An A+ Opportunity: Cream City Cables to Cover Timber Rattlers in 2012

by Kevin Kimmes

Today marks an exciting new chapter for Cream City Cables as we have set up a partnership with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers which will not only allow us to cover the team on the field, but also get some exclusive off field interviews with the Brewers’ “Stars of Tomorrow” throughout the season. And we are not wasting any time getting the ball rolling.

On Tuesday, Cream City Cables’ own Ryan Smith will be in attendance for the team’s annual Media Day. Then, starting on Thursday, I will be on hand for the teams first home-stand as they take on the Cedar Rapids Kernels.

This is a very exciting time for all of us involved, and we would like to extend a sincere and heartfelt thank you to Chris Mehring and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers organization for this wonderful opportunity.

As always stay tuned to Cream City Cables all season long as we continue to bring you the best in Brewers (and now Timber Rattlers) coverage.

Someone Like “Ueck”: Mr. Baseball to be Imortalized August 31st in Milwaukee

by Kevin Kimmes

We here at Cream City Cables would like to extend a heartfelt congratulations (and an apology for the above Adele parody title) to Bob Uecker on becoming the latest member of the Brewers family to be immortalized outside of Miller Park.

On August 31st, “Ueck” will join Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, and Bud Selig as the most recent statue recipient at the ball park. Earlier this week, Uecker quipped that his statue would be the first one to be entirely made of paper mache, and that the team also planned on attaching some sort of feeder to it in order to attract pigeons to the statue.

When asked what the statue would look like, Uecker was quick to respond:

“Kind of a Schwarzenegger-type thing. Beefcake. Speedos. Pretty buffed. It’s really enhanced. I’ve seen pictures of the finished product, and, yes, I’m very pleased, as a matter of a fact. It’s drawing a lot of attention. More than that swimsuit issue.”

Swimsuit issue, you ask? Uecker was referring to the infamous picture of himself, poolside, that ran with an article on the Brewers in Sports Illustrated in 2008, and which can be found here.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why has it taken this long for Uecker to take his place among the immortals, like Hank Aaron and Robin Yount, and…and…well, let’s just focus on those two statues for now…” Well the answer is simple. As current Brewers owner Mark Attanasio pointed out this week, 2012 is the 50th anniversary of Uecker’s first major league game (he debuted as a catcher with the Milwaukee Braves in 1962), and despite being a .200 hitter in his 7 years in the majors, the statue represents just the latest accomplishment for a man who can be counted as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame, and the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame, among others.

Stay tuned to Cream City Cables all season long as we will continue to cover this story and all the Uecker related news that’s fit to print (and probably some that isn’t).

The Marcum Problem

by Nathan Petrashek

It might seem like an odd time to revisit Shaun Marcum’s contract situation; after all, he has been sidelined all spring by shoulder inflammation.  Who would want a piece of that, especially after his epic blowup at the end of last year?  If you need a refresher, Marcum went 2-2 in September with a 5.17 ERA in 5 starts.  But it was his poor pitching in the postseason that really torpedoed an otherwise spectacular year for the 30-year-old righty: in just 9.2 innings, Marcum allowed 16 earned runs on 17 hits with 5 walks.  He didn’t win a single postseason game for the Crew, and in fact put the team in some pretty substantial holes.  That was most apparent in Game 6 of the NLCS, where the scoreboard read 0-4 after Marcum’s sole inning of work.

It seems silly, perhaps, to want to see him signed to an extension after all that.  But that’s exactly why I see value.

Now, there’s a big caveat.  We know Marcum would like to continue to pitch for the Brewers, and he has made clear he’s open to an extension.  He has not, however, disclosed his desired length of the contract or salary (they usually don’t).  However, because Marcum was arbitration-eligible for the final time this year, we do have some idea of how Marcum values himself.  In arbitration, Marcum sought $8.7MM, slightly less than the Brewers paid for their #4 starter last year, Randy Wolf ($9.5MM).  If his salary demands for an extension are similar, the Brewers might do well to approach him and see if anything can be worked out.

