Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who Could Catch Next Season?

In my most recent post, I focused on the starting pitching market available via the free agent market. The Brewers have some holes to fill in order to catch the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs talent in 2010. One of those holes is behind the plate.

This season was Jason Kendall's second in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. After a good season with the glove in 2008, Kendall has completely regressed this season. During both of his two seasons he has struggled mightily with the bat. This season, Kendall has posted a .239/.329/.295/.624 line (avg/obp/slug/ops) in 435 at bats. That line belongs nowhere near the major leagues, let alone starting everyday. The catching spot is something that needs to be improved to close the gap in the NL Central.

With Kendall becoming a free agent at seasons end, what can the Brewers do in order to improve? Well, step one is going to be cutting ties with him. Kendall was once an amazing player in Pittsburgh, but those days are behind him. The way Kendall has regressed year after year should only be more proof to the Brewers of what to expect in 2010.

The internal options the Brewers have aren't much more appealing. Mike Rivera should not be an everyday catcher. In the minors, the Brewers have some options in Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy. After his amazing 2008 in AA, Salome has struggled at AAA this season. He will be option down the road, but next season he won't be ready. Lucroy has looked very good at AA this season posting an OBP of .380 and a OPS of .800. Even so, Lucroy, like Salome, will not be ready next season.

Rather than discussing the endless trade rumors that are often thrown around, I am going to focus on what will be available in free agency. Below is a list of free agent catchers.

Brad Ausmus
Paul Bako
Rod Barajas
Josh Bard
Michael Barrett (club option)
Henry Blanco
Ramon Castro
Sal Fasano
Toby Hall
Ramon Hernandez ($8.5M club option that won't be exercised)
Jason Kendall
Jason LaRue
Bengie Molina
Jose Molina
Miguel Olivo ($3.25M mutual option)
Mike Redmond
Ivan Rodriguez
Brian Schneider
Yorvit Torrealba ($4M mutual option)
Javier Valentin
Jason Varitek ($5M club option)
Vance Wilson
Gregg Zaun ($2M club option)

One name on that list that has been thrown around is Bengie Molina. Molina is the kind of player that would be a huge mistake. To the common fan, his 18 HR's and 75 RBI's look appealing, but one look at his OBP screams stay away. He currently sports a .280 OBP, batiing cleanup for the San Francisco Giants. His .425 slugging % is good for a catcher, but he should never be batting fourth in any lineup. No wonder the Giants rank 27th in runs scored. If you're looking for a reference point to describe Molina, think Johnny Estrada during his one season in Milwaukee. Their numbers are almost identical. Undoubtedly, some GM is going to overpay for Molina and give his a multi-year deal. Say what you will about Doug Melvin, but he rarely makes those kind of mistakes.

Going through the catchers, I keep thinking just how bad this list is. There are really multiple options on that list that look all that appealing. However, the one name that could work would be Ramon Castro. Castro has struggled since being traded to the White Sox this season, but that has only been in 68 at bats. He has shown a decent ability to get on base, while posting above average power numbers for a catcher. Along with that, Castro is pretty good defensively. This season he has thrown out 17 of 47 would be base stealers. That line is good for a 36% throw out % and is much better than the 20% currently given by Kendall.

Castro was considered expendable by the Mets earlier this season when they fell in love with Omir Santos after a good couple of at bats. When his name was being thrown around in trade rumors, I thought the Brewers should pounce.

Castro will not be the next Joe Mauer, but he could provide a stop-gap at catcher while Lucroy and Salome continue to progress through the minor leagues. I don't think it is out of the question to think Castro could post a line of .250/.325/.415/.740 for the Brewers next season, while playing above average defense. He would come cheaply to the Brewers next season. I highly doubt the market for Castro will be off the charts. It is not inconceivable to think that a one year deal worth around $2 million could get it done.

With that being said, this list should be evidence of how important developing a young catcher is. It gives the Twins such a huge advantage to pencil Joe Mauer everyday into a spot that rarely yields much offensive production. Hopefully Lucroy and Salome will develop into solid catchers, but that will not happen this offseason. The Brewers need to bridge the gap and the best option that I can see would be Castro. That is, unless a good trade offer comes around.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Looking at the Market

The Brewers have had a rough season this year. A lot of the blame has been placed on the starting pitching, and rightly so. Brewers pitching has been terrible this season. They currently ranked second to last in the national league in ERA, so let's focus on what might be available this offseason.

