Some Brewers questions
I was going to just post the first question in this "mailbag" from MilwaukeeBrewers.com, but all of the questions are worthy thinking points heading into Spring Training, so I'll post the whole thing...
What are the chances any of the Brewers' "fab five" take a hometown
discount when the team starts re-signing them to big contracts? One has
to think that if the Brewers sign Prince Fielder to a big contract,
they lose two of the other big guys; whereas if they sign the other
four to big contracts (the "other four" being Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy,
Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks), they lose Prince. It's truly going to be
hard to keep all five together. What are your thoughts?
-- John K., DeForest, Wis.
You're right that it will be difficult for the Brewers to keep all five of those players together once they all hit their free-agent years. But it's important to remember that those years are still a few seasons away -- only Hardy has hit arbitration, with Fielder, Weeks and Hart coming beginning next winter and then Braun the winter after that.
So the Brewers still have a window of three to five years in which all or some those five players will be relatively affordable, and at the same time, they are not tied to many other mega-contracts (the three years left on Jeff Suppan represents the team's most significant obligation, and Bill Hall and David Riske also have three years left, but at lesser costs). That gives GM Doug Melvin and principal owner Mark Attanasio a great deal of flexibility to make decisions about who they want to tie up.
Those decisions are in the beginning stages right now, and Fielder, not surprisingly, is the guy at the top of the wish list. Remember that he is a Scott Boras client, which means you can forget about a hometown discount (do hometown discounts exist anywhere anymore?). The outcome with Fielder could determine the Brewers' plan with the other four players. I'm expecting this to be a very interesting issue to watch unfold throughout Spring Training.
By the way, I think we have to include pitchers Yovani Gallardo and Carlos Villanueva in this discussion as well. Both of those guys proved themselves last season and should be just as part of the Brewers' long-term vision as the young hitters are.
Speaking of pitching ...
I submitted this last month during the live chat with Ned Yost,
Melvin and Attanasio, but unfortunately it didn't get chosen to be
answered. It seems they showed very little faith in Derrick Turnbow as
a closer in the past couple months with the signings of Eric Gagne and
many other relievers with closing experience. Are they past the point
of letting him reclaim that position or are they just hoping for him to
iron out his issues -- walks and performing poorly with inherited
runners -- so he can step up in 2009?
-- John M., Milwaukee
Do you pencil Turnbow into the eighth inning? Many "fans" are ready
to run this guy out of town today. I probably would give him the eighth
to keep the peace, but if he has not mentally recovered from the
booing, deserved or not, how short is his leash? Physically, he is a
horse. His problems are being mechanically consistent and mental. Right?
-- Vince R., Milwaukee
Barring an injury, and assuming he is the guy who pitched well for the Rangers last season and not the one who sputtered for the Red Sox, Gagne will start the year as the Brewers' closer. The eighth inning is up for grabs, though I would tab Turnbow as the best bet to win that job over Salomon Torres and David Riske. John identified the big problems -- when Turnbow walked a guy, it almost always killed him, and he was downright terrible in holding inherited runners (12 of 14 scored). Those shortcomings, especially since they were so evident near the end of the season, overshadowed the good things Turnbow did in 2007. And, as much as so many of the readers of this site refuse to admit it, there were lots of good things. So my bet is that Turnbow opens the season as Gagne's primary setup man, but, as Vince suggested, on a very short leash.
I was under the impression that our surplus of starting pitching
would be our major trading chip this offseason to fill our gaps in the
bullpen and outfield. So far we have just made a bunch of signings and
traded a catcher and prospects to land various players. So what now are
we going to do with this plethora of pitchers? Go prospect hunting?
Move 'em all to the 'pen? Now that we have brought in two outfielders
via free agency and Mike Cameron is going to be a starter, what will
the Brewers be looking for when shopping our pitching?
-- Nate S., Mequon, Wis.
I think Melvin was under the same impression, but it appears that the level of interest the Brewers expected just was not there. I don't see how the Brewers -- barring injuries -- could get to Opening Day without trading away some of those excess arms, probably for some prospects to restock the Minor Leagues. There just aren't enough available spots for Dave Bush, Chris Capuano and Claudio Vargas all to make the club. Again, we have to keep potential injuries in mind, because these types of position battles are often solved by certain guys going down hurt, in which case the teams that headed to Spring Training with "too much pitching" suddenly are glad they had it. At the same time, if another team suffers some injuries and the Brewers make it through the Cactus League in good shape, we could see some mid-March trades.
