Sunday, August 29, 2010

Could Cliff Lee Land in Milwaukee?

With nearly $50 million coming off the books in 2010, the Brewers have made it pretty apparent they plan on focusing on starting pitching. I know, what's new? Although they have been burned in the past, the Brewers have some options on the free agent market, including Cliff Lee.

In all honesty, the Brewers are not that far away from being a major force in 2011. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has expressed hesitation to give big money to another pitcher. This has led many to believe the Brewers will ship first baseman Prince Fielder for a front line starter. My question is why?

I completely agree trading Fielder is in the best interest of the team, but not for a soon-to-be free agent starter. The maximum value for Prince would come in the form of a couple of top prospects; one of which being a starter. By doing this, the Brewers will have six full seasons of control over that player. By trading Fielder for a pitcher like Matt Garza (I heard some rumors of this), the Brewers would still be on the hook for a large contract and have limited control before Garza leaves for free agency.

Say the Brewers ship Fielder for a top pitching prospect. They know will also have Fielder's contract off the books, which could immediately be used to throw at Cliff Lee. This would give the Brewers both a young starter to build around and the bets left hander on the planet.

If there was any debate who the best lefty in the game was coming into this year, Lee has silenced it.

Lee, 31, has always been an incredible pitcher, but has been unreal this year. After missing a full month, Lee still ranks 6th in the American League in innings pitched with 179.2. How is that possible? Well, Lee has averaged nearly eight innings a start. Considering how overworked the Brewers bullpen has been in recent years, that's a huge addition.

It's one thing to throw innings, but it's another to dominate during those frames. That's exactly what Lee has done. This season Lee has struck out 156 batters. That's very good, but what makes it incredible is his control. He leads MLB with a gaudy 13:1 K:BB ratio, issuing only 12 walks. According to FanGraphs, Lee has racked up a WAR of 19.8 over the past 2.5 seasons. Like I said, he's the best southpaw baseball has seen in a while.

The real question is the price tag that comes along with Lee. Seeing as he is the best pitcher on the market, he won't come cheap. I'd venture to guess Lee wants something around five years somewhere in the range of $80 million. Even that might be a little light. I agree that's huge money, but Lee could really put the Brewers over the top. Ryan Braun and likely Rickie Weeks will be locked up over the next five seasons at reasonable prices. In Lee, the Brewers would then have a solid starter to put alongside Yovani Gallardo. A 1-2 of Lee and Gallardo could reek havoc for the next couple of seasons in the Brew city.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Brewers Release David Riske; Make Room for Gomez

To clear room for Carlos Gomez, whose DL stint is over, the Brewers released David Riske Monday. The move was a longtime coming considering Riske's struggle to stay healthy and poor performance.

Riske signed a three-year deal worth $13 million in the 2007 offseason. The contract will go among the worst in franchise history. Worse yet, it was just another failed pitching signing by Brewers GM Doug Melvin.

In his three years in Milwaukee, Riske was constantly battling injuries. Riske had an elbow injury from the start of his contract. He ended up having to undergo Tommy John Surgery last June, missing almost of all 2009 and a large chunk of 2010. Here are Riske's season statistics as a Brewer.

2008: 42.1 IP, 5.31 ERA, 47 Hits, 25 BB, 27 K's, 5.47 FIP
2009: 1.0 IP, 18.00 ERA, 4 Hits, 0 BB, 0 K's, 3.10 FIP
2010: 23.1 IP, 5.01 ERA, 25 Hits, 8 BB, 16 K's, 4.12 FIP

Taking those numbers into account, over his tenure in Milwaukee, Riske managed to rack up a -0.6 WAR. Using fair market value, Riske's performance actually produced a negative performance based salary of $3 million. Not a very good return on the Brewers original $13 million investment. The contract might not be as bad as Jeff Suppan's, but few are and Riske's isn't that far off.

Another troubling decision today was the Brewers bringing Carlos Gomez back. With the return of Gomez, the Brewers now have too many outfielders, with too few spots for them to play.

