A Trade!

Nathan Petrashek

K-Rod-mulls-legal-action-against-former-agents-3O1144NF-x-largeThe Brewers haven’t really made any significant player moves since the end of the season, but that ended today with new GM David Stearns flipping Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers in exchange for two prospects.  Although Stearns claims otherwise, the motivation for the move appears fairly straightforward: Rodriguez was guaranteed $7.5 million in 2016 and has a $2 million buyout on a $6 million club option in 2017.  Detroit is reportedly eating that entire amount, so there are significant cost savings for the rebuilding Brewers, for whom retaining an expensive, aging closer seems foolhardy.

Not that K-Rod wasn’t effective during his time with the Brewers.  He wound up pitching all or part of five consecutive seasons with the Brewers, despite being the subject of repeated trades (and trade rumors).  K-Rod racked up a serviceable 2.91 ERA over 268 appearances, finishing 154 games and accumulating 95 saves.  That places him at fourth on the franchise all-time saves list, just two shy of mustachioed great Rollie Fingers.  Rodriguez was particularly effective in 2011, coming to the Brewers at the trade deadline and tossing 29 innings of 1.86-ERA ball to help the team secure the team’s first division championship since 1982.  And despite a great year in 2015 (57 IP, 2.21 ERA, 38 SV), the Brewers couldn’t find a willing trade partner at the deadline – possibly because of K-Rod’s noted off-field issues that include repeated allegations of abuse, including an incident in the Met’s clubhouse.

In return, the Brewers will receive a player to be named later and a Betancourt – not THAT Betancourt, but rather infield prospect Javier Betancourt.  Betancourt, who hovers somewhere around 10th on most of the Tigers’ prospect lists, is a light-hitting second baseman noted for his defense, but also has the ability to play at third base – two positions in which the Brewers do not have much current depth.  Betancourt doesn’t necessarily have that much upside, but he is a capable body at a scarce position and you can only expect so much when the other team is taking on a sizable salary commitment.

Waiting for the other shoe

By Nathan Petrashek

With the trade deadline looming on Friday, the Brewers, owners of a woeful 43-57 record and currently residing in the cellar of the NL Central, have made only one trade.  To the Brewers’ credit, that trade involved Aramis Ramirez, a player I figured the team would have a tough time moving since he’s battled injuries in recent years, has an obviously declining skill set, and has announced his retirement at the end of the year.  So kudos to the Brewers for getting at least Yhonathan Barrios back in return, a pitcher nee infielder who is extremely raw but was closing games somewhat effectively for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate.

Still, as we approach the deadline, I can’t help but wonder whether the team could be doing more to shop players that clearly will not be essential to the team’s future success.  Chief among those players is Gerrardo Parra, a left-handed gold-glove outfielder having a career year who will be a free agent at year’s end.  Carlos Gomez, the gold-glove centerfielder and (despite last night’s result) constant threat on the basepaths is as good as gone after next year, and would presumably be worth more to many teams because he is more as a short-term rental.  There’s Adam Lind, who has routinely crushed right-handed pitching this season, and Francisco Rodriguez, who has a 1.54 ERA and has converted 22 out of 22 save chances.  The Brewers actually have a lot of tradeable assets, record notwithstanding.

To be clear: I’m not upset these players haven’t been traded yet.  The dominoes really just started to fall for the trade market last week when Athletics ace Scott Kazmir was traded to Houston.  There’s still more than three days until the deadline, and the Brewers no doubt want the best offers they can possibly get.  My concern, rather, is that the front office might be pricing themselves right out of the trade market for certain players.  The latest word is that the team “doesn’t seem especially eager” to trade Carlos Gomez, and will have to be blown away by any trade offer.  That’s a fine position to take publicly, particularly when Gomez has been injured for part of this season.  But if this is also the sentiment privately circulating around 1 Brewers Way, I wonder whether the team might be overplaying its hand a bit.

Gomez would certainly require a premium prospect or two, but that’s not the return to expect for many of the players named above.  In fact, the Brewers could use as many lottery tickets as possible in the farm system at the moment if they’re eyeing a competitive window opening in 2-4 years.  I’m not saying they should give Parra, or Rodriguez, or Lind away, but I definitely would not set the bar too high for a trade of any of those players.  If no team offers prospects the Brewers like, that’s one thing; but it’s another to value your players so much that you don’t feel a reasonable offer is “enough.”  Hopefully I’m being clear, which is difficult with this level of abstraction: for the Brewers, something is better than nothing.

