2013 Position Review & Preview: Shortstop

AP

by Kevin Kimmes

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of our 2013 review & preview series.  You can read the rest here.

Review of 2012:

When Milwaukee found themselves as sellers at the trade deadline in 2012, the Brewers faithful knew they had seen the last of Zack Greinke. Greinke, who had never lost a game at Miller Park, was about to become a free agent at the end of the year, and one way or another was about to get a huge payday for his services, most likely from a major market team. So, to get something out of his departure, the Brewers traded him to the Angels in late July for some top quality farmhands in Double-A pitchers Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena, as well as shortstop Jean Segura.

While Helwig and Pena would see minimal playtime in 2012 with Milwaukee , Segura would get the opportunity to fill in as the teams starting shortstop thanks to a hole at the position left by an early season injury to Alex Gonzalez. The gamble would pay off for Milwaukee as Segura took to the big league level of play right away.

As mentioned on the back of his 2013 Topps Spring Fever card: “Soon after the Brewers acquired Segura in a trade with the Angels last July, he was tossed into the Major League fire for the first time. By September, the 22-year-old was thriving, batting .375 in one 20-game stretch and finishing with seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Those were credentials enough to make the shortstop job his to lose this spring.”

Segura finished his 2012 season with Milwaukee with a slash line of .264/.321/.331 over 163 plate appearances in 44 games. He recorded 39 hits, 14 RBI, 7 stolen bases and walked 13 times.

Projected 2013 Stat Line (according to Baseball Info Solutions):

139/477 over 147 games, 6 HR, 50 RBI, 35 BB, 69 K, .291/.340/.388

The above numbers should come as no surprise to anyone that followed Segura’s offseason. He won the Dominican Winter League batting title, hitting .325 over 35 games and ranked 2nd in stolen bases with 11. Similar numbers were shown in his 18 Spring Training appearances in which he hit 19/52 with 3 stolen bases and a slash line of .365/.377/.577.

Depth of Position:

Behind Segura at short is the man that he replaced at the position last year, Alex Gonzalez. Initially released by Milwaukee in the offseason, Gonzalez eventually re-signed with Milwaukee where he figures to start the season at 1st base filling in for the injured Corey Hart.

Behind him, there is one more shortstop, a name that sends shivers down the spines of the collective fan base. A name so polarizing, that it made those opposed to the Kyle Lohse acquisition question if Doug Melvin had finally lost his mind. That man: Yuniesky Betancourt. Luckily for all of us it sounds like the plans for Yuni is as a utility bat, not a utility infielder.

With Yuni fresh on everyone’s minds, I’ll leave you with the following:

YuniB

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

The Cream City Cables 2013 NL Central Division Preview: Taking a Look at Milwaukee’s Competition

By: Ryan Smith

pitchers and catchersLet’s be honest: if you’re reading this article, you’re either a close friend of mine or you get slightly turned on by these four words: Pitchers and catchers report.

Perhaps baseball, more than any other sport, allows fan bases all over North America to look forward to the next season and think that this could be our year.

Think about it for a second.

In the NBA, it’s basically LeBron and everybody else. If you don’t have a stable of genuine stars, you’re basically playing for a second-round exit from the playoffs.

In the NFL, there are typically a few “surprise” teams. But in the end, the Super Bowl often comes down to teams that have already been there or teams that were previously on the cusp of greatness. Even this year, the Super Bowl pitted the two teams who lost in their conference championship games the year before.

In the NHL…who knows? I hate hockey.

But baseball? Baseball has teams that stay consistently dominant, teams that slowly build through the minors and eventually reach their greatness, and teams that seem to turn it all around in a few short months. Going into a new season, everyone has a shot.

Well, everyone except Houston.

This brings me to the topic of this article: the National League Central Division.

AL-West-gets-a-present-from-the-NL-Central2013 will be the first season with Houston-less NL Central. With their move to the American League, Houston has opened up a spot in the cellar of the division. To figure out who will claim their rightful position in the division’s basement, I thought I’d take a look at the four remaining non-Milwaukee teams in the NL Central.

I’ll take a look at the teams in the order I believe they will finish in the division standings, going from worst to first. My Brewers preview will be coming in the next few weeks. After all, I want to wait until I have an idea of who might be playing first on Opening Day.

So without further ado, let’s get started!

(All stats courtesy of Fangraphs)

Chicago Cubs
2012 Record: 61-101
2012 Division Finish: 5th

Before I start, let me make one thing clear: I think Theo Epstein is doing a pretty impressive job in turning around the Cubbies. Perhaps the most intelligent thing he is doing is avoiding knee-jerk reactions, passing up opportunities to make pointless signings simply to make a splash. Instead, he seems to be focusing on slowly building up the organization’s farm system while also waiting for those albatross contracts to finally come off the books.

Epstein's is doing the right thing by focusing on developing long-term success for the Cubs.

Epstein’s is doing the right thing by focusing on developing long-term success for the Cubs.

That’s the good news for Cubs fans. The bad news? They still have to play the 2013 season, and this time they don’t have Houston as a cellar-buffer.

At this point, I think the Cubs have gotten used to bad news during the season. They didn’t even have to wait for Spring Training games to start for their first bit of bad news this year, with reports of Matt Garza’s strained lat coming in recent days. Garza’s health may be the most important item to focus on in Chicago this season. It’s not that Garza could help Chicago contend; they might not truly contend until 2015. With Garza, the Cubs own one of the most intriguing trade chips in all of baseball. If Garza is healthy, Epstein could use him to drive a mid-season trade that could bring more young talent to Wrigley, much like how the Brewers were able to get Jean Segura in exchange for Zack Greinke, a player who seemed to already have his bags packed. If Garza is not healthy, the Cubs simply have a player of little-to-no value.