I am a believer in not giving huge, multi-year contracts to pitchers. Sure some pitchers do work out, but if that pitcher were to go down the Brewers franchise would be reeling for many years to come. Some teams are able to get away with a terrible contract, but not the Brewers, especially with so many young players coming to their free agency years. Anyway, below is a list of starting pitchers whose contracts expire after this year. I am only going to list pitchers that I would actually have impact for a major league team.

Erik Bedard
Jose Contreras
Doug Davis
Justin Duchscherer
Rich Harden
Tim Hudson ($12MM mutual option)
Randy Johnson
John Lackey
Brett Myers
Carl Pavano
Brad Penny
Andy Pettitte
Joel Pineiro
Ben Sheets
John Smoltz
Jarrod Washburn
Brandon Webb (Club Option that might not be exercised)
Randy Wolf

Out of that list of pitchers, there are a lot of different directions that the Brewers could go. The top tier starters include Bedard, Harden, Hudson (if option not picked up), Lackey, Pineiro and Webb. All of those pitchers are going to expect a hefty pay day. Pineiro seems like an interesting option. He is having a career year for the Cardinals. His control is amazing and he posses the ability to induce groundballs. Currently he leads the major leagues in groundball percentage at around 63%. I'm sure he would be a great pitcher to plug into the 2010 rotation, but the Brewers need to look for a better deal that wouldn't hurt the budget so much.

The most appealing option for the Brewers would be a one year deal. There is a small amount of risk that goes into that type of deal. If the player doesn't pan out, you can just cut your losses. On that list, there are a couple of pitchers that could drastically improve the Brewers staff next season. My personal favorites are Justin Duchscherer and Carl Pavano.

Duchscherer is coming off an injury and will likely have to take a pay cut. He was one of the best pitchers in the American League prior to the injury and would transition nicely into the National League Central. The only problem with Duchscherer are the unanswered questions. Is he the same pitcher? How seriously did the injury hurt the remainder of his career? Those are the same questions that will be asked by every team in baseball interesting in him. This is why I feel he could be had for a one year, incentive based deal.

Anyone that reads this blog knows how much I like Carl Pavano. I was hoping the Brewers would trade for him near the deadline. He has pitched well since going to the Twins near the deadline. Pavano's numbers aren't mind blowing upon first look, but he is a good pitcher. His K/BB ratio is off the charts. He has struck out 127 batters in 176 innings, while only walking 35. He currently sports a 4.91 ERA between Cleveland and Minnesota. With his higher ERA he might not have a ton of interest this offseason. With the market for him down, the Brewers could pounce on him for a cheap contract.

However, before these decisions are made, the Brewers have some options that need to be addressed. Mike Cameron's contract is going to be up after this year. He wants to return to Milwaukee, but many have questioned if Cameron's money could be spent better with a starting pitcher. I think Cameron is a huge part of this club. Losing him means losing one of the best run producing centerfielders in the league.

The Brewers also have an option on Braden Looper that needs to be decided. He is owed $6.5 million next year if the option is exercised. My question is, what has Looper shown the Brewers to justify this option being picked up? His fly ball and walk ratios are both up. His strikeouts are down. He leads the league in HR allowed, setting a club record in the process. Why would the Brewers think of shedding Cameron's money, only to give $6.5 million to Looper? I think Looper is a little better than he has pitched this year, but the other options out there seem to be much better.

We are looking at one fun offseason. There are so many different ways the Brewers can go. Let's just hope the right decisions are made. Today is the one year anniversary of the Brewers clinching the NL Wildcard. If the right decisions are made, next year could be just as exciting as 2008. The window for this franchise is closing. Fielder will likely be gone after 2011. The front office needs to decide how seriously they think they can win. If 2010 looks like a tough time to win, then Fielder needs to be traded. If 2010 looks hopeful, and I think it can be, they need to strike now.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lopez Maintaining Type A Status; Kendall Falling

The latest Elias Sports Bureau rankings just came out with good news for the Brewers. With his hot bat since coming to Milwaukee, Felipe Lopez has now solidified himself as a type A free agent. Jason Kendall continues to struggle and is on the verge of losing his type B status. Here is the link to the MLB trade rumors column that has all the players if you're interested. So, what does this mean for the Brewers?

