Results tagged ‘ LaTroy Hawkins ’

Hot Stove Report: A Cream City Reunion Could Be In The Works

Sometimes things seems so obvious after they are mentioned. While that’s true in various facets of life, it especially holds true in the roster composition of a Major League Baseball team.

If you think about the shortcomings of the Milwaukee Brewers over the course of the 2012 regular season, what comes to mind? Shortstop was pretty poor after Alex Gonzalez got hurt. Well, the team believes that they’ve addressed the long-term  (if not the immediate) future of that position when they acquired Jean Segura. The rest of the offense was fine as a whole. The rotation needs attention now, but that’s mostly because there are specific players who won’t return in 2013, but they’ve got the bodies to fill out the rotation if pitchers and catchers reported today. No, the biggest shortcoming which hasn’t yet been sufficiently addressed is the bullpen.

When 2011 ended the bullpen was thought to be a strength headed into 2012. John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez would lock down the 8th and 9th again and trading away Casey McGehee brought a capable “7th inning guy” so the Brewers thought they were covered. Well, there was a lot of failed opportunities all over and with no proven veteran options to turn to, the bullpen suffered for it.

Axford seemed to find himself again by the end of the season despite the late blown Save against the Reds and he’s been endorsed (for whatever that is actually worth) as the team’s closer heading into next season. Axford’s fellow Canadian Jim Henderson will return after performing well down the stretch also. Beyond that the only name still even on the roster is left-hander Manny Parra and many fans I’ve talked to this off-season so far expect him to follow Kameron Loe and Jose Veras to the Designated For Assignment line or at least be non-tendered.

The result is that in a “standard” seven-man bullpen, the Milwaukee Brewers have five spots to fill.

They’ve added several players already this Hot Stove Season, but they are all marginal talents to be fair. What I was told though was that Doug Melvin and a certain player’s agent have been talking about a potential reunion, one that would right what many fans consider to be a wrong from a year ago.

While nothing is imminent and there is reportedly at least one other team talking to this player’s agent as well, I was told that the Brewers have been in contact with the agent of veteran free agent right-hander LaTroy Hawkins.

Hawk first came to the Brewers prior to the 2010 season though he lost much of that year to injury. He pitched very well in 2011 once he was ramped up into higher leverage situations. Last December he signed a contract with the The Angels Angels of Anaheim in Orange County of the State of California. He pitched well again, though not as well as in 2011.

The potential downside is simply that Hawkins will be 40 next year and many players are finished by that point in there careers. Then again, many players don’t make it to 39 either. Exceptions exist for every rule.

I don’t know who contacted who first and I don’t know what kind of terms have been thrown around in the early talks but you’d have to think that Hawkins would love two years but being 40 next year makes that a near impossibility. One year plus an option should be enough to get Hawkins playing a 19th year in MLB.

Again, I must stress that nothing might come of this with the Brewers and nothing at all is imminent (at least not as of this morning). Hawkins is on vacation in London and obviously would have to be in the States to pass a physical for any deal. It might happen, but just not today.

Still, that the Brewers might be in contact with Hawkins’ agent is encouraging. He should be able to help provide a steady, dependable option like he did two seasons ago when the Brewers made it to the National League Championship Series.

Previous Hot Stove Reports

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #40 Jose Veras

We’re inside six weeks, faithful (or first-time) readers. If you look to the right-hand side of the page, and are reading this on the day it was first posted, you’ll also notice that we’re a week away from on-field action against another team.

It’s an exciting time of the year to be sure. One where, in a normal set of meteorological circumstances, we’d be talking more about the trading of the seasons from winter to spring.

Do you see what I did there?

One off-season removed from the trading which brought us Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, today “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” profiles the only trade acquisition this current off-season:

Jose Veras.

Milwaukee’s recent addition will once again take the mound in Miller Park, though in a relief role unlike last off-season’s additions.

Acquired in exchange for 3B Casey McGehee back in December, Jose Enger Veras was recently described on Twitter by Brewers beat writer Adam McCalvy as “gigantic” when he reported to Maryvale for the start of Brewers Spring Training. In the tradition of reporting that a player has reported to camp in the “best shape of his life”, the term was met with some worry by those that read it. McCalvy clarified that he simply meant that Veras, who stands 6’6″ and is listed at 240 pounds, is every bit of human that his bio suggests.

Veras, 31,  pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates (as he has throughout his professional career) where he posted a line of 2-4, 3.80 ERA, 71.0 IP, 54 H, 32 R (30 ER), 6 HR, 34 BB, 3 IBB, 79 K. He held opponents to a .206 batting average, and his WHIP totaled 1.24 for the year. He was 1-for-8 in Save opportunities for the Pirates, and hasn’t saved a game since 2007 when he was 2-f0r-2 for the New York Yankees. In other words, neither incumbent closer John Axford, nor incumbent setup man Francisco Rodriguez need worry about their jobs.

That isn’t to say that Veras doesn’t have late-inning value. He was the primary setup man for Pirate closer Joel Hanrahan and appeared in 79 games. His talents and level of ability definitely fit better in the 7th inning, which for the record is where the Pirates would’ve pitched Veras in 2011 had Evan Meek been healthy the entire season. The 7th inning just so happens to be a spot where the Brewers have an opening (actually, two) created by the free-agent departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito.

