Welcome to Nashville Fautino De Los Santos!

by Kevin Kimmes

Well, the deal is now official, the Milwaukee Brewers have acquired right-handed reliever Fautino De Los Santos from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for the recently optioned George Kottaras. De Los Santos will report to Triple-A Nashville for assignment.

De Los Santos has spent the better part of 2012 with Triple-A Sacramento, where he was 1-3 with a 7.25 ERA in 28 relief appearances after beginning the season on the Athletics’ Opening Day roster and posting a 3.00 ERA in 6 games. He was optioned on April 24.

It is unclear at this point if the plan is to keep De Los Santos in Triple-A for the time being, or if this is just a temporary move on the part of the team while they sort out the mess that currently is the bullpen.

Cream City Cables will continue to keep you updated on all of the latest trades and rumors as we approach the trade deadline.

Brewers Rumor Roundup

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

A lot of Brewers seem likely to find new digs over the next few days, and we’ll be recapping any credible trade rumors here.  Check back often for the latest updates.

Randy Wolf.  The Brewers rotation is going to look a lot different next year.  Many  speculated that Wolf could be moved at the deadline; the only question is, “for what?”  ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Brewers will trade him for nothing, “if you take the money.”  Wolf is earning $9.5M this year and has a club option for next year at $10M with a $1.5M buyout.

Shaun Marcum.  Marcum is still recovering from an injury that has sidelined him since June 14.  While Marcum isn’t going to be traded before Tuesday’s non-waiver deadline, he may be a waiver trade candidate after he returns to action.

***UPDATE***: Adam McCalvey reports (on Twitter) that Marcum’s second bullpen did not go well.

Zack Grienke.  Opposing GM’s have seemingly done a 180 on Greinke in the last week.  After he was skipped in the rotation, execs were quoted as saying they were “concerned,” even going so far as to call him “scary.”  Other big-market execs said they wouldn’t touch Greinke because of his known anxiety issue.  But after Grienke’s heavily scouted seven-inning masterpiece in Philly, he has become the prize of the trade deadline, especially since Cole Hamels is no longer available.  Teams known to be fawning over the righty include the Baltimore Orioles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, and White Sox.  The White Sox are pushing hard, but they don’t appear to have the pieces necessary to land Greinke; several league sources have reported that Doug Melvin’s asking price is astronomical and includes a top shortstop prospect.  The Braves dropped out after refusing to part with top pitching prospect Julio Teheran, as did the Orioles after Melvin suggested Manny Machado.  At this point, it looks to be a two-way battle between the Rangers and the Angels, though Texas appears to be the frontronner and is presumably very motivated after losing the last two world series.  Still, their top prospect, shorstop Jurickson Profar, is reportedly off the table, even though the Brewers (and other teams) are no doubt asking about him. The Angels don’t seem too confident in their chances to land Greinke.

***UPDATE***: Greinke was traded to the Angels late Friday for a package that includes three of the Angels’ top-10 prospects: SS Jean Segura (#2), RHP Ariel Pena (#9), and RHP Johnny Hellweg (#4).  The Rangers apparently didn’t come close to that offer, refusing to trade Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt, or even Martin Perez.  In fact, the Rangers’ best offer appears to have been IF Leurys Garcia, LHP Chad Bell, and RHP Justin Grimm; a pittance compared to what the Brewers ultimately wound up with, if I may offer my editorial opinion.  The Angels’ decision to include Pena led Doug Melvin to pull the trigger, and the Angels now have perhaps the best rotation in baseball.  You can read our own Ryan Smith’s analysis of the trade here.

Francisco Rodriguez.  K-Rod was looking like a sure candidate to be dealt at the trade deadline, but then he became the closer.  Over the last week, he’s allowed 7 earned runs over 3.1 innings of work, with 7 walks against just 4 strikeouts.  The Giants were reportedly in on him until they watched him pitch.  K-Rod apparently alienated the Brewers, too, as Ron Roenicke announced the team would deploy a closer-by-committee.

George Kottaras.  Kottaras was designated for assignment yesterday, a formality designed to open up a roster spot for returning catcher Jonathan Lucroy.  Doug Melvin is reportedly attempting to find a new big-league home for the backup catcher; Kottaras was told to stay in Milwaukee while Melvin shopped him around.

