Monday, December 27, 2010

Brewers Ink Saito

One of the biggest questions for the Brewers this offseason was relief pitching. They took a huge step forward today and addressed that concern by signing veteran right-hander Takashi Saito. According to reports, Saito can earn up to $3.2 million this season if he reaches all of his performance bonuses.

Believe it or not, last season's bullpen wasn't all that bad. Despite ranking near the bottom of baseball in ERA, their peripherals suggested a bit of bad luck was to blame. It was concerning to see the Brewers demolish the eight best bullpen in baseball according to FIP, but changes have been frequent this offseason. The Brewers cut ties with Carlos Villanueva, Todd Coffey and Trevor Hoffman in past couple of months.

Saito, 40, is an upgrade over any of those pitchers if he can stay healthy. After suffering a major arm injury in 2008, many were concerned about the veteran regaining his form. Despite a drop off in his production in 2009, Saito returned to his dominant form in 2010. While pitching for the Braves last season, Saito was incredible. He registered a very impressive 69 strikeouts in just 54 innings, good for a 11.5 K/9 rate. His control also came back as he walked just 17, or a 2.83 BB/9. That good control and movement led to a 2.83 ERA, which just do happened to be his highest while pitching in North America. He also had his highest groundball rate of his career, inducing 43.6% of hitters to keep the ball out of the air. The increased strikeout and GB rates, coupled with better control was good enough to produce a very good 2.43 FIP.

What's even more to like is the price of Saito. Sure injuries and Saito's age are a concern, but they also really helped the Brewers in negotiations. If Saito was a little younger and a more reliable to stay healthy, he would have easily been able to garner a three-year deal, which has been handed out on numerous occations this offseason. But due to those factors, Saito comes really cheap. Better yet, even if Saito is injured, his entire contract isn't even guaranteed. Reports are that the Saito base contract is worth less than $2 million. A really good price for a really good pitcher.

With the signing of Saito, the Brewers now have addressed their bullpen issues. Near the end of games, opposing teams will have to contend with Saito, John Axford and Zach Braddock. If the Brewers are able to bring back Chris Carpuano in a bullpen role, I would assume the roster would be complete. That's one pretty indimidating pitching staff.

Monday, December 20, 2010


This post is not going to be about just how bad Yunieski Bentancourt is. I know, it's tempting to write one so close to acquiring one of the worst players in baseball, but not this post. This going back to one major error the Brewers organization made during last offseason.

Pretty much everyone remembers the trade. The Brewers sent J.J. Hardy to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Carlos Gomez. Immediately, the were many skeptics of this trade. What was even more disappointing was the way the Brewers handled their excess shortstops they had at the time.

The reason the Brewers were so ready to trade Hardy was the young shortstop waiting in the wings: Alcides Escobar. Escobar, 22 at the time, was just coming off a nice season where he actually hit pretty well. In AAA, Escobar had a pretty impressive .298/.353/.409 line, while playing just about everyday. He was then called up to the majors after J.J. Hardy's demotion to AAA. It seemed like an interesting move considering if Hardy stayed in the minors for the remainder of the Sounds' season, he wouldn't hit free agency until 2011. Hardy stayed down there and would have to wait (until after this season) to hit free agency.

However, the move also did another thing.

Sending Hardy to the minors was heavily criticized as the Brewers were just trying to gain another year of service time. While Hardy was struggling, I think everyone could agree this was the Brewers intended action. Hardy was not happy, but while under team control, what choice did he really have?

What happened that offseason was where the mistake occurred.

Hardy was immediately placed on the trading block. What irritated me about this was the way the Brewers did it. They never said Hardy had no chance to return to the club, but the writing was on the wall. They received offers from the Pirates and Orioles, but ended up deciding to go with Minnesota's offer of Gomez. Someone they thought could solidify centerfield in Milwaukee.

By giving the reigns over to Escobar and trading Hardy, the Brewers forced their hand. During his big league career, Hardy was always an asset to the Brewers. He had consecutive 4.0+ WAR seasons prior to 2009. Even in 2009, despite struggling with the bat, his defense was again incredible, as he was still able to post a 1.4 WAR season.

