and the bullpen was forced to do it."

Making the situation worse was another injury-plagued season for ace Ben Sheets. The Brewers were 10 games over .500 when he injured his middle finger on July 14 and the Brewers went from 3 ½ up on the division to 2 ½ behind the Cubs during the six weeks he was out. A hamstring injury left him out of his last two starts, again keeping the Brewers' ace from putting together a full season.

Sheets enters the last year of his contract and Melvin is planning on the right-hander being healthy for a full season in 2008.

"Ben is in our plans," Melvin said. "You've got to hope he can give you 34 starts next year. Three of our starters are going to have to give you almost 100 starts and 600 innings. We didn't get that and the workload carried over to our bullpen."

Melvin and his staff plan to use the next couple weeks to evaluate what they have and what they need. Another bonus of the Brewers stockpile of young talent, most aren't eligible for arbitration for another few years. But there are three pending free agents for Melvin to consider in catcher Damian Miller, reliever Scott Linebrink and closer Francisco Cordero.

Cordero, who saved a club-record 44 games in 2007, tops the off-season priority list. Though he suffered some hiccups this season, the 32-year-old right-hander has practically turned games into eight-inning affairs (60 saves in 69 chances) since being picked up in the Carlos Lee trade at the 2006 deadline.

Melvin said Wednesday that he has spoken with Cordero and his agent, and plans to work out a formal offer. Cordero made $5.4 million in 2007. With a weak free-agent class this winter, many teams could make a much stronger offer when the filing period starts the day after the World Series ends.

"We're going to make a very aggressive offer and proposal to Cordero somewhere along the line in hopes of bringing him back," Melvin said. "We know how valuable a closer is in this game."

Re-signing Linebrink will be important, too, especially considering what the Brewers gave up for him at the deadline. Three pitching prospects, including top-level minor league starter Will Inman, were sent to San Diego for Linebrink, who was far from the stabilizing force in the bullpen (2-3, 3.55 ERA) the Brewers needed during their second half slide.

Melvin will be putting a lot of thought into his bullpen. The relief corps took a dive after the Brewers' top three starters failed to win a game for nearly two months. Matt Wise was never the same after drilling the Reds' Pedro Lopez and Derrick Turnbow - whose collapse in the second half of 2006 - performed erratically down the stretch.

"The most recent memory is what sticks in your mind," Melvin said. "You have to be careful and don't make snap judgments."

The Brewers' offense isn't exactly a concern. With a team-record 231 home runs, Melvin thinks the team is well-suited to the dimensions of Miller Park. Still, he would like to see what he called "professional hitters" to put some more runners on base for the team's big guns, and to get more runs late in games. Melvin is not expected to pick up a $9 million option on leftfielder Geoff Jenkins, who saw his playing time diminish of the course of another subpar season.

Melvin expanded on what many considered to be a not-so-confident vote of confidence for manager Ned Yost, who will be back on the bench in 2008. During the season's final homestand, principal owner Mark Attanasio told reporters that "Ned is fine". On Wednesday, Melvin elaborated.

"Ned did an admirable job," Melvin said. "He's got his strengths and weaknesses. There are areas Ned needs to improve at and he knows that. This is the first year we contended to the point where we really had a shot and he's experiencing this for the first time, too."

Yost and Melvin will evaluate the coaching staff in the next few weeks.