A type A free agent, if lost, allows the team losing him to gain compensation picks. With a type A, the team signing that players loses one of their top draft picks. If the team was in the bottom 15 in standings, they lose their second round pick. If a team is one of the best 15 in the league, they forfeit their first round pick. Also, the team losing his receives a sandwich pick between the first and second round. Needless to say, these draft picks are very valuable.

Lopez has played great all season long. He will be looked at by many different teams this offseason who need to fill a void at second base. The Brewers are surely going to offer Lopez arbitration in order to have a chance at these draft picks. In a perfect world, Lopez would be signed by a top team giving the Brewers two additional first round picks. Problem is things don't always go the way you would like.

Last season Juan Cruz and Mark Grudzielanek were type A free agents. Because of their type A status, they were completely ignored in the free agent market. Teams didn't want to part with a first round pick for a setup man and an aging second baseman. With the market for Cruz dwindling, he settled for a 2yr/$6 million deal with the Royals, which is well below market value for a reliever of his caliber. Grudzielanek wasn't quite so lucky. He had to wait until after the draft to be signed by the Twins. Because it was after the draft, the Twins didn't owe the Royals any compensation.

I'm not saying that either case will happen to Lopez. He is coming off an amazing season, but how willing would some teams be with losing a top pick? The Brewers might have to get creative with this one. A possibility might be to look at what the Diamondbacks almost did last offseason with Cruz.

The Diamondbacks were looking at a sign and trade option in order to assure teams that they would keep their picks. If this was done with Lopez, a decent package would be coming back in return. Sure the Brewers would lose their chance at draft picks, but they might be able to pry a young arm away from a team in desperate need of a second baseman. A player acquired via the trade market will be further developed than one gained via the draft. This team is in desperate need of arms in their system.

These options would not be available if not for the great play of Lopez since the trade. One can only think of the possibilities that were opened up when Lopez was acquired back in July.

The other Brewers name of note that I mentioned was Jason Kendall. Kendall has been listed as a solid type B free agent all season. Kendall is hitting just .194 in the month of September. Due to his lack of production, he has slipped in the rankings. He is the second to last ranked type B catcher. If he continues to struggle in the last games of the season, it is not inconceivable to think that he might lose his type B status.

Many would think that losing his status might hurt the Brewers, but I am not in that thinking. My main concern about next season is Kendall coming back. He is way past his prime and is one of the worst everyday players in major league baseball. If he stays a type B free agent, it worries me to think that the Brewers might offer him arbitration, thinking that another team will sign him, giving the Brewers a sandwich pick in next years draft. I highly doubt that Kendall's services are going to be in demand this offseason. If he is offered arbitration by the Brewers, he is likely the starting catcher in 2010. However, if he loses his type B status, the Brewers might just let him go. With no chance at compensation, the odds of Kendall returning diminish.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What is going on?

The Brewers current situation is way to familiar to Milwaukee baseball fans. They are out of the playoffs and essentially playing for nothing. When teams are in this situation they allow younger players to get their feet wet and see what they have, or so I thought.

I was at each of the Brewers last two games. I have been eager to see the young players get some time. Last night, I logged onto the internet prior to leaving for the game and saw that, yet again, Mat Gamel was not in the lineup.

I have frequently been disappointed that Gamel has not seen playing time. Casey McGehee has gotten the majority of the starts at the hot corner. I somewhat understand why McGehee has been playing. The Brewers have been trying to give him a chance at winning the rookie of the year award. McGehee is one thing, Craig Counsell is quite another.

Counsell started last nights game at third base and batted second. Surprisingly enough this is not a rare occasion.

