2014 Position Preview: Aramis Ramirez, Third Base

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series. Other positions: catcher, shortstopcenter fieldleft field, and right field.

aramisWhen the Brewers first signed Aramis Ramirez, no one was really sure whether or how he would hold up through the duration of his three-year contract.  Things didn’t start too well; in 2012, Ramirez’s first year, he hit just .214/.264/.381 in April, leading many to comment on Ramirez being a notoriously”slow starter” and all that kind of nonsense.  We thoroughly debunked it in 2012 and so far in 2014 Ramirez hasn’t shown any sign of slowing down, hitting a torrid .478 in 21 plate attempts.

Red flags abound with Ramirez, though.  To say he’s not young is being charitable; he’ll turn 36 in June, well beyond most ballplayers’ primes.  His age is showing, too, as he missed a substantial portion of the 2013 season with knee issues: first, a sprained left knee, and later, tendinitis.  Even when Ramirez was active, he was clearly hobbled and had just a .773 OPS upon hitting the DL.  Ramirez returned in August, and his .301/.387/.528 triple slash in the final months (and without Ryan Braun in the lineup) probably erased whatever doubt the team had about their starting third baseman coming into 2014.

Ramirez looks to have rebounded nicely defensively from numerous horrid seasons with the Cubs, and has made a few outstanding plays at the hot corner already this season.  He’s not a rangy third baseman by any means, but still has a pretty good throwing arm and doesn’t commit many errors.

The Brewers aren’t paying Ramirez for his defense, though; they’re paying for his bat.  Ramirez has been remarkably consist throughout his career, hitting close to .300 with 25-30 home runs.  That power is clearly diminishing, but Ramirez still makes decent enough contact to hit for average.  Ramirez is aggressive at the plate though, which could result in higher strikeout totals, something he has has typically avoided.

As is true of most aging players, the big question will be Ramirez’s health.  Ron Roenicke has suggested he’ll give Ramirez regular rest, so don’t expect a repeat of the 630 plate attempts Ramirez made in 2012.

2013 Recap

351 PA, 43 R, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 0 SB, 10.3 BB%, 15.7 K%, .283/.370/.461, 132 wRC+

2014 Projections

Steamer: 533 PA, 62 R, 19 HR, 74 RBI, 2 SB, 7.4 BB%, 14.3 K%, .282/.343/.464, 125 wRC+

ZiPs: 469 PA, 56 R, 17 HR, 79 RBI, 2 SB, 7.0 BB%, 14.3 K%, .183/.343/.475, 128 wRC+

Contact Status

Will make $16M ($6M deferred) in the final year of his three-year deal with the Brewers; mutual option for 2015 with $4M buyout.

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

 

K-Rod takes over as closer “for now”

By Nathan Petrashek

K-Rod-mulls-legal-action-against-former-agents-3O1144NF-x-largeAn Opening Day win is always fun, but this one came with a twist:  the Brewers, nursing a 2-0 lead in the ninth, called upon Francisco Rodriguez, not Jim Henderson, to secure the handshake.  K-Rod managed to do so, despite an eight-pitch at bat by the first batter, Chris Johnson.

Ron Roenicke made the change official after the game, telling reporters he wasn’t pleased with Henderson’s spring:

To be fair, Henderson’s spring wasn’t anything special, as he accumulated a 6.00 ERA over 9 innings with 7 strikeouts and 5 walks (1.56 WHIP).  Still, for a front office who justified jettisoning Juan Francisco by citing the general meaninglessness of spring statistics, the move is odd.

Henderson pitched 60 innings of 2.70 ERA ball in 2013, notching 28 saves and a hefty 75 strikeouts.  He may have had a little luck on his side (3.58 FIP), and struggled against lefties (.786 OPS).  Henderson was developing a change to counter that split and help keep left-handed batters from sitting on his 95 mph fastball.

K-Rod has plenty of closing experience but is a long way removed from his 62-save season in 2008.  He’s been a favorite of the Brewers front office though, and has had three separate stints with the team in as many years. Rodriguez even briefly took over the closer’s role last season, earning 10 saves as the Brewers looked to shop him (successfully) at the deadline.

Why it’s better to be a Marlin

By Nathan Petrashek

Braun's successful appeal may have eliminated the 50-game suspension he faced, but it might not protect him from other long-term implications.

With the Brewers having had their own recent brush with banned drugs, this should be of some interest:  today, MLB and MLBPA announced enhanced testing and punishment for PEDs.  Players will be tested more frequently, and the 50/100/lifetime ban (which MLB really didn’t follow anyway) has been replaced by suspensions of 80/162/life for first, second, and third offenses, respectively.