My question to Doug Melvin is, what was the rush? Hardy was under team control and still pretty cheap. Why start Alcides Escobar's service clock a year early? Hardy could have, and should have remained in Milwaukee in 2010. The correct move would have been to let Escobar get more at bats in AAA, further making him ready once 2011 came. There was no question how much Escobar struggled in 2010. A extra year of experience in AAA could have been the remedy.

If the Brewers would have done this, nothing would have affected yesterday's trade. Escobar would have been sent to Kansas City as part of the package and the Brewers would still have Hardy on the team under one more season of control. How appropriate is it the Brewers are now in NL contention and have two glaring weak spots to go along with a great rotation? Carlos Gomez (CF) was traded for Hardy and Yunieski Bentancourt (SS) now plays in the spot where Hardy would have been. Knee jerk reactions, like the Brewers had last season, lead to mistakes. In baseball, mistakes can be very costly.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Brewers Land Greinke; Send Package

The Brewers said this offseason they were looking to add two starters after a dismal 2010. After acquiring Shaun Marcum less than two weeks ago, the Brewers made a huge splash today in reeling in Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals. Along with Greinke, Yunieski Bentancourt heads to Milwaukee in exchange for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress.

My first reaction to this trade was skepticism. There is no question Greinke is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but at what cost was he coming to Milwaukee. A lot of young talent was shipped in this trade. Young talent that also was very cheap and could have helped for a longtime. It's very difficult to analyse this trade considering just how many variables go into it.

The Good

In Greinke, the Brewers have landed an absolute ace and now have one of the best rotations in all of baseball. Placing Greinke with Gallardo, Marcum, Wolf and Narveson, the Brewers rotation really only trails the Philadelphia Phillies compilation of studs. If this season can tell us anything, pitching wins games in baseball. With the staff the Brewers have assembled this offseason, winning games should happen pretty often in Milwaukee. At least for the next two years.

Greinke, 27, is locked up through the 2012, making $13.5 million each of the next two seasons. With a contract extension with Greinke being very tough, this essentially is the window for the Brewers to win. Over the past three seasons, Greinke has racked up an average WAR of 6.5 a season. That was highlighted by his 2009 season, where after posting a 9.4 WAR, he was awarded the American League Cy Young award. He regressed a little bit last season and saw his ERA raise from 2.16 in 2009, to 4.17 in 2010. While a drop in strikeouts could have been to blame, I would say his numbers were a little skewed by a low LOB% (runners left on base). His career average was 76.3% before last season, but he saw that fall to 65.3%. His FIP of 3.34 last season is a much better representation of where his numbers should have been. Coming over to the NL Central, Greinke should thrive. There is no question he could be a Cy Young candidate again in 2011.

It was really tough to see Lorenzo Cain go in this deal. He has been a pleasant surprise during his time in Milwaukee. Couple that with him playing meant Carlos Gomez wasn't, and many will understand just why Cain quickly became a fan favorite here. But, by all accounts, this was the right time to sell Cain. High. There's no question Cain posted good numbers while in Milwaukee, but he had two things working against him.

Cain's BABIP was one of the main reasons he was excelling. During his three stints in different levels last year, Cain had BABIP's of .402, .371 and .370. There is no doubt those numbers are unsustainable and will come down. If Cain is going to be a good major league player, his strikeout numbers need to come down from the 20% range. If he continues to strikeout at that pace, his value will be limited.

The Bad

Yunieski Bentancourt. Yikes. In trading for Bentancourt the Brewers have acquired one of the worst shortstops in baseball. He can't hit. He doesn't walk. He's not fast. He doesn't play defense. That about sums up Bentancourt's game. His career line of .272/.296/.393 is not inspiring. He does have some power, which should only improve after trading in the very large ballparks in Seattle and KC for Miller Park. He was able to post a career high 16 home runs last season. Even though, if you are expecting a good hitter in return, keep dreaming.

But wait, Alcides Escobar couldn't hit either. While that may be true, Escobar was at least capable with the glove. Bentancourt isn't. Over the past three seasons, his UZR of -37.6 ranks at the bottom for major league shortstops. In 2009, Bentancourt had a -16.7 UZR, the same season where he had an incredibly bad -1.7 WAR. Yes you read that correctly: a -1.7 WAR. The more playing time Bentancourt gets, if any, hurts the Brewers and the value of this trade. He has one year left on his contract, where the Brewers will need to pick up $3 million and a $2 million buyout the Royals will pick up next year in the trade. I really wonder if acquiring Greinke and Bentancourt together was the only way. My guess is it was.