Can Scooter Gennett be “fixed?”

By Nathan Petrashek

Scooter GennettScooter Gennett was optioned to the minors yesterday, ostensibly to “get his entire game together,” according to GM Doug Melvin.  Gennett, who slashed .300/.331/.449 over parts of two seasons, has slumped badly at the plate so far this season.  Between a stint on the disabled list, Scoots hit just .154/.203/.200 in 65 at-bats, and has just one(!) extra base hit all year, a home run.  He’s struggled in the field, too, with three errors to his name already and a below-average UZR rating (though all the usual small sample size qualifiers apply there).  To cut to the quick, this is not an undeserved demotion.

Yet, with the team taking a nose dive to start the season, there’s little danger to letting Gennett figure things out at the major league level.  Even this mostly terrible version of Gennett isn’t going to single-handedly lose games for this mostly terrible team.  Gennett did his “thing” (that being light hitting and and averageish defense) well enough for four years in the minor leagues, and then again with the major-league team in 2013 and 2014, so there’s not really a question about his skills, such as they are.

The bigger problem is that those skills aren’t very alluring to begin with, and certainly not as a lineup fixture moving forward.  Despite hitting nine home runs last year, there is little power potential in Gennett’s bat.  Miller Park helps with that to an extent, but it seems highly unlikely Gennett is going to crack double-digit home runs on an annual basis.

Further, every single home run Gennett has ever hit in the major leagues has come off a right-handed pitcher.  In fact, in his MLB career, Gennett has just one extra-base hit off a lefty, and here’s his triple slash against same-handed pitching: .112/.141/.124.  He showed slightly more promise in that minors than that slash line suggests, but not much.  Gennett looks like the definition of a platoon player, which, incidentally, is where he really shined last season:  as a compliment to the right-handed Rickie Weeks.

So to the extent Melvin thinks Gennett can perform better, I think he’s right.  But “better” is a relative term.  There are long-term problems with Gennett that a brief stint in the minor leagues simply will not fix.  If Melvin thinks that a “fixed” Scooter Gennett will be a viable every-day second baseman, he may well be on a fool’s errand.

On to the next one: Ron Roenicke and the future of the Brewers

By Nathan Petrashek

Ron Roenicke was ousted as Brewers manager tonight, and one and done pretty much sums up his tenure with the team.

Roenicke inherited a can’t-miss roster in 2011, winning 96 games en route to an NLCS appearance.  He placed 2nd in manager of the year voting after the season, losing to Kirk Gibson (which should itself tell you something about manager of the year, but I digress).

Since then, the Brewers have gone 245-265, including a September collapse in 2014 that ranks among the worst in MLB history.  The front office left Roenicke dangle for a while at the end of last season, but made the somewhat baffling decision to exercise the option on his contract for this year.  Then, in spring training, the team picked up his 2016 option, only to can Roenicke about a month and a half later.

What should be pretty obvious from this sequence is the front office has no idea what it’s doing.  Doug Melvin talked openly about rebuilding recently, and word is that the team is actively shopping its veterans.  If that’s the case, there’s absolutely no harm in letting Roenicke ride into the sunset after this year.  If your ship is going down, it doesn’t really matter who’s doing the steering.

But this? Dumping Roenicke at this point smacks of a temper tantrum, an impetuous move made by an angry owner who maybe, despite all evidence to the contrary, still thinks this roster has a chance to win.  The team’s announcement of a new manager – scheduled for tomorrow at 10:30 am – will be telling.  If rumors are true, and Ron Gardenhire is a leading candidate, Attanasio will have shown only that, despite his investment background, he knows how to throw good money after bad.

Burdensom, Unnecessary, Ineffective: The New MLB Ballpark Security Protocol

By Nathan Petrashek

Rob Manfred, MLB’s recently elected commissioner, says he hasn’t heard any fan complaints about the new security policies baseball higher-ups have forced upon us this season.

Let’s change that.

In case you haven’t been to a baseball game yet this year, all fans must now endure an enhanced security screening before entering any MLB ballpark.  We have to empty our pockets (sort of, but we’ll get to that) and pass through metal detectors, in addition to the usual bag searches that have been around for a while.  Contrary to what MLB says, this is every bit the hassle it sounds like.  If you like waiting in line because a drunk in front of you forgot his keys were still in his pocket, you’ll love what MLB has brewed up for you.  Here’s a video the Brewers released that’s meant to be funny but inadvertently shows what an absolute pain in the ass this entire process is:

Without exception, every Brewers gameday staffer I have talked to has fallen all over themselves making clear the new security protocol isn’t a team mandate, but one from MLB.  The implication of these statements is pretty obvious; the team knows this is a colossal hassle on the ground, and, if it were left up to them, they wouldn’t have any of it.  But it’s out of their hands!

