The Fates of Forty Men

Briefly, my thoughts on the Brewers playoff games from this past weekend: it was great.  Tons of fun both days, and you’ve never seen a crowd at a Milwaukee baseball game more excited or more glued to the action.  Check out the Milwaukee gallery for the photo evidence.

So if you follow sports, you know that what happens immediately after a season ends is the speculation; the build-up to next year; the assessment of where the team ended up, and what you possibly do to make things better.  Less than 24 hours removed from the last playoff game, then, is my personal opinion on what should (and what will) happen to players currently on the Brewers 40-man roster.  I hope you like your explanations quick and dirty, because that’s the way I do it.

For some explanation on terminology, take a look at the MLB Players’ Association site, most notably the “Basic” Collective Bargaining Agreement (only 241 pages), or the FAQs on when a player is eligible for salary arbitration, and when a player is eligible for free agency.  The Wikipedia article on Major League baseball transactions is pretty useful, too.

* – denotes a player I think is a lock for the 25-man roster on Opening Day 2009

** – a good bet to be on the 25-man roster

PITCHERS

  • Dave Bush* – He’ll be back, and in the starting rotation once again.  If I’m not mistaken, he has a year or two of arbitration left before becoming a free agent.  If he has a slow start in ’09 like he did this year, his chances of hanging on to that starting job will depend on who his manager is…
  • Chris Capuano** – Spring Training will mean everything for Cappy.  After two Tommy John surgeries, his days as a starting pitcher are probably over.  He was never overpowering to begin with, though, and if he can command a variety of pitches, he could remake himself as a versatile lefty specialist.  I’m thinking he’ll make it.
  • Todd Coffey** – He sure looked like a great waiver pickup in the second half of September after spending most of the year at AAA in the Reds organization.  Still arbitration eligible, a power-armed right hander will be in the Brewers bullpen in 2009.
  • Mark DiFelice – Did a serviceable job when called upon at certain times this season, but if this 32-year-old rookie is on the 25-man out of training camp, that’s probably not a good sign for the ’09 Brewers.
  • Tim Dillard – He’s in for another season at AAA Nashville, and could see a call-up here or there if the big league team has some injuries.
  • Eric Gagne – Gone.
  • Yovanni Gallardo* – In the Brewers’ best-case scenario for their 2009 rotation, Yovanni will be the #2 starter.  In their worst-case, he is the ace.  This kid is a stud and will be poised for a big year in 2009.  I’m thinking all-star appearance…
  • Seth McClung* – After serving in mop-up duty in 2007, where his most notable appearance came on the day he was tossed for intentionally plunking Albert Pujols, Big Red pitched surprisingly well when forced into the starting rotation this year.  Even after The Coming of CC and his relegation back to the bullpen, McClung had a very nice season, overall.  The question here will not be “will he make the team in ’09?” but rather, “what will his role be?”  Is he a starter?  A long relief guy?  Could he possibly make it as a closer?
  • Guillermo Mota** – I’m sure the Brewers would like him back.  Chances of a return are probably tied to what he’ll look for in a new contract.  One of the things that Doug Melvin did last year in the off-season was to acquire experienced, veteran players that he felt would steady the team over the length of the season.  He also made sure that the majority of those players came in with either expiring or 1-year contracts, affording the team as much flexibility as they could ask for heading in to ’09.  Will Mota be willing to hang for another 3-4 million per year?  If so, I say bring him back, but not for more than 2 years at a crack.
  • Manny Parra* – Some people got down on Manny over the last month of the season, but I think his problems were more about fatigue than they were mental.  In the last week of the regular season and then into the Division Series, he pitched some good innings.  He’ll be #2 or #3 in the starting rotation next year, and he’ll be out to prove he’s got the stamina for a full season.
  • Luis Pena – The Nashville Sounds closer for the last 2 seasons has shown promise at times, but has never been up with the Brewers because he’s so erratic– take a look at his 6.93 ERA in 52 appearances in 2008 if you have any doubt.  Seems like this guy is sort of a Jose Capellan who just never made it to the majors.  Lot of potential, but mostly a tease.  Won’t make the team, might not be on the 40-man anymore next year.
  • David Riske* – He’ll be back.  Has 2 years left on a 3-year deal he signed last winter.  Hopefully he’ll be healthy in 2009…
  • CC Sabathia – That’s the 150-million-dollar question, no?  I think the Journal-Sentinel made a lot out of some non-binding comments from CC in the locker room immediately following the Brewers playoff ouster on Sunday.  Hey– there’s no doubt that CC, the other players, and the city of Milwaukee had a great summer together.  And I also have no doubt that if the Brewers could match a contract offer from the Yankees or the Dodgers, the big guy would probably stay.  But let’s get serious.  Odds are not in the favor of one of MLB’s smallest cities.  I will be very interested to see how creative Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio can get with their offer.  But, the more days pass between the end of the season and a new contract signing, the more those warm fuzzies of the Miller Park atmosphere in October will fade.  It’s highly unlikely he’ll be back.
  • Ben Sheets – It really is too bad that Sheeter’s best years were some of the lowest in the history of the franchise.  If the 2004 incarnation of Ben Sheets could have pitched for the ’08 Brewers, we might’ve made a run at the Series.  Someone will pay him too much, but be thankful it won’t be the Brewers.
  • Brian Shouse** – Kind of a tough call.  He just turned 40, but he hasn’t really shown any signs of age, despite morphing from a lefty-only specialist to a late-inning stopper over the last season-and-a-half.  I think that Mitch Stetter and Chris Capuano could have some impact on whether we see Shouse return in 2009.
  • Mitch Stetter* – See above.  Like so many pitchers, consistency is the key here.  If Stetter could become as steady as Shouse, there’s no doubt he would be the #1 left-handed option out of the bullpen.  I have a feeling he’ll make it.
  • Jeff Suppan* – *sigh* He’ll be back.  Probably as a 4th or 5th starter, because there’s really nothing else you can do with him.  You wanna release the guy?  Try to trade him?  Good luck.  No matter what, you’re still paying him.  DAYS UNTIL SUPPAN’S CONTRACT EXPIRES: 726.
  • Solomon Torres* – Has a VERY cheap club option for 2009 (3.75 million), so he’ll be back.  I’m sure they’d prefer to have a more prototypical closer, but Torres showed his versatility this year, which is why they got him to begin with.
  • Carlos Villanueva* – He’s probably settled in to a role as a long reliever now.  Can make a spot start here or there.  He’ll be a fixture on the staff for the foreseeable future.