In other words, I have no idea what is going to happen, but I am guessing Melvin & Co. -- and also the pitchers involved -- wish this issue had been settled a bit earlier.
Apparently, the Brewers value quantity over quality. Because having
three pitchers who each had a 5.00-plus ERA last year eligible to
compete for your starting rotation isn't anything to boast about, in my
opinion. Vargas and Bush rarely pitch past the fifth inning, Cappy was
involved in 22 consecutive losses in games he appeared in. Why is this
"depth" such a great thing? If you asked the GMs of most other
contenders if they would consider those guys for their rotations, they
would laugh at you. Quit dressing these guys up as something they're
not: quality pitchers.
-- Mark K., Madison, Wis.
Show me the team that has a 20-game winner at the back end of the rotation. For that matter, show me a long list of National League teams for which Bush, Capuano or Vargas could not compete for a rotation spot. The Mets are one, though they could have some injury question marks. Maybe the Diamondbacks, who don't know what they will get from Randy Johnson but are solid with Doug Davis and Micah Owings at the back end. I would argue that even the remaining teams with highly-regarded rotations -- the Dodgers and Padres, maybe the Giants with their young guys, maybe the Cubs -- have question marks, and the GMs of those teams would not laugh at the prospect of an established guy standing by in case he's needed. Bush was technically the Brewers' fifth starter at the start of last season, and he won 12 games for the second straight year. My point is not that the Brewers have the game's best starting rotation, but that they could be doing a lot worse.
Many comments have been made about the coaches and management
letting Spring Training shake out the pitching rotation and the
outfield while Cameron serves his suspension. Due to the nature of
Spring Training, with pitchers limiting their counts and not always
throwing all their pitches, does this hinder the evaluation process?
-- JT, Black Earth, Wis.
Absolutely. I remember the Mouton brothers tearing it up in Spring Training. I remember watching the late Mike Coolbaugh hit like Ted Williams one spring. It stinks for players fighting for roster spots who have a great Spring Training only to get cut, but the fact is that basing roster decisions on those games is dangerous. Are there exceptions? Sure. I don't think anyone last Feb. 15 would have predicted Carlos Villanueva as a member of the bullpen, and he had a solid year.
Still, Yost can say that things will shake out in Spring Training, but I'm guessing that he is already 90 percent sure of how he will choose, and then run, his team.
In the last piece about the rotation, Melvin mentions, casually
even, they plan to let Ben Sheets pitch this year out before making him
an offer. Did we learn nothing from Francisco Cordero? We have a depth
of No. 5 starters, big deal! Without Sheets, no playoff hopes at all. I
wish I was a Red Sox fan sometimes.
-- Derek S., Fort Atkinson, Wis.
All I can say is that there is an equal number of fans happy to hear that the Brewers are not going to commit more money to Sheets until he proves he can stay healthy.
Do you think Manny Parra has a good chance to be the No. 5 starter
for the Brewers? I would really like the organization to give him a
shot. He looks like he has good command out there and looks like he can
hit to boot.
-- Connor K., Waupun, Wis.
I think they will give him a look, but he's probably a longer shot than Bush, Capuano and Vargas. If Parra dominates this spring, though, he could be this year's Villanueva and get a shot at the rotation or the bullpen.
What is the deal with Craig Counsell? Haven't heard anything about him all offseason!
-- Caleb H., Chippewa Falls, Wis.
He'll be the top backup on the Brewers' infield. Joe Dillon, Vinny Rottino and Abraham Nunez are probably the leading candidates for the other backup spot, assuming the Brewers carry two extras.
Are the Brewers going to offer an audio broadcast of their Spring
Training games that you can listen to on the computer for no charge?
-- Steve, Glendale, Wis.
There will be webcasts, but my understanding is that fans who want to hear them will have to purchase MLB.com's Offseason Package for $14.95. If that changes, I will certainly let you know.
By the way, the team just announced its Spring Training broadcast schedule this week.
Will there be a downloadable Outlook calendar-type schedule
available this year on the Web site? If so, when will it be available?
-- Ryan M., Appleton, Wis.
I am told that it was just added to the site last week and is available here. Just be sure to watch out for changes to the schedule that could come before the start of the season.