Category Archives: 2013 Hot Stove

Matt Garza: Not a half-measure

In my last post, I called for no more half-measures for the Brewers: no more spending of resources on players who aren’t clear upgrades. That particular post discussed potential first base targets like James Loney or Ike Davis. The Brewers have thankfully taken a smarter route that costs them nothing in players/draft picks and virtually nothing in money. Mark Reynolds and Juan Francisco will likely produce similarly to what Loney or Davis would have for a fraction of the cost. Sure, it isn’t as good as acquiring a great first baseman, but it’s a lot better than spending on a mediocre one.

The half-measures theory applies to all positions, including pitchers. The reason I like the Garza signing more than almost all of the Brewers’ major acquisitions in the last three years (probably second only to the Greinke-Segura deal) is largely because he provides an actual clear upgrade to what they had.

Current Brewers pitchers, 2011-2013

Yovani Gallardo: 592 innings, 3.48 xFIP, 7.3 WAR

Kyle Lohse: 598 innings, 4.01 xFIP, 7.5 WAR

Marco Estrada: 298.2 innings, 3.57 xFIP, 5.1 WAR

Matt Garza: 457 innings, 3.46 xFIP, 8.3 WAR

Over the last three years, Garza has been more valuable than any of the Brewers’ starting pitchers. He has a higher WAR than Gallardo and Lohse despite pitching far fewer innings. This is due to his strong strikeout rate and solid walk rate (His K rate is higher than Yo’s and his walk rate is lower).

This is a strong upgrade. Lohse-Garza-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta is a much stronger rotation than Lohse-Gallardo-Estrada-Peralta-Thornburg/Hellweg/Nelson/whomever. This also adds decent depth to the rotation, as the guys now slotted 6-8 in the rotation could be okay as spot starters.

Of course, that whole “far fewer innings” part played a big role in this signing. Without the injury concerns, Garza would have earned a much larger contract than $50 million guaranteed. Garza hasn’t had any crazy long DL stints, but he’s missed a handful of starts over the last few years due to elbow and shoulder concerns. It led to some pretty creative contract language, and it certainly makes this contract a risk.

It is a risk worth taking, however. Garza’s upside is a pitcher that’s as good or better as any the Brewers currently have. Look at those numbers again. If those four pitchers come close to their performance of the last three seasons, the Brewers will actually have a pretty strong pitching staff. Yes, Gallardo declined last year, and yes, Lohse is getting up there in age, but even if they come close to those numbers, the rotation should be average-ish. Average-ish much, much better than last year’s rotation.

With an offense that could also return to average-ishness with Ryan Braun’s return, we actually could be looking at a Brewers team that is… average! With an extra playoff slot, that means some luck could give the Brewers a puncher’s chance at a Wildcard spot. It’s something, at least.

The second reason I like this signing, and what really sets it apart from the Kyle Lohse signing last year, is that the Brewers did not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Garza. Lohse is a solid pitcher, but I hated the signing, because the Brewers were not in a position where it made sense for them to forfeit a pick. They were not one starter away from being a contender, so they essentially forfeited a draft pick to take fourth place in the division.

The Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. The recent Baseball Prospectus Top 101 confirms that, as there are zero (0) Brewers prospects to be found on the list. They cannot afford to forfeit any high draft picks. This signing doesn’t hurt any rebuilding of a farm system, which is what has me feeling okay about it.

No more half measures

Posted by Steve

The latest in the “the Brewers have no long-term plan” theme, they missed out on re-signing Corey Hart today. Hart would have been a nice option for first base this year, but oh well. So, now what?

Really, only two things should be options for the Brewers.

The first is to make a big play for a true difference maker at first base. Considering they really have no trade chips left at the big league level (that they’re willing to move, anyway), and that their farm system is bad, this isn’t a viable option. No point in dwelling, then.

The only other option should be to make due with what they have. They could platoon Sean Halton and Juan Francisco. They could give Mat Gamel a shot, which would be very cheap. While doing this, they could wait and see if Hunter Morris turns into anything (I have just about no hope for Morris, but that’s another story).

