Category Archives: Transactions

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.

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

Carlos Gomez extension: Smart move, good value

Posted by Steve

The Brewers made a bit of a surprise move today with an extension of center fielder Carlos Gomez, reportedly for 4 years/$27.5 million. It actually replaces his contract for this season, meaning it’s essentially a three-year extension for $24 million. Considering Gomez was entering his final year before free agency, I’m surprised the Brewers were able to get him this cheaply.

Gomez was a valuable player, even in a platoon role, the last few years–mainly because of his defense and baserunning. Last year, though, he put together an offensive season that people envisioned years ago when Gomez was a highly regarded prospect. He set career-highs in batting average (.260), on-base percentage (.305), and slugging percentage (.463). While those first two numbers aren’t all that impressive, the slugging percentage is. And when it’s combined with Gomez’s defense in a crucial position, it makes for a valuable player: His WAR of 3.5 was 11th in baseball among center fielders, and he had far fewer plate appearances than any of the others in the top ten.

Gomez is still only 27, so there is good reason to believe his performance can match, and possibly even exceed, his performance last season. He will never be a good on-base player, or even a decent one most likely. However, playing one of the most important positions makes that more palatable.

If there is anyone saying the Brewers spent too much on Gomez at $8 mil a year, I’d ask what the Brewers could have gotten for that money instead. Michael Bourn just signed for 4/$48 mil. B.J. Upton was below Gomez in WAR last year, and he just signed for 5/$75! Fangraphs had Gomez worth $9 million in 2012, and $15 million in 2013. If he’d had another year like last year in 2013, he’d probably double his value to $50 mil or so on the open market. He might earn his contract over the next four years on just defense alone.

The Brewers do have some fairly promising young outfielders coming up in Logan Schafer, Caleb Gindl, and Khris Davis. None of them, however, are nearly as highly regarded as Gomez was. Davis and Gindl are really only corner outfielders, and there’s nothing wrong with using Schafer as a 4th outfielder or in a soft platoon with Gomez.

It’s kind of funny to think back to a few years ago, when the general reaction of Brewers fans to the J.J. Hardy-for-Gomez trade was disappointment. Here’s what I wrote in 2009 when the trade went down. I actually didn’t pan the trade, which I wasn’t sure of myself until I went back and looked (the most painful part of that post by far is when I mentioned Mat Gamel having a lot of trade value. Oof.). Both players have had some success since the trade, although it is interesting that Gomez got the larger contract extension.

Whether the Brewers are contenders or not, this is a good move. They have a good player signed through his prime, and it’s inexpensive enough that it will be tradeable down the road if necessary.

In honor of this contract let’s watch a couple Carlos Gomez GIFs. One flattering, one not so much, but both awesome.

 

Brewers deal Izturis, call up Segura

Posted by Steve

Well, that didn’t take very long.

The Brewers “lost” Cesar Izturis to the Nationals on waivers and have called up newly acquired shortstop prospect Jean Segura. Segura excelled during his brief stint in AA Huntsville, hitting .433/.500/.533 in eight games. In a season that’s going nowhere, the Brewers decided to roll the dice and give their shortstop of the future a head start on the big leagues.

While exciting, this move isn’t without a bit of controversy. By calling him up now, the Brewers will more than likely burn his first year of service time next year. If they kept Segura in the minors the rest of this year and until June or so of 2013, next season wouldn’t be considered a full year of service time, and the Brewers would control his rights for an extra year. Someone on twitter called it “preferring his age 23 season over his age 29 season.”

I understand the concern, and I would have been completely fine if the Brewers decided to hold him back for this reason. But I think it’s more important to go case-by-case and look at the individual player rather than use a blanket strategy for every good prospect. The Cubs just called up Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters rather than holding them out until midway through next season. Holding players back isn’t as obvious of a move as it may seem.

If the Brewers deem Segura ready, I am totally fine with calling him up. It’s arguably just as important to give him MLB experience, particularly in a season that no longer matters, as it is to preserve his service time. The fact is, the Brewers are not the first organization to decide Segura was ready for the majors. The Angels had just called him up before including him in the Greinke deal. It’s definitely not a stretch to say he’s ready for a test drive.

