Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Paging Doug Melvin...

Has anybody seen Doug Melvin since the Winter Meetings? Anybody taken a phone call? I'd settle for receiving a Christmas card from the best 'stache in Milwaukee (now that Maddux is gone). I realize the Brewers have to be bargain hunters, especially with the contracts of Suppan, Cameron and Hall weighing us down and the uncertainty of what arbitration will bring for our young core... but COME ON!!! Give me something Doug! I couldn't care less (hyperbole) about the Brewers signing Jorge Julio, Trot Nixon, Chris Duffy and Scott Thorman. The most interesting Brewers hot stove info is the Brewers might have interest in Braden Looper enough to offer a contract. Give me a reason to put my butt in a Miller Park seat next year (even though I'll be there anyway). I'm not looking for you to sign Derek Lowe or the left-handed Jeff Suppan (Randy Wolf). I just want you to sign a player that other major league teams are interested in too. Not some guy that's just grateful to have a minor league contract, a major league caliber player that would be a factor on teams not named the Pirates, Padres or Orioles.

Friday, December 26, 2008

2009 Payroll: If the Season Started Today...

No rumors, no trades, no free agents... Using only the moves the Brewers have already made and the players already in the system, I anticipate the team to be structured as follows (salary in parentheses):

SP1: Yovani Gallardo ($400K)
SP2: David Bush ($5M est.)
SP3: Jeff Suppan ($12.5M )
SP4: Manny Parra ($400K)
SP5: Seth McClung ($1.5M est.)

Closer: Carlos Villanueva ($400K) - Not the prototypical closer, but pitched key innings in 2008 and is fearless on the mound which is the mindset you need to suceed in the ninth inning.

Setup: Todd Coffey ($800K)/ Jorge Julio ($950K) - Both have closing experience but faltered for various reasons. Should be able to execute high pressure pitches for the Brewers down the stretch to preserve leads.

6th/7th innning: Eduardo Morlan ($400K)/David Riske ($4.25M) - Though he is the Brewers Rule 5 pick, management likes Morlan to slide into this role because he throws strikes and can bring it with a 93MPH fastball. Riske is looking to bounce back from an under performance/injury plagued 2008 season. Was able to pitch in key spots for the Royals before being acquired by the Brewers.

Lefties: Mitch Stetter ($400K)/ R.J. Swindle ($400K) - I see the Brewers carrying two lefties to give Macha more chances to play matchups and not worry about saving a lefty for later in the game. If both are limited to facing lefties, I see a lot of success and productive seasons from the two young lefties.

Spot Starter/ X-Factor: Chris Capuano ($500K-$3.7M) - It's good to see Chris bounce back from a second Tommy John surgery but just how effective is he going to be? I see Chris either making the team out of Spring Training as a middle reliever/spot starter, or going to Nashville to make a couple of starts before being brought up in May to fill that same role, it all depends on how far along he is.

As for the everday lineup, that seems to be set in stone without any surprises, here's the rundown:

1B: Prince Fielder ($7M est.)
2B: Rickie Weeks ($2M est.)
SS: J.J. Hardy ($5M est.)
3B: Bill Hall ($6.8M)
LF: Ryan Braun ($745K)
CF: Mike Cameron ($10M)
RF: Corey Hart ($3.5M est.)
C: Jason Kendall ($4.6M)

C: Mike Rivera ($400K) - Melvin and Ash have both said they feel comfortable with their catching tandem of Kendall and Rivera, here's to another year at Nashville for Vinny Rottino.

Util IF/LH PH: Mike Lamb ($400K) - Lamb can fill in at 1st and 3rd and may find himself in a platoon at third depending on how much Hall struggles with righties out of the gate. Though I see Hall getting the chance to prove he's still an everyday player.

Util OF/ Pinch-runner: Tony Gwynn Jr. ($400K) - I think this is finally going to be the year that TGJ stays on the big league club from opening day to October. His speed makes him a useful tool on the base paths late in a game and he can realistically play all three outfield positions should anyone need a day off.

LH PH/ Util OF: Trot Nixon ($400K) - I see Trot being Macha's first man off the bench in a pinch hit situation. Though he can play either corner outfield position, I don't see this happening unless it's an extreme emergency.

For those of you who have not been counting, that gives the Brewers an opening day payroll of $69.145M- $72.345M (Depending on how many incentives Capuano hits). For this blog's sake we'll just say an even $70M. This team would be competitive but I hardly see it as a contender unless Hall and Weeks live up to their potential, Capuano returns to 2006 form and we get big (healthy) years out of Gallardo and Parra. That's a lot of "ifs". Would Doug be excited about starting 2009 with this roster? Probably not, but he would be content.

The Brewers have not announced what their payroll "number" will be for 2009, but one would have to assume it's around $90M due to the increase in season ticket sales and increases in revenues from ticket/concession price increases. That gives the Brewers $20M to spend. Ideally, I would like to shore up the rotation. Names out there are Randy Johnson, Braden Looper, John Smoltz and Randy Wolf. I'd also like to throw Andy Pettitte out there. With a return to the Yankees looking less likely by the day, it would be a big pickup in that we would have a solid, veteran lefty that isn't quite collecting social security (Smoltz and Johnson).

