Daily Archives: December 3, 2012

Winter Meetings Preview

Posted by Steve

First things first. I am still alive, and I still like baseball. I thought that might need to be said, given the huge time lapse since my last post.
It’s no excuse, but I have in fact been pretty busy. I had been meaning to post after the Brewers were officially eliminated, and again when the Cardinals lost (at least we have that). I have also been meaning to post off-season stuff. This is perhaps my favorite time to write about the Brewers, and I have no one to blame but myself for missing out on it.

Still, I can get this one in before the Winter Meetings really get underway. This year they’re in Nashville, at the Grand Opryland Hotel. The last time the meetings took place there, I was in attendance. Seems like forever ago, but fun memories nonetheless. I look forward to all the tweets and articles about how massive and over-the-top that place is (edit: This one from two minutes ago from Jay Jaffe).

Anywho. Let’s get to it, shall we? There’s plenty to talk about, especially since I haven’t posted in so long. Let’s look at each area and figure out where the Brewers should be looking to improve for next season. Before we do, let’s keep something in mind: The Brewers’ payroll is going to drop this year, possibly considerably. That means no top-tier free agents.

Starting Rotation
A year ago we were discussing how the Brewers would return all five starters to the rotation from the year before, a rarity in baseball. This year is almost as rare on the opposite end of the spectrum: Most likely the only starter returning from the Opening Day 2012 rotation is Yovani Gallardo. Greinke, Marcum and Wolf will all be with other teams (or maybe retired, in Wolf’s case?). Narveson I suppose could be back, but I highly doubt the Brewers currently view him as a lock for the starting rotation in April.

After Gallardo, there are plenty of names in the mix. Narveson, Marco Estrada, Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers, Mike Fiers, Tyler Thornburg, and maybe even Taylor Jungmann, Hiram Burgos, Johnny Hellweg, or Ariel Pena.

That’s a pretty nice collection of young arms, certainly better than the Brewers have had in a handful of years. But does that mean they should be satisfied going with Yo and then four of those guys who stick after being thrown against the wall?

Not if they want to contend. They need to add one established, 2/3 type starting pitcher. The Brewers have made big trades to acquire pitchers in the past with pretty solid luck, and they have made free agent signings with less luck (Wolf was solid enough until his last season). Still, I am taking a bit of an unusual stance here, considering I normally want to stay away from big free agent deals. I would rather the Brewers sign a free agent than trade for one, mainly because I don’t want them to keep dipping into the farm system. There are actually plenty of solid starters available this season.

Zack Greinke is the main prize, but that ship has long sailed. The Dodgers seem prepared to offer him eleventy billion dollars. Anibal Sanchez is probably number two, but I imagine he’ll be priced out of the Brewers’ range as well. The Brewers have been mentioned as potential suitors for Kyle Lohse (STAY AWAY) and Ryan Dempster. Given Dempster’s age, I’d only be open to it if it’s a two-year deal at most, and even then, I wouldn’t be thrilled. Here are some other starters I’d like to see them pursue:

Dan Haren
He’s long been one of my favorite pitchers. While his strikeout rate has declined each of the last four seasons, one thing has kept him as an above average starter: His crazy low walk totals. Last year was his worst season in years, but he still had an xFIP of 4.00 because of his great command.

The question with Haren is health. His velocity has come down, he’s into his 30s, and both the Angels and Cubs have balked at bringing him in for what is essentially a one-year, $12 million deal. He seems like a good bounceback target, but I also sort of expect him to stay near the West Coast.

Brandon McCarthy
Here’s another one of my favorites, half for his solid pitching/low walk totals, half for his awesome sense of humor, twitter account and taste in television shows. He sounds like he’s a full go to return from the scary line drive he took off his head. I would have no qualms about giving him a two-year deal. He was good last season and phenomenal in 2011. Given Haren’s health question marks, I actually think I’d rank McCarthy at the top of my wishlist for starting pitchers attainable for the Brewers.

