Offseason 2012: Shortstop News

With the World Series mercifully over, we turn our attention to the hot stove.  Teams currently have until Thursday to negotiate exclusively with the 148 players who filed for free agency.  For the Brewers, that includes Prince Fielder, Mark Kotsay, Craig Counsell, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Yuniesky Betancourt, Francisco Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins, and Takashi Saito.  Do not expect many, if any, of those players to reach a deal with the Brewers by that time.

Two pieces of news relevant to that free agent morass the Brewers are about to embark on.  First, the Brewers today announced that they had declined options on Rodriguez and Betancourt.  Both were prohibitively expensive in different ways; the former financially and the latter in terms of number of wins his retention would cost the 2012 team.  Yet because of a weak free agent market for shortstops – or, more accurately, a weak market in the Brewers’ price range – front office officials have left open the possibility of bringing Yuni back at a cheaper price than his $6M option.  You had to sense this coming when Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke defended Betancourt at their end-of-season press conferences.  That doesn’t lessen the blow if the team has to deal with another offensively and defensively challenged shortstop in 2012.

That brings me to the second piece of free agent news:  the Red Sox announced today that they had picked up SS Marco Scutaro’s 2012 option, depriving the Brewers of one potential cost-effective infield component.  I blogged about Scutaro here, indicating that the Brewers should pursue him as a cheap upgrade to Betancourt, but it appears the Red Sox recognized Scutaro’s versatility and effectiveness as well. With Rafael Furcal likely to remain with the Cardinals after a World Series run, the list of available shortstops beyond Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes is becoming quite unappealing.

One bit of housekeeping news:  This is the first post in Cream City Cable’s Offseason 2012 series.  This series will focus on Brewers’ trade and free agency rumors, and will include a position-by-position review in the coming weeks.  Each post in the series will have the Offseason 2012 tag for easy searching.  Stay tuned; the stove is just warming up!

Game 4 Warm Up

Well, at least I was right about one thing:  it didn’t take the Brewers long to score against Josh Collmenter.  Corey Hart led off the third with a home run to left.  Unfortunately that was all the scoring the Brewers would do in Game 3 of the NLDS.

The D’Backs weren’t quite so tame, though, in what was one of Shaun Marcum’s worst starts of the year.  Miguel Montero and Paul Goldschmidt each knocked in a run in the first, Montero added another in the third, and in the fifth Goldschmidt grooved a two-strike fastball into the seats for the D’Back’s first franchise postseason grand slam.

But we’ve so often talked about defense with these two clubs, and that again was what really cost the Brewers the game.  The team had multiple opportunities to end the fifth before Goldschmidt even came to the plate, but Nyjer Morgan badly misplayed a ball to straightaway center field and Marcum dropped a tailor-made double-play ground ball.  A throwing error by Jerry Hairston, Jr. extended the inning and allowed the D’Backs to plate one more run to end the scoring for the night.

The D’Backs appeared to be testing their luck at the plate against the left side of the Brewers’ infield, as Yuniesky Betancourt had more balls hit his way than I can remember so far in the series.  He fielded most of them well, though, but you have to worry that Arizona will continue to try to exploit the Brewers’ weak left side.  Perhaps Kurt Gibson, widely expected to run away with the NL Manager of the Year award, has found this club’s Achilles’ heel.

Randy Wolf gets the ball tonight for the Crew.  Career versus Arizona, he’s 10-5 with 110 strikeouts in 128 innings, all of which are fine.  The problems are his 51 walks, 1.39 WHIP, and 4.64 ERA.  Wolf lost against Arizona his last time out, but gave up only two runs over 7 1/3, which, if replicated, I would be more than happy with.

His opposition, Joe Saunders, has not won a game in two starts against Milwaukee and owns a 5.68 ERA versus the Brewers.

The drumbeat goes on…and Jerry Hairston, Jr. has new digs

Of course, just as I conclude my review of the shortstop market, the Brewers acquire a new second baseman that can also play the left infield.

Jerry Hairston, Jr., 35, is the newest addition to the Brewers’ revolving door at second base.  He also plays some third and short and some outfield, a true swiss army knife type of guy.  You have to wonder if the end is near for Craig Counsell.

With the Nationals this year, Hairston was batting a respectable .268, with a .342 on base percentage and .385 slugging in 238 plate appearances. He’s shown a bit of pop with 11 doubles and 4 HR.  Hairston’s defense at third hasn’t been great, but he did accumulate a 3.4 zone rating in 381 innings at second in 2010 with the Padres, and 3.9 at short that same year.

This seems like Doug Melvin just hedging his bets in case he can’t put anything else together by Sunday’s trade deadline.  All contending teams are looking for utility pieces, and Melvin would have been foolish not to pull the trigger on a low-salary player like Hairston.