It’s extremely early in the process to determine anything definitively, but if camp broke today and the Brewers faced the Cardinals tomorrow and the starter could only make it through six…it would be a safe bet that Jose Veras would get the ball first in a close game where the Brewers had the lead.

Veras features a big fastball (range: 92 MPH – 97 MPH with a 94.1 MPH average velocity), curve ball (range: 75 MPH – 82 MPH, average: 78.6 MPH), and split-fingered fastball (80-86 range, 83.8 average).

He is a strikeout pitcher, as evidenced by his 79 strikeouts in 71.0 innings last year and his career 249 strikeouts in 247.1 innings pitched. When batters put the ball in play against him, the ball tends to head skyward. His career ground-out-to-fly-out ratio is 0.81 and was actually 0.68 in 2011.

Bottom line: He’ll contribute positively much more often than not, but like any relief pitcher is prone to give up runs in bunches. In the 19 appearances in which Veras allowed runs to score on his record, he allowed multiple runs nine times. To put it another way, he seems to be a very on or very off pitcher (just based on hard numbers), so it will be part of manager Ron Roenicke’s job with the help of bullpen coach Stan Kyles, to make sure they can identify the days when they might be getting an off Veras.

 

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #50 Kameron Loe

Day three of this (possible) eight day run is here as we are an even 50 days away from Opening Day.

Picking out the man who wears number 50 on his back for the Milwaukee Brewers might seem a little like finding the right car at the dealership. Many choices to be sure, but there’s just something about this particular model that makes it stand out.

In this case, those conspicuous features include a bald head, lean body, and most notably a 6’8″ frame.

Of course I can be referring to none other than right-handed relief pitcher:

Kameron Loe.

I’ve been including a picture of each player as I’ve gone through this series, but briefly considered simply putting a picture of the lightning rod in this space and then just including Loe’s picture later in the piece.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Nobody attracted more heat throughout the year on a Brewers’ mound than did Loe.

Loe pitched in parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers before spending 2009 pitching professionally in Japan. The Brewers lured him back in 2010 so the upcoming season will be his third with Milwaukee.

Sure, Zack Greinke caught heat for his basketball escapades, and Shaun Marcum had his struggles late in the year, but deservedly or not Kameron David Loe caught heat early, often and consistently throughout 2011.

Loe’s 2011 season consisted of 72 appearances in which Loe totaled 72.0 innings pitched, a 3.50 ERA, 65 hits allowed, 30 runs allowed (28 earned), 4 home runs, 18 walks (two of which were intentional), and 61 strikeouts. He also hit two batters. Loe tallied one save and posted a record of 4-7.

He did appear in five games in the 2011 postseason, pitching twice against Arizona and thrice opposing St. Louis. The Cardinals put the only dents into Loe’s ERA by tagging him for four earned runs in Game 2 of the NLCS on October 10, a game which St. Louis won 12-3.

In three of Loe’s appearances he gave up at least three earned runs. Those three appearances combined for 12 earned runs in only 1.1 innings pitched. They were ugly outings and you can’t discount them when analyzing Loe’s season, but to fly off on the other end of the spectrum and try to claim that Loe was terrible more often than not or that he couldn’t ever get anybody out would be just as foolish.

Loe made 54 scoreless appearances and seemed to give up runs in appearances which were bunched together, though not always consecutively. What that means is probably a whole lot of nothing, but the facts remain.

Following the injury to Takashi Saito and kid-gloves approach the Brewers used with LaTroy Hawkins through much of the year, Loe was forced into working a lot of situations he normally wouldn’t have been called upon for. He was pitching to left-handed hitters in high-leverage situations. He was pitching in close and late situations. It cost him and the team.

If you’ve been a faithful reader of the series, you may recall that I mentioned in the Francisco Rodriguez article how when the Brewers acquired K-Rod their bullpen had already lost 20 games. Well, seven of those were Loe’s. To point out another thing, Loe wasn’t the pitcher of record in a loss once Rodriguez was acquired. As the back-end of the bullpen got filled out throughout the year, Loe was able to pitch in situations more suited for his skill level and abilities.

In an ideal world, Loe wouldn’t have to pitch to a left-handed hitter ever. He also would be used situationally in either early bullpen work for full innings for possibly 7th inning work when the match up at the plate works in his favor or the situation dictates a certain kind of pitcher being needed.

The reality of the baseball life is that Loe will be called upon in situations that are, for lack of a better phrase, above his pay grade. So long as those behind him in the bullpen repeat their solid seasons and allow Loe to pitch to his strengths, I expect that Loe will have an even better ratio of quality appearances to awful ones.

Loe’s ratio of ground ball outs to outs recorded in the air was an impressive 2.77 in 2011. That’s aided by the number one pitch in Loe’s repertoire: a sinker which he throws between 88-90 MPH. According to Pitch F/X information, he threw his sinker 78.6 percent of the time in 2011. He secondary pitch was a slider thrown with an average velocity of 79.4 MPH. He threw a handful of change ups but nothing worth noting. Interesting to note is that Pitch F/X said that Loe didn’t throw a straight fastball all season.

The sinker had pretty good movement, breaking down and in to right-handers, and the slider moves enough to where it can be a fair compliment to the sinker. As that 2.77 GO/AO ratio points out, though, the sinker is Loe’s main weapon.

