Category Archives: 2012 Hot Stove

Bravo, Doug

Posted by Steve

As soon as Zack Greinke turned in an outstanding performance on Tuesday, he became the center of attention in baseball circles. He was the number one target and was sure to be dealt.

For two days, the Brewers’ front office fielded calls from a handful of teams. In the end, it seems to have come down to Texas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles/Anaheim, with the White Sox high in interest but low in ammunition. Texas seemed to be the frontrunner, they have the best farm system of any interested team, and Mike Olt seemed like the target. Sure enough, we now know the Brewers targeted Olt but were rebuffed. In fact, the Rangers wouldn’t even give up starting pitcher Martin Perez, according to Ken Rosenthal. After that, the took the deal from the Angels.

And a solid deal it was. A few weeks ago, I handicapped potential Greinke suitors. I ranked Texas number 1, but LAA number 3, and the first name I mentioned was Jean Segura. He was the Angels’ top prospect and a logical target considering the Brewers’ need for a shortstop.

In addition to Segura, the Brewers added AA pitchers John Hellweg and Ariel Pena, two power arms with good upside.

Segura was the Angels number 1 prospect and was rated #43 in baseball by Baseball America in their recent midseason rankings. By that count, that would mean BA now has him as the Brewers’ number one prospect (Tyler Thornburg is the only other Brewer on the list at #48). He’s only 22, and at 5’10 and 165 isn’t quite Altuve in his stature but is still small. His ceiling is a leadoff hitter with solid power for a shortstop. The question is his defense, though it’s not a huge one. He has a strong arm and decent range, but he doesn’t project to be a defensive wiz like Jurickson Profar or somebody like that. Some scouts question whether he can stay at shortstop long term or will need to move to second, but for now there’s no reason not to put him at short and give him a long leash. He’ll start at AA Hunstville, but I’d be surprised if he was down there more than a few weeks. It’s not like the Brewers have an above replacement-level shortstop holding him off.

Hellweg is an exciting player as well, though he’s more of a boom-or-bust. He’s a giant; is 6’9″ frame helps him generate a mid-to-upper 90s fastball. While his floor is lower than someone like Tyler Thornburg or Wily Peralta, his ceiling is likely the highest of any pitcher in the Brewers’ system. He’s a fine player to take a risk on as a secondary piece in a trade. He may be the key to this deal; if he develops into a top-of-the-rotation starter, the Brewers will have gotten a steal.

Pena has been a starting pitcher throughout his career, although it seems possible he could move to the bullpen. He was rated as having the best slider in the Angels’ system.

Overall, I’m very pleased with this trade. Not over the moon thrilled like I probably would have been with a return of Mike Olt+ from Texas, but considering he wasn’t available, I don’t doubt this was the best return the Brewers could have gotten.

A small part of me was terrified Melvin would either go for an established player with only a couple years of team control left, or or a young major league pitcher with a limited ceiling for Greinke. He did neither. The Brewers control the rights of all of these players for their first six years in MLB, which is extremely valuable.

According to Baseball America’s pre-2012 rankings, the Brewers got the Angels’ number 1, 4, and 9 prospects–a great return for just two months of Greinke.

The Brewers traded Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, Lorenzo Cain and Jeremy Jeffress for Greinke. This package is behind that, but not by very much. Another way to look at it is the Brewers traded Escobar, Odorizzi, Cain, and Jeffress for 1.5 years of Greinke/a deep playoff run, Segura, Hellweg and Pena.

Not bad at all.

Something’s amiss

Posted by Steve

Something odd is going on with the Brewers and Zack Greinke. This morning, reports broke that Greinke is scratched from his next start. The Brewers are claiming Greinke is not injured, and that he has not been traded. The quote flying around the internet is he’s “recharging his batteries.”

Mm-k.

I call BS. All we’ve heard from the Brewers recently is how important this nine-game stretch is. “It’s against the three teams ahead of us! We can make up ground! We’re not selling until we see how these nine games go!” Then, out of the blue, they decide to just give Greinke some extra rest right in the middle of that stretch. I don’t think so. He’s got arm fatigue, or something else is wrong is more likely. Otherwise it just doesn’t make sense. If they’re pushing him back a day or two so he starts against the Reds, I’ll stop worrying, but if he doesn’t pitch in that series either, it’s a huge red flag.