The rest of the Chicago rotation lacks the punch needed to survive an NL Central that features three rather dangerous lineups. Jeff Samardzija was one of the more pleasant surprises for the Cubs last season, proving to be a more-than-capable starter. While I don’t think he will duplicate his 2012 numbers (9.27 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 3.38 xFIP), I do think he’ll continue to be a reliable starter who gives Cub fans a reason to hope.

The lineup for the Cubs looks pretty similar to the 2012 version that finished with 101 losses. Anthony Rizzo had a nice debut with the Cubs last season, producing a .285/.342/.463 line in 87 games with the big-league club. As far as additions go, Ian Stewart will be a new face at third, Nate Schierholtz will line up in the outfield, and Wilington Castillo looks to be in line to replace Geovany Soto behind the plate. While none of those names are going to sell any tickets outside of their immediate families, they do prove my earlier point that Epstein is taking the slow and steady approach, which should help Chicago in the long run.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t struggle mightily this year. It looks to be another brutal year for the Cubbies.

Predicted 2013 Record: 65-97
Predicted 2013 Division Finish: 5th

Pittsburgh Pirates
2012 Record: 79-83
2012 Division Finish: 4th

For two years now, the Pirates have taunted their fans with flashes of improvement, even hinting at genuine contention, only to crush their fan base with massive second-half collapses. I do have some good news for any Pirates fans reading this article:

There will be no second-half collapse.

However, I only say this because I don’t see the Pirates having the hot start they had in each of the last two seasons.

The Pirates’ rotation appears to be one of the few non-Andrew McCutchen bright spots for Pittsburgh. A.J. Burnett appears to have found a comfort zone in Pittsburgh, providing the Pirates with a very respectable arm at the top of their rotation. Wandy Rodriguez is a recognizable name in the #2 slot, but last year was a substantial step back for the former Astro. He saw his K/9 dip to 6.08 while producing a 4.09 xFIP. James McDonald surprised some people last year by proving to be a capable and relatively consistent starter. After that, the Pirates have Jeff Karstens, Kyle McPherson, and Francisco Liriano fighting for two rotation spots. I personally think Liriano is a name-only pitcher at this point, a guy who can provide a gem for five innings and then disappear for two months. Too much inconsistency for my taste.

mccutchenThe lineup? Well, there’s superstar Andrew McCutchen, one of the four or five best players in baseball today. After that? Starling Marte has potential to be an above-average regular in their lineup. Russell Martin provides an offensive upgrade from Rod Barajas at catcher, but that’s not saying a whole lot. The addition of Travis Snider could prove to be a pleasant surprise for the Pirates; I’ve always thought he could be a good player if he was given a real shot, which he should get in Pittsburgh.

In the end, Pirates fans will be in for yet another losing season in 2013. There is some help on the way in the farm system, but bringing up any of their really valuable prospects this season would only be rushing them. For now, enjoy that beautiful stadium and the joy that is watching Andrew McCutchen on a nightly basis.

Predicted 2013 Record: 75-87
Predicted 2013 Division Finish: 4th

Cincinnati Reds
2012 Record: 97-65
2012 Division Finish: 1st

Chapman's conversion to starter will be one of the major storylines for the 2013 Reds.

Chapman’s conversion to starter will be one of the major storylines for the 2013 Reds.

I’ll be honest. Picking the bottom teams in the division was a relatively easy task for me. I just don’t see Chicago and Pittsburgh being in the same conversation as the other three teams in the NL Central. And frankly, I think the Brewers are firmly entrenched in the middle of this top-heavy division. The real debate for me was deciding who would come out on top between the Reds and the Cardinals. Last year, I correctly picked the Reds to win the division. This year, as much as it pains me to say it, I have a feeling St. Louis finishes in first, with the Reds following in a very close second-place.

The aspect of the Reds that makes them a really dangerous team is that they really don’t have a glaring weakness in their lineup. By adding Shin-Soo Choo in their trade with Cleveland, the Reds added a legitimate top-of-the-order bat. Choo is followed by Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Ryan Ludwick, and Jay Bruce. By the time you are to #6-hitter Todd Frazier, you may already be making a visit to the mound. A team is rarely going to stop the Reds from scoring; instead, teams are going to need to spray hits to the outfield, where Cincinnati does appear to have a less-than-stellar defensive outfield, lacking a true centerfielder with the departure of Drew Stubbs.

As far as pitching goes, the Reds have a couple of strong arms at the top of their rotation. Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos give the Reds one of the more imposing 1-2 punches in baseball. Bronson Arroyo is what he is at this point; an innings eater who will sport a mid-4.00 ERA. Homer Bailey doesn’t do much for me, but he’s proven to be reliable over the last few seasons. The arrival of Aroldis Chapman in the rotation is the real wild card here. If he can successfully convert to full-time starter, the Reds could end up walking away with the division. If he struggles, which I think he will, the Reds will not only have a question mark in the rotation; they will also have to fill the gap that Chapman created in their bullpen. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but I’ve seen too many examples of lights-out bullpen arms struggle in their transition to a larger workload in the regular rotation.

