Tag Archives: Doug Melvin

State of the Brewers: Longing for 2005

Posted by Steve

It is only appropriate that I am about to experience the least anticipated World Series of my lifetime (even worse than the Subway Series), since this was my least enjoyable baseball season in at least ten years. And by “experience the least anticipated World Series of my lifetime,” I mean I’ll turn it on for the last few outs if the Cardinals are facing elimination. Maybe. That didn’t work so well the last time.

This year, and really, the current state of the Brewers, is depressing not so much because of the below .500 record. We’ve lived through much, much, much worse Brewers years as far as baseball performance is concerned. It’s that it was so predictable, and yet the Brewers’ brass was unable to foresee it, or at least to admit it.

The problem with the Brewers is exemplified by one move: signing Kyle Lohse. The fact that they saw themselves as one number 2/3 starting pitcher away from the playoffs is very concerning. They clearly were not, and that is not just hindsight talking. I saw it beforehand, but so did many others.

But not the Brewers. They kept looking short-term, and once they ran out of minor league pieces to trade, they ran out of options.

I was able to stomach the 90-100 loss seasons of the early 2000s, because there was at least hope on the horizon. Many terrible seasons had amassed an impressive array of draft picks. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo would all join the big league club within a few years’ time. There was finally excitement, a light at the end of a long, miserable tunnel.

Now? The Brewers are about to enter their fourth consecutive year without one prospect on the same level as any of those mid-2000s players. Sure, they’ve added some much-needed quantity over the last two seasons, but they are sorely lacking in quality prospects.

Ready for something truly depressing? Read this next paragraph, and then tell me if there is one team in the NL Central you wouldn’t trade places with.

A couple months ago, Baseball America released its mid-season top 50 prospects. Included on that list were four Cardinals, three Pirates, three Cubs, two Reds, and, of course, zero Brewers. Even if we go back to the start of the season, when BA ranked their top 100 prospects, Wily Peralta was the only Brewer to crack the list.

What this should tell you is that the Cardinals and Pirates, already good teams, will just continue to reload (or improve, from the standpoint of the Pirates). They aren’t going anywhere. The Reds are on their way out, but even they have a better system than Milwaukee. The Cubs are going to be bad for the next year or two yet, but they look the way the Brewers did in the mid-2000s; they have a lot of exciting players in their system.

So… What can be done? Well, what they should not do is hold on to their veterans, sign a free agent starting pitcher or two, and try to patch together another .500ish season. Basically, don’t do what they’ve tried the past few years.

It’s time for Mark Attanasio to read the writing on the wall: it’s time to blow this up and rebuild. They’ve proven the patchwork strategy isn’t working, so it’s time to change philosophies.

That also means something larger: it’s time for Doug Melvin to go.

Melvin has done some very good things in Milwaukee. He oversaw the reconstruction of a truly terrible franchise, fielded two playoff teams and won one division title. He was two games from his first World Series. Sure, you could argue he could have done more with that core they had, but he also could have done much worse.

It’s been a few years since Melvin was able to work some magic. Most importantly, he still hasn’t been able to adequately replace Jack Zduriencik. The Brewers haven’t had one impact draft pick since Brett Lawrie, and that has been what’s killed them more than anything.

Doug Melvin departing isn’t the most important key to turning this around–all that truly matters is that the Brewers stop their short-term thinking. The best way to do that, however, is to bring in a younger GM who is willing to oversee a rebuilding process.

There are players to build around. Jean Segura, Jonathan Lucroy, and Wily Peralta is a decent starting point. Many fans would hate this move, but Carlos Gomez’s value will never be higher. He’s still young (and affordable) enough to bring back a huge haul, yet, he’s old enough that by the time the team around him is good again, he’ll be leaving or out of his prime. The adage of trading a player a year too early rather than a year too late (i.e. Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez, and hopefully not Kyle Lohse) rings true with Gomez.

Other players should go as well–many should have already, of course, but I don’t need to harp on that any further. They have no choice but to hold on to Braun at this point, so that will at least be in a holding pattern for a while. But even that could be short-term.