Loe was eligible for salary arbitration this offseason and settled with Milwaukee at a figure of $2.175 million.

With the departure of Hawkins and Saito in free agency, Loe’s veteran leadership will be a welcomed presence. With the addition of Jose Veras via trade, Loe should primarily pitch in those controlled situations which I outlined earlier.

Put it all together and the result will hopefully be a positive contribution to Milwaukee’s efforts to repeat as NL Central Division Champions and take the next step or two in 2012.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #58 Mike McClendon

Welcome back to this lengthy consecutive days streak for the “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” series.

Yesterday, which was 59 days away from Opening Day, saw the first legitimate 2012 big leaguer profiled in John Axford.

Today, which is 58 days away from Opening Day, sees a guy who bounced back and forth a couple of times between Milwaukee and Nashville over the past couple of seasons:

Mike McClendon.

Michael Melton McClendon is a 6’5”, 225 lb, right-handed relief pitcher who made his MLB debut on August 14, 2010 after being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th round of the 2006 amateur draft.

McClendon has had a fair amount of success in the big leagues, given his inauspicious promotion and use in mostly low-leverage situations.

He stayed up with the Brewers from his debut in 2010 through the end of the season. His MLB campaign saw the Texas native appear in 17 games, totaling 21.0 innings pitched. His first two appearances were 3.0 inning jobs, which shows that he wasn’t exactly designated for “close and late” situations. The balance of his year resulted in a line of: 2-0, 3.00 ERA, 21.0 IP, 15 H, 7 ER, 2 HR, 7 BB, 21 K. He held opponents to a .195 batting average and saw his WHIP finish at 1.05.

The next year, McClendon got a nice look in the spring but wasn’t brought north to Milwaukee. He began the season with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds where he would pitch in three games (1-0, 6.1 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 1 BB, 4 K, .174 BAA) before being recalled to Milwaukee on April 19th.

McClendon would pitch that same night against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing just one walk in an otherwise perfect ninth inning, sealing up a win for Milwaukee.

That appearance kicked off a 2011 for McClendon that would see him pitch in eight more games for the Brewers before being sent back to Nashville due to the return of Zach Braddock from the disabled list. In those nine appearances, McClendon only gave up runs twice. One was a true blow up type where he allowed three earned runs on five hits (including one home run) in an inning and two-thirds at home against San Diego. I remember, because I was there! It was that game where the Padres scored eight runs in the eighth inning en route to a 13-6 victory.

Otherwise, another very encouraging season from McClendon. He totaled a 2.63 ERA in 13.2 innings, won three games, finished with a 1.32 WHIP after surrendering 15 hits and three walks. He did strike out 10 over the nine games as well.

The other lasting legacy of McClendon’s time in Milwaukee was the introduction of the quick pitch to many fans. LaTroy Hawkins used it a few times as well, but McClendon really brought it to the forefront of Brewers fans’ minds.

Back in Nashville, McClendon finished the Triple-A season with 38 appearances, all in reliefe. He tossed 58.2 innings, and produced a 5-6 record, 3.53 ERA and recorded 8 Saves.

Looking at the total picture, it was a solid season for McClendon. He has things to work on, but so does every player. The bottom line for the team is that he’s shown flashes of being a reliable and capable option for a call-up in the case of injury to one a member of the bullpen.

Barring injury, Mike McClendon isn’t likely to make the 25-man roster out of Spring Training. He will start the regular season in Nashville’s bullpen. These are likelihoods that you can feel comfortable with.

I just suggest that he keeps at least one carry-on bag packed.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #59 John Axford

Opening Day is 59 days away.

59 days from the regalia and tradition of team introductions, bunting hanging from stadium facades around the league, and thunderous applause when the home team pitcher delivers the first pitch of the season.

For #59 on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers countdown, despite it not being an exact match by calendar day Opening Day is the anniversary of his worst outing of the season.

Of course I’m talking about Milwaukee’s bullpen ace and resident purveyor of all things facial hair:

John Axford.

That’s right, Brewer Nation, we’ve finally reached the point in the countdown where players with significant amounts of MLB service time will start showing up in this space.

John Berton Axford hails from the great north and has a well-documented path to the big leagues. It’s not one that I’ll rehash here, but if you haven’t heard about his time as a cellphone salesman and bartender, nor read about how Jay Lapp braved treacherous weather to see Axford throw one cold, Canadian day, do yourself a favor and head to Google when you’re finished here.

Standing 6’5″ makes Axford an imposing presence on the mound. He may not be Kameron Loe out there, but Axford utilizes his height very well in his delivery.

The right-hander features a high-octane fastball that has tickled 98 MPH on the radar gun, a slider with good movement and a curve that keeps hitters plenty off-balance.

No doubt you’ve seen many a hitter throughout the 2011 season swing under and behind a fastball that crosses the plate at or higher than his neck. Well, that happens because Axford’s curve ball moves so well that it makes his fastball up and out of the strikezone extremely tantalizing to swing at.