This can only hurt his trade value. Teams are going to suspect something is wrong, as they should. We’re going to hopefully find out more this evening, but right now I’m trying to convince myself the baseball gods don’t hate the Brewers by not only striking them down with injuries that ruined their chance of competing, but also took out their two biggest trade chips with injuries right at the deadline.

I was going to write about something else today: MLB’s inaugural “Competitive Balance Lottery.” Everything you need to know about it is right here, so I’ll save the time of typing out the description–just give that a read.

This seems pretty fascinating, actually. The Brewers have the highest chance of being the one team that doesn’t receive a pick, but the odds are still likely that they will get one. I will be interested in seeing how this affects the trade deadline, since these picks can only be traded up until that point. I was also going to speculate on how this could play into a potential return for a Greinke deal, but after this morning’s news, I’ll just go punch some stuff instead.

The nine-game playoff series, and messing with Tyler Thornburg

Posted by Steve

I’ve made it quite clear that I want the Brewers to be sellers. I don’t feel their ever-dwindling playoff chances are worth holding on to several assets that will expire after this season.

It seems like the Brewers are inching closer to this thinking, but not quite yet. Seems it’s put up or shut up time, according to Doug Melvin.

The Brewers next nine games are against the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds–the three teams ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central. There’s no real problem in waiting nine more days, except I am very worried that after something like a 5-4 stretch, Melvin/Attanasio will conclude the Brewers are “still in this thing” and hold on to Greinke and everyone else.

The only way I could be talked out of selling is if the Brewers went 8-1 or 9-0. Those are the only two records that would put them above .500, and I just can’t support buying/not selling when the team isn’t even above .500.

It seems the Brewers have decided to go all in in these nine games, however. They’ve sent down Taylor Green to make room for shortstop Jeff Bianchi (fifth player this year on the roster whose primary position is shortstop!), and they designated Tim Dillard for assignment to bring Tyler Thornburg back to the big leagues.

I don’t have a problem sending Green down, only because they weren’t using him anyway. He still hasn’t gotten a real chance in the majors in Milwaukee, and it’s no sure thing he ever will. That bugs me, but given the roster makeup, they have no other real option.

The Thornburg thing is trickier. Obviously, they want to make the bullpen as good as they can. I can’t blame them for that. Jose Veras has been brutal and shouldn’t be in high-leverage situations at all, really. I had no real problem with Tim Dillard, although his numbers weren’t great, they weren’t terrible. I can’t say I understand keeping Livan Hernandez over him, but again, this is the last guy in the bullpen. It’s not a huge deal.

The much more important factor in this is Thornburg. Are the Brewers really doing the right thing by taking him out of a starting rotation and putting him in the bullpen? It smacks of desperation, and it bugs me that they are seemingly putting the team’s very small playoff chances ahead of the development of their top prospect.

Not to say moving a young pitcher to the bullpen for a time hasn’t worked before. Chris Sale is taking that route right now with great success. Still, the White Sox are monitoring his innings very closely because of his huge jump in innings. Last year he threw only 71 innings out of the Sox bullpen. He’s already at 101, and they’re in the middle of a playoff race. That’s a pretty dangerous jump. All sorts of studies show that pitchers 25 and under who increase their innings load by 30 or more from the previous season are at risk.

Thornburg is at 85.1 innings this year when you add up his starts in AA, AAA and his one MLB start. If he stayed in the rotation, that puts him around 160 innings–a near perfect jump from his 136 innings last year. Finally, 160 puts him in position to throw a full season next year–hopefully, in Milwaukee.

So instead of keeping their top prospect on a perfect course, they’re potentially screwing with his workload to chase a pipe dream playoff chance.

If they put him in the rotation soon, whether to replace Wolf, Estrada, or Greinke after a trade, I’m fine with this, but I’m not sure that happens. As of right now, I’m not loving what I’m seeing from the Brewers’ front office.