They key for a mid-market team like the Brewers is to find young talent and bring up waves of it. The Brewers haven’t had a wave since Gallardo ended their big one about four years ago. They have some players who could be impact prospects, but they’re still in the lower levels of the minors. What they need to do is collect players who are within two years or so of the big leagues and bring them up together, à la Fielder, Weeks, Hart and Hardy.

The concern, from Attanasio’s perspective, is clearly attendance. They’ve drawn extraordinarily well the last five years, and it would be understandable to be hesitant to jeopardize that. I’d argue that Brewer fans are patient; look how bad the teams were for so long, yet fans came back. They’ll do the same in support of an exciting, young team. It beats the alternative of gradually losing attendance year-to-year with no future in sight.

There are a large number of fans who feel jaded after the Ryan Braun saga. I don’t worry about it, personally, but many do. It could actually be a great time to explain to the fans that the strategies of the past few years haven’t worked, and now the team is changing course. I really think many would be open to that.

Hope isn’t lost for Brewers fans. It’s just on hold. Take me back to 2004, 2005 (and not just for this reason). I’d much rather root for a young, rebuilding team with a bright future than for one without much present or future. Unfortunately, if they don’t rebuild, that’s all we’ll have.

The Brewers are just trolling us now.

Posted by Steve

I got out of work today and checked my phone for the first time in several hours. ‘Hmm, that’s an alarming number of text messages and emails… I wonder whatsohmygod no. Ooohh, no way…. OHMYGOD OOHHHH GOD NOOOOOOOOOOOO!’

Yuniesky Betancourt. I can’t even type it without getting flashbacks. Yuni  is back. On a Major League contract, when he was just released from a minor league contract. Why. Whyyy.

I honestly don’t think I can stomach another year of watching him. He’s a backup, sure. But what if Segura gets out to a slow start? You think Runnin’ Ron won’t start playing Yuni more?

Was it really just two days ago that I was fully at peace with the Brewers likely missing the playoffs? Now I just spent my ride home alternating between bouts of nausea and actual, out-loud-by-myself laughter. Two days ago that I was, more than anything, just looking forward to Brewers baseball again? What the hell happened to Doug Melvin? Can any of this actually be happening?

Honestly, Doug Melvin has to just be trolling us at this point. There is no other explanation.

melvintroll1

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

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.

 

Just lose, baby.

I have the misfortune of being a Milwaukee Bucks fan. Save for one season in 2001, the Bucks have wallowed in mediocrity for most of my life. One reason for this is while they are often bad, they are rarely bad enough. The NBA is constructed in such a way that tanking can pay off. It’s near impossible to contend for a title without a superstar, and superstars are generally drafted in the top five picks.

Yet, under the ownership of Herb Kohl, the Bucks refuse to tank. This year is a prime example. With an injured Andrew Bogut, the Bucks were sitting pretty with the fifth worst record in the NBA and a struggling team. Instead of building for the future, they made win-now moves, which was good enough to get them to ninth in the Eastern Conference and the 12th overall pick. Once again this season, they look to be patching things together for another season around .500 rather than rebuilding for the future. Awful. It’s a good thing I’m not nearly as big of a Bucks fan as I am for the Brewers.

So what do the Brewers have to do with the Bucks? Nothing, really, but the comparison can be made. It is time for the Brewers to invest in their future rather than this season, or even next season. Therefore, I’m now openly hoping the team loses for the next few weeks.

It’s not for the same reason I root for the Bucks to lose, because it has nothing to do with obtaining a higher draft pick. The MLB draft is much more of a crapshoot anyway, way too much for tanking to be a good strategy. No, I’m rooting for the Brewers to keep losing in order to protect them from themselves. I want there to be no doubt in Doug Melvin’s mind–or perhaps more importantly, Mark Attanasio’s–that the team should sell.

Even though things weren’t looking good, for weeks I kept the attitude of, “Well, they still could come back. They still have a 20-whatever percent chance.” Well, Baseball Prospectus now has that down to just a 6.3% chance at the postseason, the bullpen is in shambles, and in direct contrast to last season, the Brewers seem to find creative ways to lose games.