As I stated at the beginning of this section, I am torn between picking the Reds and the Cardinals. Cincinnati has such a dangerous lineup and some starting pitching to back it up, and I’m not even looking at their potential mid-season call-ups, such as speedster Billy Hamilton. Still, I just feel like St. Louis will figure out a way to steal the division from the Reds. However, I still see the Reds getting into the playoffs and making some noise in October.

Predicted 2013 Record: 94-68
Predicted Division Finish: 2nd

St. Louis Cardinals
2012 Record: 88-74
2012 Division Finish: 2nd

This is painful for me to write. If you know me, you know that I hate the Cardinals. I hated Tony LaRussa. I hate Chris Carpenter. I really hate Yadier Molina.

But even with all of that hatred, I can’t help but think that the Cardinals are the best team in the NL Central, and they will win the division in 2013.

First, let’s look at reasons why the Cardinals could finish behind the Reds at the end of the season. Chris Carpenter’s season-ending (and possibly career-ending) injury has to be at the top of the list. I can’t say I was saddened upon hearing this news. I don’t care if that makes me a bad person. I already stated that I hate Carpenter. This injury is definitely a blow to the Cardinals this season and beyond. But keep in mind, Carpenter missed almost all of last season as well. Quite frankly, the Cardinals have gotten used to not having a pitching staff at full-strength over the last few seasons. The Cardinals rotation also got a bit weaker after losing Kyle Lohse to free agency in the offseason. At least, it appears that they got weaker on the surface. The fact of the matter is that Lohse is still a free agent. I’ve never been a big fan of him, and apparently all of the teams in Major League Baseball share that feeling, at least at whatever his asking price is.

Now on to the good news. Last time I checked, Adam Wainwright is still at the top of the rotation, and he remains one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. His curveball still makes hitters look foolish quite frequently. Jaime Garcia has elite stuff but durability issues. When those issues arose last season, Joe Kelly stepped in proved to be a very useful arm. Lance Lynn’s transition to the starting rotation worked out quite well. And 2-13 will mark the first full-season look at top-prospect Shelby Miller. Even without Carpenter and Lohse, that is still a very strong rotation.

As much as I hate him, I can't deny the fact that St. Louis has baseball's best catcher in Yadier Molina.

As much as I hate him, I can’t deny the fact that St. Louis has baseball’s best catcher in Yadier Molina.

I believe the Cardinals also improved their lineup in the offseason, if only by moving on from Lance Berkman, who came back down to earth in 2012 (.259/.381/.444) after a very impressive 2011 (.301/.412/.547). Rafael Furcal enters the final year of his contract, which is good for two reasons for St. Louis. First, we all know how players seem to step up their game in contract years. Second, it means they can move on from the aging Furcal after 2013. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, and the previously mentioned Molina provide a dangerous middle of the order for the Cardinals. Allen Craig had an abbreviated coming-out party last year, putting up impressive numbers in 119 games, including 22 homeruns and 35 doubles. If he can stay healthy all season, that makes a dangerous 2-6 in the lineup, and then David Freese comes to the plate. Much like the Reds, this St. Louis lineup just doesn’t give you a chance to catch your breath.

In the end, I think St. Louis’s deeper rotation, superior farm system, and better game management will lead them to the division title in 2013. In a race this close, a mid-season trade or call-up could prove to be the difference, but as it stands now, I think St. Louis will be finishing on top.

Predicted 2013 Record: 96-66
Predicted Division Finish: 1st

An Outlier in the 2012 Brewers Blogosphere Awards

By Nathan Petrashek

This will be the first year I’m participating in the Brewers Blogosphere awards, run by Jaymes Langrehr at Disciples of Uecker.  This sort of works like the team awards every year, with each writer allowed to make three selections in each category—team MVP, best pitcher, and the like.  The first selection is worth 5 points, the second 3, and the third 1.  The winner in each category is the player with the most points when the votes are tallied.

The results are tallied, and it seems I’m an outlier in a few categories.  You can find the results here.  My explanation for my votes is below.

TEAM MVP

1. Ryan Braun

There’s no real debate here.  Braun should be the National League’s MVP this year, so he’s an obvious choice for the top spot in team voting.

2. Yovani Gallardo

This one was a really difficult choice.  The WAR folks are going to hate this pick, as Yo was a 2.8 bWAR pitcher while Rami knocked the ball around to the tune of 5.4 wins above replacement.  Nonetheless, Gallardo was the only starter on the team to eclipse 150 IP.  He anchored a rotation that made a real run at the postseason even after its best pitcher was traded away, going 11-1 to finish the year while accumulating 76 K’s over 79 innings.  Most of all, Gallardo proved that his outstanding 2011 campaign was no fluke and gave the team confidence that Gallardo can hold serve as a viable ace in the future.

3. Aramis Ramirez

No way could Ramirez fall any lower than number three in MVP voting.  A .300/.360/.540 season was just what Doug Melvin ordered for the heart of the Brewers’ order after Prince Fielder departed last offseason.  Ramirez clubbed 27 home runs and a league-leading 50 doubles, the latter challenging the franchise record of 53. Ramirez, never known for his defense, also flashed some serious leather at third base and even chipped in a career-best nine(!) steals.  Ramirez even bested our pretty optimistic projection for him in spring, though we nailed his HR and RBI totals.

BEST PITCHER

1. Zack Greinke

Grienke was flat-out ridiculous as a Brewer in 2012.  His home run rate plunged from 2011, as did his walks per nine, and somehow Greinke managed to maintain an outstanding 8.9 strikeouts per nine.  So pretty much the Zack Greinke we all know and love.