That’s all fine, but here’s one big hangup in the new punishment protocols:

“A Player who is suspended for a violation involving a performance-enhancing substance will be ineligible to participate in the Postseason, and will not be eligible for an automatic share of the Player’s Pool provided to players on Clubs who participate in the Postseason.”

Others have argued it’s unfair to punish the team for the acts of an individual player by making him ineligible for the playoffs.  That argument doesn’t really work, though; isn’t the team “punished” when they lose a player for 80 regular season games, too?  The far more damning critique of this new postseason ban is it treats players differently depending on their team context.  In other words, a player on a playoff team will be penalized more harshly than a player on a non-playoff team.  And that’s bogus.

Let’s posit a hypothetical.  Player A plays for the Marlins, and he’s using synthetic testosterone and gets caught.  He denies using and appeals, accusing MLB of a witch hunt and the urine collector of tampering.  Player A loses his appeal and is suspended for 80 games.  The Marlins don’t make the playoffs, so Player A is effectively lost only for those 80 games.  Player B is a Tiger.  He also uses synthetic testosterone and gets caught, but apologizes and accepts his 80-game penalty without appeal.  The Tigers make a deep postseason run all the way to the World Series, for which Player B is ineligible.  His punishment is effectively 90 games for the same offense as Player A: 80 games plus, say, another 10 in the postseason.

I’m not sure how punishing two guys differently for the same offense based on team context is appropriate or fair.  And that’s doubly the case where the lesser-punished player drags the process through the mud or engages in other despicable conduct.  These drastically disparate sanctions for the same prohibited conduct are a blow to the consistency MLB should strive for in its application of the drug policy.

The new policy isn’t all bad for players, though.  The “zero tolerance” policy has been loosened a bit; arbitrators can now hand down lesser penalties if a player proves at the hearing the use wasn’t intended to enhance performance.  It’s not entirely clear how that would apply to a claim like Ryan Braun’s, though, in which he said he used to aid his recovery from injury.

Maybe the MLBPA had to give the postseason ban to push MLB off its “no tolerance” stance; I won’t pretend to know what the negotiations looked like.  Still, it’s a bad look for both organizations when you have a system in which players are treated differently depending on which uniform they wear.

2014 Position Preview: Khris Davis, Left Field

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the third of Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series.  Other positions: catcher; center field.

Khris DavisAs Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio are fond of pointing out, you wouldn’t have found Khris Davis on many top prospect lists before the start of the 2012 season.  His defensive abilities are totally questionable; the team didn’t even have enough confidence in him to stick him at first base after the position became a black hole last year.  Beyond that, Davis had some trouble offensively when he was elevated to AA for the first time in 2011, hitting a light .210/.272/.331, albeit in a small sample.

The offensive question marks were largely erased in 2012, as Davis crushed to a .350/.451/.604 triple slash between three levels (including AAA Nashville in the PCL).  While his lack of a glove and poor arm relegated him to left field, his hitting credentials earned him a shot in Milwaukee in 2013.  He started as primarily a bench bat and struggled mightily (.188/.278/.313) before being sent down May 1.

Davis got a second chance when Ryan Braun was suspended in July and absolutely mashed.  Taking over left fiend with regular playing time, Davis hit .292/.363/.633 with an amazing 11 home runs in 135 plate attempts.  That was good for a .316 ISO, second only to Baltimore Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis in the major leagues.  That average isn’t going to stick given Davis’s free-swinging ways.  Expect some regression, but also note that his BABIP wasn’t unreasonably high at .293.  Davis feasted on fastballs last year, but struggled mightily against sliders, so expect him to see a heavy dose of breaking balls in 2014.  The power is there; it’s just a question of whether Davis will make enough contact to utilize it.

Defensively, Davis remains a bit of a liability, although his glaring range deficiencies are largely hidden in left field.  His arm is nowhere near as strong as you’d like, although Ron Roenicke maintains he’s improved this spring.  If Davis can make steady contact and scale back on the strikeouts slightly, his bat should more than make up for his poor glove and arm.

2013 recap

153 pa, 27 r, 11 hr, 27 rbi, 3 sb, 7.2 bb%, 22.2 k%, .279/.353/.596, 160 wRC+

2014 projections

Steamer: 480 pa, 56 r, 19 hr, 60 rbi, 9 sb, 8.6 bb%, 21.4 k%, .252/.326/.444, 112 wRC+

ZiPS:  457 pa, 57 r, 19 hr, 65 rbi, 7 sb, 9.2 bb%, 26 k%, .249/.330/.450, 115 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a one-year deal near league minimum; service time .104

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

2014 Position Preview: Carlos Gomez, Center Field

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is the second of Cream City Cables’ 2014 position preview series.  Other positions: Catcher.