I was fine riding out this season and hoping for another playoff run. I actually thought they had a decent chance, and when you have a real chance, you need to go for it. However, they got hit hard with injuries, and the bullpen has been much worse than Doug Melvin probably ever imagined. It happens, and it’s not the end of the world. With all the impending free agents, next year’s team is going to look a lot different. My hope is that the team doesn’t take the patchwork approach of the Bucks and instead looks toward the future.

Things would have been entirely different if the Brewers could have signed Zack Greinke earlier this year. It’s entirely possible that the Matt Cain contract extension changed the course of the Brewers’ franchise. Before that deal, we were looking at $85-95 million as a hopeful extension for Greinke. I remember hoping they could keep it at $100 million or under. Now, there’s no chance of that.

Greinke is just a few months away from the open market, where he is very likely to exceed Cain’s deal. I am not even comfortable with the Brewers giving a pitcher Cain money, much less more than that, so I consider Greinke as good as gone.

Without Greinke next year, it’s hard to see the Brewers making a playoff run. And if they don’t have a real chance next year, why not overlook next season in order to increase their chances in 2014 and beyond? Trading not only Greinke, but Marcum (PLEASE GET HEALTHY SOON), Hart, Morgan, K-Rod, Axford, Aoki, or anyone else they can get good value for shouldn’t be off the table.

This would be a tough sell to Mark Attanasio, who needs to run a business and wants to continue drawing fans. That’s why I’m hoping the Brewers force his hand. If they’re 8+ games back around the trade deadline, it will be an easier sell.

Since I see that as beneficial for the franchise overall, I am rooting for them to lose. It feels strange, but honestly, it makes the games a lot less stressful. I still watch, and I’ll still go to games, but it’s nice not to get so frustrated by a team that would otherwise frustrate the hell out of me.

It shouldn’t be much longer now. By this time in 2008, CC Sabathia was a Brewer. Buyers are likely preparing their offers now. There have been reports of the Brewers scouting the Rangers’ and Braves’ minor league teams, so you have to think there has been plenty of dialogue between the Brewers and contending teams.

All we need now is for them to keep losing and push a deal over the edge.

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.

Trade deadline flop

Posted by Steve

I’ve taken a little heat for being so negative considering the Brewers are winning, but it’s only because of the situation. They made some bold moves to win this season, which means they should absolutely be doing all that they can to make the team as good as possible. They have not–hence my criticism.

It’s great that they’ve won six in a row. Even though they were against terrible teams, you still can’t expect two sweeps in a row. So, yes, it’s great. Problem is, they aren’t going to be playing the Cubs or Astros tomorrow anymore.

I’ve been over and over the deficiencies of third base and shortstop all year, so there’s no need to harp on that anymore except to say this team had huge holes to fill there. And Doug Melvin’s answer was… Jerry Hairston Jr. And nobody else.

You can’t count Felipe Lopez, because he’s not an upgrade. He’s an emergency fill-in for Rickie Weeks, so he very likely wouldn’t have even been acquired had Weeks not gone down. So they only thing they’ve added to the team from a week ago has ben… Jerry Hairston Jr.

Don’t get me wrong. Hairston is a nice upgrade to their bench. He can play several positions at a level ranging from somewhat above to somewhat below average, which means he’s an upgrade from most of the defenders on this team. But what he is not is a full-time shortstop, something the Brewers need desperately.

The entire Yuniesky Betancourt debacle, which includes the decisions to A. Not cut him immediately after the Greinke trade in December, B. Enter the season with him as the starter with no other real option, and C. Still do nothing about it after he’s killed the team for four months, is the worst decision of the Doug Melvin Era in Milwaukee.

It’s even worse when you compare it to what the Cardinals, their chief competition for the division, pulled off. Trading Colby Rasmus was a dumb move for their franchise, but it did make them a better team right now. Edwin Jackson is a big improvement to what they previously had in their rotation. Then, the salt in the wound came today when they acquired Rafael Furcal, a name associated with the Brewers for a few weeks.

Looking at shortstop WAR, Betancourt is the worst in the Majors at -0.4. Second-worst on that list? Ryan Theriot of the Cardinals, at 0.1. The Cardinals realized they had a bad shortstop and upgraded the position. The Brewers did not. Right now, that’s the main difference.