The shoulder issues, which Marcum has suffered from in both preaseasons as a Brewer, seems to be resolving.  Marcum pitched in a AAA match Wednesday, throwing 26 pain-free pitches.  He’s expected to make his first Cactus league start tomorrow, and is scheduled to start the season as the Brewers’ #4.

He was also one of the team’s most consistent starters last year.  Much ado was made about his home/road split; in 2011, Marcum fared much better away from Miller Park than he did at home.  But I don’t read too much into this; in 2010, it was the exact opposite.  Marcum’s September swoon is certainly more alarming, but it’s worth noting that in 2010, his first year back from Tommy John surgery, Marcum threw 195 innings and yet still ended September 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA.  In fact, 2011 was the first time Marcum struggled badly in September since 2007.  And I don’t regard 2007 as a warning sign, either, because Marcum threw twice as many innings that year than he did in 2006.  He ended 2006 just fine, going 1-1 with a 4.30 ERA in five starts, three against the dominant AL East powerhouses, the Yankees and the Red Sox.  In short, I don’t think Marcum is any more likely to replicate his fluky September than, say, David Freese is to replicate his playoff tear.

Right now, I’d be comfortable giving Marcum something like 3/$26MM.  I don’t think that’s unreasonable for the floor, and ceiling, that Marcum offers.  That kind of deal wouldn’t financially handicap the club; in fact, the first year almost pays for itself, as the Brewers would not feel pressured to pick up Randy Wolf’s $10MM option.  The team could also trade Chris Narveson in his first arbitration year if two of their young rotation arms are major-league ready.  I’m not wed to an extension by any means, but it seems to make sense to me for a proven pitching commodity like Marcum.

Position Review & Preview: Aramis Ramirez, Third Base

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s Note: This is the latest entry in Cream City Cables’ 2012 Brewers Preview Series.  You can see the rest of the series here.

It was getting late in the 2010 fantasy baseball draft, and I was without a third baseman.  The usual suspects-Rodriguez, Wright, Longoria, Zimmerman-were long gone, and I had even missed out on Youklis and Reynolds.  But my savior awaited, or so I thought: Aramis Ramirez.  Lest you think this post will be about my fantasy baseball team, let’s turn to Milwaukee’s new third baseman.

You see, up until 2010, Ramirez had been a model of consistency.  He always hovered near the .300 mark, rarely struck out, and was pretty much a lock for 20+ home runs.  Thirty would not have been uncharacteristic or unexpected.  He was so cheap, I surmised, because he had been injured in 2009, but this is precisely the type of player I love bidding on: the bounce-back candidate with an excellent track record.  By all accounts, Ramirez was primed to produce again; the market, in its infinite wisdom, just wasn’t up to speed.

Unfortunately for me, the market was right.  In 2010 Ramirez had easily his worst offensive season since 2002, slashing only .241/.294/.452.  His home run count was still there (25), but his strikeouts surged.  After averaging 3.8 WAR the previous 7 seasons, Ramirez was worth .4 wins above replacement in 2010.  Fortunately, by the end of the season my rosters featured home run king Jose Bautista and Brewers 3B Casey McGehee, who was putting up impressive numbers after a spectacular 2009 campaign.

As McGehee flourished and Ramirez slumped in 2010, it’s just a bit ironic that their roles would be completely reversed in 2011.  McGehee had the worst season of his career and was eventually benched for prospect Taylor Green and, in the postseason, veteran Jerry Hairston, Jr.  The guy just couldn’t buy a hit.  Defensively, McGehee was actually pretty decent in 2011, though his frequent fielding and throwing errors and his weak bat erased any value he produced with his glove.  By the end of June, McGehee was slashing only .224/.276/.310.