The Brewers parted with a lot of cheap, young talent in this trade. The key to creating a successful franchise is building a good farm system and utilizing them before they are eligible to cash in big. By trading players like Escobar, Cain, Odorizzi and Jeffress, the Brewers forfeited that. The player I'm most worried about giving up in this trade is Odorizzi. Yes he is years away from the bigs, but he has all the tools to be a good front line starter. Parting with him and Jeffress, two pitching prospects, in the same trade is tough to swallow. Especially considering the lack of pitching prospect the Brewers have.


After the trade was first announced, I was disappointed. I'm starting to come around to it however. The Brewers did give up a lot, but really didn't part with proven major league talent, or top tier prospects (other than Odorizzi). In order to acquire a pitcher like Greinke, you are going to have to give up talent. I think the Brewers gave up their share of that in this trade, but have set themselves up for a really good team for the next two years. What worries me is what happens after that. A trade that wipes out a good portion of your farm system can be very tough to cope with over the long haul. It's trades like that that can set up teams for prolonged periods of losing. I'm beyond excited for the next couple of seasons, but worried to say the least for what happens after that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday's Rumors: Cain, Uehara, Loney

The Brewers have moved quickly the past couple of days and apparently have no signs of slowing down. Here are the early rumors coming out of Orlando.

The Brewers are apparently willing to trade Lorenzo Cain in order to secure another starting pitcher, according to Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse. Trading Cain would mean Carlos Gomez starting everyday in centerfield. Yikes.

The Brewers are reportedly one of six teams who are interested in free agent reliever Koji Uehara, according to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun. They say Uehara is Japanese for control. Let's see, 55 strikeouts and five walks. Yeah, I'd be interested too.

There have been some mumbling connecting the Brewers to James Loney, if Prince Fielder is dealt. This one comes from Ken Rosenthal, who cites sources. It's pretty tough to get excited about Loney, who has only posted a WAR above two once (2.1 in 2007). If Fielder is traded, Derrek Lee should be the bat coming back to Milwaukee via free agency in my opinion.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brewers Acquire Marcum from Jays

The Brewers went a long way in shoring up their 2011 rotation Sunday by trading for Toronto Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum. However, the move didn't come cheap as the Brewers had to send one of their top prospects, Brett Lawrie, in exchange.

The early reaction I have gaged from this trade is Lawrie is a lot to give up for a pitcher like Shaun Marcum. That may be true, but I also believe many are underestimating the talent level of Marcum.

The evaluation of this trade breaks down to two different points.

1) Marcum's talent and health issues

2) Marcum's signability

3) Lawrie's future

When looking at the first point, there's little doubt that Marcum is a talented pitcher. Last season, he was able to post an ERA of 3.64 in the high powered AL East. That was right about where he should have been as he registered at a 3.74 FIP. Last season was highlighted by his sparkling 1.98 BB/9 and a strikeout to walk ratio of nearly four to one. Those are very good numbers, but there was also some concern with Marcum's finish to the season and how it related to his past.

Near the end of the 2008 season, Marcum left a start with elbow pain. Days later, it was revealed Marcum would have to undergo Tommy John surgery to repair a ligament in his pitching elbow. Marcum subsequently missed all of the 2009 season before returning to be the Blue Jays opening day starter in 2010. During the first half, Marcum cruised to a 3.44 ERA, but struggled in the second half. After the All-Star game, Marcum's ERA was more than a half run higher than prior to it. Many attributed it to his increased workload and shoulder fatigue after coming off the surgery. One closer look at the numbers revealed an increase in Marcum's strikeout rates, while decreasing the amount of walks he issued after the break. If anything, his peripherals would suggest he pitched a little better after the break last season.

To be successful in Milwaukee, Marcum will need to keep the ball on the ground more frequently. Prior to the injury, Marcum was able to induce groundballs better than 40% of the time in his career. In 2010, he saw that number drop to 38.4%. Not a huge dropoff, but something to look at in the future.