A week ago, I’d have picked the Brewers to win the division. Now, I’m not so sure. Amazingly, they’re a weaker team after the trade deadline than they were a week before it. It’s likely to be close the rest of the way, and the Cards still look pretty shaky in their bullpen, but the fact is the Brewers didn’t do as much as they could have to improve. It’s very frustrating.

At this point, if the Brewers miss the playoffs, Melvin has nowhere to look but himself. He mortgaged the future (a move I agreed with), and he’s the one who left Betancourt and McGehee alone to suck all season. I doubt he survives if those decisions end up costing them a playoff spot.

Cornucopia of Vents

Posted by Steve

There is so much to say about the Brewers right now, and none of it is good.

————

Braun’s calf strain really has Roenicke in a bind, so I won’t complain too much about the lineups the last couple games. But the ineptitude of the bench has been highlighted, and that is certainly something open to fair criticism. Craig Counsell, Josh Wilson, and Mark Kotsay each have no business on an MLB roster–Counsell and Kotsay because age has caught up with them, and Wilson because he just isn’t good. Kotsay in particular needs to hit the road, as there are multiple options in AAA who would be an improvement.

————

Casey McGehee is absolutely killing the team. He followed up a very bad May (.593 OPS) with a woeful June (.422(!) OPS). According to WAR, he’s been the seventh-most damaging player in baseball to this point. At the very least, he needs to be platooned for a while with Taylor Green (or I guess Mat Gamel, but Green’s the better defender). Preferably, though, I’d like to see McGehee sent to AAA for a few weeks to see if he can figure anything out. He can’t be allowed to hurt the team like this any longer.

————

Zack Greinke is having the most baffling, bizarre, frustrating season of any pitcher in baseball. That isn’t hyperbole. He’s inspired three fangraphs articles already this season, and the most recent one is fascinating.

To summarize, his xFIP is 3.51 runs lower than his ERA! Since 2002, The biggest gap between xFIP and ERA since 2002 is 1.88! Greinke has been about twice as unlucky as the most unlucky pitcher in the last nine years! Just unbelievable.

————

Want to hear an infuriating stat?

This season, Kameron Loe has faced 87 right-handers and 86 left-handers.

For someone whose splits clearly prove he’s a right-handed specialist, Loe is being used terribly.

Roenicke is just as inept as Ned Yost when it comes to bullpen management. The “eight inning guy” thing is moronic. He has four solid pitchers who can effectively bridge the gap to Axford when used correctly, but Runnin’ Ron has shown no ability to do that. Braddock, Saito, and Hawkins can all be high-leverage guys, as can Loe when it’s against right-handers. RRR needs to look at Loe’s splits and chuck out his eighth inning guy theory.

————

Yuniesky Betancourt has been on a bit of a run here the last handful of games. He has raised his OBP to .261, which is sort of like saying you upgraded from Roundy’s brand toilet paper to Scott’s single-ply.

What hasn’t upgraded is his defense. Fangraphs has Betancourt as the worst qualified shortstop defensively.

Q: What do you get when you combine the second-worst OBP at shortstop with the worst defense at shortstop?

A: The worst full time player in Brewers history!

————

Really, the only good thing to discuss is that the Brewers have three All-Star starters, but there is even some frustration there. John Axford was a pretty bad snub from the All-Star Game. Bruce Bochy chose Brian Wilson over Axford. While awesome, Wilson has been pretty bad this season. And you know Bochy will use him as a closer. Can’t wait to see him walk a couple guys and blow a save in the game.

And then there’s Rickie Weeks. I’m thrilled to finally see him get the recognition he’s deserved for a couple years now. It’s cool that he’ll get the exposure of the home run derby. It’s just unfortunate that it’s coinciding with a terrible (yet under-the-radar) slump. Weeks is really struggling, and his numbers have plummeted over the last 3-4 weeks.

————

It seems the All-Star Break can’t come soon enough for the Crew. Hopefully at that point, Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke will realize both the bench and bullpen management need a major overhaul.