The only regret I have over this transaction is that we just sold the tickets we had for tonight’s game. Other than that, I’m glad I’ll have renewed interest in watching the Brewers again.

So, now what?

Posted by Steve

For the last few weeks, all the focus was on Zack Greinke: first his health, then on what return he’d bring back in an impending trade. Now that the Greinke trade is complete, it feels a little confusing. What are we supposed to focus on now?

One thing’s for sure; this is still the same awful bullpen. Yesterday’s game showed that, and the bullpen isn’t going to change. Not that that matters much though; wins and losses are irrelevant now.

That’s one thing that’s kind of nice. I no longer feel like I need to hope the Brewers lose games in order to ensure they trade Greinke. I still really don’t care whether they win, but at least I don’t have to be annoyed when they do. I really didn’t enjoy that.

So anyway, the question is, what am I looking for the rest of the season?

I don’t expect the Brewers to contend next year without Zack Greinke. The starting rotation is going to look much different next year, and they have many young pitchers who will be getting their feet wet. Thing is, I want that to happen. I don’t want Doug Melvin to feel like he needs to go and sign two more Randy Wolfs because he needs to patch together another okay team. Mark Rogers, Wily Peralta, Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena, Tayjor Jungmann… The Brewers need to turn several of those players into major league pitchers, particularly starters, if they are going to have success within the next 4-5 years. I don’t want to see the development stunted by aging #4 starters.

For that reason, I would love to see Aramis Ramirez and/or Corey Hart traded before the deadline. If Melvin targeted players at the AA level or so, the way he did with Greinke, there shouldn’t be too long of a turnaround. In fact, I bet they’d have a solid team by as early as 2014.

Trading Hart and Ramirez makes a lot of sense. Both players have good value right now. Ramirez in particular should be traded because of the money that he’s owed. He has performed so well that right now, you could get a team to take most (or even all?) of his contract and send you a legitimate prospect or two. That opportunity may not be there by next season.

Same situation with Hart. He is under contract through 2013. If the Brewers trade Hart before the start of next season, the team who acquires him will have the right to a compensation pick. If they wait until next season to do it, it will be the same situation as Greinke–no pick for that team. A lack of comp picks won’t dampen the return on elite players like Greinke, but it could on a merely solid player like Hart.

Of course, I’d be truly shocked if either of these players were dealt this year. Doug Melvin’s MO isn’t to trade players when their value is highest; it’s to hold on to them, use the value for the Brewers, and then take a lesser return/let them walk in free agency. In this case, I strongly feel holding on to them is the wrong move. Doesn’t matter what I think, though.

So then, what do I want to see the rest of the year? Let’s make a list, shall we?

Tyler Thornburg’s return to normalcy

The Brewers sent Thornburg back to the minors today, capping the end to a short yet stupid experiment. His schedule has been completely erratic over the last month or so, and it capped off with a “tired arm” after pitching multiple innings in consecutive outings. What a foolish way to handle your top pitching prospect. I want to see Thornburg back starting games, and I don’t even want to see him in Milwaukee unless he is in the rotation. No more coming out of the bullpen for Thornburg the rest of the year.

Trade/DFA Wolf, K-Rod

I expect the Brewers to DFA Francisco Rodriguez soon. It’s been a train wreck in slow motion over the last couple weeks for Franky. He went from burying his trade value six feet under to clearly not even warranting a spot on the team. He’s a sunk cost; the Brewers have too many young pitchers they should take a look at to keep wasting innings on a broken K-Rod.

Wolf should be let go, too. There’s a chance someone will take him off the Brewers’ hands for nothing, but if not, there is no need to keep giving him starts. Same thing with wanting to see younger pitchers.

In a similar vein, if Shaun Marcum is able to come back this year, he’d be a good candidate for an August waiver trade. Something to think about.

Give the young pitchers a long look–in the starting rotation

All those pitchers I mentioned earlier should get some consideration for rotation spots in Milwaukee. Mark Rogers had an encouraging outing yesterday. He is out of minor league options, which means the Brewers have to have him on the MLB team next year or lose him. He should stay in the rotation the rest of the year.