2. Marco Estrada

Quick: who was the only Brewers pitcher to top Greinke in K/BB ratio in 2012?  Yep, it was Marco Estrada, with 4.93.  It might seem strange to peg Estrada as a better pitcher than Gallardo given the MVP honor for Gallardo above, but let me explain.  Gallardo was a workhorse for the Brewers this year, tossing over 200 innings.  Estrada was a reliever for part of the season and missed a month, but, when pitching in the rotation, actually performed better than Gallardo. Though Estrada ended the season with a 5-7 record, his 3.54 ERA, 1.14 WHP, and 113 ERA+ all topped Gallardo (albeit narrowly in ERA and ERA+).  In essence, Estrada gets the nod at best pitcher for much better command, while for Gallardo gets credit at MVP for actually being on the field and in the rotation.

3. Yovani Gallardo

I don’t intend to take anything away from Gallardo’s excellent 2012 campaign, but let’s face it, walks will haunt.  Gallardo was an ace in every sense except one: his unacceptably high 3.6 BB/9, a significant regression from 2.6 BB/9 a year ago and a return to his erratic ways.  The frequent free passes elevated his pitch counts, a big reason Gallardo never made it out of the eighth inning this season.

BEST NEWCOMER

1. Aramis Ramirez

An easy choice given his strong season.

2. Norichika Aoki

Doug Melvin’s 2-year, $2.5M Ryan Braun insurance policy paid off even though Braun wasn’t suspended.  Aoki produced a .288/.355/.433 line mostly in right field, as Corey Hart shifted to first base.  Aoki was good for a 3.3 bWAR and was only paid $1M.  Though Aoki is a rookie of the year candidate, at age 30 his ceiling might be limited.  Still, I think there’s room for improvement, as Aoki played sparingly initially, and expecting anyone to fully adjust to MLB pitching in only a partial season is a tall order.

3. Wily Peralta

I’m probably Peralta’s biggest critic, but he piqued my interest in the majors after a pretty crappy year at AAA.  While Peralta had a good year in 2011, I was skeptical that he had put his command issues behind him.  They again reared their ugly head in 2012; over 146 AAA innings, Peralta walked 4.8 batters per nine and amassed a 1.58 WHIP.  Somehow – I’ve heard a minor mechanical tweak – Peralta again managed to contain his wild ways over 29 innings for the big league club at the end of the season.  We’ll see if it sticks.

UNSUNG HERO

1. Marco Estrada

Even though he’s been mentioned a lot, I think he would get more attention for his stellar 2012 if he weren’t Marco Estrada.  I get the sense that people feel Estrada is a known quantity, and they don’t get excited.

2. Shaun Marcum

This may be a bit of a homer pick, because I feel like I’m constantly on the defense about Marcum.  I know he came up short in the 2011 postseason, but you have to let it go.  124 innings of 3.70 ball this year, and the only time I’ve heard Marcum mentioned is when (1) he gets an injury timeout; or (2) people talk about dead arm.  Fact is, we paid a lot to get  him and he did reasonably well for us.  We shouldn’t be so quick to shove him out the door.

3. Carlos Gomez

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse with this pick, too.  Much has been made of his last-season surge in 2012, but he’s quietly put up consecutive 2+ bWAR seasons.

GOOD GUY

1. Rick Weeks

Worked through a severe slump to start the season with poise, never shifting responsibility or taking to Twitter to bash anyone (see #3 in this category).  By the end of the season, was pretty well back to the old Rickie.

2. Nyjer Morgan

We all kind of wanted to see him start trouble, but he managed to avoid it despite being benched.  Team player gets a vote.

3. Anyone but John Axford

New rule: No Twitter at least 48 hours after a blown save.

Rotation Roulette

By Nathan Petrashek

Wily Peralta, Michael Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Mark Rogers have all thrown quality innings as starters for the Brewers this season, but there projects to be a need for a veteran starter in Milwaukee next year.  In August, Ron Roenicke had this to say about adding an experienced arm:

“I don’t want to say we need to,” he said. “I think you’d always like to. But who’s out there and for what number? It gets to the point where some of these salaries are getting a little ridiculous. We’ve got to be really smart in what we do, and who’s out there as far a quality veteran you really want.

“If you can have young starters, then maybe spend your money in the bullpen to make sure the bullpen is really good and you can close out games when you have leads. If a guy has a 4.50 ERA, which is up there, if he can go six innings, that’s three runs. If you have a good bullpen, you can win a lot of games. I think you can do it, if you have a really good bullpen.

“If you don’t have the money to go out and get $20-million-a-year pitchers, why not do it with a 4.50 ERA. What does that cost you? I think you can do that.”

The economics of pitching certainly have changed, especially this year.  The Brewers made overtures to resign Zack Greinke, only to be priced out of the market by Matt Cain’s monster deal.  The best arms now project to make at least $20M per year, with many expecting Greinke to push his free agent salary up to $22 or $23M annually.

With that, it’s time for a blind taste test.  Here are the 2012 stats of three players projected to be free agents in 2013:

Innings ERA WHIP HR/9 K/9 BB/9 ERA+
Player A 212 3.48 1.196 .08 8.5 2.3 115
Player B 170 4.32 1.295 1.4 7.1 2 87
Player C 118 3.74 1.246 1.1 8.2 2.8 110

If you were a general manager, and basing your decision solely 2012 stats, it’s obvious which you would choose.  Player A is Zack Greinke, the premier pitching free agent.  Despite faltering after his trade to the Los Angeles Angels, Greinke is still likely to command a mountain of money.  Expectations for the former Cy Young winner are high; just look at what the Angels were willing to pay the Brewers in terms of players for just a few months of his service.  Greinke puts up some remarkable numbers and will be compensated accordingly.  The financial risk will be a long-term one, too; any team making a serious run at Greinke will likely have to put a 6- or 7-year deal on the table.  That would lock the pitcher up through at least his age 34 season, a point at which many pitchers have begun to decline.