Brewers: Time to realize Rickie Weeks is elite.

Posted by Steve

By all accounts, the Brewers have had a great off-season. Doug Melvin deserves a ton of credit for turning the team into a contender, and 2011 has the potential to be a great year. Something has seemingly slipped through the cracks, though, and it threatens to result in a huge step backward after this season: Rickie Weeks has set a deadline of Spring Training to negotiate a contract extension.

Signing Rickie Weeks has never really seemed a top priority to the Brewers, although plenty of fans felt it should be. There’s actually a thread about extending weeks on Brewerfan that started April 10 of last season, and at that time, the Brewers could have had him dirt cheap. Now it seems the Brewers are still trying to act like they have a ton of leverage, despite the fact they don’t have much at all.

Take this concerning post from Adam McCalvy, for example. Gord Ash has some interesting–okay, I’ll just say it–incorrect assessments of their situation with Rickie Weeks. Here’s a particularly worrisome quote:

We still have time, but if there’s a belief on Genske’s [Weeks' agent] side that Rickie Weeks is similar to Dan Uggla, then we’re going to have a problem.

This is in reference to the 5-year $62 million deal Dan Uggla just signed with the Braves. Saying Rickie Weeks is a very good second baseman shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but maybe this one is: There’s a huge problem with saying Weeks isn’t on Dan Uggla’s level, because Weeks deserves to be paid more than Uggla.

Please allow me to explain why.

There’s little doubt Weeks is elite. He’s easily a top 5 second baseman, and likely top 3. His WAR of 6.1 was second in baseball among second baseman last season and 13th (!) among all players at any position. He was the Brewers’ best player last season. Even in the three seasons prior to 2010, he still performed at a level above average.

Not that Dan Uggla should be an end-all-be-all, but since Gord went out of his way to bring him up, we might as well make the comparison.

Yes, Uggla had a better offensive season than Weeks, but he was not as valuable, because he cannot play second base. Uggla was way, way below average defensively, while Fangraphs had Weeks as slightly above average. Not only that, but Weeks is two and a half years younger than Uggla!

So Weeks was a better player than Uggla last year, and is two and a half years younger…. You tell me who should get more money.

The maddening thing is that every impression we’ve been given is if the Brewers duplicated Uggla’s offer to Weeks, he’d sign it in a second. That’s a very fair price for Weeks, yet the Brewers just won’t do it. Let’s look at another quote from Gord.

He’s looking at the player Rickie was this year and [assuming] he will be that going forward. Clearly, Rickie is a player we really value in terms of his dedication and his professionalism and his approach to the game, but we’ve had some uneven history here in terms of performance.

No, we haven’t. Rickie’s production has always been good to great. The only thing uneven has been his health. His defense turned around after 2008, and his offensive performance has been well above average in each season since 2007. Clearly, Gord is saying Rickie hasn’t earned Uggla’s contract because he has missed a significant amount of time.

How about one last quote?

“The facts are that Uggla is in a different salary level — he’s an elite player. He can compare himself to some Hall of Fame players. He’s had an historic start. Rickie — we love him, but he’s not to that level yet.”

Basically, Gord is saying Rickie doesn’t deserve Uggla’s money because he hasn’t accomplished what Uggla has to this point. My response: Why should that matter one bit?

This is a huge problem with contracts that are given out all across the league. Players are paid for what they’ve done when they should really be paid for what they’ll do. That Uggla has had a better career to this point is irrelevant. The question the Brewers need to answer is who will be the better player over the course of the next five years. Based on defense and age, all signs point to Rickie.

Yes, Weeks had some injuries. But the only concern there should be whether he’d be able to produce at a high level again. Last year he showed beyond all doubt that he can. There’s no reason to look at some injuries that held him out in 2007 and 2009 and hold them against him in 2012 and beyond.

I know I’m reaching the point of rambling here, but I can’t overstate Rickie’s importance enough. The Brewers offered Prince Fielder $100 million, and Weeks is the better player! Sure, Prince is a better hitter, but Weeks is a better all-around player. It’s all based on position scarcity. Put it this way. If you had a great hitter who could play any position at an elite level, you’d pick catcher–it’s the most difficult position to play, and it’s why Joe Mauer is so freaking valuable. After catcher you’d pick shortstop, and then second base. Weeks plays a difficult position at an acceptable level, and it’s why his bat is so much more valuable than if he played left field or first base.