Edwin Jackson
A very different pitcher than Haren or McCarthy, Jackson doesn’t have the tiny walk rate (although it’s much better than earlier in his career). What makes him a solid option is his solid K and home run rates along with his durability: He’s thrown over 183 innings each of the last five years. He’s never gotten a multi-year deal, but he’s an above average starting pitcher who I would be fine giving a two-year deal.

Joe Blanton
A very unexciting option, but he would provide stability. He is a durable pitcher with a nice low walk rate, although he doesn’t get many whiffs at all. He likely shouldn’t be too expensive, and might only warrant a one-year deal.

Joe Saunders
We’re getting progressively less exciting, as Saunders is more or less a left-handed Blanton, maybe a bit worse. But again, he’s a durable pitcher who won’t break the bank.

And finally, two familiar faces.

Shaun Marcum
Yes, his health is a question mark, but there’s little doubt that when he’s healthy, he’s a good pitcher. Last year his walks were up, which brought him back to around league average, but he would be a good option that could possibly be had on just a one-year deal.

Carlos Villanueva
The numbers weren’t great last year, but xFIP liked him. He’d be a decent bet to give league average numbers. Certainly not exciting, but also not expensive in the least.

Other Options: Kevin Correia, Kevin Millwood, Erick Bedard.

I’d be surprised if the Brewers didn’t land one of those starting pitchers listed above. In terms of likelihood, I’d rank them: Dempster, Marcum, Blanton, Lohse (ugh), McCarthy, Saunders.

BullpenThis is obviously a glaring need after last season. The transformation is already underway. Jose Veras, Manny Parra and Kameron Loe are already gone. The only guys who should feel safe at this point are John Axford and probably Jim Henderson. The Brewers just picked up groundballing specialist Burke Badenhop in a trade a couple days ago, who is a decent option at an affordable price.

They need to get at least one solid LOOGY, and they’ve been rumored to be in contact with Randy Choate, Sean Burnett, Mike Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny. Any of those would fit.
My preference on relievers is the same: short-term deals, absolutely no more than two years unless it’s someone who’s very good. Other names who interest me: Mike Adams, Jason Grilli, Koji Uehara, Kyle Farnsworth, Chad Durbin, and LaTroy Hawkins. Most of these guys could be had for one-year deals. They can fill in the rest of the spots with the Brandon Kintzlers and Mike McClendons of the world, along with a couple of the young pitchers who don’t make the rotation.

Outfield
Honestly, the Brewers are set here. Nyjer Morgan is gone, but with Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, Corey Hart, Nori Aoki, Logan Schaefer and depending on what they do with him, Mat Gamel, the Brewers are just fine. They had a very productive outfield last year, and it’s the one area they don’t need to spend much time on this off-season.

So then why do we keep hearing about Josh Hamilton?
It makes zero sense. The Brewers have talked about wanting to keep their payroll down, and about not wanting long-term free agent contracts. They also don’t have a need anywhere in the outfield. How does Josh Hamilton fit anywhere into that? Yet, we keep hearing that the Brewers are interested. Even today there’s rumblings about it from Ken Rosenthal.

Signing Josh Hamilton to a large deal does not even accomplish much. They have a much bigger need in the rotation, and then they’d have to trade Corey Hart more than likely. So then you’ve pretty much just gone in circles.

I just want Hamilton to sign somewhere so I don’t have to keep hearing rumors about him with the Brewers.

Infield
The starting positions are set, assuming Corey Hart stays at first base. If they don’t, I suppose Mat Gamel would be the other option (if he doesn’t get traded). The one need they have right now is a backup at middle infield. I refuse to be forced to watch several hundred Cody Ransom/Cesar Izturis/Edwin Maysonet plate appearances this season. With Jean Segura being so young, and with Rickie Weeks’ durability issues the last few seasons, a backup SS/2B is a big need.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much there. Unless someone like Alex Gonzalez or Marco Scutaro is willing to sign as a backup, the best MI options would be Ronny Cedeno, Jason Bartlett, or… ? This might have to come through a trade. It could be a difficult spot to fill.

Final WishlistSo, this off-season, my wishlist for the Brewers includes: One starting pitcher, two more relievers, and a solid middle infielder. That’s doable, right?