Axford mixes pitches well, doesn’t rely on any specific sequence, and throws his off-speed stuff for strikes. It makes for a tough assignment in the ninth for any group of opposing hitters. It’s an assignment that resulted in Axford converting 46-of-48 Save opportunities throughout 2011.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Brewers since April 18, 2011 (by the way, the Brewers won the NL Central Championship and beat the Diamondbacks in the NLDS), Axford rattled off 43 consecutive Saves from April 23rd through the end of the regular season. It was that security in the 9th inning that championed the Brewers to a team-record 96 victories.

After all, there’s nothing worse as a hitter than working hard to take a lead into the late innings only to have the lead evaporate within a few pitches.

Which brings us back to why I mentioned Opening Day 2011 at all. It was in Cincinnati on March 31st where the Brewers hitters (with some help from solid pitching) sent the defending NL Central Champion Reds into the bottom half of the ninth inning down by three runs. Axford entered from the visitors’ bullpen and, for whatever reason, couldn’t get the job done that day.

He surrendered a run to make the Brewers’ lead 6-4. Then, with two men on base, he served up a pitch to Ramon Hernandez that the Reds catcher deposited over the outfield wall giving his team a 7-6 victory.

This was Axford’s first day without his on-the-job mentor from 2010, future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman. It was the first game of the year, one that saw a Brewer (Rickie Weeks) lead off a season with a home run for the first time. It was a win that was basically in the bag.

But then it wasn’t.

There is plenty of talk in the sabermetric community that “closer’s mentality” is a myth. It’s something that is made up by agents as a way to justify higher salaries for the gentlemen that record the final three outs of a tight ballgame. I tell you this: whether you believe in the idea that closers are a different breed by designation, John Axford certainly is.

Normal men might have allowed that crushing loss to affect them for a long time. Normal men might have pitched tentatively the next time (or 10), trying to avoid a game-losing home run and allowing the opposition to nickel and dime him to a loss anyway.

Not Axford. He ticked off three saves, blew one on the aforementioned April 18th when he gave up a single run to the Phillies in a game that the Brewers ended up winning in extra innings anyway, and then didn’t blink the rest of the year. Sure, he gave up a run here and there, but was perfect much more often than not.

In fact, in Save situations after April 18th, Axford gave up a single run only six times. That’s 37 spotless Saves. Of the six blemishes, one was an unearned run in Colorado (you can probably remember that defensive 9th inning if you try), and three more were from solo home runs. In other words, only twice over 43 consecutive Saves was Axford hit enough where the other team was able to manufacture a run.

I think everyone can agree that Axford had a pretty good season.

The other thing to remember is that several leads were blown before Axford even had a chance to take the mound. If-come-maybes notwithstanding, Axford could have had a chance at a 50-Save season. Even without those games, Axford still set the team record for Saves in a single season.

Going forward into 2012, Axford returns as one of the top closers in the game today. With what figures to be an offense that is down in run production from 2011, a quality bullpen will be more important than ever. After losing setup men LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito to free agency, the trade for Jose Veras and return of Francisco Rodriguez after the team expected K-Rod to depart will prove to be very important moves. Their play in front of Axford will greatly influence the team’s success.

The bottom line is that the ninth inning is still where the money is made though in that respect with John Axford, the Milwaukee Brewers are awash in riches.

Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #63 Frankie De La Cruz

A late start to today’s installment of “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, but that’s certainly not due to a lack of consideration for today’s player. Rather it was caused by an extreme case of exhaustion on the part of yours truly after a long night Wednesday into Thursday. If you’d like some proof, go look at when the Michael Fiers article was posted and then added an hour or so onto that for my bed time.

Enough about me. That’s not why you’re here.

You’re here because being 63 days away from Opening Day on April 6, 2012 means you get to read about a pitching prospect that logged big league time in 2011 while wearing jersey number 63.

That man is none other than Eulogio (pronounced ay-oo-low-HEE-yo) De La Cruz.

Frankie De La CruzYou may be saying to yourself “Eulogio? I remember a Frankie De La Cruz, but not this other guy.” Both men are listed at 5’10” and 215 pounds. Both will be 28 years old by Opening Day. Both hail from the Dominican Republic. Lots of similarities, wouldn’t you agree? Well, as Mac McGrath once said about Babe Bennett and Pam Dawson, “They are, in fact, one in the same.”

Frankie De La Cruz has logged big league innings with four different teams in the four years he’s been on a big league roster. Originally with Detroit, he was traded to the Marlins organization as a part of the Miguel Cabrera deal. After exhausting his final minor league option, he was traded from Florida to San Diego in March of 2009. De La Cruz was then designated for assignment by the Padres just over a month later after the Padres had to call up a starting pitcher (Chad Gaudin) to cover some injuries.

After spending the 2010 season pitching in Japan, De La Cruz signed a minor-league contract with the Brewers prior to the 2011 season. He wound up pitching in 11 games for Milwaukee, allowing four earned runs over 13.0 innings pitched. His major issue in previous big league stints, walking batters, didn’t flare up as much with Milwaukee. He “only” walked five while allowing 10 hits. It worked out to a 1.15 WHIP and clearly aided him in compiling a 2.77 ERA.

What the future holds for De La Cruz as a member of the Brewers organization is something of a mystery, however. He is out of minor league options and the Brewers have a number of bullpen arms returning to the team after being out with injuries in 2011.