With the additions of Lorenzo Cain and Chris Dickerson, Gomez immediately became the worst outfielder on the team. There is absolutely no justification for Gomez taking playing time from either player. He has options remaining, so why not put him in Nashville? I don't think he will ever amount to anything, but why not give him everyday playing time in Nashville. If there is something there, playing in Nashville can only help him. Taking playing time from Cain and Dickerson is the worst thing the Brewers can do for the remainder of the season.

Now that Riske is now done in Milwaukee, the Brewers have almost rid themselves of every useless player on their roster. I fear Gomez will be given too many chances in the future and I truly believe it is in the best interest of the club to release him. Time will tell the intentions of the Brewers, but tendering a contract for Gomez next season seems pretty dumb.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gamel Time?

If you ask Mat Gamel about his 2009 season, I would venture to say he was all that happy with it. After a mid-season callup, Gamel batted just .246 in 130 big league at bats. However, he was able to walk a bit and show some power in that same time, with a .340 OBP and .431 slugging percentage. Not bad numbers, but numbers Gamel would like to improve on.

He has responded in 2010. Gamel has been a very good hitter at AAA Nashville. In the Sounds 7-6 win Monday, Gamel went 3-4 with a double, walk and grand slam. After yesterday's performance, Gamel has now posted a .322/.397/.513/.911 line in 267 at bats in AAA. He has also accumulated 10 homers and 58 RBI in that same span.

So who is the real Mat Gamel and what can he bring to this franchise?

Throughout his minor league career, Gamel has shown just exactly what kind of baseball player he is. He struggles defensively. He strikes out and walks a lot. He shows decent, but not overwhelming power with his above average bat. To me, that sounds like a player with some pretty decent value.

Gamel's 2010 has much more reminiscent of his career line of .304/.377/.489/.866. He has been very consistent at every level with those numbers and should have little trouble producing good numbers at the big league level. Where he would play is another huge question.

With Prince Fielder all but gone in the future, first base does have an opening. Gamel's 6' frame isn't all that conducive to the position, but then again, neither did Fielder, who was two inches shorter. Playing Gamel at first base does make sense, as the Brewers could hide Gamel's biggest problem: his glove.

Coming up through the minors, Gamel has always played third base. It seemed to work perfectly coming into last season, as the Brewers had a glaring need there. However, Casey McGehee has shown he can play third and likely would get the nod over Gamel. This season, McGehee has a 2.4 WAR, despite costing the Brewers nearly six runs with his glove. I firmly believe Gamel can outproduce McGehee with the bat, but his glove makes McGehee look like the second coming of Mike Schmidt. I just don't see the Brewers playing Gamel long term at third base.

The other option I have heard is in right field. This really depends on what the Brewers are going to do with Corey Hart. Hart's UZR this season in right has been a very bad -11.5. I have heard some rumblings of Corey moving to first base and placing Gamel in right. This would make some sense considering Corey's large 6'6" frame. However, doing this would introduce two players to positions they have never played. I doubt Gamel could do much worse than Hart in right, so I am hoping this is the route the Brewers explore.

In the meantime, the Brewers hands are really tied. I expect them to trade Prince Fielder in the offseason, but until that happens, there is no place to play Gamel in Milwaukee. Thus, there is no sense in calling him up just to ride the bench (i.e. 2009). The best way to handle things for now is to get him some starts at either first base or right field. Something tells me Adam Stern and Joe Koshansky don't really have a chance to make a big impact in the future. Getting Gamel acquainted to those position should be priority one for this club.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Breaking Down the Edmonds Trade

If there has been one thing Doug Melvin has excelled in during his time in Milwaukee, it's getting good value out of his bench. That continued this season with Jim Edmonds and also allowed Melvin to grab a nice return when the veteran was dealt today.

Jim Edmonds was sent to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for outfielder Chris Dickerson. Another example of how finding value in the offseason can translate into great value at the deadline.

Edmonds, 40, played tremendously for the Brewers this season. In 217 at bats, he has a .286/.350/.493/.843 line. One thing I criticized Edmonds for this offseason was his defense. Although Edmonds clearly doesn't possess the speed he once had, he still played a very good centerfield this season. His 7.0 UZR this season is his highest since he posted an 8.4 UZR for the 2005 Cardinals.

