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.