The Brewers have a tough decision the rest of the way at shortstop. They are trying to get playing time for Alcides Escobar, while at the same time trying to raise J.J. Hardy's trade value. For some reason that is beyond me, Counsell has recently started at shortstop. There is already to little playing time to go around at shortstop and third base, so why is Counsell starting? The Brewers don't benefit one bit by playing Counsell this month.

Gamel and Escobar aren't the only young players that have been ignored this month.

Arguably, the Brewers best pitching prospect is Josh Butler. With Manny Parra going down, and Gallardo being shut down, September would be a great time to use him in the rotation. Instead, an open rotation spot has gone to Chris Narveson. I don't think Narveson is a bad pitcher, but he has nowhere near the amount of upside of Josh Butler.

I still have tickets to three more game this season (one of the bad things that can happen when you buy season tickets). Come on Ken, give me some reason to have an interest in the games.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Centerfield in 2010

The Brewers have some decisions to make this offseason. The pitching struggles have been well documented, but another question mark arises in center field.

You will never meet a bigger fan of Mike Cameron than me. His combination of power, speed, range and great eye are rare in CF. He has already stated how much he likes Milwaukee and would sign under market value here. With that said, market value could still be rather expensive. Let's say that Cameron is asking $8-10 million for next season. If the Brewers were to pass on Cameron, that money could be used in the free agent market. The real question is what can the Brewers expect out of Jody Gerut.

Gerut was widely criticized after his trade to Milwaukee. I think it was a combination of his early struggles, coupled with who he was traded for. Before we go any further, let's look at what Tony Gwynn Jr (TGJ) has done while playing everyday in San Diego. In 357 at bats, Gwynn is posting a line of .266/.344/.333 for an incredibly low .677 OPS. Yes, he is fast, but you can't steal first base. TGJ is not an everyday player. He should be nothing more than a fourth outfielder. He is given too much credit for his name alone.

Lately, with playing time has come production. The bat has come around and he looks like he has the ability of an everyday major league centerfielder. Throughout his career he has always been a good hitter with above average defense. I really don't think it is out of the question to expect Gerut to put up a line similar to his 2008. In pitcher friendly Petco Park in San Diego, Gerut hit .296 in 328 at bats, while posting a .351 OBP. Even more remarkable, Gerut was somehow able to post a slugging percentage of .494, while hitting 14 home runs.

This argument hinges entirely on what the Brewers are getting out of Gerut. Cameron's offensive numbers are going to be there. Gerut's are, at best, not guaranteed. The question is, is the risk of losing Cameron worth the money saved?

Personally I think not. Gerut is going to be back cheaply next season anyway. He would be an excellent option as a fourth outfielder. Could he start? Yes. Should he be given the job over Cameron after what Mike has done the last two seasons? No, in my opinion.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Prince to Reign in San Fran?

Recently, I have heard numerous reports stating that the Brewers would be open to trading Prince Fielder this offseason. My response to that statement is, why not? I believe in the thinking that no player in untouchable. You could say that this is the case for Ryan Braun, but if the Giants offered Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, Braun would be traded. So what could the Brewers get in return for Prince Fielder?

The main team that I have heard is the San Francisco Giants. Currently, Travis Ishikawa is the everyday first baseman for the Giants. He is one of the least productive first basemen in baseball. A trade for Fielder would help solidify an offense that ranks near the bottom in every offensive category in baseball.

The Giants also have the pieces to get a trade done. The first rumor that I heard was Prince Fielder for Matt Cain. Cain is a great pitcher and will get some votes for this years Cy Young award. Cain would be an interesting option, but something I think the Brewers should avoid. The other package that is being thrown out there is Fielder for the Giants top two prospects. Those prospects are Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. This is the trade, if offered, the Brewers should jump at.

Both prospects have dominated the minor leagues. Buster Posey is the top ranked catching prospect (now that Matt Wieters is in the major leagues), and Bumgarner is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.

What makes Posey so valuable is the position he is able to play. Posey, 22, is a catcher that has an ability to hit. He is currently blocked in San Francisco by Bengie Molina. Molina is a free agent in the offseason, but the Giants have expressed interest in retaining his services. Molina has always hit decently for power, but his on base percentage is awful. He currently carries a .283 OBP and hits cleanup everyday. Maybe that's the reason the Giants are so offensively challenged.