From a Brewers perspective specifically, they pretty much need to re-sign Weeks. Fielder is as good as gone, so they’ll need to keep Weeks’ bat in the lineup if they don’t want a huge drop-off after this season. Additionally, I’m sure the Brewers would like to re-sign Zack Greinke and even Shawn Marcum. Well, good luck convincing them to stay if both Fielder and Weeks leave the team.

To this point, the Brewers have botched their handling of Rickie Weeks, but there’s still time to rectify it. They just need to recognize that he’s an elite player and pay him accordingly.

So, what next?

Posted by Steve

It’s getting to be that time. The baseball off-season is upon us. Baseball’s off-season is, without a doubt, the most entertaining off-season in major U.S. sports. Trading is rampant, and we usually see at least one three-team deal. We’ve already had our first major trade of the year. The GM meetings are underway, and the Winter Meetings are just a couple weeks off. Ohhh boy.

As far as the Brewers are concerned, they could go in any number of directions. Trade Prince Fielder or keep him? Trade prospects or target them? Heck, there’s even been rumblings of Ryan Braun being available, though I’d be shocked if he was traded.

Most people will say the Brewers’ most glaring weakness in 2010 was their starting rotation. As is often the case, most people are wrong. Ha, just kidding… But I don’t actually think their rotation was their biggest problem. Their pitching was below average, but it was made even worse because of their awful defense.

The Brewers had the biggest gap in the National League between their starting rotation’s ERA (4.65) and their starting rotation’s xFIP (4.40). xFIP is like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) except it “normalizes” it based on the average number of home runs allowed per outfield fly. Theoretically, this should be a better predictor of a pitcher’s future ERA (Explanation taken from The Hardball Times).

Anywho, all I’m saying in that long-winded paragraph is that the pitching was made worse by the Brewers’ terrible team defense. Fielder, Braun, Hart, and McGehee were all well below average. At least one of those players needs to be replaced with a defensive upgrade, or the pitching won’t look great next year either.

The Brewers had enough problems last season that they could conceivably trade Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, hoard young players, punt 2011, and reload for 2012. At the same time, the division looks to be quite winnable. The Brewers have a lot to improve upon from last season, but at the same time, a few shrewd moves could put them right back in contention. There are many scenarios, but the main issue this off-season revolves around whether they hold on to Fielder. Let’s look at each scenario.

Prince Fielder is traded

Let’s say Fielder is traded–something most media members seem to expect. We have to assume the Brewers will get a MLB-ready pitcher from this deal, presumably a fairly young one. The question then becomes: Who will replace Fielder? Do they move Mat Gamel or Casey McGehee to first? Do they sign a free agent first baseman, say, Derek Lee, to replace Fielder? Or do they go a bit further outside the box and move one of their below average defenders in the corner outfield, Ryan Braun or Corey Hart, to first base? And if they do that, do they try and break the bank for Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford? Doubtful, but the Brewers do have a good chunk of money to spend this off-season.

Prince Fielder is kept

Let’s say the Brewers don’t find a deal they love and decide to hold on to Fielder. How, then, do they acquire pitching? Do they try the free agent route again? That hasn’t worked very well for them in recent years. They’re not going to be serious players for Cliff Lee. Hiroki Kuroda was someone I would have loved to see in a Brewer uniform, but the Dodgers just re-signed him. Still, there are possible values out there: Carl Pavano, Bronson Arroyo, and Vicente Padilla were all better than everyone on the Brewers but Yovani Gallardo last season. There are also some great buy-low candidates: Brandon Webb, Javier Vazquez, Erik Bedard, or Justin Duchscherer could bring real value.