Many are hinging the success of this trade of if the Brewers are able to retain Marcum. Right now, Marcum is entering his second season of arbitration, meaning he'll hit the free agent market after the 2012 season. I'm personally very high on Marcum and think locking him up sooner than later is the correct route the Brewers should take. The closer Marcum comes to free agency, the more the Brewers are going to have to shell out to keep him. Coming off a serious arm injury, the risk does come high by doing this. However, having a full healthy season under him puts my mind at ease a bit. I also believe the injury could leave Marcum more willing to listen to extension offers and lock up his financial security for years to come. Word of out Milwaukee is the Brewers "think they have a chance to sign Marcum longterm," according to Ken Rosenthal.

On to Lawrie.

There is no question the Brewers parted with a valuable piece in this trade. Lawrie, 20, is one of, if not the Brewers top prospect. His major league service clock is yet to start ticking, giving him a full five or six seasons under team control. At AA Huntsville this season, the second baseman was able to post a pretty impressive .285/.346/.449 line in full time play. That equated to a very nice .361 wOBA. While Lawrie's offense seems to be progressing nicely, his glove work hasn't. There has long been questions on if Lawrie is too much of a liability to stay in the infield. Scouts have said it's an alarming problem that could easily land Lawrie in a corner outfield spot sooner than later. If that's the case, that really hurts Lawrie's value as slugging second basemen are much more difficult to find than a productive corner outfielder.

I'm not saying Lawrie wasn't a lot to give up, but I do like this trade for the Brewers. They landed a front line starting pitcher to help Yovani Gallardo atop the rotation. This year's playoffs are a perfect indication of just how important starting pitching is. By landing Marcum, the Brewers helped close the gap that they will need to overcome to compete in the National League. They may still be a pitcher away, but this is a step in the right direction.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Breaking Down the Carlos Villanueva Trade

In a surprising move to say the least, the Milwaukee Brewers traded reliever Carlos Villanueva to the Toronto Blue Jays Friday. In return, the Brewers will receive a player to be named later in the deal.

Pretty safe to say this one came out of nowhere.

Just one day after essentially cutting ties with Todd Coffey, the Brewers wasted no time in dealing Villanueva. What the Brewers are set to get in return could a difficult answer.

The player to be named later tag doesn't always mean garbage is coming back. Sometimes there are matters that do not allow the player to be named during the deal. One of those matters would be the impending Rule 5 draft. So likely, the Brewers will be getting back one of Toronto's Rule 5 candidates. After quickly looking over the list, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Brewers pick up Brad Emaus.

Emaus, 24, has put up solid numbers in each of the past couple season while playing in the Blue Jays minor league system. This culminated in 2010, where between AA and AAA, Emaus posted a .290/.398/.476 in 534 plate appearances. Those are some pretty impressive walk and power numbers from a second baseman. Also, selecting Emaus makes even more sense after recently letting Joe Inglett go. Better yet, Emaus is a right-handed bat, something the Brewers desperately need of the bench.

Of course, this is all speculation, but it seems like an okay return for Villanueva. I'm disappointed to see Villanueva go, but this is a much better way than if they were to just have non-tendered him. At least the Brewers are able to possibly get a useful piece in return.

Villanueva, 27, has a lot of talent. Last season, he struck out an incredible 11.45 batters per nine innings pitched. However, his inability to keep the ball on the ground usually is not a good recipe for success in hitter friendly Miller Park. Despite the high strikeout and low walk totals, Villanueva limped his way to a 4.61 ERA. His FIP would suggest he was a bit unlucky as he came in with a 3.74.

I've always like Villanueva. I think if he is put in the right situation, he would be a very good pitcher. I don't know if the right situation is Toronto though. The Rogers Centre is a tough park for a flyball pitcher like Villanueva to succeed. I hope he can bounce back, but it's tough to imagine running through the gauntlet of AL East lineups will help matters.

Time will tell if this move pays off, but the Brewers need to start it off correctly by selected Emaus as their return. Now down two bullpen arms, I expect the Brewers to heavily explore the free agent market for a reliever. Quite possibly, they could even select one in next weeks Rule 5 draft. One thing is for sure, as of now, the talent in the Brewers bullpen has talent a step back.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Brewers Non-Tender Inglett, Coffey

The Milwaukee Brewers decided to cut ties with pitcher Todd Coffey and infielder Joe Inglett Thursday. Here are some quotes from Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin on the moves.