Player B is likely to be the second-most desired pitcher should the Angels decline their $15.5M 2013 option.  Dan Haren has had a rough go of it in 2012.  At age 32, it is entirely possible that Haren is losing his edge; this season, for example, Haren has dealt with lingering back issues and dip in velocity on virtually all of his pitches.  Still, he has history on his side; just last year, Haren was a Cy Young candidate after pitching 238 innings of 3.17 era ball.  For that reason, Haren is likely to command at least a three-year deal, and I can’t imagine him getting less than $13M per year.  I mean, Randy Wolf got just under $10M a year for 3 years from the Brewers, and he was an All-Star just once … in 2003.

Player C is the much-maligned Shaun Marcum.  It seems all Brewers fans will remember of him is his postseason blowup in 2011.  And it was a blowup, to be sure; a 14.90 ERA in 3 clutch games isn’t exactly what you want out of a key player in your rotation.  But those three games mask Marcum’s solid 2011 and 2012 campaigns.  Other than a slight uptick in WHIP and K rate, Marcum’s 2012 looks a lot like his 2011 – at least when he was on the field.  The major knock on Marcum has always been his health. A tommy john surgery sidelined him in 2009, and his throwing mechanics have been the subject of much criticism.  Marcum managed 195 innings in 2010 and 200 in 2011, but has struggled in September and October in both years.  Thus, an entire healthy year for Marcum probably consists of 170 innings.

Of course, a GM doesn’t have just statistics to worry about.  There’s money, too.  And if I’m the Brewers shopping around for one of these guys, Marcum’s my man.

I’d love Greinke, but not his price tag.  Few teams can shoulder a $23M annual contract, and the Brewers aren’t one of them.  Dan Haren’s age and struggles worries me more when accompanied by a minimum $40M price tag.  At age 31 next year, Shaun Marcum isn’t exactly young, but he also isn’t going to cost much.  Marcum is making just under $8M this year, which is probably where the free market – once it factors in the injury risk – will price him, too.  I can easily see Marcum signing for 3/$20M.  In terms of value for dollars, that’s a no brainer.

Now, Marcum is not going to be a fit for every team.  If he’s only going to pitch 170-180 innings there are going to be some valuable innings that someone else is going to have to pick up.  But the Brewers are ideally situated to deal with that issue.

The Brewers currently have about $52M committed for next season, not counting arbitration salaries.  With a young back end to the rotation and most position players already accounted for, there projects to be some substantial money available for the bullpen.

To cover the additional innings a Marcum signing would require, the Brewers could add a very good long relief arm.  Or they could use Marcum out of the bullpen to provide 130+ innings of quality relief during the year, as suggested by @simplekindoffan  on Twitter.  Alternatively, the Brewers could keep Marcum as a starter and give him every eighth or ninth start off.  One of the nice things about this team is its starting pitching depth; with Rogers, Fiers, Peralta, Estrada, and Narveson not all going to make the rotation, there will be some arms available for a spot start.  The point is that the Brewers have ways to deal with Marcum’s innning cap in ways that many other teams may not.

Marcum isn’t the only free agent starter the Brewers should think about pursuing.  But he – and players like him – certainly offer value in a way that guys like Zack Greinke and Dan Haren will not.

Getting the Scoop on the New Guys

By: Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2)

Now that things have died down a bit after the Zack Greinke trade, I thought it would be a good idea to try and get a better idea of who the Brewers acquired last Friday. In my immediate reaction piece of Friday, I did take a look at what these three players have done thus far this season. But statistics can only tell us so much about these players.

In order to get a better idea of what types of players they are, I knew I needed to talk to someone who had some first-hand experience with each player. Thanks to the beauty that is the Twitterverse, I got in touch with Phil Elson, who for 12 seasons has been the radio broadcaster with the Arkansas Travelers, the AA affiliate for the Angels. Phil agreed to take part in a Twitter-based interview to discuss the package that Milwaukee received for Greinke. Here’s what transpired:

RS: Since you’ve had the pleasure of watching Segura, Hellweg, and Pena all season, what was your initial reaction when you heard about the package of players that were being sent to Milwaukee’s organization for Zack Greinke?

PE: Any reaction is split into 2 categories. 1) How it affects the club I cover in Little Rock. 2) How it affect the Angels on the field. For the Travelers it’s devastating because that’s 2/5 of a very strong starting rotation and our starting SS. Segura was probably going to be returning to Little Rock over the next week to 2 weeks. For the Angels…it’s a tremendous trade in the sense they didn’t give up Richards or Bourjos and got an ace like Greinke.

RS: Let’s discuss Segura, the top prospect in the Angels system at the time. What kind of player did the Brewers acquire in Segura?

PE: Segura is amazingly athletic. Rifle arm. Very quick and fast. Power potential. Very strong in the core, hips, legs. Learning to be a more patient hitter and it showed in the last 5-6 weeks.

RS: That’s good to hear. Even though I’m not a huge fan of player comps, does his style of play remind you of any current or former major leaguer? If so, how?