So what does a great bat and solid defense translate to? Despite not playing everyday and battling injuries, Edmonds was able to rack up a 2.5 WAR. Given the market average of $4 million per 1.0 WAR, this Brewers $800K investment is very successful. According to, Edmonds worth this season is exactly $10 million. With Drew Stubbs struggling in centerfield, Edmonds is an excellent pickup for the stretch run in Cincy.

Dickerson, 28, is an absolutely brilliant pickup by Melvin and the Brewers. He has shown an ability to show patience at the dish and has shown decent power for a centerfielder. Combine that with very good defense and fans can understand how valuable Dickerson could be to the future of the Brewers. Speaking of the future, Dickerson will not eligible for free agency until after the 2014 season. He is cheap, under control and good, three things that are very nice in a player.

Like I said, Dickerson has always had a very good understanding of the strike zone. Throughout his minor league career, he has drawn a free pass in about 14% of his plate appearances. His 6'3", 230 lbs frame has also lead to some power. He has 35 extra base hits in 357 big league at bats. As usually is the case, that big body has also lead to some holes in his swing, leading to a high strikeout rate. In those same big league at bats, Dickerson has fanned 30% of the time. Although high strikeout rates can be a cause for concern, if he is able to balance them with walks, he should prove very valuable.

Another very nice attribute in Dickerson is his glove. In just shy of 850 innings in the outfield, Dickerson has a 10.4 UZR. Every scouting report I have read praises Dickerson's strength and accuracy with his arm. Those are two things that are tough to find in center. The Brewers are looking for a longterm solution in centerfield. I really like Lorenzo Cain, but having another player, like Dickerson, can only help.

Dickerson first broke into the majors in 2008 with the Reds. In limited playing time (102 AB), he was able to post a .413 OBP and an OPS over 1.000. His power regress a bit in 2009, when he posted a .743 OPS in 255 at bats. Despite the drop off in power, Dickerson was still very selective, walking 13% of the time en route to a .370 OBP.

Hampered by injuries this season, Dickerson is currently rehabbing in the minor leagues. He broke a bone in his hand back in April on a swing and only was able to log 44 at bats this season. In his current rehab stint, he is murdering the ball. In 43 minor league at bats, Dickerson has homered three times, walked nine and has an OBP of .528, with a 1.296 OPS. Granted that's a very small sample size, but I'd say he'll be ready to join the Brewers very soon.

This move really impacts three other Brewers. Trading Edmonds made a ton of sense, because it translated into immediate playing time for Lorenzo Cain. Considering the Brewers playoff chances are pretty much non-existent, playing Edmonds did nothing for the future of this club. Until Dickerson is able to join the team, Cain should start everyday in center.

Adding another centerfielder also means the Brewers are not impressed with Carlos Gomez... and why should they be? Gomez has been absolutely terrible this season and shows no signs of being a productive player in the foreseeable future. The J.J. Hardy trade was an absolute joke. It's time to admit that and move on. Not renewing Carlos' contract is a move that makes too much sense. Another Brewer who will likely not rejoin the team is Jody Gerut. With Dickerson and Cain sharing the majority of the playing time in centerfield, Gerut's days are likely numbered. As long as Joe Inglett remains on this club, giving the Brewers another outfield option, I don't see Doug Melvin using a roster spot on Gerut.

No one really wanted to see Jim Edmonds leave, but this move was an absolute must for the Brewers. After announcing he would likely retire after this season, keeping Edmonds would've only hurt the Brewers and the development of their young players. It is smart to not just save face and play for a couple of meaningless wins at the end of the season. With the farm system severely lack in outfield talent, landing Dickerson was an excellent acquisition for the Brewers. Celebrate Milwaukee.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The CF Debate (Or Lack There Of)

If the Milwaukee Brewers are lacking one thing, it's a deep farm system. Prospects have not progressed well, or have been dealt and that has left Milwaukee scrambling to find help.

However, one prospect has made his way back from injury and into the plans of the Brewers organization: Lorenzo Cain.