***UPDATE***: The Brewers have dealt the lefty catcher to the Oakland A’s, according to Tom Haudricourt.  The A’s apparently have to make a corresponding roster move, and the deal will not be announced, nor will we know who the Brewers are receiving, until Sunday.  You can read Ryan Smith’s take on George Kottaras’s move here.

Nyjer Morgan.  Morgan was a great pickup last year, but this year has been a struggle for the lefthanded hitter; he’s batting just .228/.299/.274.  The Brewers would love to move his $2.35M salary, especially with Carlos Gomez playing so well, but there don’t appear to be many suitors right now.

Kameron Loe.  Loe may be the only Brewers reliever to be moved before the trade deadline.  After a two-inning, three-strikeout scoreless showing on Thursday, Loe should draw some interest from teams looking for bullpen help (i.e. Cincinatti Reds, Rangers, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, etc.).  Loe has allowed just two runs over his last nine outings.

Manny Parra.  Manny Parra, like Rodriguez, was a great trade candidate until this week.  With plenty of scouts in attendance in Philly, Parra walked three on Tuesday and gave up four earned runs.  That came on the heels of another three-walk performance the day earlier.  It’s a shame, because Parra had pitched well through July up until that point (7.1 ip, 2 bb, 10 k, 1.23 era).  Nothing simmering on the trade front here.

***UPDATE***: According to CBS’s Danny Knobler (via Twitter), the Brewers have received some inquiries about Parra, but may keep him and re-convert him into a starter again.  That didn’t end well the first time.  Parra as a starter is 23-26 with a 5.44 era, 1.692 whip, and 1.71 k/bb ratio.  As a reliever, he has a 3.82 era, 1.406 whip, and 2.62 k/bb.

Corey Hart.  The Brewers are listening on Hart, but would have to be “bowled over” by the offer to move him, reports Tom Haudricourt.  Still, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Hart included in the Greinke deal if it nets the Brewers a top shortstop and pitching prospect.

Aramis Ramirez.  Like Hart, the Brewers are listening, but the price is high.  The team is not motivated to sell simply to rid their books of the $16M Ramirez is due in 2014 (he’ll earn $10M next season, too).  Early reports linked the Dodgers to Ramirez, but they appear to have satisfied their desire for a bat with Hanley Ramirez.

Jose Veras.  No doubt the Brewers would love to unload Veras and his 1.72 WHIP, but I can’t imagine a contender that would want to play with that kind of fire.  By the same token, I couldn’t figure out why the Brewers would want to play with that kind of fire back in December.  Veras has the third-most walks among MLB relievers and I can’t see him going anywhere.  K-Rod is tied for fourth, incidentally.

Brewers Keep Making Moves; Trade Kottaras to Oakland

By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

And just like that, the Brewers have continued in their role as a trade deadline seller.

Recent reports state that the Brewers have come to an agreement to send catcher George Kottaras to Oakland. Kottaras had been recently designated for assignment (DFA) because of the emergence of Martin Maldonado and the return of The Jonathan Lucroy.

Sorry, ladies: Gorgeous George is heading to Oakland.

A career backup, Kottaras became a fan favorite in Milwaukee this year with his late-game heroics, coming through multiple times to help the Brewers claim victories. His ability to come through in clutch situations even created a buzz around Miller Park and on Twitter, with the verb “Kottaras” being introduced into our lexicon. After a game-winning hit, some fans could be heard saying “You’ve been Kottarased!”

As Kottaras came back to Earth after his hot start to the season, Lucroy started to dominate on a nightly basis. When Lucroy broke his hand, many thought it would be a great opportunity for Kottaras to showcase what he brings to the team. But Kottaras ran into an injury bug as well, and Martin Maldonado was called up. From there, Maldonado impressed everyone with his ability to handle the bat while also providing solid defense from the catcher position. It was only a matter of time before Lucroy would return from his injury, and it became apparent that Kottaras was going to be the odd man out.

When he was DFA, Kottaras was told to remain in Milwaukee, as GM Doug Melvin planned on trying to trade the catcher to another team so he could remain in the majors. Oakland, needing help at the catcher position and currently only 4.5 games behind the AL West-leading Texas Rangers, proved to be the destination Melvin was looking for.