There was a time when Carlos Gomez looked like another failed high-profile prospect.  Minnesota washed their hands of him in late 2009 and shipped him to Milwaukee for J.J. Hardy, who was himself coming off a terrible season.  Gomez was speedy, sure, but he could never manage to hit enough.  Owner of a .243/.291/.357 line between 2007 and 2011, it got so bad for Gomez that he found himself the right-handed component of a platoon with light-hitting lefty Nyjer Morgan.

gomezSomething clicked for Gomez in 2012, when he hit 14 second-half home runs with a .278/.321/.488 slash line.  Gomez attributes the turnaround to essentially ignoring the advice of his coaches, who were pressing Gomez to exercise better plate discipline and get on base more frequently to make use of his game-changing speed.  Instead, Gomez embraced his free-swinging attitude.  Even though he saw a dreadful 3.39 pitches per plate attempt in 2012, he set new career highs in virtually every offensive category.  The Brewers believed enough to sign Gomez in the offseason to a 3-year/$24M deal.

It was wise of them to do so.  With a full-time job in hand, in 2013 Gomez bested nearly every career offensive record he set in 2012.  He improved from 37 to 40 stolen bases, showcases the game-changing speed that has become his trademark.  But more than that, his final line of .284/.338/.506 shows marked improvement in his power and contact.  With a .344 BABIP, some of that may be luck, but it’s also reasonable to believe some of it was maturation.

In the field, Gomez is one of the best players in the game.  He won the Brewers’ first gold glove since 1982 last year for his exceptional play, and DRS says his defense saved 38(!) runs last season.  It’s more fun to watch them than talk about them, though, so here you have Gomez stealing a Joey Votto home run:

And that is how you put up a 7.6 WAR season.

2013 recap

590 pa, 80 r, 24 hr, 73 rbi, 40 sb, 6.3 bb%, 24.7 k%, .284/.338/.506, 130 wRC+

2014 projections

Steamer: 623 pa, 73 r, 21 hr, 74 rbi, 32 sb, 6.1 bb%, 23.6 k%, .251/.305/.433, 101 wRC+

ZiPS:  491 pa, 69 r, 19 hr, 58 rbi, 32 sb, 5.7 bb%, 24.4 k%, .260/.313/.462, 111 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a 3-year/$24M contract in 2012; two years remaining.

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

2014 Position Preview: Catcher

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 in Cream City Cable’s position preview series.

The 2014 Brewers will once again feature a stable duo of catchers in Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado.  Although Lucroy is the primary backstop, Maldonado received additional playing opportunities in 2013 as manager Ron Roenicke used Lucroy at first base for 14 games.  That probably won’t continue in 2014 as the Brewers have a couple potentially viable options at first this season.

JONATHAN LUCROY

lucroyBy far, Lucroy’s highest value lies behind the dish.  Lucroy is offensively gifted as a catcher, but his numbers look much more average transposed to first base.  With a developing pop and improved plate discipline, Lucroy has turned into one of the premier catchers in baseball.  And that’s not even to mention his elite pitch-framing abilities.  He’s only 27, too, and just entering his prime years.

For whatever reason, Lucroy remains fairly under the radar.  He has never been named to an All-Star team, although he was arguably on his way in 2012 until a freak accident sidelined him until the second half.  He certainly does not have Buster Posey’s reputation as an offensive juggernaut or the face of the franchise.  Lucroy is more the type to keep his head down and get to work, and that’s probably why his popularity is sky-high in blue-collar Wisconsin.

Once again in 2013, though, the one knock on Lucroy remains his arm.  Runners know it, as they attempted 80 steals on him in 2013; he threw out just over 20%, one of the worst percentages among qualified catchers.

2013 recap

580 pa, 59 r, 18 hr, 82 rbi, 9 sb, 7.9 bb%, 11.9 k%, .280/.340/.455, 118 wRC+

2014 offensive projections

Steamer: 492 pa, 53 r, 14 hr, 57 rbi, 5 sb, 7.3 bb%, 13.5 k%, .270/.328/.425, 107 wRC+

ZiPS:  506 pa, 53 r, 15 hr, 75 rbi, 7 sb, 7.1 bb%, 14.4 k%, .276/.331/.437, 111 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a 5-year, $11MM deal through 2016.  Club option for 2017 at $5.25MM.  Will make $2MM in 2014.