Otherwise, there’s the trade route. But if not Fielder, who do they trade? Rickie Weeks has great value, but Brett Lawrie isn’t ready quite yet to fill in at second. Please no McGehee at second; he was bad enough at third. They could trade Braun and presumably get a great pitcher back.  Braun, however, is a great hitter made even more valuable by his team-friendly contract. Plus, the Brewers would be faced with having neither Fielder nor Braun in 2012 and beyond. Other candidates for a trade would be Casey McGehee, Mat Gamel, or any of their prospects.

So, what will happen?

All we’ve really done so far is discuss endless possibilities, and that really only muddled the situation. Now that we’ve been over the different possibilities, I suppose you want to know what will actually happen. Here’s what I’ll call…

Steve’s best guess

If someone for some reason held a gun to my head and forced me to say whether the Brewers will trade Prince Fielder this off-season, my answer would actually be no. I could certainly be wrong, but I just don’t expect them to get the value they want for him. He’s only got one year left, plays the easiest position on the diamond, and teams have other viable options at first base on the free agent market. If yesterday was any indication of what a slugger with one year until free agency is worth, things aren’t too encouraging. Dan Uggla was more valuable than Prince Fielder last year (based on positional value), and all the Marlins got was Omar Infante and Mike Dunn (a promising-looking pitcher but only a reliever). If that’s the return the Brewers are looking at for Prince, I really hope they’d pass.

Instead, I’m guessing they hold on to Prince and use prospects to trade for pitching. My guess is Brett Lawrie is as likely as anyone in the Brewers’ organization to be dealt. He’s a great positional prospect, yet he’s expendable if the Brewers re-sign Rickie Weeks. Lawrie can be used as a main piece to acquire an impact pitcher.

I might as well throw out my dream scenario. Notice I said dream scenario and not pipe dream, because I believe it’s quite attainable. If I’m Doug Melvin, I’m making a serious run at Zack Greinke.

Here’s why I really think it could happen. First, it’s been reported that the Royals are listening to offers. Dayton Moore (incidentally, a bad GM) has admitted that he’ll need to trade Greinke if they can’t work out an extension. Secondly, Doug Melvin has shown he’s willing to trade elite prospects for elite pitchers. Obviously there’s CC Sabathia, but there’s even the deal with Toronto last year for Roy Halladay that Halladay vetoed; you can bet Lawrie was in that deal. Third, it could happen because there’s a good chance Greinke would allow it. He has the ability to block a trade to 20 teams. Normally that would mean Milwaukee would be out, but it has been widely reported that Greinke has no desire to pitch in New York or a big market. Finally, the Brewers can afford his $13.5 million contract each of the next two seasons while other small or mid-market teams may not be able to.

Those are all things working in the Brewers’ favor with Greinke.

So, here’s my dream off-season that’s so dreamy that it will never come true:

  • Keep Prince Fielder unless you get blown away. Re-examine a trade at the trade deadline.
  • Send a package that includes anything up to both Brett Lawrie and Jake Odorizzi as the main pieces for Zack Greinke. If they prefer Mark Rogers or Jeremy Jeffress instead, fine. That’s a ton to give up, but the division is winnable, and neither Lawrie nor Odorizzi will contribute next season at the major league level.
  • Extend Rickie Weeks, as he will now be needed long-term with Lawrie gone.
  • Sign one of the free agent starters I mentioned above to a short-term contract.
  • We can’t forget about improving the defense. With Braun and Hart locked up long-term, and Fielder sticking around one more season, that means McGehee. Oh, by the way, Bill James has his 2011 projections out. His line for Casey McGehee: .282/.339/.451. His line for Mat Gamel: .287/.359/.469. Looks like I’m not the only one who prefers Gamel. Trade McGehee for the best value you can get, whether that is something at the MLB level or to replenish the farm system.

That leaves the Brewers with essentially the same good offense as 2010, except for Gamel in for McGehee. It gives them a starting rotation of:

1. Greinke
2. Gallardo
3. Wolf
4. Mystery Free Agent
5. Narveson/Parra/Capuano

The only downside is my scenario doesn’t improve the defense as much as I’d have liked. Still, it does switch out the slow-footed McGehee for the rangier Gamel at third.

That team is drastically better than last year’s and would certainly contend in the NL Central.

So, hop to it Doug. I’m sure it’s that easy, right?