As the backup catcher for Milwaukee over the last three seasons, Kottaras appeared in 174 games, hitting 17 homeruns with 55 runs batted in and 49 runs scored. Over the last few years, Kottaras received a majority of his playing time serving as Randy Wolf’s personal catcher, guaranteeing Kottaras a start every fifth game. In 49 games last season, Kottaras really showed what he could do by producing a line of .252/.311/.459. This season, his numbers dropped a bit, with a line of .209/.409/.360, which is still an upgrade over what Oakland catchers have combined to do on the year (.198/.250/.269). Oakland’s primary catcher, Kurt Suzuki, bats right-handed, so the left-handed Kottaras could create a natural platoon with him.

As of right now, there has been no report as to what Milwaukee will receive in exchange for Kottaras, and Melvin has stated that he doesn’t believe the deal will be finalized until Sunday. Considering Kottaras is a 29-year-old career backup who was recently DFA, I would not expect much in return. The Brewers probably will receive a low-level project prospect or two. This trade was most likely more about Doug Melvin doing Kottaras a favor by sending him to a team that will keep him in the majors.

Check back with Cream City Cables as the Brewers continue to be sellers at this year’s trade deadline.

Dealing with Loss

By Nathan Petrashek

Another day, another injury.  This time it’s Jonathan Lucroy, one of the few bright spots for a 2012 team that has seen expectations of a repeat division title slowly fade.  The team announced yesterday that Lucroy will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken hand, the result of a dropped suitcase at the team hotel.  We’ll leave it to the television and radio folks to test the veracity of that claim. The rookie Martin Maldonado will handle primary catching duties for the time being.  It looks like those folks desperately hoping for a Kottaras trade won’t be getting their wish.

The evidence of loss is almost overwhelming.   Only half of the original starting infield remains.  At first base, the Brewers are fielding Corey Hart and Brooks Conrad (in his second go-around with the team this year) after Travis Ishikawa, who had been filling in admirably (or at least adequately) for Mat Gamel, was placed on the DL with an oblique strain.  The situation isn’t much better at shortstop.  Alex Gonzalez gave way to Cezar Izturis, who has now given way to Cody Ransom, a recent waiver claim from Arizona.  The only two members of the infield left standing are Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez, who is still shaking off the effects of a bruised elbow thanks to an errant pitch.  Weeks might as well be on the bench.  He hasn’t even performed at replacement level (.156/.290/.293), and we’re now two months into the season.

The injuries extend to the pitching side, too.  The Brewers started the year with some depth at SP, but that is almost entirely eroded thanks to a season-ending injury to Chris Narveson and a more temporary situation with his replacement, Marco Estrada.  This sets the stage for Michael Fiers’ first major-league start tonight against the Dodgers.

By my count, that’s three positions at which the Brewers are down to replacements of replacements.  People are starting to lose hope.  In the latest Brew Crew Ball tracking poll, only a slim majority of Brewers fans still think the Brewers have a shot at the playoffs.  Those are mostly fans, mind you.  More objective folks are probably less inclined to be optimistic.  This feeling of despair apparently knows no limits, and is starting to reflect on GM Doug Melvin, whose approval rating dropped significantly for the first time.

I’ve often thought that the most telling sign of a person’s character is how they react when bad things happen.  This is true in baseball too.  Doug Melvin can’t conjure up players to fill a baseball roster; not good ones, at least.  His options are limited.  He could go out and trade for some front-line talent, though most teams aren’t selling and the price tag even if they were would probably cause sticker shock.  He can sign one of the few remaining free agents out there, though there’s likely a reason they haven’t caught on yet – price (Roy Oswalt), injury (Ross Gload) and lack of reciprocal interest (Derrek Lee) being prime candidates.  Or – and this is the approach he has taken – he can rely on minor league talent to get by.

It’s worked before.  Jonathan Lucroy was a promising, though not exactly highly touted, prospect once.  He punched his big-league card straight from AA on the heels of an injury to every day catcher Gregg Zaun.  Two years later, he has blossomed into one of the most complete catchers in baseball.