A savvy fan will no doubt be asking themselves how in the world these burdensome, unnecessary, and ineffective security measures came to be, if not from the teams.  The answer?  A “recent study of best security practices and MLB’s continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security to elevate and standardize initiatives across the game.”

Wow, that all sounds very official and important.  Homeland Security! Standardize initiatives!  Best practices!  Certainly there’s a good reason to make fans wait for, in some cases, hours to get inside the stadium, right?

Actually, not really.  The New York Times quoted a federal official as saying the new strategy is “not based on any direct threat, or on any sort of intelligence that might indicate stadiums will be attacked.”  In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to believe terrorists or anyone else is targeting MLB stadiums, now or in the future.  Moreover, there’s absolutely no historical precedent for an attack, whether foreign or domestic, on a ballpark.

This comports largely with common sense.  The object of terrorism is to induce fear to be used as a mechanism to achieve a set of (often political) goals.  So a typical terrorist will choose high-visibility events like the Boston Marathon or the Olympics to attack.  While I can understand and appreciate enhanced security at, say, the World Series, the need for enhanced safety protocols at a getaway afternoon game at Miller Park is puzzling and reeks of a sport that thinks too much of itself (or at least wants to pretend it’s the NFL).

And let’s talk about these “rigorous” safety protocols.  The particular metal detectors MLB utilizes leak like a sieve.  I mean, the Brewers are telling people they can leave wallets, shoes, and belts on.  If a giant metal belt buckle is not going to set it off, what’s the point?  One security expert calls the new protocol “laughable:”

The ballpark metal detectors are much more lax than the ones at an airport checkpoint. They aren’t very sensitive — people with phones and keys in their pockets are sailing through — and there are no X-ray machines. Bags get the same cursory search they’ve gotten for years. And fans wanting to avoid the detectors can opt for a “light pat-down search” instead.

A halfway competent ticketholder would have no trouble sneaking a gun into the stadium.

What’s more, the bottleneck created by the metal detectors actually makes it easier to carry out a high-casualty attack.  The fans waiting in line outside are sitting ducks for anyone with truly malicious intent.  The most that can be said about the detectors is they’ll stop the occasional fan from innocently carrying a gun or knife in the stadium – a fine goal, but hardly practical from a cost-benefit standpoint.

The only loser resulting from the new security policy is the fans, who just want to watch a baseball game.  Making it more difficult to attend a game should be the last thing on baseball’s mind.  MLB’s new security protocols are an answer in search of a problem, creating a massive hassle for fans without any real benefit.

A light-hitting bunch for the Brewers

By Nathan Petrashek

The Brewers played their first game of the 2015 season yesterday, a confidence-boosting (sarcasm) 10-0 drubbing by the Colorado Rockies.  Four of the Brewers’ five bench players-Gerardo Parra, Luis Jimenez, Logan Schafer, and Martin Maldonado-recorded at least one at bat.  The group reached base zero times in five plate attempts (two of which belonged to Parra after Ryan Braun left the game due to injury).

This should surprise precisely no one.  Parra is inarguably the most offensively gifted bench player, and even he is thoroughly uninspiring.  Pick your metric:  Parra sports a career .325 OBP paired with a .394 SLG%, and a below-average rating per wRC+.  As a defensive outfielder, one could ask little more from the gold-glove winner, but there’s not much to like as his bat goes.

Unfortunately, the same can be said of Maldonado and Shafer.  With more or less a full season’s worth of plate attempts from both players (Maldonado has 586 in his MLB career; Shafer has 504), it’s apparent that neither is in the MLB for his bat.  Maldonado may be one of the better defensive catchers in the game, but owns just a .225/.291/.359 career slash line.  Whatever promise one might have seen in Maldonado following his 2012 season (.266 BA, 8 HR) has fallen away.  Schafer never even showed that much promise at the dish.  Even when given significant playing time in 2013, Schafer responded with 4 HR and a .211 batting average.  Again, both players are defensively gifted, but not much use coming off the bench.

