Doug Melvin and the Brewers front office has to know that their club is nowhere near contention, with playoff chances below 1% and sinking. I tend to see his statements about taking players like Corey Hart and Prince Fielder off the market as being small assurances to the stereotypical casual fan about the club's "commitment to winning" for attendance this year. I doubt that makes much difference in the attendance, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to put it that way.
Really, I think the failure to see any trades made before the non-waiver deadline is the result of three things:
1. The terrible market. The Diamondbacks in particular got a terrible return for Dan Haren and didn't get much for Edwin Jackson either, especially considering the package they gave up for him in the offseason. The Astros didn't exactly get great returns on Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman, either. Other teams, like the Nationals with Adam Dunn, didn't even find an offer to their liking (although accepting the best offer would have probably been best in their situation). There was no urgency to trade Hart of Fielder, both under control through 2011, at the deadline.
2. Though the poor market for good players under control was a factor in moving more valuable assets, that doesn't explain why there wasn't at least limited selling off of veterans on one-year deals. There's still time for that. In recent years, teams have rarely made claims on players on trade waivers in August, allowing for a lot of deals to be made. I would not at all be surprised to see a Jim Edmonds, Craig Counsell, or miscellaneous relievers moved in the next month.
3. It's very possible that Doug Melvin has an eye on a good 2011 team, and there's nothing wrong with that. In Roguejim's very fine Fanpost summarizing the salary obligations for next season, he notes that about $66 million is accounted for as of right now, with 2 or 3 rotation spots to fill. That could break down to $5 million per starter, but that would not be a wise way to fill out the rotation. The Brewers should use prospect depth to fill at least one of those holes. That means putting Fielder, Hart, and McGehee on the market, and working out a way to use Mat Gamel and Lorenzo Cain to fill the gap of those traded. Melvin could also get creative by dealing two of the three and having Gamel fill one spot and a free agent acquisition fill the other. For example, a big deal sending Fielder somewhere would net at least one high-quality young starter plus other players, and a free agent pickup of Russell Branyan or Adam Dunn result in a offensive dropoff but an overall gain. Then McGehee or Hart could go for another pitcher, with Gamel ready to step in immediately and Brett Lawrie and Lorenzo Cain just about ready to go as further depth.
This is a complicated idea and will require a lot of creativity on the part of the front office (and more expansion on my part), but the Brewers could easily build a playoff contender for next season with the money they have available and 11 or 12 legitimate major league starting position players on the roster. If the team tanks, there's still time to flip the expiring deals (Fielder and Hart, if they're on the team after the offseason) at next season's deadline.
It's easy to be disappointed to see a team way out of contention do absolutely nothing at the deadline, but I'm liking this scenario far better than having to deal with a bad deal made at the deadline and having little hope for contention next year, either.