Manny Parra, Zach Braddock, and Brandon Kintzler all stand to have a shot to head north as a part of the Brewers bullpen. Parra is out of options also, but Braddock and Kintzler both could be optioned down if Doug Melvin decides that depth is a focus.

It may seem like the numbers game isn’t set up to work in the favor of De La Cruz, but he has an opportunity to pitch his way to Miller Park this spring. If I had to formulate a guess as to the bullpen right now, it’d be John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Kameron Loe, Parra, Marco Estrada and José Veras all making the team for sure.

The departures of LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito to parts out west opens up a couple of jobs, but De La Cruz is hardly guaranteed of a spot. He was left off of the post season roster last year, after all, and only has a total of 32.0 innings pitched over his career.

Working in his favor are a fastball and curveball that once lead to a #6 ranking in the Detroit Tigers prospects list by Baseball America. These pitches haven’t developed as dominatingly as some no doubt hoped when he was labeled as a future big-league closer, but the raw stuff is still there somewhere.

Bottom line for De La Cruz is that despite relatively effective appearances for the Brewers in 2011 after being called up to replace an injured Chris Narveson on the roster, nothing is close to guaranteed for FDLC going into 2012.

He’ll have to pitch well from the jump in order to force his way back onto the 25-man roster. Is it doable? Certainly. Is it likely? That remains to be seen once the mitts start popping in Maryvale on February 20th.

Milwaukee Brewers 25-Man Roster Comes Into Focus…For Now

By: Big Rygg 

After a flurry of moves today the 25-man roster heading north with the parent club has become as clear as it’s been all spring. Justin James and Mike McClendon were optioned to the minor leagues and once GM Doug Melvin traded minor leaguer Cutter Dykstra for OF Nyjer Morgan, Brandon Boggs was placed on waivers.

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When those moves were completed, there were 27 players officially left in Major League camp though two of them (Jonathan Lucroy and Corey Hart) are expected to be officially placed on the DL shortly.
As for the current 25-man roster, it’ll break down like this:
Four (4) Starting Pitchers
  • Yovani Gallardo
  • Shaun Marcum
  • Randy Wolf
  • Chris Narveson
Eight (8) Relief Pitchers
  • John Axford
  • Takashi Saito
  • Kameron Loe
  • Sean Green
  • Zach Braddock
  • Mitch Stetter
  • Sergio Mitre
  • Brandon Kintzler
Two (2) Catchers
  • George Kottaras
  • Wil Nieves
Six (6) Infielders
  • 1B – Prince Fielder
  • 2B – Rickie Weeks
  • SS – Yuniesky Betancourt
  • 3B – Casey McGehee
  • Bench – Craig Counsell
  • Bench – Erick Almonte
Five (5) Outfielders
  • LF – Ryan Braun
  • CF – Carlos Gomez
  • RF – Mark Kotsay
  • Bench – Jeremy Reed
  • Bench – Nyjer Morgan
Now, obviously things will change throughout April quite a bit. Five expected roster members will be starting the season on the 15-day Disabled List. These are pitchers Zack Greinke, Manny Parra and LaTroy Hawkins, catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and right-fielder Corey Hart.
All of the DL placements will be retroactive to March 22nd (the earliest date allowed by league rule) which means that the men on it to start the year will be eligible to come back to the active roster as of April 6th. Not everyone will be ready by then, but two or more might be.
When Lucroy returns, one of the other catchers will be removed from the roster. Kottaras and Nieves are both out of options and, in reality, Lucroy’s injury is simply delaying the inevitable for one of them. With Martin Maldonado and Mike Rivera set to share the catching duties at Triple-A Nashville, one has to wonder whether the person Lucroy pushes out will even choose to remain with the organization should he clear waivers.
Hart’s situation is much the same though it seems much more clear who loses their job when he returns. Spring Training non-roster invitee Jeremy Reed made the club based on his performance over these past few weeks, but with the Brewers having recently traded for the younger, more talented, team-controlled (contract-wise) Nyjer Morgan, it appears fairly obvious that, barring injury, Reed will be the odd man out when Hart is deemed ready to go.
As for the pitchers, it’s a bit more muddled. The team is only taking four starters north because they don’t need a fifth one until April 6th. That being said, unless they choose to have recently acquired swingman Sergio Mitre make that first spot start, someone will have to be sent out to make room for the fifth starter. If someone is sent out, it’ll likely be Brandon Kintzler because not only does he have options remaining but they aren’t going to keep eight relief pitchers all year anyway.
If they choose to go with Mitre on the 6th of April, Kintzler will survive a while longer. A fifth starter isn’t need again after that until the 16th.
So if we go down the diverging paths another step, we get to the two relief pitchers, Hawkins and Parra. If Mitre makes the spot start, Kintzler will be optioned down as soon as Hawkins is ready to come back. When Parra is deemed healthy he’ll replace one of the other left-handed pitchers in the bullpen, either Braddock or Stetter. Who is sent down to Nashville due to his return will probably rely a great deal on performance over these first couple of weeks.
Of course the elephant in the room is the eventual return of Zack Greinke. When he is ready to contribute the bullpen shrinks back to seven members. No ifs ands or buts about that. If he’s somehow the first pitcher to return, Kintzler again goes. If he’s second behind Parra it could be Mitre who goes because they’d have their long-man back. If Hawkins is on the roster too it could be an interesting decision to say the least.
But for now the 25-man roster is very clear…for at least a week or so anyway.