When Doug Melvin traded for Carlos Gomez this offseason, he thought he was getting his centerfielder of the future. "Carlos brings to our club great speed, athleticism and energy at a position that we needed to fill," Melvin said. By those statements, one can assume Melvin expected Carlos Gomez to fill the centerfield void left after Mike Cameron departed to free agency. Problem for Melvin and the Brewers is that speed, athleticism and energy don't always lead to talent.

Is Carlos Gomez fast? Yes

Is Carlos Gomez athletic? Yes

Does he bring energy? Sure

Is he a good baseball player? No

Gomez has shown the exact same problems that plagued his in the Twin Cities. He doesn't walk. He doesn't hit for power. He strikes out way too much and, to put it lightly, he is lacking baseball knowledge. For further explanation, check this play out. Gomez leads the team in outs on the bases: a category you don't want to be atop.

The problem with Gomez is he just doesn't get on base. Entering today, Gomez is hitting .228/.286/.350/.636 in 75 games this season. With this season, Gomez' career OBP in the majors is a horrid .291. His plate discipline can only be defined as terrible. This season, Gomez has struck out four times per every walk he draws. Those are just numbers that don't belong in the major leagues.

Cain, 24, has a much better track record for success in his pro career than Gomez. Although not touted as a 'top prospect' like Gomez has always been billed, he has outperformed him at every level.

This season, Cain has spent time in both AAA Nashville and AA Hunstville. Combined between his two stops, Cain has posted a .317 batting average and a very promising .402 on base percentage. I know many fans like the speed Gomez has, but Cain also has shown his burners. Better yet, he knows when to use it.

I've never really been a huge fan of the stolen base, but when used effectively, it can be a nice weapon. With Cain, he has that weapon. This season, Cain has stolen 26 bases and only been caught three times for an 89% success rate. Cain also has nine triples on the season and 11 doubles.

One big question on Cain was his 2009 season when he hit just .218/.294/.330/.624. Cain tore his PCL early in the 2009 season and never really recovered. He was only able to log 206 at bats. Considering his past success and the small sample size, it pretty reasonable to throw out his 2009 numbers.

One big thing both players have in common is they still have options remaining. This means the Brewers could send Carlos Gomez to the minor leagues and not have to wait and see if he clears waivers. Why play Gomez over Cain when he gets back? Cain has a much higher ceiling and could have a positive impact on the future of this team. Sure Gomez was once considered an 'A-level' prospect, but just because he was labeled that by scouts does not make him a good player. If the Brewers are smart, the majority of the playing time this season should go to Lorenzo Cain. It's time to admit the Gomez trade was a mistake. Let's not make it worse by stunting the growth of a talented young player like Cain.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Not So Glovely

Everyone knows the old sports saying: 'Defense wins championships."

Well, in baseball, that's not exactly true. If you can't hit the ball, you're not going to win much. Just ask the 2009 Seattle Mariners. They finished the season 85-77, but they were absolutely incredible in the field and on the mound. Their team UZR was an incredible 85.3. To put it simply, that means their defense saved them a run in just about every other game.

Those numbers probably help lead to their 3.87 ERA, good for sixth best in all of baseball. Keep in mind that was before Cliff Lee arrived in town. If you tack on those runs, their team ERA raises to 4.40, or 19th best. If you are looking for a reason why the Mariners didn't go onto the playoffs, examine their lackluster offense who managed to only post 3.95 runs a game.

Conversely, the Milwaukee Brewers can hit. They are currently eight in baseball with 506 runs scored, or 4.73 a game. The problem for the Crew has been inconsistent pitching and defense. Brewers arms have given up 519 earned runs this season, which equates to a team ERA of 4.93. That's already good enough for fifth worst in MLB, but factor in bad fielding and the Brewers have been a joke when not batting.

Only the Astros (56), Cubs (60) and Nationals (54) have surrendered more unearned runs than the Brewers (53) this season. That means the Brewers average an unearned run in every other game. If you follow advanced fielding statistics, it's been just as ugly for the Brewers. Here are the UZR (runs saved or lost) for every player who has logged over 300 innings at a position.