General Manager Doug Melvin had a choice to make after the season.  Do you treat McGehee’s failed 2011 campaign as an aberration and his productive 2009 and 2010 seasons as predictive?  Or did you always suspect McGehee was playing a bit over his head and see this as your last opportunity to squeeze some value from him?  Personally, I can understand the logic in either approach.  Melvin elected the latter, signing Ramirez, currently age 33, to a 3-year, $36MM contract.  The contract was heavily backloaded (Ramirez will make only $6MM in 2012), and includes a $14MM mutual option for 2015.  After the signing, the writing was pretty much on the wall for McGehee, who was shipped to Pittsburgh in exchange for hard-throwing but erratic reliever Jose Veras.

Defensively, Ramirez isn’t going to win any gold gloves.  And that’s putting it pretty charitably.  He has a career .948 fielding percentage, but has cut down dramatically on the errors of his youth (only 14 in 145 games in 2011).  Ramirez’s range is not good, to put it mildly, though he probably still represents an upgrade over McGehee despite Ramirez’s defensively lacking 2011.  Fangraphs puts Ramirez at a -17 defensive runs saved (DRS) last season, a fancy way of saying that he saved 17 fewer runs than the average 3B last year.  But, you object, these things are best analyzed over a larger time frame!  Well, fine; Ramirez has a career -43 DRS.  If ultimate zone rating is your thing instead, Rammy clocks in at -30.  It’s not pretty.

Thankfully, Ramirez brings more to the plate with his bat.  You can consider his 2010 officially a fluke, prompted mostly by bad luck (.245 BABIP vs lifetime .289) and a ridiculous 58.6% fly ball rate that allowed him to maintain his home run numbers while lagging in batting average.  Still, there are warning signs.  Ramirez swung at a career-high 37% of pitches outside the zone in 2011, and at 33 years old you have to wonder when the inevitable decline will begin to set in.  On the other hand, Ramirez still has excellent bat speed and pitch recognition.  He’ll swing at pitches in the zone about 10% more than average, while still maintaining above-average contact rates.  He’ll usually find a way to get on base and rarely strikes out.  That’s worth something in a lineup featuring Rickie Weeks, Alex Gonzalez, and Corey Hart.  And if his fly ball rate bumps back up to his career norm (45%), plenty of his hits should be leaving Miller Park.

2012 Projection: 142 G, 568 PA, 522 AB, 149 H, 75 R, 35 2B, 1 3B, 27 HR, 104 RBI, 46 BB, 68 K, 1 SB, .285/.343/.511

Abnormalities and Aberrations: The 2012 Brewers Spring Stats Thus Far

by Kevin Kimmes

The early weeks of spring training are a time of aberration and statistical abnormalities. Think about it, position players are trying to work the winter rust out of their strokes, while pitchers try to stretch out and oil up their arms in hopes that they will be limber enough to not only avoid injury this season, but also to still have something left should they find themselves pitching in Game 7 of the World Series. Combine those two approaches together and you get some statistics that defy explanation.

Today, we’ll look at what the Brewers have been doing from an offensive prospective, and I’ll be back later this week to take a look at the pitching so far. So, without further ado…

Jonathan Lucroy

I want you to take a second and mull over the following sentence: Jonathan Lucroy is the most feared hitter in the Brewers lineup.

Now that you’ve reread it, digested it, and yet still seem to be having trouble making sense of it, let me verify that the above is not a typo. Jonathan Lucroy, so far, possesses the most devastating bat in the entire Brewers camp.

Lucroy, who finished last season with a batting average of .265/.313/.391 has more than doubled his offensive output so far this spring. In 16 at bats in 6 games, Lucroy is currently hitting .563/.563/.938 which sets the bar for all Brewers batters who have more than 1 or 2 at bats. Additionally, it should be noted that 4 of his 9 hits so far have gone for extra bases (3 doubles and a homerun), proving that Lucroy has a little extra pop in his bat to go his keen eye at the plate.