Those of you that know me are aware of my love affair with Carlos Villanueva, and I honestly think he could thrive in either a starting role or closer's role (I will NOT accept him as a middle reliever. Middle reliever's are pitchers that don't have the ability to start or the balls to close, he's neither) I would like to get a more proven commodity in to close games. My top two choices are familiar names to anyone paying attention to free agency, Brian Fuentes and Trevor Hoffman. It all depends on what Doug values more. If he believes closer is the more pressing need, I see him throwing big money at Fuentes and trying to get a bargain starter (Looper or Smoltz). If he sees a starter as the more pressing need, I see him throwing money at a higher profile pitcher like Johnson, Pettitte or Wolf (sidenote: I would HATE this signing, we already have one Suppan) and then trying to get the bargain in Hoffman.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

2009 Payroll: Arbitration edition

In an attempt to figure out what the 2009 Brewers payroll will be, one needs to determine how much arbitration eligible players will be making. This is no small feat given that Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Dave Bush, Seth McClung and Rickie Weeks are all eligible. That's three all-stars and the winningest Brewers pitcher over the last three years (not to mention the only pitcher to notch a victory in the playoffs). Let's start with the easy ones: Rickie and Seth. Rickie made just over $1M last year and I don't expect him to get much more given his performance, but you never know with arbitration, so we'll worst-case it at $2M. Seth McClung had a base salary of $750,000 in 2008 and figures to get a modest pay raise after a productive season. Seth was able to step up into the rotation after injuries and then graciously went back to the bullpen and pitched some key innings for the Brewers down the stretch. I anticipate him avoiding arbitration and signing for $1.5M for next year. Now comes the tricky part...

Dave Bush is 33-31 over the last three years. That's more wins than Ben Sheets (31), Suppan (22) and Capuano (16) over the same period of time. Bush is a solid guy to round out your rotation with in the 4th or 5th spot. He eats innings, strikes out a ton of batters compared to walks, and with the exception of 2007, has one of the best WHIPs in all of baseball. Bush made $2.55M last year and it's going to jump going into next year. I believe Bush wants to pitch here and will be generous in negotiating with Doug and Gord as long as they offer him what he is valued. I anticipate an agreement on a $5M salary.

Corey Hart made the 2008 NL all-star team, was one of the Brewers more reliable bats (when you exclude September and October) and is emerging as an elite defender in right field. That being said, he also has quite a few things working against him. First, it's his first year of arbitration eligibility and not too many players break the bank their first year of arby. Second, Corey massively faded down the stretch. On many occasions leaving the Brewers hanging in critical situations (swinging at a 3-0 pitch in the playoffs ring a bell?) And finally, he strikes out way too much and rarely walks. I love an aggressive batter as much as the next guy, but there's a difference between aggressive and stupid. All that said, I believe Corey is going to be an all-star caliber outfielder for years to come and I'd love to see the Brewers lock him up long-term but I can't bank on that so I figure he comes out of arby with a $3.5M salary.

When the offseason began and J.J. Hardy trade rumors were swirling, my initial reaction was, "who cares? We've got Escobar in the minors and Hardy's not that good". But then I thought about it for a while. How many teams have a shortstop that can play Gold Glove-caliber defense and hit .270 with 25+HR. The Brewers have a rare and valuable commodity on their hands. I now view Hardy as immovable as Braun and Gallardo. Hardy has explicitly stated that he wants to remain a Brewer and I believe he's going to be asking for about $6M for next year and the Brewers will be (initially) offering $4M. This is Hardy's second year of arby and after a year in which he made $2.65M I see him settling into a similar deal to Bush's $5M deal, avoiding arbitration.

Now the big fish, Prince Fielder. There has been talk of Prince Fielder getting a Ryan Howard-like raise in his first year of arbitration. Let me tell you why that's not going to happen. Prince has never won RoY, Howard has. Prince has never won a league MVP, Howard has. No player has more HR that Howard in the NL over the past three years, putting Prince squarely on the tier below Ryan Howard's level. Not to mention the decline in home run power we saw last year and his absolute disappearance in the playoffs. And there's also the weight issue. When Prince donned the #42 jersey on Jackie Robinson day, I thought the Brewers signed the Goodyear blimp to a 2-year deal... Prince (Boras) will be asking for $10M, the Brewers will offer a very fair $7M salary because Prince is/will be an elite player. This will go to a hearing and with the facts listed above, I believe the Brewers will come out on top. $7M salary for the Prince going in to next year.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let the Offseason begin...

With CC Sabathia finally signed, the handcuffs have been removed from the Brewers and they can finally focus on improving the team as opposed to appeasing fans. I'm going to throw on my GM cap and show you how to get the Brewers to the playoffs in 2009. First, let's address the starting rotation.