By not trading the farm or dumping loads of salary in pursuit of an increasingly unlikely playoff berth, Melvin is taking a responsible approach to the injury plague.  He’s conserving resources while at the same time evaluating the players of the future, and making inexpensive, low risk tweaks – like adding Cody Ransom – where necessary.  We’ll see two new pieces of the puzzle tonight in Fiers and Maldonado.  Try not to expect too much from them; watch them for the promise they might hold for the future.

And don’t judge Melvin too harshly; he’s doing the best with what he has.  Whether than is also true of Ron Roenicke will be the subject of another post.

Addressing Milwaukee’s “Personal Catcher” Situation

By: Ryan Smith

The Brewers had just experienced a four-game losing streak at the hands of the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins.  To make matters worse, the Crew only managed to score 10 runs over the course of those four games.  Some fans – myself included – couldn’t help but start to wonder if it was too early to be genuinely concerned about this season.  At that given moment, the Brewers were pathetic.

Pathetic.

Then last Sunday’s outburst happened.  The Brewer bats woke up to the tune of 16 runs.  Sure, a good portion of those runs came against the very mortal Jason Marquis, whose less-than-stellar performance that day forced him into unemployment.  Still, it was nice to see the team wake up at the plate.

For Brewers fans, Sunday’s game was a damn good time.

Helping to lead the charge on Sunday was The Jonathon Lucroy. (I’ve decided to refer to him as “The Jonathon Lucroy” because of the way he’s dominating at and behind the plate this season.)  Already having a breakout season, The Jonathon Lucroy continued his success at the plate with a monster performance, crushing two home runs and knocking in seven runs along the way.  I couldn’t help but think that Sunday might have been just what the doctor ordered: a game to build some confidence for our struggling lineup.

On Monday, my excitement would be put on hold.

Even animals are frustrated with the idea of a “personal catcher” in Milwaukee.

Randy Wolf was pitching.

Now let me point out that I am a fan of Randy Wolf.  I was never a big fan of Randy Wolf as the second guy in our rotation, but as our fourth?  Sign me up.

My problem with Randy Wolf is George Kottaras.

Let me point something else out: I like George Kottaras.  As a kid, I grew up cheering for Milwaukee and Boston, and I’ve continued to do so for quite some time, so I liked Kottaras well before most Brewers fans started using his name as a verb early this season.

My problem with George Kottaras is Randy Wolf.

I can buy into the idea of a pitcher having a “personal catcher” for a few reasons.  Tim Wakefield always had a specific catcher in Boston, and if you remember Jason Varitek trying to catch the knuckleballer in the ’04 playoffs, you completely understand why he has his own catcher.  I would understand if someone like Daisuke Matsuzaka had a personal catcher because he came to the big leagues with a rumored seven pitches.  I would even understand if someone like Justin Verlander or Roy Halladay requested a personal catcher because, well, I’d give those guys whatever the hell they wanted.

But Randy Wolf?  As Tom Haudricourt tweeted during Monday’s game, Randy Wolf has exactly eight 1-2-3 innings this season.  He’s pitched 46.1 innings thus far.  That performance warrants a personal catcher?

Sorry.  I don’t buy it.

I’ve heard other arguments for this whole “personal catcher” situation that Wolf and Kottaras have going.  I get the idea that giving The Jonathon Lucroy an off-day every fifth game will help save his legs and keep him fresh into September.

But does the situation have to be so rigid?  Does it have to be every fifth game?  What about every seventh game?  Wouldn’t that still give him more off days than other top-tier catchers have throughout a given season?

Or if they insisted on giving him that fifth game off, couldn’t they juggle it around from starter to starter, based on the each game’s pitching matchup?

The Jonathon Lucroy has been in perpetual Beast Mode all season, especially against lefties.

Monday’s game against San Francisco was the perfect example of my last point.  The Giants were sending southpaw Madison Bumgarner to the mound.  The Jonathon Lucroy is, quite simply, hitting the crap out of the ball against lefties, sporting a line of .419/.455/.742 in 2012.

The left-handed George Kottaras, in limited at-bats, has a line of .167/.500/.167 against lefties this season.  So basically, he knows how to draw a walk against left-handed pitching but isn’t as gifted when it comes to actually swinging the bat in those same situations.

So I have to ask Ron Roenicke one thing: why?