PE: I’m not big on the player comps either to be honest. It’s not fair to the minor leaguer usually. Think of Segura as a guy who can play SS/2B. Give you the ability to get on base and hit for a solid OPS with some pop.

RS: I think we can live with that. Based on what you’ve seen from him this year, what do you consider to be Segura’s greatest strengths on the diamond?

PE: Quickness. Gets to a lot of balls on the infield. Has the chance to be a special baserunner. And I do think he can hit for some pop too.

RS: Segura has faced injury issues in the past. Were there any organizational concerns that durability might be a concern with him?

PE: Yes, but he’s been fine this year.

RS: There have been some concerns with his ability to stay at shortstop. In his time with the Travelers, how do you think he’s handled short? Is it inevitable that he’ll have to move to 2B or do you feel that he could be a long-term SS?

PE: I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable, but it’s possible for sure.

RS: Moving on to Hellweg, can you give any insight about his repertoire of pitches? What does he bring to the mound?

PE: Johnny has a great FB in the mid 90s. He can get it up to 100, but that’s not all the time. Very good 11-7 curve with bite and improving changeup. He’s a legit 6 foot 9. Tall and lanky. Room to grow. He’s grown 5 inches since signing.

RS: Most reports on Hellweg talk about his command issues. What have you noticed about this? Is it a case of him trying to pick the corners too much or does he go through those phases when it seems like he just can’t throw it over the plate?

PE: Over the last 2 months, for the most part, he commanded just fine. Troubles early, but he started to figure it out. He’s not a nibbler, that’s for sure. Competitive and hard working. A great guy and teammate.

RS: With tall guys like Hellweg, one of the common problems is repeating the delivery consistently. Can you talk about his delivery at all?

PE: Johnny talked about that being an issue throughout his career, especially since he’s grown 5 inches since signing.

RS: You’ve been able to see Hellweg start 21 games this year for the Travelers. Gut feeling: starter or reliever?

PE: Good question Ryan. I think he should be a starter right now. If the command issues creep up later on he might have to convert.

Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena will get a chance to show Brewers fans what they can do with AA Huntsville.

RS: Finally, let’s talk about Ariel Pena. Same question as with Hellweg: what does Pena bring to the mound? What are his go-to pitches?

PE: 3 very good pitches. 4-seam FB low-to-mid 90’s. Hard slider that he can slow down. Outstanding change up. Big and strong.

RS: Looking through Pena’s stats for this year, his .264 BABIP jumps out at me. Does he generate a lot of groundballs or has he been on the receiving end of some luck, leading to his impressive 2.99 ERA?

PE: Our home ballpark is an extreme pitcher’s park. Could be part of that. He does leave stuff up a bit much sometimes.

RS: My only experience watching Pena was in the Futures Game this year, where he struggled, to say the least. After that disappointing performance, how did he bounce back in his next few starts for the Travelers?

PE: He was mostly fantastic after the Futures Game. He was all smiles the next day. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. He shouldn’t have been left in that long in the Futures Game.

RS: I agree on you there. Not really fair to him at all. And it’s not like the other World pitchers were blowing away the competition. With Pena, do you think he can stick as a starter or do you feel he might be more of a reliever in the long run?

PE: Starter. He’s always been a starter.

RS: So would you describe this trade as a win-win between these two organizations?

PE: Not yet I wouldn’t. You can’t make any comparisons until this season is over and see how Greinke did. But I think the Angels must resign him because they have no depth of starting pitching in the minors.

RS: Well, they’ve shown that they are willing to spend if they are winning, and I would assume they are confident they can get a deal done. That’s all I have – I’ll let you get ready for today’s game. Thanks again for doing this. We here at Cream City Cables really appreciate it.

PE: My pleasure.

It’s nice to get a little insight on the newest members of the Milwaukee Brewers organization. We here at Cream City Cables would like to once again thank Phil Elson (@ARTravs, @ElsonPhil) for helping us out with this.

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.

Immediate Analysis of the Zack Greinke Trade

By: Ryan Smith

It finally happened.

Farewell, Zack Greinke. We will certainly miss you.

After weeks of speculation, including some pretty crazy rumors over the last few days, the Milwaukee Brewers finally traded Zack Greinke.

After watching his stock take a hit with a rough July start followed by a mysterious “shutdown” by Manager Ron Roenicke, the enigmatic right-hander quieted his critics with a truly dominant performance on Tuesday night.

Yes, in only 87 pitches, Greinke put to rest any concerns about his health and his ability, instead causing opposing scouts and GMs to bull rush Doug Melvin’s office door.

The winning bid came from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a team that beat out AL West rival Texas for the services of Mr. Greinke.

With the move Greinke will join an Angels rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, and Dan Haren, creating a foursome as dangerous as any in Major League Baseball.

In return, the Brewers will receive three of the Angels top ten organizational prospects, including current top-prospect Jean Segura. Along with Segura, Milwaukee will also receive RHP John Hellweg and RHP Ariel Pena.

SS Jean Segura

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article looking at possible trade packages that Melvin would consider in a trade for Greinke. Then, I wrote that a package centered around Segura and Hellweg would have to be considered. Landing another one of Los Angeles’s top prospects apparently put the deal over the top for Melvin, who was using the rivalry between the Angels and the Rangers to up the asking price for the former Cy Young winner.