What Has Happened to This Team?

By: Big Rygg

It has been a while since I’ve written anything in this space. The reason for that is two-fold.

First, I am the proud parent to a new baby boy (he’s a month old today, as a matter of fact)! Second, the team hasn’t exactly given me much in the way of motivation to sit down and really put forth any concerted effort.

To be fair, in all reality it is the former that has kept me away more than the latter. I can write about my favorite team in the dead of winter when they’re not even playing with no issue. Certainly I have had plenty on my mind during these recent lean days but diapers/bottles/baths/bonding/etc. really chew up my “free” time.

I was going to sit down and write a free-form rant (I even advertised it on my blog’s Twitter account – twitter.com/BrewerNation) but I got busy and calmed down while caring for my little boy that can’t care for himself yet.

That’s kind of a metaphor for the 2010 Milwaukee Brewers so far this year.

I know that the team will tell you that they are maturing and how they don’t want to be seen as the team that other teams love to beat, but if you ask me all they’ve accomplished by toning down their youthful exuberance is rip their own heart out.

They no longer seem to be having fun while playing a fun game. They no longer seem to be enjoying their days at the ballpark which is an enjoyable place. They no longer seem to have that swagger that carried them to a 90-72 record and a post-season playoff berth WAY back in 2008.

Yeah…2008. Remember when CC Sabathia couldn’t be stopped and this team was having fun all summer long? It doesn’t seem that long ago when you think about it outside of sports, but in Major League Baseball so much can change in two short years.

I could list things like that they’ve had three managers since then, or that they’ve burned through four pitching coaches but the main thing that’s changed from 2008 to 2010 isn’t tangible like that.

It’s the fun.

Let me break it down to you this way. They say that a group takes on the personality and characteristics of its leader. But has there ever been a seemingly more mismatched pairing than Ken Macha and the majority of this Brewers roster?

Macha is admittedly old school. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot about old school baseball. I like (most of) the unwritten rules. I like drilling a guy for showing up the game. I like a good old-fashioned bench-clearing brawl.

The players, and perhaps it’s mostly as a by-product of their median age, is decidedly new school in a lot a ways. The earthquake celebration against San Francisco, Braun and Fielder’s boxing celebration after home runs, the untucking of their jerseys after victories…it all is about having fun.

They never were trying to show anybody up. They were simply trying to enjoy each other and each other’s successes on the field.

But apparently somebody got in the ears of the clubhouse leaders over the off-season and planted a distinctive “knock it off” somewhere in there.

Sure, Braun and Fielder still celebrate home runs and now Fielder and McGehee have even developed a little foot shake routine. And yes, if they were still untucking their jerseys with a 16-26 record, it might seem a touch out of place.

My argument, though, is that once this team stopped having fun this team stopped playing loose. They’ve been uptight, trying to be to too perfect (I’m looking at you, pitching staff) and generally almost seem to be playing scared.

Not that they’re afraid of the ball or anything, but they’ve got “What’s going to go wrong tonight?” syndrome.

When you arrive at the ballpark and expect to lose, you generally lose. I’m not saying that any players have told me that they feel this way, or that I’ve heard any of them say it or even imply it. It’s just my feeling as a very interested observer.

Maybe getting Trevor Hoffman fixed will be the spark that this team needs. It can’t be easy when the innings are getting late and you don’t have at least a four-run lead. Hoffman was so maddeningly inconsistent that you almost had to assume failure and be pleasantly surprised if he came through.

Maybe getting healthy will provide the boost that this team needs. When your Opening Day centerfielder and rightfielder have missed time and 40% of your starting rotation has replaced due to injury or ineffectiveness and your setup man is on the DL and now your starting catcher will miss at least two weeks…

Then again, maybe simply getting a few wins will be the ointment that heals the wounds of so many losses.

If you win, maybe you loosen up. If you loosen up, maybe you win some more. If you win some more, maybe you stay loose and go on a run.

So the question becomes: How do you win to start that chain of probabilities?

My answer to that question sounds simple. In fact, it sounds so simple that one might wonder why it isn’t already happening. It sounds so simple that one might question why it was ever abandoned in the first place.

That answer to the Milwaukee Brewers? Find a way to enjoy the game again.

Untuck those jerseys, watch a few home runs a little too long, pump your fist when you strike out a guy in a key situation on defense, hoot and holler and get the other guy’s dander up, put a target on your back again if you must.

In short…just relax and be yourselves.

You might find out that it’s what’s been missing this whole time.

Brewers by the (Jersey) Numbers: #32 – LaTroy Hawkins

By: Big Rygg

The Milwaukee Brewers were one of the few teams to actually do something at the Winter Meetings last December. By all accounts, they also did the most during the handful of days.

One of the acquisitions that Doug Melvin’s team made in Indianapolis was that of veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

hawkins.jpgHawkins signed a two-year deal worth $7 million which guarantees (as much as anything in a big league bullpen is guaranteed) him a spot on the roster for Opening Day.

Since that’s not in question at all and Hawkins is new to a Brewer uniform, I figured this article can be a little bit of a career history lesson.