 

My mind is tellin’ me no…

Posted by Steve

I remember in 2005, 2006, before the Brewers were expected to contend, how badly I wanted the team to win. “Maybe Carlos Lee and Dave Bush will be enough to get them over the top?” Because they weren’t totally awful like teams I grew up with, I sort of got attached. I enjoyed watching a team that won more than 40% of its games, so when July rolled around, I wasn’t excited for the trading deadline. Fans liked the team, but rationality eventually won out. They weren’t going anywhere that year, so selling made perfect sense–even though I liked watching. That’s how most teams are that aren’t quite good enough, really. At some point, you have to admit that they just aren’t going anywhere and cut your losses.

I feel the exact opposite about this Brewers’ team.

Swept by the Royals. Out-managed by Ned Yost. There have been about six “This has got to be rock bottom” games so far. We just saw three in a row.

Emotionally, I want to blow this up. I’ve been reading the Brewerfan “Shopping Greinke” thread for weeks now. ‘He’s not going to sign during the season anymore… Wonder what they’d get for him?’ ‘Marcum, Wolf, Morgan, KROD, even Aoki, Axford and Hart have trade value. What if they just blew it all up? They could get a haul.’

It’s sad when that’s where I’m going emotionally. Not saying, “Well, they’re only 5 1/2 out. Baseball Prospectus is still (somehow) giving them an 18% chance at making the playoffs,” but instead saying, “I wonder what they could get if they just blew up the whole damn thing?”

And then, the rational part of me says it’s still too early to do that. If they have another two-week stretch like this in them, then fine. But really, it’s still only mid-June. Only the worst of the worst are selling at this point, if any.

Still, the worst case scenario isn’t blowing up the entire team. It’s continuing to lose and then not selling. I’m pretty terrified that the Brewers will be, oh, 9 games out of the playoffs at the deadline, and Melvin/Attanasio will say “We’re still in this. Look at the Cardinals and Rays last year!” Then Greinke leaves, Marcum leaves/signs a too-expensive deal, and the Brewers toil around 70-75 wins next year as well.

It’s not time to sell yet, but it’s getting closer. The Brewers have two or three weeks to seriously turn it around. If they don’t, I will actually be rooting for the Cardinals and Reds in hope that the Brewers will do the smart thing and start selling.

 

Replacing Mat Gamel

Posted by Steve

A few months ago the main question the Brewers faced was: How do we replace Prince Fielder? Now, unfortunately, it seems the question is how to replace the replacement. Mat Gamel injured his knee on a frustratingly unimportant play last night in San Diego. The latest news is that he needs surgery, although there has not yet been any detail as far as what the injury is/what type of surgery he’ll need. Safe to say he’ll have a lengthy DL stint; the question at this point is whether he’ll be back at all this year.

So, what should the Brewers do? They have a number of options, but I’ll say right away that playing Travis Ishikawa at first base for the rest of the season should not be an option. His career OPS is .724, which is just not cutting it at first base. Even a platoon of Ishikawa and Brooks Conrad isn’t idea; Ishikawa has a career OPS of .740 against righties–still not cutting it. I’m still not sure why he’s on the team, to be honest.

If the Brewers want to go in house, they have two pretty decent options. The first is to move Aramis Ramirez to first base and call up Taylor Green to play third. While I’d love to see this, I’m almost sure the Brewers wouldn’t do it.

Another option, which seems more likely, is to move Corey Hart to first base, at least on a semi-regular basis. This does a few things. First, it keeps solid offense at the first base position. Secondly, it opens up some playing time for the glut of outfielders on the roster. Nori Aoki or Nyjer Morgan can play right when Hart plays first. While neither has the ideal arm for right field, the outstanding outfield range in center and right would make up for it.

This option seems more likely, simply because the Brewers already worked out Hart at first in spring. Although Hart is likely to be shaky defensively at first (not that Gamel was great himself), his height is an advantage there. It’s still likely that the Brewers’ defense would improve at both first and right, possibly enough to make up for the offensive drop-off.