Logan Schafer

Some guys just seem to thrive in the most adverse of situations. For your consideration, Logan Schafer.

Schafer, ranked #7 in the Brewers 2012 Prospects Watch, finds himself in an unenviable position, fighting for a spot at a position that is running over with veteran talent. So far this spring, Schafer is hitting .556/.579/.944 in 18 at bats in 10 games. Meanwhile, projected opening day starter Carlos Gomez is hitting an embarrassing .160/.222/.160 in 25 at bats over 9 games. Despite his untested status, you have to believe that if Schafer is able to maintain even a respectable pace for the rest of the spring, that Roenicke will need to stand up and potentially give Schafer some consideration, at the very least until Corey Hart comes back from injury and Nyjer Morgan slots back into center.

Alex Gonzalez

Prior to the start of spring training, there were many pundits who feared that the veteran Gonzalez would prove to be nothing more than another offensive weak spot at short. Well, apparently Gonzalez heard them loud and clear, and has decided to put on a hitting clinic for his critics.

So far, Gonzalez has put up a stat line of .476/.500/.762 in 21 at bats over 8 games. On an interesting side note, Gonzalez is currently the only Brewer to have collected a single, a double, a triple, a homerun, and a walk this so far this spring.

Rickie Weeks

Looking to capitalize on a 2011 in which he found himself as an All Star for the first time, Weeks has shown a quiet determination at the plate. His 7 walks leads all Brewers batters so far this spring, and his stat line of .385/.619/.769 in 13 at bats over 8 games is all about the extra base hit. Of his 5 hits thus far, all of them have been doubles.

Mat Gamel and Travis Ishikawa

All of the fear and trepidation coming out of the departure of Prince Fielder would seem to be just a bad case of nerves at this point, as Milwaukee appears to have two competent first basemen in camp this season.

So far, Gamel leads all Brewers in homeruns (3), runs scored (7), and RBIs (7). Additionally, he is tied with Carlos Gomez for the most stolen bases with 3 (also note he has not been caught stealing). His stat line of .318/.423/.773 in 22 at bats in 9 games is impressive for a player who many had doubts on.

Not to be out done, Travis Ishikawa is nipping at Gamels heels with a pretty equivalent stat line of his own. Ishikawa is .316/.409/.684 in 19 at bats in 9 games. His 2 homeruns this spring rank him second only to Gamel in the category.

So, there you have it, the wild, wonderful, and weird stats of spring training thus far. As the next several weeks go by, we should be able to get a better idea of which stats are actually founded in determination and focus, and which ones are simply the types of statistical anomalies that only spring training can provide.

Making Sense of the Zack Greinke Agent Situation

By: Ryan Smith

A few weeks back, I wrote an article that compared Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo. In that article, I mentioned that Zack Greinke will be a free agent after the 2012 season and he was currently planning on entering the season without an agent.

Well, now it appears that Greinke has had a change of heart.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden reported on Monday that Greinke was now planning on hiring an agent to handle contract negotiations for the talented right-hander. Bowden writes:

“On Sunday, Greinke said he’s changed his mind and decided to hire an agent. He is expected to consider several of the top agents in the business including Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA, Casey Close formerly of CAA, Adam Katz from Wasserman and Seth Levinson from ACES.”

So what are we to make of this new development with Greinke?

Let me begin by saying that I think this could be a step in the right direction.

I’ve read a few reports and numerous comments about how the Brewers missed their opportunity to get Greinke at a discount. After all, if he would have signed without an agent, there would have been no commission paid out, which would mean Greinke might sign for less. Some people also argued that negotiating one-on-one with Greinke would have given the Brewers a major advantage because, as intelligent as Greinke is, he’s not trained to be an agent.

To those arguments, I’d have to respectfully disagree.

First of all, who can say what Greinke would have demanded if he handled his own negotiations? I’m quite certain Greinke would have been well-prepared for that process, comparing his numbers and achievements with other pitchers who had ventured into free agency. He probably would have used the contracts they signed as a basis for his own potential deal. But why should we assume that he would have accepted a discount since his contract would be commission-free?