LaTroy Hawkins was a seventh round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins out of Westside High School in Gary, Indiana way back in 1991. I hadn’t yet had my 11th birthday that year.

Signing quickly, he began to make his way to the majors finally debuting on April 29, 1995 at 22 years of age.

Originally a starting pitcher (as most prospects are drafted) Hawkins struggled to an ERA of 8.67 over six starts in 1995. In fact, Hawkins career ERA as a starting pitcher is a bad 6.11 over 98 starts.

Conversely, in 655 games as a reliever, Hawkins has an ERA of 3.29 and plenty of other statistics that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the switch to relief was the absolute perfect move for Hawkins to make.

After spending parts of nine season with the Minnesota Twins, Hawkins signed on with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2004 season. That really began the pinball portion of his career.

After a good season in which he saved 25 games in 77 appearances with a 2.63 ERA, Hawkins was traded to San Francisco part way through the 2005 season. 2006 saw Hawkins pitch back in the American League for Baltimore while 2007 had him back in NL on the Colorado Rockies.

2008 was another bounce around as he started the year as a New York Yankee but ended it with the Houston Astros. It was that stint with Houston that goes down as his most effective. In 24 appearances, Hawkins posted a 2-0 record with a 0.43 ERA. He struck out 25 over 21.0 innings complete with a 0.762 WHIP.

Hawkins remained in Houston for the entirety of the 2009 season, again posting very good overall numbers. Over 63.1 innings spanning 65 games, Hawkins had a 2.13 ERA, 11 saves and a WHIP of 1.200. His ERA+ for that season: 197. When an ERA+ of 100 means you’re exactly average, 197 is pretty good indeed.

Therefore, it can be summized that LaTroy Hawkins has gotten better with age. The Brewers are banking on at least two more good seasons in the sun from Hawkins. I think he’s got it in him.

He takes tremendous care of himself and knows how to get the job done on the mound. If you need more proof than the last two years’ statistics feel free to find them. They’re definitely there for the ogling.

Oh, and in case you were curious, Hawkins ERA+ from the portion of 2008 that he spent with the Astros was 982.

How’s that for aging well?

Quick Hops: Non-Tenders, Counsell, Rumors

By: Big Rygg

Plenty to talk about as I roll out a new title here. When I have several things to discuss and I choose to put them in one post instead of several, it’ll be called “Quick Hops” as I hop from topic to topic. Oh, and if you don’t know, hops are an ingredient in beer…and the team is the Brewers…I hope you’re following me.

Anyway, let’s get to it!

Non-Tender Choices Add Intrigue to Spring Training

The Milwaukee Brewers chose not to tender contracts to injured relief pitcher Mark DiFelice, pitcher Seth McClung and catcher Mike Rivera. This makes the three men free agents, able to sign a contract with any team. Feel free to skip the next two paragraphs if you understand the arbitration system and what the meaning of the non-tender is.

The system that is in place in Major League Baseball allows for a team to “control” a player for six seasons of service time (in the majority of cases). During the first three years of team control (again, in most cases) the team has 100% control over what they pay a player provided that the salary is at least as much as the league-mandated minimum. Typically teams negotiate salaries with players on a year-to-year basis anyway in an effort to involve the player in their money-dealings, but the team has the final say if they and the player cannot reach an accord. If that happens, then the team “renews” the player’s contract at whatever number they deem fair. This can upset players greatly if they feel they outperformed a certain level of pay with their level of play. Prince Fielder is the Brewers’ most recent example of that situation when, after becoming the youngest player in the history of the league to slug 50 home runs in a single season, he felt he was deserving of much more than the contract that he was offered. The two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, so the team renewed Fielder’s contract at a rate that was in line with their team’s pay scale for non-arbitration eligible players.

Being eligible for arbitration is what leads to the non-tendering of contracts if it’s going to happen. When a player becomes eligible for arbitration, salary is no longer completely up to the team. There are a lot of details that I could bore you with, but the basics are that the team and player negotiate to reach a salary for the upcoming year. If the two sides cannot agree on a number by a certain, pre-determined date then they exchange figures. These figures are those that they will submit to a salary arbiter before the season begins. Arbitration hearings are scheduled over a few days in the spring. The team and player can continue to negotiate up to the beginning of the hearing to reach an agreement. If they do, great. The player signs the contract and plays under its terms. If they don’t, a three-member arbitration panel hears the case and chooses one of the figures the sides submitted several weeks prior. (To note: During Doug Melvin’s tenure as General Manager of the Brewers, no player has gone to a hearing.)

Now, the reason that arbitration eligibility can lead to a non-tender is because the contracts a player gets go up in value significantly during arbitration. The jump in salary in the first year of eligibility is often a multi-million dollar one. What’s more, is that arbitration salaries are often influenced simply by service time itself more so than performance. For example, former Brewer J.J. Hardy made around $4MM in 2009. His 2009 season was terrible. It was terrible statistically and it was terrible peripherally. Hardy is not worthy of even the same salary let alone an increase in salary. However, with the system that’s in place, it is an unbelievable rarity that a player’s salary goes lower.