There are other options as well. The Brewers would probably love to get George Kotarras’ bat into the lineup more often, so I wouldn’t at all mind seeing get occasional playing time at first base.

There are some free agents available. I have no real interest in Jorge Cantu, but Derek Lee is still available. I’m not thrilled at all with Lee, but it’s possible he could still be productive in a semi-platoon role.

My personal preference would be one of the first two suggestions. Since the Brewers aren’t going to move A-Ram to first, I prefer to see Hart there–at least more than Ishikawa/Conrad. I imagine this is what we’ll see pretty regularly. I don’t think they should explore signing someone like Lee unless Gamel is out for the year, and even then, it won’t be some magic solution.

How to replace Chris Narveson?

Posted by Steve

Seemingly out of nowhere, the Brewers just announced that Chris Narveson is headed to the DL with a torn rotator cuff. I suppose it’s not shocking, since his velocity had been down this season, but this was the first anyone outside of the Brewers had heard of any injury. It’s a tough break for Narveson, who was set to enter his first year of arbitration next season. It’s unknown yet whether he’ll need surgery, although I can’t imagine a torn rotator cuff not needing it.

So, just like that, there goes the Brewers’ health I have been talking about, along with their durable rotation. The question now obviously becomes: How should the Brewers replace Narveson in the rotation?

Mike McClendon is already in Milwaukee, as he was set to replace Kameron Loe for bereavement leave, anyway. McClendon is just a reliever though, although I’m guessing him to stick up here now after Narveson’s injury. Wily Peralta, the Brewers’ top pitching prospect, has also been called up. Before you get too excited, though, Gord Ash has already said Peralta will only be up until Loe returns. I’m guessing since Estrada isn’t fully stretched out, Peralta will be piggybacked with Estrada in tomorrow’s game, with them each throwing 3-4 innings or so.

To me, that sounds like Estrada will fill Narveson’s spot for now. He did a nice job of it last year when Greinke was gone, and to be honest, I like him better in that role than as a reliever anyway. Still, can Estrada stick in the rotation all season if the team wants to make the playoffs?

Chris Narveson is not a great pitcher. If you’re going to look on the bright side, it’s that he’s much easier to replace than any of the top three starters. He’s been an average starting pitcher at best over his career, including last season. Still, he was solidly above replacement level. Can Estrada match that?

I’m not totally convinced. I’m fine giving Estrada the next four or five starts and seeing how they go. It would help Peralta to get some more time in AAA, anyway. Still, I’m betting on Peralta being in the Major League rotation at some point this year. Another candidate could be Mike Fiers, who’s starting in Nashville, and a darkhorse could be Tyler Thornburg, who’s off to a great start in AA.

I suppose I’m obligated to mention that Roy Oswalt is still available, but I don’t see that happening. He seems like he’s very choosy about where he wants to go (if he even wants to play anymore), and I doubt he’ll commit to a team before it’s clear they’re in the mix for the playoffs.

If the time isn’t now for Wily Peralta, it’s soon. He’s not Yovani Gallardo, but he’s the best pitching prospect they’ve had since Yo. He was likely scheduled to arrive next season, but it looks like we may get an early look.

Prince Fielder signs with Detroit

Posted by Steve

So much for the growing theory that Scott Boras and Prince Fielder overplayed their hand in free agency somehow. Prince got a 9 year/$214 million contract from the Tigers, yet another “mystery team.” That’s one heck of a contract for Prince, and it shows that his gamble to forgo extensions from the Brewers paid off in a big way.

From a Brewer fan perspective, this isn’t a bad thing at all. Obviously him signing with the Cubs or Cardinals would have been worst case scenario, and now he isn’t even in the National League. I don’t really mind the Tigers either way, so I can’t complain.

As far as compensation, it could have been better, but it could have been worse too. The Brewers will receive the 27th pick in the first round. This means they will have the 27th and 28th picks in the first round, along with a pick a few spots later in the supplemental round. This will be the second year in a row the Brewers will have a chance to restock the farm system with some early-ish picks.