Why take out a guy who is hitting the ball with reckless abandon regardless of where you put him in the batting order?  Why give him an off-day against a left-handed pitcher when he might be our most dangerous bat against lefties outside of Ryan Braun?  Why not wait and give Kottaras his turn in the lineup against Matt Cain on Tuesday?

Why?

Because it was Randy Wolf’s start.  And George Kottaras is Randy Wolf’s personal catcher.

Before the game, when asked about possibly changing this philosophy, Roenicke said, “I like them both out there. I think there should be some   times when I’d rather put ‘Luc’ in there catching Randy. Tonight would  be one of them. But we need to talk to them more about that if we decide   we’re going to go that way.”

Once again, sorry.  I don’t buy it.

Mr. Roenicke, I’m a fan of yours.  I like the style of game you preach to  the players.  I like your aggressiveness on the bases.  I love seeing a  suicide squeeze once a week.

But I also know that you’re the manager and they are your players.  It is your job to try and put out the lineup that gives us the best chance to win the game on any given night.  “We” don’t need to talk about anything if “we” are going to make a decision.

You need to make that decision.  The next time Randy Wolf is matched up against another lefty, you need to put out the best lineup possible.

You need to make sure you have The Jonathon Lucroy out there.  Because right now, The Jonathon Lucroy trumps any “personal catcher” system that you have in place.

Worried Yet?

By: Ryan Smith

It appears that I haven’t written a post in quite some time.  While I may be lacking in the extra time that it takes to write consistent, quality posts, I certainly have not been lacking ideas for new columns.

After an opening weekend that saw Gallardo look like a batting practice pitcher one day, followed by Greinke absolutely shutting down that same St. Louis team the next day, I decided that I wanted to write an article reminding everyone that I said Greinke would be the team’s “ace” for this season.  Then Greinke had his start in Chicago with a chance for the sweep, and he proceeded to stink up the joint (which is not an easy thing to do considering Wrigley already reeks).  Too late for that column.

Two weeks into the season, I decided that I wanted to write an article about early season overreactions, pointing out some statements and thoughts that had been running through Brewer Nation.  I was going to write about how everyone needs to calm down and not promote George Kottaras ahead of Jonathon Lucroy based on a few long balls.  I was going to write about how we need to wait a bit for Aramis Ramirez to get his feet under him before all of Milwaukee called that signing a mistake.

But then, two weeks into the season became three weeks into the season which then became a month into the season.  Too late for that column.

If the Brewers don’t start improving soon, Bernie might be looking for the bottom of a mug more often in 2012.

After today’s extra-innings loss to the Twins, the Brewers find themselves at 16-24.  A 16-24 record means they’ve now played 40 games, which is roughly a quarter of the way through the season.  As I looked at the standings and pondered what I could write about, I realized something:

Much like my column ideas, it’s starting to appear like it may be too late for this Milwaukee Brewers team.

Don’t get me wrong – there are still 122 games left in the season, so they have plenty of time to turn things around.  But as I watch them play (which has been downright painful this past week), I have growing concerns about certain areas of this team.

And the fact that there are 122 games left doesn’t make me say that we have time to fix those concerns.  In actuality, it makes me fear that those concerns could only grow to more frightening levels as we make our way through summer.

So let’s take a look at some of my concerns at this early but not-so-early juncture of the 2012 season, shall we?

First, allow me to give you a hypothetical situation:

When Roenicke looks to the bullpen, it often appears like there aren’t many options.

You are Ron Roenicke and the Brewers are up 3-2 going into the 8th inning.  The starter has thrown 107 pitches, so he’s done for the night.  For some reason or another, Axford and Loe are not available for this particular game.  You need to select two guys to send to the mound to get the next six outs, and your options are Rodriguez, Veras, Dillard, Parra, and Chulk.  Who do you choose?

If you’re like me, you just got that disgusting vomit taste in your mouth.  With a few exceptions, Axford has been typical Axford, giving the fans close calls but usually coming through in the end.  Loe looks like a different guy than the one who was only appearing in low-leverage situations late last year.  But everyone else?  Let’s just say that if Roenicke goes through the entire season without having a late-inning heart attack, I’ll consider that a victory.