My preference would actually be to move a current starter to first base. Either Aramis Ramirez or Ryan Braun would benefit from a move to first base, as it would help them stay healthy. Between Caleb Gindl, Logan Schafer, Kentrail Davis, or other cheaply acquired corner outfielders, they could fill right field.

Either make a huge move for a true difference-making first baseman, or make due with what you have. Those are the only two viable options.

So why, then, does it feel like they’re about to do neither?

I am bracing myself for the Brewers to do something foolish, like giving James Loney a multi-year contract, or trading young pitching for Ike Davis. Neither one would make sense given the talent level of the team, but both fit perfectly with the M.O. of the Mark Attanasio regime.

Trading for Ike Davis wouldn’t be a bad move if the Brewers were one more hitter away from true contention. But, much like with the acquisition of Kyle Lohse last year, that isn’t the case. Giving up someone like Tyler Thornburg for Davis would be a dumb move.

Similarly, signing James Loney to a two-year, or God forbid three-year contract would be just as dumb. First of all, the Brewers have no business giving a merely decent veteran who plays the easiest position on the field a multi-year deal.

Secondly, it is far from a given that Loney would even be an upgrade over a Francisco/Halton platoon. Loney’s career OPS is .761, which is nothing special at all for a first baseman.

There is no good reason to trade for or give a multi-year contract to an average first baseman. But there was also no good reason to forfeit a draft pick to sign Kyle Lohse or give an injury-prone, aging Aramis Ramirez a three-year deal.

“No good reason” hasn’t saved the Brewers from themselves in the recent past, and it just feels like it won’t this time, either.

Mark Attanasio, Kyle Lohse, and Shortsightedness

Posted by Steve

The Brewers’ front office continues to show it prefers year-to-year, patchwork solutions over anything resembling a long-term plan. Their owner meddles in baseball operations to the point that he pushes for acquisitions that are detrimental to the future of the team. It is more important to them to appear like they are making every attempt to win now, every season, than it is to actually do what is best for the long-term health of the franchise.

We saw this least season with their refusal to admit they were not a contender until the 11th hour of the trade deadline. We saw it this off-season with their decision to not shop around veteran players toward the end of their deals. And we saw it today, with their shortsighted signing of Kyle Lohse.

By now you’ve surely heard: the Brewers signed Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract with performance incentives.  To put it another way, the same team that won an average of 78.3 games in PECOTA’s 2013 simulation and had the smallest chance at the playoffs in the NL Central just forfeited a first round draft pick, three years and $33 million on a 34 year-old pitcher.

Short-term, it seems to make sense. The Brewers have young, inexperienced pitching! That same young, inexperienced pitching has struggled in Spring Training! In a world where Spring Training stats matter (unfortunately, that’s not this world), there might seem to be a need.

If the Brewers were around a 85-win team or so on paper, signing Kyle Lohse could be a smart move that could put them over the hump and get them into the playoffs. Problem is, the Brewers aren’t that team. PECOTA at this point actually projects them with the same record as the Cubs and tied for last in the division. Lohse had above average seasons the last two years. His best year was 2012. If we take his WAR of 3.6 from last year and add it to the projected win total, that would put the Brewers at 81.9 wins—still not enough to reach the playoffs. That calculation isn’t foolproof either—if you add Lohse’s WAR, you need to subtract the pitcher he’d be replacing, which likely lessens the team win projection even more.

Essentially, this moves a team that was projected to win around 78 games to a team that is projected to win around 81 games. And for that, they hamstring themselves to another mid-30s pitcher who is somewhat likely to not even pitch to the end of his contract.

There is something that is even more concerning than the Lohse deal itself. Earlier in the off-season, the Brewers tried to land free agent starter Ryan Dempster. The Brewers would only offer him a two-year deal, and he eventually signed with Boston. At the time, Melvin talked of “learning a lesson” with past deals and not wanting to offer a third year. Later, when asked about Lohse, he said giving up a draft pick was a deal-breaker. So what changed?

The season got closer, the pitching looked poor in Spring Training, and the owner panicked.

It’s been widely reported that Mark Attanasio “remained in contact” with Scott Boras over the last few weeks. Why is Attanasio talking with a player agent? That is Doug Melvin’s job.