Anyway, back to Posey. This season, between A-AAA, Posey hit .325 in 422 at bats. His OBP was an amazing .416, while boasting a .531 slugging percentage. That equates to an OPS of .974 out of, let me repeated, a catcher. That kind of production in Milwaukee out of the backstop would be unbelievable.

The other prospect in this proposed deal would be Bumgarner. Bumgarner, 20, is something that the Brewers are severely lacking. He is a young, developed starting pitcher. In his first two seasons of pro ball, Bumgarner has been amazing. He is 27-5 with a 1.65 ERA. He has struck out 256 batters in 273 innings, while only walking 55. A rotation that contains Bumgarner and Gallardo just gets me giddy with excitement.

The best thing about these two players is how long they are controlled for. Bumgarner and Posey were just called up for the first time. That means that they have another five seasons before they hit free agency. Fielder is controlled through 2011, but is unlikely to remain in Milwaukee past then. A team like Milwaukee is not able to let him walk without receiving compensation. A Bumgarner/Posey package would put this franchise in good shape for many seasons to come.

Losing Fielder would hurt the offensive production in 2010, but it wouldn't demolish the offense. A first baseman who can hit can be found. Just look at what the Seattle Mariners were able to get for $1 million this offseason with Russell Branyan. First baseman can be replaced, but stud prospects like Bumgarner and Posey only come around so often.

This trade just seems to make so much sense for both teams. The Giants would be getting a great hitter to shore up their lackluster offense, and the Brewers would get a young catcher and starting pitcher (two things this franchise needs). The Giants have the money to sign Fielder past 2011. The Brewers don't have this great fortune, so trading him now, rather than waiting makes sense. If they wait until next year, the chips coming back will be substantially less.

Prince Fielder is one of my favorite players. He is an amazing hitter. What he has done this season is truly remarkable, but this trade would be too much to pass up. No matter how much I like Fielder, two years of his service is not worth what the Giants are reported willing to part with. I would love to see him back as a Brewer next season, but if this trade happens, the Brewers are set for the future. Either way, strap in Brewers fans, this is going to be one exciting offseason.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Possible Rotation Option in 2010?

I stumbled across this video a while back and thought you readers would enjoy it.

Here's the link.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Some Things I Just Can't Fathom

There are certain things in baseball that are difficult to understand. Why is the foul pole in fair territory? Why does Ozzie Guillen think that Nick Punto is a good hitter? Why would the Mets trade Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano? Some things are just confusing.

That brings me to Wednesday's Brewers/Cardinals game. When I logged onto the internet, I noticed that the Brewers were not starting Mat Gamel. The Brewers have zero chance of making the playoffs, so why would he not play? Isn't the point of September to get your prospects consistent at bats? Instead, Craig Counsell was given the nod over Gamel.

I have nothing against Counsell. He has had a great season, but the Brewers gain nothing by playing him over Gamel. Why would the Brewers even call up Gamel if he wasn't going to play. It is just a waste of his service time.

Anyway, this was not the most confusing thing that happened in Wednesday's game.

The Brewers were trailing the Cardinals 5-0 entering the bottom of the eight inning. Adam Wainwright was spinning an absolute gem for the Cardinals through seven. The Brewers had the pitchers spot leading off the eight inning. Promptly, Ken Macha went to his bench and called on Gamel to pinch hit. As soon as Gamel was announced, Tony LaRussa popped out of the dugout and pulled Wainwright in favor of Trever Miller.

The move that LaRussa made seemed to play right into the Brewers hands. As I mentioned in the post before this, Gamel absolutely kills left handed pitching.

Trever Miller is having an incredible season in St. Louis. He has dominated left handed hitters all season long. This, to me, seemed like a great opportunity for Gamel to face a tough lefty. So after listening to the radio commercial break, I was ready to see what Gamel could do.

When the game came back on the air, it was announced that Gamel had been pulled back. Instead of letting Gamel hit, Macha went to the bench and summoned Jason Bourgeois. This was a huge head scratcher for me. Why would Macha pull back one of our top prospects in favor of 27 year old journeyman outfielder? Without realizing that this game meant very little to the Brewers, lets look at some of the basic reasons you could think off.