There were reports that Melvin was looking to land a top shortstop prospect in any deal involving Greinke, and Segura fits that bill. Segura had recently been called up to the big league club for the Angels, but he only appeared in one game at that level. In 94 AA games this season, Segura produced a line of .292/.346/.404 with 7 homeruns and 50 runs scored to go along with 33 stolen bases. While he would be an immediate upgrade over the current shortstop situation in Milwaukee, I would assume the organization would start with at AA Huntsville, at least for a few weeks.

RHP John Hellweg

Hellweg and Pena also spent all of this season thus far in AA. Hellweg started 21 games, compiling a 5-10 record with a 3.38 ERA, walking 60 while striking out 88. In his first full season as a starter, Hellweg was producing a 6.62 K/9, but he also had a 4.51 BB/9, showing once again that his biggest concern is his command. Standing at 6’9”, Hellweg has some natural downhill plane on his powerful fastball, which typically sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. While he’s still a work in progress – especially with his secondary pitches – Hellweg still represents a welcome addition to the Milwaukee farm system.

RHP Ariel Pena

In 19 starts this season, Pena was 6-6 with a 2.99 ERA, walking 42 while striking out 111. Pena has some more success with the command of his pitches, resulting in a 3.31 BB/9 and an 8.74 K/9. Pena also has a lively fastball, which is reported to sit around 95 MPH with some movement. His slider is also said to be a hard slider that tends to fall off the table, allowing it to miss some bats. His changeup will need some work, as it can tend to be a BP-fastball if he doesn’t control it well. While Pena’s ceiling doesn’t appear to be as high as Hellweg’s, he seems to have a higher floor, especially considering his ability to control his premium pitches at this point in his career.

Overall, I think GM Doug Melvin did what we wanted him to do – he got the best possible return that he could for Greinke. Texas had already stated that top-prospect SS Jurickson Profar was off-limits, and they recently made it clear that 3B Mike Olt would not be available for a two-month rental. Instead of playing a dangerous waiting game with Texas, he used their interest to get the Angels to give up three actual prospects in order to acquire Greinke. As I said before, Segura could step into the everyday lineup for Milwaukee today and be an immediate upgrade, providing Melvin with the shortstop-of-the-future that he was looking for. Hellweg and Pena give the Brewers two very talented arms to work with, and you can never have enough pitching in baseball.

To Zack Greinke, I say this: Good luck. It was a blast having you in Milwaukee.

To Doug Melvin, I say this: Good job. You did what you had to do and brought back a real package that could help this team in the long run.

To the newest Milwaukee Brewers, I say this: Welcome! You’re going to love it here. I hope you like beer.

Who am I kidding – who doesn’t like beer?

Trades that Could Impact the Brewers (Updated)

By Nathan Petrashek

The last few days have been filled with trade activity, and there’s no sign of that stopping.  This will be a running list of trades that potentially impact the market for pieces the Brewers may wish to move (should they ever decide to make that selling decision).  Keep checking back throughout the day for updates.

Cole HamelsWord early today is that Cole Hamels has accepted a 6-year, $144M contract offer from the Phillies, making him the second-highest paid pitcher behind C.C. Sabathia.  That would make Zack Greinke the best starting pitcher available at the trade deadline, and in free agency after the season.  Greinke was already petty highly sought after, but expect this to bring a modest bump in the Brewers’ asking price.  As I said a few days ago, this eliminates whatever slim hope the Brewers have that Greinke will sign an extension.

Hanley Ramirez.  The Dodgers were interested in Aramis Ramirez, and moving that backloaded contract would be a nice little prize at the trade deadline.  But early this morning, the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate for Nathan Eovaldi and a minor leaguer.  That will more than likely fill their need for an impact bat at 3B, though it is worth noting that Ramirez can play short and the Dodgers are not high on their current SS Dee Gordon.  UPDATE: According to True Blue L.A., Ramirez is in the starting lineup at shortstop.

Ryan Dempster.  It was kind of a crazy day for Ryan Dempster on Monday, as he learned he was being traded to the Braves through media reports.  As a player with 10-and-5 rights, though, Dempster did not sign off on the trade, and is now pushing for a trade to the Dodgers.  If a deal gets done with either team, the market for Greinke only improves.

Ichiro Suzuki.  In the event that the Brewers decide to trade Corey Hart, who is apparently a highly sought after commodity, there will be one less suitor for a corner OF now that the Yankees have acquired the longtime Mariner.  Plenty of interest in Hart remains, though.

Wandy Rodriguez.  Rodriguez was sent to the Pirates last night, further slimming the list of starting pitchers available by trade.  Greinke is a different caliber of pitcher, but it certainly is encouraging to see starting pitchers flying off the board.

Hunter Pence.  The Phillies may have locked up another ace pitcher, but they’re still considering selling other pieces, including OF Hunter Pence.  Pence and Hart are remarkably similar players, but I think most teams would prefer Pence (.290/.342/.481 career) over Hart (.275/.332/.488 career), all else being equal.  Indeed, most everything else is equal; both are set to become free agents after the 2013 season, and both are set to make around $10M next season (Pence will be arbitration eligible for the final time, whereas Hart will be in the final year of his contract).

Cliff Lee.  Lee is not yet formally available, although there is a steadily growing opinion among GMs that the Phillies will entertain offers for the elite lefty in advance of the trade deadline.  Lee is still owed about $87M over the next 3 years, so this would be a long-term trade for any interested team and would likely net the Phils top prospects and the salary relief they desperately need after signing Hamels.  If he does go on the block, Lee immediately becomes the top pitcher available despite his rather lackluster year (118 ip, 3.95 era, 4.87 k/bb).  Lee’s addition to the trade market will suppress interest in Greinke, as Lee’s additional years of control should be very appealing to teams like the Rangers (who tried to get Lee in free agency, but failed).