MARTIN MALDONADO

Martin MaldonadoMaldonado is a fine to very good defensive catcher, which is his one saving grace in the backup position.  After batting a surprising .266/.321/.408 in 2012 and amassing 1.4 WAR, Maldonado regressed badly in 2013.  Hitting just .169/.236/.284, Maldonado shows none of the on-base skills or pop we glimpsed in 2012.  Maldonado spent 73 innings at first base last year, where he generally looked awful.  Indeed, Maldonado’s primary purpose on the 2014 roster may be to catch Wily Peralta, with whom he was paired in the minors and in parts of the last two major league season.  That’s a dubious purpose, though; it remains an open question whether the wild Peralta might not benefit more from Lucroy’s exceptional pitch-framing.

2014 offensive projections

Steamer: 394 pa, 35 r, 10 hr, 38 rbi, 3 sb, 6.7 bb%, 23.3 k%, .222/.282/.352, 74 wRC+

ZiPS:  328 pa, 28 r, 8 hr, 42 rbi, 1 sb, 6.1  bb%, 26.2 k%, .224/.285/.353, 75 wRC+

Contract status

Pre-arbitration 1-year contract; arbitration eligible in 2015.

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

Welcome to the new Cream City Cables – First Podcast!

By Nathan Petrashek

You might have noticed by now we’ve given the website a facelift.  We used to be tied to the MLBlogs.com movement, but they stuck ads all over our blog and the format was far too restrictive for what we wanted to do.

What did we want to do, you ask?

Well, today we’re introducing our first ever podcast, something that will perhaps become a regular feature here.  Writer Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2) and I talked first base, Matt Garza’s contract, the rotation, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis.  We’re still getting a feel for this thing, so it’d be much appreciated if you’d let me know on Twitter (@npetrashek) or in the comments below what you liked or didn’t like.

You can listen to it or download the file using the link’s below.  We anticipate having it and subsequent podcasts available in the iTunes store soon.

Podcast Season 1 Episode 1

*Note: the podcast was recorded late last week

Stay tuned to CCC, as position previews start this week, and we’ll be introducing some fantasy content this month!  You can find all this and more using the navigation menu below the header.

A few thoughts on Bob Uecker

Bob Ueckerby Nathan Petrashek

When I’m 80, I can only hope I’m doing as well as Bob Uecker.  Goodness, that man has aged well.  And not just physically, either; listen to a Brewers broadcast for even 15 minutes and you’ll hear his sharp wit on full display.  More often than not, his verbal jabs are aimed directly at himself, giving the man a wonderful humility that makes him easily accessible.  We in the Midwest love us some good self-deprecation, and Uecker is a master. 

As Kyle Lobner rightly points out over at Brew Crew Ball, Ueck has become an institution in Wisconsin.  His voice lights up the Brewers Radio Network statewide on most summer nights.  His unique gallows humor (the Brewers have been terrible for much of their history) has become the soundtrack for generations of Wisconsin folk, fan and non-fan alike.  Naturally, people wonder what will happen when he decides to call it a career.  When he does, it will have been one of accomplishment, with countless Miller Lite commercials, TV and movie appearances, and broadcasting awards under his belt.

Ueck took the first step toward retirement late last week, announcing he will reduce his travel schedule with the team this season.  Ueck will still call all 81 home games, but he won’t always be with the team on the road, particularly during west coast trips.  I know the gut reaction to the news for many Brewers fans is panic; it’s hard to conceptualize a Brewers broadcast without Uecker.  That will happen when one man is the voice of a franchise for over 40 years.

Yet, it’s not the end of the world, Milwaukee, or the Brewers that Uecker has decided to take a step back.  I can only imagine how grueling the travel schedule must be for a player, let alone for an 80-year-old.  If reducing the number of Uecker’s road games keeps him in the booth for longer, that’s ultimately a good thing.  And it gives the Brewers and their flagship station, 620 WTMJ, more time to groom a successor to Mr. Baseball.

But for now, we’ll still have that delightful blend of humor and humility beaming into our homes for the vast majority of the season.  I suggest that, for a least a couple games this year, you go outside, fire up the grill, have a few cold beverages, kick your feet up, and enjoy the summer with him.

Garza as the new Lackey

By Nathan Petrashek

I said yesterday that I couldn’t think of a deal structured quite like Garza’s, where the Brewers get an extremely cheap club option in the event the pitcher misses significant time.

Turns out, there are other such clauses, but they’re of relatively recent vintage.

On Twitter, Alex Poterack of Disciples of Uecker clued me in to the fact that John Lackey has a similar clause in his deal, as does Felix Hernandez in his extension.  Sure enough, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has a writeup comparing the risk management features of those deals.

