The Waning Days of Rickie

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

rickie_weeks2With the Brewers eliminated from postseason contention, thoughts are naturally turning to 2015.  It’s as if the late-season collapse that brought the first-place Brewers to their knees hasn’t infected all their fans with endless pessimism about the future.  But before we cast our eyes, gleaming with irrational hope, toward the new season, let’s stop for a second to reflect on  what we’re about to lose.

Rickie Weeks is a lightning rod among fans for a lot of reasons.  His early years on the team were marred by low batting averages and nagging injuries.  Fans were frustrated by high strikeout totals, lackluster defense, and a perceived careless approach at the plate, despite the fact that Weeks led the club’s regulars in on-base percentage in 2006, was second in 2007 and 2010 to Prince Fielder, and third in 2008 … well, you get the picture.  Fan sentiment about Rickie has never actually reflected his skill set, which included a power bat not generally found in the middle infield.

One thing people were generally correct about, even in those early days, was the injury bug.  Weeks is basically Frankenstein’s monster.  He’s had wrist surgery twice (2006 and 2009), and missed additional games because of a wrist injury in 2007.  Weeks had let thumb surgery in 2005 and missed handful of games in 2008 because of a sore knee.  Availability is a skill, as they say, and Weeks took plenty of criticism because he couldn’t stay on the field.

Fan sentiment seemed to shift after Weeks’ first healthy season in 2010.  Weeks was a dynamo for the 77-85 Brewers, playing 160 games and slashing .269/.366/.464 with 29 home runs.  The potential many had talked about for half a decade had finally been realized, and the Brewers moved quickly to sign Weeks to a long-term extension in the offseason.  On the eve of Weeks’ final arbitration hearing, he and the team agreed to a four-year, $38.5 million deal with a fifth-year vesting option covering 2015.  Smartly, the Brewers built outs for themselves if Weeks was not an everyday player in 2013 or 2014.

Unfortunately, Weeks didn’t stay healthy in 2011, and couldn’t quite replicate his success in 2012.  However, he still contributed plenty to to those teams.  In 2011, Weeks shredded his ankle when he landed on first base awkwardly and was limited to 118 games that year, although he still managed to accumulate 20 home runs with a very respectable .269/.350/.468 triple slash en route to his first All-Star berth.  In 2012, Weeks again surpassed 20 home runs in a healthy season but hit just .230.  By 2013, many were calling for Weeks’ ouster at second base in favor of the much-hyped Scooter Gennett.  They got their wish when Weeks suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in August after hitting just .209.

The left-handed Gennett did well in Weeks’ absence, and the two entered into a fairly rigid platoon during the 2014 season.  Weeks has rebounded to his best season since 2011, hitting .272/.350/.451 with 8 home runs in 277 plate attempts.  He declined to move to left field early in the season, preferring instead to market himself as a second baseman as he enters free agency after this year.  The Brewers will not pick up Weeks’ option, and we are presumably watching the last days of Rickie Weeks in a Brewers uniform.

Weeks is one of the last holdovers from the Brewers postseason appearances in 2008 and 2011, and has been a lineup staple since 2006.  Very few players have that kind of longevity with a team, which itself speaks for Weeks’ skills.  While its fair to say there is a certain segment of Brewers fans who have never liked Weeks, even they have to appreciate the 18 career fWAR he has accumulated as a member of the Brewers.  In these final two games, the fans always so critical of Weeks need to step back and admire a guy that not only gave his all when able, but contributed in real, definable ways to bring postseason baseball back to Milwaukee.

 

Scooter Gennett as a liability

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

In Sunday’s uncomfortably close win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, the bottom of the seventh inning looked promising.  Up 4-2, the Brewers would bring Jonathan Lucroy, Ryan Braun, and Aramis Ramirez to the plate against mediocre right-handed starter Vance Worley – an excellent opportunity to add insurance runs and seal the deal.  Indeed, everything went according to plan after Lucroy grounded out: Braun and Ramirez both singled, leaving two on with lefty Scooter Gennett coming to the plate.

Clint Hurdle did the logical thing at that point and pulled Worley, replacing him with LHP Justin Wilson.  The young Wilson’s splits somewhat surprisingly favor left-handed batters, but he still holds them to a career 247/.311/.337 line.  Scooter, however, has always struggled against southpaws, and as a major leaguer has hit just .132/.154/.145 off them.