Ryan Braun -10.2
Corey Hart -8.1
Casey McGehee -7.4
Prince Fielder -5.1
Rickie Weeks -2.5
Carlos Gomez 0.2
Alcides Escobar 0.2
Jim Edmonds 5.4

Combining all of those numbers, Brewers starters have cost the team 27.5 runs this season. That makes them the fifth worst defense team in baseball this season. With a team that struggles to pitch already, giving extra outs and extra runs is a recipe for disaster.

Contrary to belief, the Brewers were a pretty decent defensive team last season. The managed a team UZR of 3.5, which ranked them 12th in baseball. The two defensive minded Brewers who departed were J.J. Hardy and Mike Cameron. Cameron saved an incredible 11.4 runs last season, while Hardy saved 6.8 himself. Craig Counsell also received much more playing time and was able to save 5.9 runs.

Clearly pitching has been a big problem for the Brewers this season, but the defense is not helping matters.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Corey Hart Extension

I was surprised, like many of you, when I woke up and read the news.

The Milwaukee Brewers signed Corey Hart to a three year deal that will keep him in Milwaukee through 2013. The pact is reportedly worth $26.25 million.

Hart, 28, is having a career season for the Brewers. After going yard Sunday, Hart now sits with 23 home runs. He is hitting .288/.346/.565/.911 in 347 at bats. Pretty incredible numbers for a player many wanted cut earlier this season. It hasn't been all perfect for Hart though. He has struggled in right field this season posting a -12.8 UZR/150, easily his worst season defensively in his career. Despite those very poor fielding numbers, Hart has still registered as a 2.1 WAR player this season.

My favorite part of this contract is the length. Seeing as Hart was still under team control for one more season, the deal really only extends him for two additional seasons. Based on projections, Hart was likely going to make around $7-9 million dollars in his final season of arbitration, so the deal doesn't seem to unreasonable. Many who dislike this deal cite a possibility of Hart regressing back to his struggling form. Even if that happens, the length of this contract really won't hurt the Brewers future plans too bad.

Taking the final year of arbitration into account, Hart's deal breaks down to two years, somewhere in the range of $17-19 million. Not cheap, but not too bad considering just how well Hart has hit this season. With the going market rate of $4 million per 1.0 WAR, the deal seems fair. I don't think there are many people out there who don't think Hart can realistically accumulate a 7.0 WAR over the next three seasons.

What I take from this deal is what it means to the future of the organization. The two other players scheduled to hit free agency with Hart were Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks. After the extension, the writing is now on the wall for both players.

Hart will be scheduled to make around $10 million in 2013, the final year of the deal. Combine that with the other players signed through that date (Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo), the Brewers now have $ 27 million already committed that season. If the Brewers were really serious about signing Prince Fielder long term, Hart would not have been offered an extension. If Fielder were to sign after this deal, the Brewers would have nearly 60% of their payroll committed to four players that season. In a small market like Milwaukee, that just can't happen.

However, with Weeks, the Brewers can now shift their focus to him. I have to say, I'm disappointed Hart's extension was given precedence over Weeks. I've said all along I think Weeks could be an absolute steal.

Looking around the league, second basemen are severely underpaid. The only second basemen making over $10 million per season are Chase Utley and Brian Roberts. Roberts has been injured this season, but has still racked up 13.0 WAR combined over the last three seasons. In Utley, the Phillies have been just spoiled. Over the last three years, Utley has a combined WAR of over 22.0. Those numbers are unheard of. At fair market value, he should fetch $28-30 million a season, or $18 million more than his current contract.

The best part about extending Weeks is the Brewers wouldn't even need to sniff that pay range. I think a five year deal worth $35-40 million would get the job done. Considering Weeks is swinging the bat better than ever and is already a 4+ WAR player this season, that's very reasonable.

In short, the Corey Hart signing was a decent deal for the Brewers. Hopefully Hart is able to keep up his current torrid bat and start playing better defense. If he does both, the deal could be incredible for the Brewers, If not, they are only on the hook until 2013. It's the type of low risk, high reward deal fans like to see. If they are able to fetch some decent players for Fielder this offseason, the future doesn't seem so bad. It's tough to imagine how quickly these negotiations progressed. In the span of 48 hours, Corey Hart went from possibly being dealt to signed long term. Like they say, baseball is a game of inches.