As it stands the Brewers rotation is set at Gallardo, Parra, Suppan, Bush and McClung... hardly striking fear into the hearts of opposing hitters. Two quick moves take the rotation from mediocre to above average. Gallardo is a special talent and though he may be a year away, he's still a capable ace and I feel comfortable giving him the keys to the castle. So really we just need to solidify the two spots behind him. On the free agent market, I have always liked Jon Garland, and I believe we can get him for around $13 million a year for four years. His numbers don't blow you away but the guy has pretty good peripheral stats and he can step up in the big games. In two career postseason starts, Garland is 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA going an average of 8 innings per outing. Having Garland, Bush and Parra behind Gallardo effectively gives you three number three starters which most teams would be very grateful to have three pitchers of their quality to follow their ace. Now for the fifth spot. Suppan has proved that his best days are behind him and he's not getting any younger. I propose we explore a trade rumor that emerged a while back. Let's find out whether the Yankees are still interested in Mike Cameron. Originally it was speculated that we could ship Cam (and his $10 million salary) to New York for Melky Cabrera and Ian Kennedy. With the vast surplus of starting pitching that is expected when the Yankees finally put their checkbooks away, Kennedy becomes 7th or 8th on their depth chart, but I believe that right now he's a solid, young 5th starter that has a lot of potential and can develop into a middle of the rotation guy. Cabrera is merely icing and he can battle with Tony Gwynn Jr for the starting center field spot. That gives the Brewers a final rotation of Gallardo, Garland, Parra, Bush and Kennedy while getting rid of Cameron's bloated contracted in favor of two quality players making the minimum. Also, in case of injury which Brewers fans are well familiar with, McClung and Villanueva are two serviceable stop-gaps. What about Suppan? I'll get to that next.

The Brewers need to get a closer and with dropping the bulk of their expendable cash on Garland, they will probably need to address this need via the trade. One familiar GM has let it known that his all-star closer is available for the right deal, and he's let it known that he's looking for bats, which the Brewers have plenty of... Jack Z is reportedly shopping J.J. Putz and we've got an over-weight slugger that would make this deal a no-brainer. J.J. Putz for Prince Fielder would be a bonehead move so some auxiliary players are going to need to be involved. Adrian Beltre has a bloated contract and for some reason has outstayed his welcome in some fan circles in Seattle. Beltre only has one year left on his deal for $12 million, this allows the Brewers to give top prospect Mat Gamel one more year to develop. He's a gold-glove third baseman that has an above average bat. In return, I suggest we take on Beltre's unfavorable contract in exchange for one of our own, Jeff Suppan. To sweeten the deal by including a mid-level prospect, like Taylor Green, Lou Palmisiano or Angel Salome. I bet Jack is more than eager to get some of his former draft picks over to Seattle. J.J Putz anchors the bullpen and Beltre removes any need for Bill Hall at third making him available for my next move.

Ask any baseball fan about San Diego's offseason plans and 99% will say the name Jake Peavy, but I'm going to argue they have more pressing needs. Can anyone name their starting second baseman? And with Khalil Greene in St. Louis, who knows who their leading candidate for shortstop is? With Hall available as an above-average shortstop and Rickie Weeks always a threat to realize his potential, I believe that is more than enough incentive to pry Adrian Gonzalez from their hands. Fill two holes (very difficult holes to fill by the way) and only create one that is relatively easy to fill. No brainer right? Gonzalez provides the Brewers with a left-handed slugger that can more than adequately fill the void left by Prince Fielder at the ridiculous price of $3 million in 2009. To fill the second base spot left by Weeks, the Brewers merely have to call up Alcides Escobar and slide Hardy to second. To recap the 2009 Brewers roster according to Justin, the linuep looks a little something like this (including 2009 salary)...

1. Tony Gwynn Jr. CF/ Alcides Escobar SS - $400 K
2. Alcides Escobar SS/ Melky Cabrera CF - $400 K 
3. Ryan Braun LF - $745 K
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B - $3 MM
5. J.J. Hardy SS - $5 MM (arbitration estimate)
6. Adrian Beltre 3B - $12 MM 
7. Corey Hart RF - $3.5 MM (arbitration estimate)
8 Jason Kendall C - $4.6 MM

TGJ/Melky Cabrera - $400 K
Mike Rivera C - $400 K
Mike Lamb Corner IF - $400 K
Hernan Iribarren Middle IF - $400 K
Gabe Kapler type utility outfielder/veteran - $1 MM

1. Yovani Gallardo SP - $400 K
2. Jon Garland SP - $13 MM
3. Manny Parra - $400 K
4. David Bush - $5 MM (arbitration estimate)
5. Ian Kennedy - $400 K

David Riske - $4.25 MM
Jorge Julio - $950 K
Todd Coffey - $1 MM
Seth McClung - $1.5 MM (arbitration estimate)
Carlos Villanueva - $400 K 
Mitch Stetter - $400 K
J.J. Putz - $5 MM

That gives the Brewers and opening day payroll of $64.545 million. This allows the Brewers plenty of payroll room to improve the team via trade during the season as needed and also save money to re-invest into the team in future years.