Gamel-Miller would be a lefty-lefty matchup.

True, but as I have already mentioned, Gamel kills left handed pitching. Miller is tough on lefties, but I'll take my chances.

Bourgeois is a right handed batter and would fair better against Miller.

Bourgeois, actually is a better hitter against right handed pitchers. This season at AAA, he was hitting righties to a .325 clip, while batting .293 vs lefties.

If the Brewers seriously have thoughts about Jason Bourgeois next season, they are in trouble. Maybe my thoughts on Bourgeois are a bit harsh. I was at the game on Sunday when Bourgeois batted second and went 0-6.

The most confusing thing to me is what are the Brewers going to do next season. I think the perception of Gamel is that he is a platoon player in Macha's mind. This guy can flat out rake if he plays everyday. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if McGehee platooned everyday with Gamel next season. If this is the case, the Brewers would be wasting a great talent. Gamel should be starting everyday for the rest of this season, not being used as a bluff card.

Should Macha be Fired?

When the Brewers hired Ken Macha this past offseason I was excited. I knew that he had managed in Oakland under Billy Beane. I figured that under during his time in Oakland he understood some of the basic principles of managing. I also thought, how could he be any worse than Ned Yost?

My excitement continued to grow as he began making comments. He stated how he didn't want to waste outs on the bases. On a side note, nothing angers me more than watching some one get thrown out stealing a base. A team like the Brewers relies mainly on power and getting on base. There is no sense in risking runners and giving away outs when many players on this team are able to hit extra base hits.

When the season started, I liked Macha's managing style even more. One of the most frustrating things about Yost was his constant tinkering with the lineup. Macha seemed to get comfortable with his order and not give a ton of off days. I remember last season when Prince Fielder was sat in order to get some rest. Yost inserted Mike Rivera in Fielder's 1st base spot. I, for the life of me can't understand why Prince Fielder would need a rest. He plays the least stressful position on the field. With that being said, Macha seemed to have a particular order that he stuck with. I liked that.

Sure it was easy to say that Macha was a good manager after the good first two months of the season, but then things started to turn.

Macha was dealt a bad hand with the Brewers rotation. They have simply been awful this season. It's not only that the starters were unable to keep opponents off the board, they were unable to go deep into games. Because of this, Macha was forced to extensively use his bullpen.

The main reason the Brewers started so well was the bullpen success in the first two months. These guys were simply untouchable, but when the workload increased, their effectiveness was killed. This is my biggest beef with Macha. He completely ran this bullpen into the ground this season. Todd Coffey will be back next season, but it is tough to know what we are going to get out of him. Macha has abused his arm this season with multiple outings in consequective days. On top of that, Macha has forced Coffey into many high pitch counts. Just a couple of weeks ago Macha used Coffey for three innings in a loss to the Reds. What is the point of risking Coffey's arm at this point in the season?

More alarming than his bullpen work is how he has managed young players.

When Rickie Weeks was lost for the season, the Brewers called up Mat Gamel. Gamel is a great prospect who has an amazing bat. He bats lefty, but is quite the opposite of many other lefties. He absolutely kills left handed pitching. His career splits are amazing. This season, he is hitting .338 with an on base percentage of .386. This has lead to an OPS of 1.075 against southpaws. That is compared to his disappointing .752 OPS against righties. Macha platooned Gamel, which I disagreed with, but could somewhat understand. Problem is, Macha used Gamel to face righties exclusively instead of lefties, which he has crushed throughout his career. Sure Gamel struggled in the majors. That was probably because he wasn't allowed to face what he could actually hit. There was no reason that Gamel should have lost any at bats to Bill Hall.

When J.J. Hardy was sent down, the Brewers playoff hopes were all but gone. He was replaced with Alcides Escobar. This was the perfect time to play Escobar everyday and see what he can do. Instead, Macha used him in a platoon with Craig Counsell. If your going to waste Escobar's service time in the major leagues, why even call him up? Young players need consistent at bats. Counsell has played well this season, but playing him does absolutely nothing at this point.