Wily Peralta has turned his season around. He should take Randy Wolf’s spot in the rotation as soon as possible.

Thornburg, Hellweg, and Pena should all be given consideration based on how they pitch going forward as well.

Within a few weeks, call up Jean Segura and hand him the keys to shortstop

I understand giving Segura some time yet in AA, but I don’t think he should need more than a couple weeks. Unless he falls flat on his face in Huntsville, I want to give him time in MLB in a low pressure situation in which he knows he’ll play every day. From a marketing standpoint, the team should want to show off the prize of the Zack Greinke trade as well. It’s a win-win.

Think about it. Not only do these moves make baseball sense, but it’s a much more watchable team. How much more enjoyable would the team be with a rotation of Gallardo, Fiers, Rogers, Peralta, Estrada/Thornburg/other young pitcher and Segura at shortstop every day the rest of the way? Right now, when Wolf or Estrada pitch, I don’t even feel obligated to watch. I’d want to watch this “new” team every day the rest of the season, though.

One final remark

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the departure of George Kottaras. First, let me say it was a questionable move. Travis Ishikawa serves no purpose on this team and does nothing that Kottaras can’t. They should have gotten rid of Ishikawa and left Kottaras as the backup first baseman/third catcher/top pinch hitter off the bench. But, they didn’t, and it sounds like Kottaras finds himself in a larger role on a playoff contender, so good for him. Plus, no matter what happens to him in his baseball career, he’ll still be devilishly handsome.

 

 

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.

Judgment Day

Posted by Steve

Dominoes are starting to fall around Major League Baseball. Two or three trades went down today, depending on whether Ryan Dempster accepts his trade to Atlanta. Two of those deals involved big-name pitchers who are impending free agents. Dempster went to Atlanta (assuming he accepts) for starting pitcher Randall Delgado, ranked the #46 prospect by Baseball America entering this season. Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante were traded from Florida to Detroit for a package that included starting pitcher Jacob Turner, ranked #22 on the same list.

The package Florida received for Sanchez and Infante would have really excited me had the Brewers got that for Greinke. These deals are encouraging for the Brewers, because (a healthy) Greinke should bring back more than either Sanchez/Infante or Dempster.

The “healthy” part is the key. Tomorrow is a huge day for the Brewers and any team interested in Greinke. You can bet that after the bizarre “battery recharging,” teams will want to see him have an effective start in which he at least convinces people he’s healthy. If he does, I anticipate tomorrow being Greinke’s last start in a Brewer uniform.

Detroit and Atlanta are presumably out of the starting pitching market after their deals today, although you never know. More likely now would be Washington, Baltimore, and Anaheim.

Two other things might be working in the Brewers’ favor.

1. The Phillies are really trying to re-sign Cole Hamels, and there seems to be a real chance he signs. If he does, that leaves Greinke as the clear top starter available.

2. The Rangers just lost starting pitcher Colby Lewis, who will need Tommy John surgery. Their need for a starting pitcher is even greater now than it was. The Angels are within striking distance, and the hard-charging A’s are close behind them (Darkhorse Greinke candidate?)

Assuming Greinke looks okay tomorrow, my guess is that he goes to Texas for Mike Olt. Philly seems to be demanding Jurickson Profar for Hamels, but I still have to believe he’s untouchable. If Greinke looks good tomorrow, the Brewers should offer him to Texas for Olt. I now believe, given the deals made today (which would seem to raise Greinke’s price) and Texas’ increasing desperation, they would be willing to trade him.

There could be more parts involved, maybe someone like K-Rod, Nyjer Morgan, Kameron Loe, the Brewers’ competitive balance draft pick going with Greinke, or some other lower-rated players coming back to Milwaukee along with Olt.

Anyway. Just a guess; we’ll see what really happens. Only thing for sure is tomorrow is a huge day for the Brewers and the trade value of Greinke. Here’s to a strong start from him. It will be bittersweet, knowing he’ll be leaving, but it’s the best thing for the franchise at this point.