On top of that, I viewed Greinke’s lack of an agent as a detriment to the Brewers’ desires to sign him to a long-term deal before he would reach free agency. Basically, without an agent, I just didn’t see it happening once pitchers and catchers reported. At that point, I figured Greinke would be focused on getting ready for 2012, not worrying about 2013 and beyond.

Now, if Greinke signs with one of those previously-mentioned agents, negotiations can continue even while the Brewers’ co-ace gets ready for the regular season.

But why, after so recently stating that he planned to enter free agency sans-agent, do we suddenly find Greinke changing his mind?

I could be completely wrong here (which would not be the first time), but I think this can be viewed as a positive sign for Milwaukee.

If Greinke does indeed hire an agent, we could get used to seeing him take the mound for years to come.

Greinke has not tried to hide the fact that he has enjoyed his time in Milwaukee. And what’s not to like? He’s playing on a team that seems to genuinely enjoy the game of baseball. He has the reigning MVP putting runs on the board. He is greeted with a rousing ovation every time he takes the mound because this rabid fan base loves him.

The way I see it, maybe Greinke isn’t just paying lip service when he says he wants to stay in Milwaukee. Maybe he really does want to stay here. If that is the case, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to handle negotiations now that Spring Training has arrived, what would be the most logical thing for him to do?

Hire an agent to take care of that for him.

Look, I’m not saying this is a sign that Greinke is definitely read to commit long-term to the Brewers. It’s just not that simple when you’re talking about a guy who is going to be making somewhere between $80-100 million over the next stage of his career. I’ve mentioned that Greinke might be one of the smartest players in Major League Baseball, so maybe he just realized that it wasn’t in his best interests to go into this season without representation.

Still, I can’t help but look at this in a glass-half-full sort of way. Greinke doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who acts impulsively. In fact, he seems more like the kind of guy who would look at any decision from every possible angle before he acts. I think Greinke looked at his options, weighed the pros and cons of hiring an agent, and thought long and hard about what was best for him.

Once Spring Training started, I would have guessed that an agent-free Zack Greinke might be packing his bags next season.

Now? Well, let’s just say I think this is a step in the right direction for the Brew Crew. Even though he may not hire an agent until the end of the season anyway, at least he’s looking long-term and won’t be rushed through the process. He’ll have someone looking out for his best interests, and you can be sure 2012 will be a year that Milwaukee uses to promote the future of the franchise and Greinke’s beneficial role in that future.

And that means that we might be able to have the Greinke/Gallardo discussion for many years to come.

Cheers to that.

Plushdamentals 101: Predicting 2012 for the Unpredictable Tony Plush

By: Ryan Smith

Where do I even begin?

To say that Nyjer Morgan is a character is a massive understatement.

Morgan, known better by his “gentleman-moniker” Tony Plush, is a veritable lightning rod for attention any time he steps near the diamond. Whether he is unknowingly delivering a game-winning, walk-off hit, voicing his displeasure with opponents, or simply firing up the Miller Park faithful and his teammates with his now-famous “Beast Mode” gesture, Morgan’s larger-than-life flair is evident from the second you see him.

But what can we expect from “Tony Plush: Year Two”?

Let me start off by saying I want to be completely honest with all of you. During August and September of last season, I was enjoying T-Plush as much as anyone else. I enjoyed all of those antics he would display during games. I loved the energy and enthusiasm he brought to the game. And I really loved the scared look that would appear on the face of Telly Hughes if he had to interview the enigmatic outfielder after a big win.

All that being said, I was also quite adamant in my proclamation that the Brewers should trade Mr. Plush as soon as the season ended.

Now let me defend my reasoning.

When the Brewers acquired Morgan before the 2011 season, I was thrilled. We took a non-prospect in Cutter Dykstra and turned him into a talented, toolsy outfielder.