The last straw for me has been what has been going on lately. The last two days Macha has leadoff with Corey Patterson. How Corey Patterson even has a major league job is beyond me, but why he is leading off is even more confusing. The worst thing that could happen at this point is Patterson having a good September and the Brewers look at keeping him in 2010. Patterson is a bad player and has no future with this team. Why not lead off Escobar instead. Getting him more at bats can only help his development. It seems strange to instead give those at bats to Patterson.

In short, I don't think this season is completely Macha's fault. Has he managed every game perfectly? No, but he could have been much worse. I think it is easy to say that he has been the problem this season and fire him, but what would we do after that. Macha has all the tools of making a good manager, but sometimes he just over thinks the game. He brought Todd Coffey in in the 5th inning yesterday for a matchup with Pujols. While Coffey is a good pitcher, there is no reason he should be pitching in the 5th. I think the players are frustrated with his managing style. If this is the case, he needs to go. It's tough to play for a manager that no one likes. The players come first. Managers can be replaced. It will be interesting to see what way management goes this offseason.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Toss Up: Hardy or Escobar?

The Milwaukee Brewers have a very interesting decision to make this offseason. Do they trade J.J. Hardy or Alcides Escobar?

There is little doubt in my mind that only one of these players is going to be on the 2010 Brewers' roster. The question is who should the Brewers trade? The resounding answer to that question in Milwaukee is trade J.J. Hardy.

Hardy is having a terrible offensive season, but is still contributing with the glove. His .225/.298/.358/.656 line this season is his worst offensive season in his career. So it would seem like a no-brainer to trade him instead of a top ranked prospect like Escobar, but is it really? What do the Brewers actually gain from trading Hardy?

Many fans have criticized Brewers' General Manager Doug Melvin for not trading Hardy this offseason when he has amazing value, but how many actually wanted a trade to go down? There were many rumors involving Hardy being traded to the Minnesota Twins for a starting pitcher. Every fan I talked to had a lot of reserves in parting with a good shortstop like Hardy, and for good reason. Hardy was coming of a season that saw him hit 24 home runs and post a career high .343 OBP with a .821 OPS. On top of that, it was unsure how ready Escobar was after last season. I'm still not sure he is ready to take over.

Although Escobar has always been rated as a top prospect, I have really never understood why. Don't get me wrong, Escobar could be a solid player, but nothing about him really blows me away. He doesn't hit for power. He doesn't walk. The two main arguments for Escobar is that he is a great defender and he is fast. In limited time this season, Escobar's glove has not been all it was cracked up to be. I may be spoiled after watching Hardy over the last couple of seasons though. The second argument was something that I never have agreed with. Just because a player has speed does not make him a talented batter. The old adage reign's true in Alcides' case, "You can't steal first base."

Escobar's main problem throughout the minor leagues has been his inability to draw walks. His career on-base-percentage throughout the minors is nothing special (.333). It's tough to utilize his speed if he is not consistently getting on base. His walk rate in the minors was just over 4%. Couple that with a 15% strikeout ratio Escobar's future doesn't look so bright.

Escobar's stock rose after his 2008 season when he became the Brewers top ranked prospect according to Baseball America. In 2008 Escobar batted .328/.363/.434/.797, an impressive season. What's alarming to me is that he was still not walking. In 546 at bats that season, he drew just 31 walks. So how was he able to post that line despite poor plate discipline? Simple, good fortune. When Escobar hit the ball into play that season, he hit for a .375 average. That's high for even the best of hitters. Take out that season and Escobar's BABIP is right around .320, which is much more likely than another season like he had in 2008.

In all honesty, this argument is like comparing apples to oranges. Escobar and Hardy are two very different players. Escobar has blinding speed. Hardy, well, let's just say he's doesn't. Hardy has great power for a shortstop (50 HR's in 2007-2008). Escobar doesn't (20 HR's in over 2600 pro career at bats). The biggest difference between the players is the main reason why Escobar makes sense over Hardy.