Luis Jimenez and the fifth utility player, Hector Gomez, are still young, but neither are any sort of reliable bench bat.  Jimenez may have the most potential of any of the Brewers’ utility corp, hitting .295/.327/.485 over parts of three AAA seasons in the Pacific Coast League; it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll adapt to major-league pitching, though.  Gomez struggled mightily in 2013 with Huntsville, though he did show some signs of life last year with Nashville in the PCL.

But, you ask, why should we care one bit about what kind of offensive contributions the bench can make?  Aren’t they on the bench for a reason?  Those are both fair points, but the Brewers play in the National League.  They’re going to need hitters to bring in for all those exiting pitchers.  Moreover, a weak bench means there’s not much ability to play matchups in critical situations.  On a team with a lot of evident weaknesses already (Adam Lind and Scooter Gennett’s inability to hit left-handed pitching, for example), that can be a tough thing to deal with.  And that’s not to mention the problems that come with injuries to regular players – a decrease in runs that might become evident with Ryan Braun day-to-day.

The Waning Days of Rickie

By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)

rickie_weeks2With the Brewers eliminated from postseason contention, thoughts are naturally turning to 2015.  It’s as if the late-season collapse that brought the first-place Brewers to their knees hasn’t infected all their fans with endless pessimism about the future.  But before we cast our eyes, gleaming with irrational hope, toward the new season, let’s stop for a second to reflect on  what we’re about to lose.

Rickie Weeks is a lightning rod among fans for a lot of reasons.  His early years on the team were marred by low batting averages and nagging injuries.  Fans were frustrated by high strikeout totals, lackluster defense, and a perceived careless approach at the plate, despite the fact that Weeks led the club’s regulars in on-base percentage in 2006, was second in 2007 and 2010 to Prince Fielder, and third in 2008 … well, you get the picture.  Fan sentiment about Rickie has never actually reflected his skill set, which included a power bat not generally found in the middle infield.

One thing people were generally correct about, even in those early days, was the injury bug.  Weeks is basically Frankenstein’s monster.  He’s had wrist surgery twice (2006 and 2009), and missed additional games because of a wrist injury in 2007.  Weeks had let thumb surgery in 2005 and missed handful of games in 2008 because of a sore knee.  Availability is a skill, as they say, and Weeks took plenty of criticism because he couldn’t stay on the field.

Fan sentiment seemed to shift after Weeks’ first healthy season in 2010.  Weeks was a dynamo for the 77-85 Brewers, playing 160 games and slashing .269/.366/.464 with 29 home runs.  The potential many had talked about for half a decade had finally been realized, and the Brewers moved quickly to sign Weeks to a long-term extension in the offseason.  On the eve of Weeks’ final arbitration hearing, he and the team agreed to a four-year, $38.5 million deal with a fifth-year vesting option covering 2015.  Smartly, the Brewers built outs for themselves if Weeks was not an everyday player in 2013 or 2014.

Unfortunately, Weeks didn’t stay healthy in 2011, and couldn’t quite replicate his success in 2012.  However, he still contributed plenty to to those teams.  In 2011, Weeks shredded his ankle when he landed on first base awkwardly and was limited to 118 games that year, although he still managed to accumulate 20 home runs with a very respectable .269/.350/.468 triple slash en route to his first All-Star berth.  In 2012, Weeks again surpassed 20 home runs in a healthy season but hit just .230.  By 2013, many were calling for Weeks’ ouster at second base in favor of the much-hyped Scooter Gennett.  They got their wish when Weeks suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in August after hitting just .209.

The left-handed Gennett did well in Weeks’ absence, and the two entered into a fairly rigid platoon during the 2014 season.  Weeks has rebounded to his best season since 2011, hitting .272/.350/.451 with 8 home runs in 277 plate attempts.  He declined to move to left field early in the season, preferring instead to market himself as a second baseman as he enters free agency after this year.  The Brewers will not pick up Weeks’ option, and we are presumably watching the last days of Rickie Weeks in a Brewers uniform.

Weeks is one of the last holdovers from the Brewers postseason appearances in 2008 and 2011, and has been a lineup staple since 2006.  Very few players have that kind of longevity with a team, which itself speaks for Weeks’ skills.  While its fair to say there is a certain segment of Brewers fans who have never liked Weeks, even they have to appreciate the 18 career fWAR he has accumulated as a member of the Brewers.  In these final two games, the fans always so critical of Weeks need to step back and admire a guy that not only gave his all when able, but contributed in real, definable ways to bring postseason baseball back to Milwaukee.