To summarize this entire Hop, allow me to say this: While Mark DiFelice was non-tendered under the rare case where he wasn’t arbitration eligible (he had shoulder surgery which will most likely cost him his entire 2010 season), the increases in salary that McClung and Rivera (who is eligible for arbitration for the first time) stand to receive are more than the Brewers want to pay for those positions for next year. McClung might have been a combination of high-salary/low-performance with the adding of LaTroy Hawkins and needed a spot on the 40-man roster for him, but most likely they could’ve kept McClung anyway with the injury to DiFelice. As for Mike Rivera, the Brewers are finally able to move on from the career backup. Rivera has been a servicable backup backstop during his time with this franchise however he has never been the future at the catcher position. The Brewers knew this when Damian Miller retired and they brought in Jason Kendall for the last two years with Rivera backing him up. Finally, however, the Brewers feel that they have talent at the position in the minor leagues such that they can promote from within and, with a season or two of tutelage at the Major League level, have a home-grown starting catcher for the first time since Mike Matheny.

This should make for a fun battle to watch during Spring Training. The Brewers have two catchers that might be ready to make the jump. Angel Salome has been the most talked about catching prospect in the system for a couple of years now, especially when he put up such gaudy offensive numbers as part of that stacked AA Huntsville club from two seasons ago that included Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel, Matt LaPorta and others. He was the starting catcher for AAA Nashville last year. The catching prospect that has gotten the most talk lately, howevere, has been Jonathan Lucroy who was the starting catcher for Huntsville in 2009. The consensus seems to be that Lucroy might be more ready for the big leagues now with his better plate discipline and what not, but that Salome’s ceiling might still be higher. The Brewers did also claim George Kottaras on waivers early in the off-season as well, so if both youngsters are unable to show anything in spring training that wins them the job, Kottaras might end up being the defacto big league backup while the kids get some more seasoning down on the farm.

Any way it ends up, it ought to be a fun ride. Stay tuned.

The Craigger Set to Stay Put, Announcement to Come Monday?

Monday is shaping up to be a big day for Doug Melvin’s staff. The reports from Indianapolis at the Winter Meetings this past Monday through Thursday were that free-agent pitcher Randy Wolf would be announced to the media as the Brewers’ latest acquisition this coming Monday after passing his required physical examination.

The Brewers, though, just might have two names to announce on Monday. While free-agent signee LaTroy Hawkins was rumored to be announced this coming Tuesday, veteran infielder and team leader Craig Counsell has reportedly agreed to stay in Milwaukee for what might be the balance of his career.

I couldn’t be happier about this move. Even if Counsell doesn’t duplicate his offensive production from 2009, his ability to play three infield positions very well defensively is a huge asset to this team. With inexperienced (at the major league level) starters at SS and 3B in Escobar and Casey McGehee respectively along with Rickie Weeks one bat waggle away from season-ending surgery, having Counsell to spell all three positions is as invaluable for 2010 as having him has proven to be over the past couple of years as well.

Welcome back, Craigger! The Brewer Nation is glad you never left.

Rumor Burner Stays Warm on Hot Stove

Doug Melvin has made no bones about his desire to add two starting pitchers during this off-season. Signing Randy Wolf to a free agent contract gives him one. Where the second one comes from has been a matter of some opinion.

There are still plenty of free agents on the market to be sure. Given the Brewers’ projected payroll, some of them are out of the team’s price range. However, there are several that can be had for a reasonable rate that have great chances to put up better numbers than most members of the Crew’s 2009 starting rotation. In this realm, names like Doug Davis, Jon Garland, Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer, Wisconsin-native Jarrod Washburn and the recently non-tendered Chien-Mien Wang to name a few.

Pulling off a trade is another possibility that is open to Melvin et al. The Brewers still have a handful of trade chips that they can deal to interested teams to get a starting pitcher in return. It’s all about making something work for all teams involved. The biggest rumor that has been floating around since the Winter Meetings is a trade involving the New York Mets which would send Corey Hart to the Big Apple in exchange for John Maine. This makes sense for a couple of different reasons for both teams, but the biggest thing for Milwaukee’s point of view is that it gets us another starting pitcher. It also relieves us of Corey Hart and his waning value. He performed poorly last year but has had recent success and could still have plenty of upside. Maine has worked with new Brewer pitching coach Rick Peterson before when Peterson was in the same role with the Mets. The pairing led to Maine’s best season as a pro so it’s reasonable that it could produce positive results should the two be reunited in Milwaukee.

The Brewers are rumored to be preparing for this possible trade by readying offers to a handful of right fielders. They haven’t offered contracts to any of them yet, of course, because Corey Hart is still on the roster and would start in right field is no move is made. However, I have been told that guys such as Austin Kearns, Xavier Nady and recent 2009 Brewer Frank Catalanotto (who has one of the best batter walkup tunes EVER!). It’ll be interesting to see if the Brewers need to make an offer to one of these players or to another outfielder altogether. Even if they keep Hart, they carried five outfielders for the majority of 2009 and they currently only have four on the 25-man roster in Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun, Jody Gerut and Hart.

Whether a trade or signing is next on the horizon for this team remains to be seen, but the Hot Stove League shouldn’t cool down for Milwaukee for a bit yet.

Just an FYI here to finish things up, the next Brewer Nation podcast with yours truly and Cary Kostka should be recorded at some point this month, schedules permitting. We’ll definitely keep you posted though here at the blog so come back often and thanks for your continued (or brand new) readership!

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