Escobar is still in his first year of major league service time. He has to wait another three years until he is even eligible for arbitration. After that, he has another three seasons before he hits free agency. The kind of money that Escobar saves the Brewers is the main reason why it makes sense to keep him over Hardy. Hardy, after losing a year of service time controversially, will not hit the open market until after 2011. He is going to make around $4 million next season. It seems tough to believe that Hardy would be open to Milwaukee after the way the Brewers delayed his free agency. Even with those reasons, here is why I think the Brewers should go against many and trade Escobar, making Hardy the shortstop for the next two years.

The main reason that the Brewers struggled this season is pitching. The starting pitching was so bad that it completely dismantled a good bullpen. Looking forward, acquiring a starting pitcher is priority number one this offseason in Milwaukee. I don't see the Brewers overspending for a free agent starting pitcher, so trading for a starter seems like the route they will take. The two players whose names have surfaced have been Hardy and Brewers outfielder Corey Hart. I just don't understand why it would a good time to sell either of those players.

Hardy's value has been completely dismantled after this season. There's no telling what Hardy would be able to get the Brewers. I've heard anywhere from a 3-5 starter. Escobar is ranked as one of the best prospects in baseball. He has many cheap seasons ahead of him. The amount of value that he possess to another team is off the charts. It is not hard to think that he might bring a front line starter to Milwaukee. He was the main piece that Toronto coveted for Roy Halladay. Why trade Hardy for a little return when Escobar could put this franchise over the top? The Brewers are two seasons away from losing Prince Fielder to free agency. Hardy is also under control until that season. If the Brewers are unwilling to part with Prince, why trade Hardy? I am completely confident that Hardy will outproduce Escobar over the next two seasons. The Brewers have to determine what the future entails. If they honestly believe that they can compete right away, the choice seems too simple.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't write this article to bash Alcides Escobar. He would be a great option for many major league organizations. I just don't think that he is the right choice for the Brewers. I guess I am just amazed at how excited people get by speed in the game of baseball. Speed is a good asset, but so are many other things. I heard a guy this season say, "you can't teach speed." While that may be true, there are other things that some people are blessed with. You can try to teach plate discipline, but many hitters are not able to learn to lay off bad pitches. If the Brewers do trade Hardy and make Escobar the starter, I hope everything I have wrote in this article proves to be incorrect. I just fear that selling low on Hardy would be an unwise move. Escobar is a good player, but I just don't think he is on the level of what I have seen out of Hardy. One bad season should not constitute trading a player. Escobar is yet to post an .800 OPS even in the minor leagues, the facts just don't lie. The Brewers best hitting shortstop in the organization is, and remains J.J. Hardy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mike Cameron Wants to Remain a Brewer

The Milwaukee Brewers don't have top center field prospect waiting in AAA. They don't have unlimited funds to bring in over priced free agents. They do, however, have a class act manning center field right now in Mike Cameron.

Cameron, a free agent this offseason, just made it clear how interested he is in staying in Milwaukee. Cameron said that he would be willing to sign for under market value to stay in Milwaukee. There are two questions that need to be answered. How much is market value for Cameron and are the Brewers willing to resign him?

Market value for Cameron is a tough question to answer. If the Brewers offer him arbitration, Cameron is going to get a raise in arbitration. So, saying the Brewers don't take this approach, what would it take? A great deal for the Brewers would be one similar to the deal that Trevor Hoffman signed this past offseason. It may be unreasonable to expect that kind of discount. Whatever the price, I high doubt that it is going to take away from the Brewers pursuit of starting pitching. I believe the right way to improve the staff is via trades.

I am a huge fan of Cameron. He is an above average centerfielder, both defensively and offensively. Although his range has started to decline, Cameron is still one of the best outfielders in baseball. Even more encouraging is his discipline at the plate this season.

Cameron is the critic of a lot of fans in Milwaukee due to his high strikeout totals. What many fail to see is how good of an eye Cameron possess. This season Cameron is striking out 29% of the time, a very high rate. However, Cameron is able to draw walks at an equally impressive 13.1% of the time.

What makes Cameron so valuable is how good of a hitter he is for a centerfielder. Cameron has the rare combination of patience and power. He is slugging .460 and carries an on base percentage of .357 for an OPS of .817. That OPS ranks much higher than the league average of .756.

I feel much better about next season after hearing this news. Cameron is an integral part of the Brewers. Not signing him back would be a big mistake.