How Cole Hamels will decide Zack Greinke’s future

Detroit Free Press

By Nathan Petrashek

With the loss last night, the Brewers more or less became sellers at the trade deadline.  We should see Francisco Rodriguez, George Kottaras, Shaun Marcum (if healthy), and even Randy Wolf heading for other teams by July 31.

But the big question: Will Zack Greinke be among them?

Greinke has a 5-year, $100M+ (reports are that the offer falls somewhere around $110M) offer on the table from the Brewers.  That’s no doubt a lot of money to walk away from, but players on the cusp of free agency have frequently turned down such offers before.  Prince Fielder and C.C. Sabathia, for example, were both offered similar contracts and opted instead to test free agency, where they earned monster deals.  C.C. Sabathia went on to sign a record contract with the Yankees at 7 years and $161M.  The deal included an opt-out clause that went unexercised, adding another year and $30M to his deal.  Prince Fielder, of course, moved on to the Detroit Tigers this offseason, somehow working them for a 10-year, $214M contract.  In case you were wondering, that’s enough dough to buy 107 million Krispy Kreme Donuts.

There’s the rub.  As it stands right now, the market for Greinke is not going to be similar to that of Sabathia or Fielder.  Most had Greinke pegged as a 5-year, $85M+ guy heading into the season, at least until Matt Cain’s astonishing extension this April reshaped the pitching market.  Cain received the third-biggest contract for a pitcher at 6-years and $127M, although only 5 years and $112M of that was new money.  That certainly upped the ante for Greinke, though.  Most now expect him to sign something close to the Brewers’ offer.  Some writers think Greinke may be worth a Matt Cain deal, but there is a good chance that some GMs see him as worth less because of his performance history and anxiety issues.  I would tend to agree that there is more risk to signing Greinke than there would to signing Matt Cain, but, as Fielder showed, it only takes one owner that thinks differently.

“As it stands right now” is a pretty big caveat, though.  The wild card is Cole Hamels, who would almost certainly be more coveted than Greinke as a free agent.  The Phillies are pushing hard to resign the left-handed ace, and have reportedly offered a 6-year deal in the low $140M range.  While that really shouldn’t shock anyone (that’s probably close to what Hamels would pull down in free agency), it doesn’t bode well for the Brewers chances of signing Greinke to an extension.  If Hamels signs, Greinke becomes the top free agent pitcher, and that label might very well get him to 6 years and $130M.

The ball is really in Greinke’s court, though I doubt he’ll sign an extension.  It appears likely that Hamels will sign with the Phillies, meaning Greinke is in a good position to achieve a 6-year deal worth more than $125M on the free agent market, well in excess of what the Brewers are offering.  Perhaps the Brewers can get creative and include an opt-out and some vesting options, but even that may not be enough to entice the righty Cy Young winner.  And the Brewers still have to think about having enough money to remain competitive in one of baseball’s smallest markets.

Is a Zack Greinke extension in the works?

By Nathan Petrashek

File under, “Totally wild speculation.”

Today the Brewers announced that, in the heart of a three-game series that will decide the fate of the 2012 Brewers, Zack Greinke will miss his scheduled start on Wednesday.  As Adam McCalvy so eloquently stated this morning, “something’s up.”

There are a lot of things this could mean.  It could mean that the Brewers just want to get him some extra rest, and that’s their public position for the moment (well, that, and get him back on schedule, which one does not generally do by taking him off-schedule).  It could mean the Brewers have found a willing trade partner, but that likely means they have been blown away with an offer and all signs point to a diminishing market for Greinke.  It could be that the Brewers want Greinke to pitch against front-running Cincinnati, although that would take him away from the friendly confines of Miller Park.  So there’s not a really choice explanation among any of these.

So I got to thinking: What if the Brewers have reached an agreement with Greinke on an extension?

This is an admittedly unlikely scenario.  If Greinke was amenable to an extension, he probably would have kept the conversation open earlier in the season.  Greinke likely wants to test the free agent waters this offseason in the hopes of securing a Matt Cain-esque deal.

But there’s enough logical force operating behind my extension thesis to support a post on it in the hopes of starting a conversation and getting some reaction.

What we know:  As of last week, it was reported that the Brewers intended to approach Greinke with something like a 5-year, $100M extension proposal.  We also know the Brewers intend to decide by the end of the Cincinnati series whether they will be sellers.  And we learned today that Greinke will miss his next scheduled start, but that there is not an injury issue (at least if you believe Doug Melvin).

Perhaps the Brewers were successful in their last-ditch overtures to sign Greinke to a long term deal.  Given the timing of their selling decision, it’s likely that they’ve already approached Greinke with an offer.  If they have reached an agreement in principle, Greinke might be shut down pending the contract drafting, paperwork, and physical, which means he wouldn’t continue with his usual between-start routine and would have to be pushed back from his Wednesday start.

Again, this is an unlikely scenario, but it seems to jive with the available facts.  Or am I totally overlooking something?  Let me know in the comments and let the Zack Greinke speculation train roll on.

UPDATE:  Tom Haudricourt reports on Twitter that Greinke gave the impression that he was he was not on board with being skipped, so we’ll see what that means.  For now, all we know is that Greinke is next scheduled to start on Tuesday at Philadelphia.