This off-season has turned out to be okay, pending the Braun outcome. I still don’t like the Aramis Ramirez deal, but the defense will be improved. Aoki signed (and very cheaply, too). The Brewers probably aren’t the favorite in the division the way I saw it last year, but they should be in the mix. And their farm system, which was just about depleted a year ago, is back on the rise.

To prove I’m not a robot, I will say that it was awesome having Prince on the team, and that there should be no hard feelings from any Brewer fans. I still remember when Prince and Rickie Weeks each hit their first home run in the same game against Minnesota. After hearing about those two as the saviors of the franchise for a few years, that was an awesome moment. Some of his homers down the stretch this past year and in 2009 were pretty memorable, too.

 

Aoki, K-Rod, and others

Posted by Steve

It’s been quite a while since the last post, but that’s really because there has been virtually no Brewers news to discuss. Then all of a sudden, today we were hit with rapid-fire Brewers news.

How about an off-season Cornucopia of Thoughts?

K-Rod
I was pleasantly surprised that he agreed to a base salary of $8 million. I was expecting at least 11. At 8 mil, the Brewers no longer need to trade him. Or if they want to he’ll be easier to trade. My guess is they end up keeping him, because their bullpen is fairly weak without him. I can’t say I’m excited to watch him pitch, though.

Aoki
A possible fallout of the K-Rod deal might very well have been that the Brewers could now afford to sign Norichika Aoki, although I’m guessing this would have happened anyway. Since I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that Braun will be out 50 games, I’m happy about this signing (with the caveat that the yet-to-be-revealed salary isn’t insane). Hopefully he will be a competent fill-in for Braun for those 50 games. If nothing else, he will be a nice improvement on defense. In fact, when Hart is playing first on occasion (as Melvin recent admitted he’s planning for), an outfield of Aoki-Gomez-Morgan will be fantastic defensively. Even though two of those guys can’t throw, that outfield will rival Arizona’s or any other as one of the best in baseball because of all the ground they’ll cover. When you consider the Brewers have Alex Gonzalez over Yuni and Aoki over Kotsay, you might come to the conclusion that the defense this year could be much improved.

Mainly though, I’m just hoping Aoki can get on base at a pretty nice clip. The Brewers sorely need some OBP guys with Gomez/Morgan, Gonzalez, and Jonathan Lucroy in the everyday lineup.

Other signings
The Brewers have agreed to terms with Kameron Loe, Manny Parra, Carlos Gomez, and Nyjer Morgan on one year deals to avoid arbitration in recent days. When I was projecting the budget, I thought guys like Parra and Loe might be non-tendered. It sure seems like the Brewers will have a larger payroll than I expected; they’ll be pushing $100 million. Pretty crazy considering they were around $40 mil when Mark Attanasio took over the team.

Ryan Braun
This thing is sure dragging out. As I said earlier, I am fully expecting Braun to be out for the first 50 games. I have no idea whether he’s innocent (nobody really does), but my guess is he might be able to save some face in the public eye, but will fall short of overturning his suspension. MLB doesn’t care about intent, so whether there was intent to use a drug as a performance enhancer or not doesn’t really matter.

Craig Counsell
Craig Counsell is joining the Brewers’ front office as a special assistant to the GM. Most everyone seems excited that Counsell is staying in the organization. That’s fine, I guess, but wow is this one of those things that justifies my decision to abandon my pursuit of a job in baseball. Some of my friends have been in Baseball Ops for over five years, are really good at what they do, and are still going year-to-year on low-paying internships. Meanwhile, Craiggers waltzes into a nice cushy job with no front office experience. I’d be much more annoyed if I was still trying to make it, I suppose.

Well, crap.

Posted by Steve

Doug Melvin and the Brewers just got bamboozled: Apparently Francisco Rodriguez has decided to accept arbitration.

Goodbye draft picks and a good shortstop. Hello to the most expensive set-up man in baseball.

For the record, I don’t blame Doug Melvin at all. I would have done the exact same thing. I really wanted him to offer K-Rod arbitration. I didn’t think there was any way he’d accept. This is the guy who bitched and moaned during a playoff stretch because he wasn’t getting a chance to close games. There was no way he’d accept arbitration from a team who wouldn’t even use him as a closer. Obviously, he found that the market for closers wasn’t as good as he thought.