Now, I also knew that Morgan was a player who came with some baggage. While he produced a few productive seasons with Pittsburgh and Washington (he posted a 5.2 WAR in 2009), he was most famous, or infamous, for his wild and out of control antics while playing for Washington in 2010. Most notably, Morgan sparked a bench-clearing brawl while playing in a heated series against the Florida Marlins. It really didn’t seem to matter who was at fault for the breakout of that brawl (Morgan had already been hit by one pitch and just had another one go behind him). The general public had made up its collective mind: Nyjer Morgan was the bad guy.

I’m a strong believer that sometimes a guy just needs a change of scenery, a fresh start. For Morgan, Milwaukee was that fresh start.

As the 2011 season progressed, Brewers fans started to sense that there was something special about this team. We actually had pitching. We had the best hitting duo in the majors. We had other players stepping up and making plays when we needed them to do so. And we had T-Plush.

Seriously, as a Brewer fan, how can you not love Tony Plush?

Morgan made us love him. He never seemed to take a play off. He played wonderful defense (15.0 UZR/150 between the three outfield positions). He came up with clutch hits. He routinely dropped down bunts for base hits. He energized the team, Miller Park, and all of Brewer Nation.

And yet, there were still those moments when he would remind us of that ticking time bomb that drew criticism from everyone with an opinion just one year earlier.

Of course, the moment that stands out in my mind as the warning flag involved Morgan’s distaste for a few of the St. Louis Cardinals. After striking out in the ninth inning of a 2-0 loss to the Cardinals, Morgan got into a shouting match with Cardinals’ ace Chris Carpenter before throwing his chewing tobacco at the pitcher. Albert Pujols stepped up to defend his pitcher, and Morgan reacted by calling out the superstar first baseman on Twitter later that night.

This was not the T-Plush we were all falling in love with. This was Tony Plush, 2010.

I wanted no part of that Tony Plush.

I decided that it would be best to ride T-Plush into the playoffs and then try and flip him before he went all bat-shit-crazy on us in 2012.

Now, roughly one month before the start of the 2012 season, I just want to say one thing: I was wrong.

I’ve thought about it quite a bit. Could T-Plush revert back to his old ways, causing more distractions and headaches than memorable plays and wins? Sure he could. But I don’t think that’s going to be the case, and here’s why:

The 2012 Milwaukee Brewers are going to be contenders.

Yes, we lost Prince Fielder. But we added Aramis Ramirez. We got rid of Yuniesky Betancourt. We still have a pretty impressive rotation. We have the ‘stache closing games once again. We have Ryan Braun for 162 games.

And we have T-Plush.

If the Brewers have yet another successful season, one where they are in contention deep into September, Tony Plush is going to keep showing up to the ballpark. According to Manager Ron Roenicke, T-Plush is going to fly around the bases a bit more. He’s going to keep doing crazy things. He’s going to keep flashing the “Beast Mode” gesture that the fans love and opponents hate. And if he produces like last year (.304/.357/.421), we’re all going to love it.

That last part might be the most important element in understanding why I think T-Plush will be just fine this season. He’s quirky. He’s “out there” and somewhat misunderstood. He’s outspoken. And Brewer Nation loves him.

We don’t just tolerate him. We don’t simply accept him. We love him. We love his crazy antics. We love his unpredictable nature. We love the fact that he is a player who truly enjoys playing the game every single day. Maybe Nyjer Morgan or Tony Plush just needed to find a place that would love him for who is. Milwaukee is just that place.

So now, with the 2012 season just beyond the horizon, I’m ready to go into battle with T-Plush. After all, I’d rather have him with me than against me. Plus, as all of his twitter followers can attest to, he already has a pretty good battle cry:

“Watz Goood Nation!!!! Aaaahhhhhhh!!!”

T-Plush, I couldn’t have put it better myself. What’s good, indeed.

(You can follow Nyjer Morgan on twitter @TheRealTPlush)