It made all the sense in the world to substitute Rickie Weeks, the right-handed portion of the second base platoon and a career .259/.383/.440 hitter against lefties.  The Brewers had dropped the first two games in the series and are locked in a tight NL Central race in which the Pirates, at the time, were just four games back.  The Pirates would get another opportunity to bat the heart of their order against the Brewers’ bullpen, so the game was certainly still within reach for them in the late innings.

Instead, manager Ron Roenicke left Scooter in to hit, and he rather predictably grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, ending the threat.

Fan justifications for this move ranged from “Scooter’s never going to learn to hit left-handed pitching if he never faces them” to emphasizing Scooter’s admittedly superior defense at second base.  Both fall short.

It is true that Scooter is very young and might still adapt to hit southpaws; I don’t want to sell him short so early in his career.  But if he is to learn, the late innings of a tight game against a surging division rival with a man in scoring position is not the place to do it.  Whatever growth might be accomplished in that one at-bat is not worth the potential sacrifice to a team that hopes to secure a playoff berth.

And while Scooter does indeed have a superior glove to Weeks, it’s not as if Weeks is a fish out of water at the position.  He’s been a second baseman his entire career.  To be sure, Weeks’ range leaves much to be desired.  The defensive deficiencies are somewhat mitigated by the short amount of time – just two innings! – he would be stationed at second.  He might have seen perhaps two balls hit his way (in point of fact, Scooter saw one).  Any defensive liabilities Weeks brings to the ledger were overcome by the increased opportunity for a run or two during the seventh inning.

I am not opposed to offensive growth or emphasizing defense.  But there is a place for both, and in the heart of a pennant race, you have to manage for the win.

Brewers make a move, trade for Gerardo Parra; Schafer optioned

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

While the Cardinals have stacked up rotation arms over the last couple days, the Brewers went a different route as they acquired OF Gerardo Parra from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for prospects OF Mitch Haniger and LHP Anthony Banda.

Gerardo ParraParra gives the Brewers a badly needed left-handed bench bat.  Over his six-year career with the Dbacks, Parra has slashed .274/.326/.395, though its worth noting the last couple years have dragged down that career line.  Parra has two Gold Gloves, is an excellent fielder, and can play all three outfield positions.  Predictably, current backup OF Logan Schafer has been optioned to AAA Nashville, and I don’t think any Brewers fan is going to be upset about that.  It’s worth noting Parra has a heavy platoon split, so you shouldn’t expect to see him in any lineup facing a lefty.

The Brewers gave up two recent draft picks in Haniger and Banda, both coming to the team in the 2012 amateur draft.  Haniger, the last of the team’s three first-round picks that year, has struggled at AA Hunstville this season after playing reasonably well with the Class A Appleton and high A Brevard County last year.  Banda, a 10th round pick, has been fine in 83 innings with Appleton this year.  Neither are high-value prospects.

We’ll see if the Brewers make any more moves before the trade deadline this afternoon.  If Doug Melvin has some more magic in his bag, you’ll find it here.  Stay tuned to creamcitycables.com and @creamcitycables on Twitter.

Prognosis Positive After Timber Rattlers’ Coulter Is Hit By Pitch

by Kevin Kimmes

Coulter“Some guys have all the luck, some guys have all the pain…”

It’s almost as if Rod Stewart had a vision of Timber Rattlers’ catcher Clint Coulter when he sang those words. Coulter has definitely seen his share of luck (drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1st round of the 2012 draft) and pain (Clint leads the Midwest League in the dreaded hit-by-pitch category with 16). What happened on Sunday, however, was not your run of the mill plunking.

It hit him in the face.

It didn’t hit the helmet. It didn’t just buzz the tower. The ball hit him in the side of the face traveling around 90 miles per hour. Unfazed, Coulter headed to 1st base.

“He’s doing OK,” Rattlers’ manager Matt Erickson said in Monday’s post game press conference. “He passed all the concussion type initial tests yesterday in the ballgame, the reason he stayed in the game. We had instructions with him last night to communicate with us throughout the night to make sure there wasn’t any other side effects that came later, that was all positive.”