Todd Coffey:

"We felt we'd look at what else is out there. I talked to Todd and he understood. This gives us more flexibility with our money."

While there is no way to argue not signing Coffey frees up money, there are some things to be cautious about in that statement. It leads me to believe the Brewers are going to test the free agent market for help in the bullpen. Contracts in recent seasons are exhibit A on just how risky that proposition can be. Just last season, over $11 million was shelled out to Latroy Hawkins and Trevor Hoffman, who responded with a combined ERA over seven. I'm not saying that bargains can't be found out there, but I think the Brewers dropped the ball here. If I had the chance to sign Todd Coffey to a one year deal with little financial risk, there's no way I'm passing that up.

Joe Inglett

"We wanted to keep ourselves open there. I told Joe we might get back to him if he doesn't find something else. He did a good job for us."

Despite struggling horribly near the end of the season, Inglett have a solid season in Milwaukee. I was a little more surprised with this move considering how successful Inglett was off the bench. However, that's not to say I didn't understand it. If there were some thing the Brewers struggled with last season, it was the lack of a right handed bat and power off the bench. By non-tendering Joe Inglett, the Brewers allow themselves room to address those problems. Generally speaking, utility infielders who can handle the bat are tough to come by and many would question this move. However, looking at the state of Milwaukee's bench, I would argue this was the correct move.

To Tender or Not: Todd Coffey

With less than 24 hour before Thursday's 11 PM CT non-tender deadline, the Milwaukee Brewers have an interesting question to answer. Should they tender a contract to Todd Coffey?

Coffey was a Cincinnati castaway during the 2008 season. With a bilegured bullpen, the Brewers quickly snatched up the righty and never looked back. Over the final weeks of the '08 season and all of 2009, Coffey was arguably Milwaukee's most consistent reliever. During that year plus, Coffey logged 91 innings while posting a very strong 2.67 ERA. His peripherals also suggested this was no fluke.

Over that time, Coffey's K:BB ratio was nearly 3.5:1. Coffey always excelled during his career as a groundball specialist, which followed him to the Brew City. His GB:FB rate check in strongly at 1.25. There was little to suggest a fall off was coming. Well, in 2010, those peripherals didn't really fall off at all. In fact, Coffey was able to check in with a career high 8.1 K/9. Problem for Coffey was that also came with some regression in other areas. He walked nearly one more batter per nine innings and watched his groundball rate go from 52.3% to 47.6%. Making matters worse, his HR/FB rate increased to his highest since arriving in Milwaukee. Coffey surrendered the same amount of dingers in 21 fewer innings between 2009 and 2010.

In the end, this all lead to a lofty 4.76 ERA for Coffey. By anyone's account, one can assume luck wasn't on Coffey's side in 2010 (His FIP was more than a half run less at 4.20). The real question for the Brewers is what do they do now?

Todd Coffey made just north of $2 million last season. If the Brewers offer him arbitration, he is likely going to see a raise despite his troubles. For sake of keeping it simple, let's assume that if offered, Coffey's 2011 salary would check in right under $3 million. So, is Todd Coffey worth that figure next season? Many say no, I say yes.

Although bullpen help can come cheaply from the minor leagues (i.e. 2010 Milwaukee Brewers), there are just too many unanswered questions for the Brewers to non-tender Todd Coffey. Despite his poor performance in 2011, Coffey is still a workhorse out of the bullpen. The past couple of season's, the Brewers bullpen has been extremely overworked. Is it really worth saving the $3 million we could give to Coffey just to watch the same problem happen year in and year out? Sure a lot of blame lies with starting pitching, but once in the bullpen, a team needs guys who are able to go multiple innings, or pitch in back to back games. If there is one thing Coffey has proved in his time in Milwaukee, it's that he is always ready to take the ball.

I fully expect Coffey's number to revert back to normal. Does that mean a sub-three ERA next season? Maybe not, but I highly doubt that a 4.00+ ERA is in store in 2011. I fully agree wasting money in the bullpen can be a huge mistake. Maybe I'm missing something here, but tendering Todd Coffey would hardly be a waste.