Luckily, bullpen improvements happen every year for contenders, either with organizational call-ups – Tyler Thornburg would fill this role nicely – or through trade deadline moves, like when we acquired K-Rod last season.  The only problem is if we keep losing like we have been, we won’t be contenders when July rolls around.

Like many Milwaukee hitters, Weeks can’t seem to find any answers at the plate.

Another issue I have with this team is at the plate.  More specifically, it pains me that a good portion of our hitters have the plate approach of a Little League team.  Braun has been Braun, leading the team in most statistical categories and providing a consistent, dangerous bat, and he hasn’t been alone.  I mean, who could have seen the type of season Lucroy is producing thus far?  Oh, that’s right – I said he could do this, as did Cream City Cables founder Nate Petrashek.  But beyond Braun and Lucroy and the occasional power surge from Hart, the early portion of this season has not seen a lot of consistency at the plate for this team.  Ramirez has started to look better in recent weeks, though that’s not saying much considering how terrible he was in April.  Perhaps my biggest concern with our hitters is Rickie Weeks.  It’s one thing to start slowly, but he’s not really showing any signs of improvement.  Needless to say, my confidence in Mr. Weeks is being challenged.

Finally, I can’t help but worry about all of the injuries that have hit Milwaukee in the first six weeks of the season.  Last year, the Brewers only had to use six starters throughout the course of the entire season.  Now, we’ve lost Narveson for the season, putting more pressure on the rest of our very talented rotation.  We lost new infield regulars Gamel and Gonzalez.  Gonzalez’s defense was as advertised, so that isn’t something the team can just replace overnight.  And Gamel’s injury was heartbreaking.  The guy finally gets his everyday shot and, quite frankly, does well in that spot.  So of course he goes out for the season.  Travis Ishikawa has been a pleasant surprise, but it would have been a nice luxury to be able to bring him off the bench on most nights as a pinch-hitter or a defensive replacement.  In 2011, the Brewers had limited injuries that impacted the everyday roster.  This year, it seems like that run of good luck may have come to an end.

As I said earlier, I’m not giving up on this season.  It’s still too early to just start looking to next year (unless you’re a Cubs fan).  But if they don’t start turning things around soon, it might be too late for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers.

Early Season Heroes

By Nathan Petrashek

It’s pretty incredible that two players who don’t see regular playing time are tied for the team lead in average, and yet that’s just where George Kottaras and Carlos Gomez find themselves with just one game to go in April.  Both have made game-changing contributions to the team in the early season that need to be recognized, and have made the case that they deserve more playing time.

Kottaras has plenty of late-inning heroics already.  On April 11, he delivered the team’s only runs on a two-run shot off Ryan Dempster in the seventh inning to deliver what remains Yovani Gallardo’s only win of the season.  Then on the 17th against the Dodgers, Kottaras plated the go-ahead run on a two-run double at the bottom of the ninth.  In 22 ABs, Kottaras is raking .318/.500/.773, with all but one at bat coming against righties.  It has been refreshing to see Kottaras used more in late-inning, high-leverage situations, but to really maximize his skills, the whole notion of using him as Randy Wolf’s personal catcher should be scrapped.  Kottaras, hitting just .182 for his career against lefties, should always cede the start to Jonathan Lucroy in that situation, freeing him up for additional starts against righties and pinch hit appearances.

Gomez has shown flashes early this season of developing into the player we have hoped he’d become for the last two years.  With appearances in 18 games, Gomez is slashing .318/.333/.545.  Gomez has walked just once, and his OBP leaves something to be desired but is nonetheless a dramatic improvement over last year’s .276.  Most people are familiar with Gomez’s speed, and he hasn’t disappointed this year, swiping five bags.  What has been really surprising, though, is Gomez’s plate discipline.  After ending about 28% of his at-bats last year via the K, Gomez has struck out just three times so far in 2012, about 7% of his at-bats.  In general, he’s swinging at more pitches in the zone and fewer outside, and has been able to make contact at rates well above his career averages.  Only time will tell if the 26-year-old Gomez is one of those rare late bloomers, but he certainly looks like he’s finally put it all together in the early going.  And with CF platoon mate Nyjer Morgan batting just .176 a month in, Gomez’s production is certainly welcome.