The Lackey Clause, as it is apparently coming to be known, was created after Lackey’s 2009 physical turned up an elbow injury, but the Red Sox didn’t want to scrap the deal.  So, they created an insurance clause: if Lackey missed significant time with an elbow injury, a year could be tacked on the deal at the veteran minimum, at the club’s election.  That clause was triggered when Lackey missed 2012 after having Tommy John surgery, so he’ll likely pitch for the Red Sox in 2015 for $500,000.

The Mariners picked up on this and put a similar clause in their extension with King Felix.  The Brewers appear to have lifted the terms of Garza’s Lackey Clause almost directly from Felix’s deal.  Under Felix’s extension, the Mariners get a $1MM team option in 2020 if Hernandez spends 130 consecutive days on the DL.  Here’s where the clauses differ, though; the team option is only triggered if Hernandez hits the DL due to an elbow injury.  The Brewers option is apparently much broader, and activates if Garza spends the requisite number of days on the DL for any reason.

It seems Lackey Clauses are gaining in popularity, and perhaps rightly so.  While a team will likely never recoup the full value forfeited if one of their major pitchers hits the DL, the clause does allow the team to recover something.  When taken in conjunction with Garza’s vesting option, it allows the player to gain something if he stays healthy, too.

The question now is why the Brewers thought they needed such a clause.  Was it simply Garza’s injury history, or something in the physical?

The Surreal Matt Garza Deal

By Nathan Petrashek

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati RedsIt seems the Brewers could be paying Matt Garza a mere $1MM to pitch for them in 2018.

Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that.

According to various media outlets (e.g. Cots, Tom Haudricourt, Joel Sherman, and Adam McCalvey), Garza is set to earn a base salary of $12.5MM between 2014 and 2017.  $2MM of salary in each of those years is deferred without interest, payable beginning in 2018.  But 2018 is also the year in which things get kind of … odd.

Garza has a vesting option for 2018.  There is nothing particularly unusual about this contractual device.  It basically means that, under a defined set of circumstances, the Brewers are willing to guarantee Garza a fifth year at a predetermined salary.  That salary is $13.5MM, and it will be due Garza under the following circumstances:

  1. Garza starts 110 games between 2014-17
  2. He does not end the 2017 season on the disabled list
  3. He pitches at least 115 innings in 2017

If Garza meets all of those requirements, he’ll get a fifth year at a nice payday tacked on the end of his deal.

Satisfying those three requirements won’t be easy, though.  Garza essentially can’t miss more than a year’s worth of starts between 2014 and 2017.  Garza has had several maladies over the past few seasons-the most troubling being a stress reaction in his elbow-and his mechanics could lead to future shoulder problems for the 30-year-old.  Between the 2010-13 seasons, Garza only made 105 starts, so if we were to go by his last four years, the first requirement would not have been satisfied.

But that’s not all.  Not only must Garza remain healthy for at least three years, but he basically has to pitch for at least half of the 2017 season.  And even then, any missed starts (i.e. a DL stint) can’t come at the end of 2017.  Pretty brilliant contractual maneuvering by the Brewers to get out from under the option if Garza breaks down at the end of his deal.  Remember, most teams wanted to give Garza only  three guaranteed years.

But what’s really bizarre is what happens if the option doesn’t vest.  Then, according to the previously mentioned media sources, the vesting option becomes a $5MM team option.  In other words, even if Garza does break down, the Brewers can choose to bring him back anyway at a substantially reduced rate.  Even as things stand now, Garza wouldn’t have to do much to be worth $5MM, and who knows how much a win will be worth in 2018.

But if Garza misses a lot of time between 2014 and 2017, the Brewers get him in 2018 at an even bigger discount!  If Garza lands on the disabled list for 130 days in any 183-day span of time, the Brewers’ team option is reduced to a paltry $1MM.   The only scenario in which I could see the Brewers declining that option is if Garza’s arm is completely shredded and he just can’t pitch any more.  I don’t recall ever seeing a provision like this, in which a player essentially agrees to give the team a year of his time for next to nothing if he fails to take the mound due to injury.

The cheap rates on the potential team options have led some to speculate that these are actually buyout amounts for a $13.5MM team option that springs to life if the option doesn’t vest.  That’s now how they’ve been reported, though.  And if you think about it, it makes sense that the Brewers would hedge their bets against future injuries.  If the Brewers would wind up picking up the $1MM option, it would mean that Garza has spent nearly a full season or more on the DL at a $12.5MM salary; why shouldn’t they attempt to recoup some value on the back end of the deal?  Conversely, Garza has the ability to earn substantial additional salary if he remains generally healthy for the duration of the deal.

It’s always interesting to see the final result of extensive negotiation, and the Garza contract looks like the parties did a great job of balancing risk.