This is truly surprising, as Melvin only first mentioned this possibility just the other day. Clearly, he anticipated Rodriguez declining the arby offer.

“That hasn’t really been part of our thinking but it probably should be. Obviously, it would affect what you do in other things but he’d fill a hole that we have right now, too.”

So, what now?

The Brewers have a few options. They could still try to trade K-Rod. A couple years ago, Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration in a similar situation and was traded straight up for reliever Jesse Chavez. The Brewers could hope for something like this, and it’s probably the most desirable outcome.

Another option would be to flat out release him. Arbitration contracts are not guaranteed. He could be released before the end of Spring Training, and the Brewers would only be on the hook for 1/6 of his salary. Considering he made $11.5 million last year, he’ll probably be at around 13 mil, in which case the buyout would be a bit over $2 million. The Brewers released someone in this way a couple years ago… I want to say it was Claudio Vargas. That, of course, was a much smaller penalty since Vargas didn’t make nearly this much.

Here’s hoping the Brewers are able to deal KROD without having to pay much of his salary. Again, I don’t blame Melvin at all, but he gambled and lost. Now they have to deal with it.

To look on the bright side, here’s hoping this development prevents the Brewers from throwing a boatload of cash at Aramis Ramirez. They have even less money to work with now, so they need to focus solely on shortstop. That, or finding someone to take KROD and his @13 million off their hands.

Winter Meetings Preview (Just Say No to A-Ram)

Posted by Steve

It’s once again time for the greatest event of the greatest off-season in sports: Baseball’s Winter Meetings.

The Brewers should have one big thing atop their wish list: a shortstop. I’d love to see them come away with a substantial upgrade over Yuni Betancourt (any upgrade wouldn’t be hard, but I’m holding out hope for a big one). I’ve been over many of the options already, but I’ll reiterate that of the remaining free agents, I’d say Rafael Furcal would be the best fit considering he’ll make less than Jimmy Rollins. It sounds like the Marlins landed Jose Reyes for six years tonight, so the Brewers missed out/dodged a bullet, depending on your perspective.

I am concerned, though. I don’t think the Brewers have shortstop atop their wishlist at the moment. There are multiple reports that the Brewers are very interested in Aramis Ramirez, the Brewer killer himself, and the person who made me swear I wouldn’t go back to Wrigley for a few years.

I’m expecting the Brewers to sign Ramirez, and I’m really not happy about it. I’m expecting it because Ramirez lives in Chicago and seemingly wants to stay there–he vetoed trades at the end of last season so his family could stay. He could easily live around Chicago if he played in Milwaukee, which is surely why he’s interested in playing for the Brewers..

I’m not happy about it, because I’m not convinced it’s even close to the best use of the money they’ll end up giving him. I’m guessing Ramirez is likely to get about 10 mil a year. I’d much, much rather have Taylor Green at 400k, for a number of reasons.

Even besides the money, Ramirez is 34. His defense has been decidedly below average for a few years now, and it’s definitely not going to get better as he moves through his 30s. Plus, he’s been somewhat injury prone.

I can admit that his bat is still solid, and he’s likely to be an offensive upgrade (certainly to McGehee, and likely to Green, next year anyway), but that’s not worth the hefty price tag. I’d much, much rather pay Rafael Furcal, turn over third to Green, first to Gamel, and go from there.

I could maybe stomach a two-year contract for Ramirez, but anything more than two and I’ll absolutely hate it. It would point to the Brewers A) once again refusing to go with promising, cheap young players, B) once again disregarding defense, and C) once again giving multi-year free agent deals to an aging player. You’d think they’d have learned from this by now. Also, something longer than two years would make it much more difficult to extend Zack Greinke.

I’ve been over why the Brewers are on a much more limited budget than people realize. Spending their limited resources on a defensively poor third baseman whose best years are behind him is not a smart allocation of those resources.

Just say NO to A-Ram (or any free agent third baseman) and YES to Taylor Green. Do it Doug. Do it.