We know Attanasio was behind the Suppan signing to a degree. Presumably he’s been involved with others as well. And sure, owners should be involved, but he shouldn’t be negotiating the deal.

The Brewers have had a couple of very good seasons in the last handful of years. Sprinkled in between them, however, were some years of failed free agent pitching signings rather than focusing on a long-term plan. A forward-thinking front office might have seen that the Brewers have several key pieces nearing free agency and/or reaching the end of their primes, and that it might be wise to cash in those pieces before they lose value or leave for nothing.

Instead, the Brewers did the opposite. They overpaid by a year and forfeited a draft pick for yet another mid-30s, past-his-prime pitcher, and they gave up a first round pick to do it. Lohse might still be solid this year, but it’s the same story as all the ex-Cardinals pitchers the Brewers sign: his defense behind him won’t be as good as the one last year, and that’s likely to end poorly. Jeff Suppan was 32 when he signed. Randy Wolf was 33. Kyle Lohse is 34. That is not trending in the right direction. I could say more about Lohse and what he’s expected to do, but I almost think that’s for another post. My focus here is on the Brewers’ overall philosophy.

In his presser, Doug Melvin just said, “This signing makes us a better club than we were yesterday.” This perfectly illustrates the problems with the current makeup of the front office. Lohse would have made the Astros better too. That doesn’t mean it would make sense for them to sign him.

Here’s what you can see coming a mile away: The Brewers will be around .500, maybe even a few games below, and rather than selling, they’ll make a deal for a reliever, or a #4 -type starter, still miss the playoffs, and start the cycle all over again

Should the Brewers just rebuild?

Posted by Steve

While the Cubs, Reds, and much of the rest of baseball has been wheeling and dealing, the Brewers have done a whole lotta standing around on the sidelines. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.

No part of me wishes the Brewers had matched or exceeded the two-year, $26.5 million contract the Red Sox just gave Ryan Dempster, and I’m glad Doug Melvin has stuck to his recently stated “no three-year contracts for non-excellent free agents” rule. Dempster is 35, so anything more than two years is asking for trouble.

Some of the other players I mentioned as potential Brewers targets have signed elsewhere, such as Dan Haren, Brandon McCarthy, and Joe Blanton. Relievers Jason Grilli Koji Uehara have also signed with other clubs, although Mike Adam is said to be signing soon (the Brewers were rumored to be interested).

Like I said, I don’t have any problem with the Brewers not wanting a repeat of Jeff Suppan or even to a (much) lesser extent, Randy Wolf, but if they aren’t going to add another starting pitcher through free agency, what are they going to do?

Without any additions to the starting rotation, the Brewers are likely not going to be good enough to overtake the Reds, and probably the Cardinals as well. If the Brewers don’t add another starter who’s at least league average, it’s very likely they’ll find themselves in the middle of the pack, which is not a good place for a team to be.

If the pitching was better, the Brewers would be contenders, and if the offense was worse, they’d be sellers. But neither one is the case, so where do they go? The division was winnable last year, but it seems less so with all of the Reds’ upgrades. Might the Brewers’ best course be to reload and sell off pieces, such as Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez, and possibly even Yovani Gallardo and Rickie Weeks?

It seems crazy, but let’s look closer. A full firesale could bring the next wave of players that could bring cost-efficient production. They could target MLB ready players, like they did in Jean Segura. Unlike years past, the Brewers have young, near-MLB ready pitching, so they could target position players if they have a firesale.

The problem with that, though, is the presence of Ryan Braun. You know he wouldn’t be happy about a firesale, and it seems foolish to waste the next couple years of his prime.

It’s tough to say which direction is the right one, but I’m starting to think the Brewers would be better off rebuilding. For sure, I’d rather have them take that direction than enter the season with Yovani Gallardo and four unproven starters. Ideally, they’d find a way to add another impact starter and take their run at the playoffs, but that’s just starting to look unlikely. Hart and Ramirez have good value currently, possibly as high as it will get. The best move might be to cash them in and look to speed up the retooling process.

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?