Sporting a shiner, Coulter was given the day off Monday allowing him to have 2 consecutive days to rest and recover (today is a travel day for the team). Regarding when he will return to the lineup, Erickson was optimistic.

“We’ll see where he’s at the first day in Lake County and if he’s ready to go, we’ll put him in the lineup, if he’s still a little sore or has some swelling then we’ll probably keep him out another day.”

 Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and a former MLB Fan Cave Top 52 Finalist. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

On exercising Aramis Ramirez’s 2015 contract option

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

Colorado Rockies v Milwaukee BrewersAramis Ramirez may be an All-Star in 2014, and it’s pretty easy to see why.  The slugging righty is currently hitting .292/.340/.492 with 10 home runs, has the second-highest wRC+ (a measure of a player’s total offensive value above league average) among NL third-basemen at 129, and he’s shown quite a capable glove at the hot corner.  There are definitely other worthy candidates (Todd Frazier and Matt Carpenter, for example) but there’s no doubt Ramirez is having a great year.

It seems a prudent move for the Brewers to pick up their portion of Ramirez’s 2015 mutual option.  Ramirez is being paid $16M this year, but his 2015 option is for $14M, and the Brewers are already on the hook for a $4M buyout if they decline.  That means the option’s net cost is $10M.  If we assume the cost of a win in 2015 remains around $6M, Ramirez would only have to contribute about 1.6 WAR to be worth the money.  Ramirez accumulated 5.7 fWAR during a healthy 2012 season, 1.4 during an injury-plagued 2013 campaign, and currently has 1.6 in 2014, despite missing most of May.

The Brewers don’t have a lot of other third base candidates.  Internally, the closest the team has to a major-league 3B is Taylor Green, who was drafted in 2005 and is already 27.  Green has had an up-and-down career in the minors, but lost all of last season to a hip injury that required surgery.  Green currently sports an OBP below .300 at AAA Nashville, and hasn’t hit will in limited time with the big-league club.  He’ll also be arbitration-eligible for the first time in 2015.

The Brewers best 3B prospect is probably Nick Delmonico, who was acquired from the Orioles in 2013.  Delmonico, who currently plays for A Brevard County, will need more development in the advanced minors before he’s ready for the prime time, though.

Externally, the Brewers could do a few things, but none as good-or realistic-as bringing back Ramirez.  They could attempt to resign Mark Reynolds in 2015 and play him exclusively at third; this has the advantage of being relatively cheap.  Despite Reynolds very good year with the glove, I’m not sure it’s the wisest choice giving Reynolds’ reputation for defensive lapses.  Pablo Sandoval-the only full-time 3B free agent under the age of 30-is reportedly looking for a deal upwards of $100M and comes with health and performance concerns.  If the 31-year-old Hanley Ramirez doesn’t work out an extension with the Dodgers, he too would look for a big-money deal in likely his last long-term contract.  There’s Chase Headley, also 31, who may in the midst of a severe decline, raising questions about his fielding and plate discipline.  Beyond those four, it’s really just a bunch of guys, the most appetizing of which may be former Brewer Casey McGehee, currently hitting .309/.375/.392 with the Florida Marlins.

Of course, the option isn’t completely in the Brewers hands.  Ramirez, who turns 36 tomorrow, may think he can get a better deal on the free agent market and decline his half of the mutual option (though that wouldn’t necessarily preclude the Brewers from bringing him back).  Ramirez has also had lots of nagging injuries over the last few seasons.  In 2013, he missed time during both spring training and the regular season with knee issues, and a hamstring strain this year cost Ramirez almost all of May.  He left the game last Saturday with back tightness.  The injuries cut both in favor and against the Brewers:  they might scare off a few teams from a long-term deal and lower Ramirez’s market value, encouraging him to exercise his half of the option (resulting in the $4M buyout if the Brewers elect not to do the same).

On the whole, it seems that barring some catastrophic injury, the Brewers best plan for competing in 2015 might be to pick up Ramirez’s option and hope he reciprocates.  His big bat won’t be matched by any internal candidates, and the external candidates who could perhaps contribute equally will cost much, much more.  Even if Ramirez is true to his history and suffers some minor injury during the 2015 season, his expected contributions during healthy periods make it a worthwhile gamble.