CATCHERS

  • Jason Kendall* – I think it’s funny how catchers are almost becoming like a second speciality position in baseball– just like pitchers are not expected to do anything but pitch, catchers are barely expected to be competent with a bat.  With that in mind, Kendall did exactly what the Brewers wanted/expected this year: he was a steadying force for the pitching staff, rarely took a day off, and dramatically improved his stats gunning down runners.  The club will definitely pick up his option for 2009, particularly with no other viable options coming up through the ranks in the minors.
  • Mike Rivera** – A fine backup catcher, and should probably be retained.  He sure bitched a lot about never playing, but I don’t think he’s going to do any better anywhere else.
  • Vinny Rottino – A hometown boy who saw some limited appearances in the majors in 2006 and 2007 as a “super-utility” guy worked exclusively behind the dish for Nashville in 2008.  Results were mixed.  If for some reason Rivera isn’t back, Rottino could probably step up to being the backup catcher for the Brewers.  More likely you’ll see him at AAA again in ’09, but then again, there is…
  • Angel Salome – He was one of the “superstars” at AA for the Brewers this season, leading that team in batting average at .360.  I think you’d have to guess they want to move some, if not all, of those guys up to Nashville this year.  So in a way, the fate of Salome could directly affect Mike Rivera, because if this kid starts the year at AAA, it won’t be to back up Vinny Rottino.

INFIELDERS

  • Russell Branyan – The Brewers took advantage of his hot streak early this summer, but what you saw in June was “The Muscle”s maximum output.  If he’s back, it’s on a minor league deal because he happens to live in Nashville.
  • Craig Counsell* – reliable backup all across the infield.  Affordable club option for 2009 will be picked up.
  • Joe Dillon – Probably saw his best shot to stick on a big league roster in 2008.  Kinda like Counsell, but without the years of service or defensive versatility (CANNOT play the middle of the infield).  He’s gone.
  • Ray Durham – Too expensive, too old.  Gone.
  • Alcides Escobar** – AMAZING defensive prospect, and he had a great offensive season at Huntsville, too (he hit .328).  Probably the most likely of all the Brewers prospects to make a jump from AA all the way to the majors next season, but I would be less surprised if he started 2009 at Nashville, and saw a call up in May or early June, ala Braun in 2007.  If he does get the call, the Brewers need to have somewhere to put him, and that probably means moving JJ Hardy.
  • Prince Fielder** – Enters the off-season as the Young Brewers Stud Most Likely to Be Traded.  His stats fell off a little from 2007, when he hit .288 with 50 homers and slugged .618 (to .276, 34, and .507, respectively).  He also looks like he somehow managed to pack MORE AND MORE meat onto that 5’11” frame as the season wore on.  The thing that will make him tough to move is that every other team in baseball is fully aware that the Brewers will ask for pitching and would prefer to send him to the AL, where he can DH.  Combine this with the reputation of his agent, Scott Boras, and the reality is that the Brewers will have a hard time getting the sort of pitcher they think Prince is worth.  Peter “CryptkeeperGammons’s ridiculous rumor about Prince and JJ Hardy for Matt Cain is laughably one-sided.  That will never happen, and while there might be a ton of rumors this winter, I predict Prince will be back in 2009.  Let’s just hope he can shed some pounds.  Holy hell.  If he shows a little more consistency and patience at the plate in 2009, let’s say hitting about .280 with 35-40 homers, the Crew could get a lot more for him NEXT winter (at which point they might be looking for a position for Mat Gamel on the big league roster).
  • Bill Hall** – That 4-year contract seemed like a good idea at the time, but now Hall is just a grumpy, overpaid utility guy.  Do you realize he’s going to make 6.8 million next season?  This is one player that I think the Brewers will unload no matter what, even if it means eating a ton of his salary.  Take what you can get for him.  We don’t need him back.
  • J.J. Hardy* – Proved to be a model of consistency at the plate on a team that hacked at a lot of pitches (actually improved in batting average and OBP from 2007), and he’s great with his glove.  The only x-factor here is in relation to Alcides Escobar– if he is ready to be an opening day starter in 2009, Hardy will have to move, either to second or third base.  My money is on the latter.
  • Hernan Iribarren – Supposedly one of those more consistent-hitting prospects in the Brewers system.  They had moved him to the outfield at Nashville this year, but he is listed as an infielder on the Brewers roster.  Read into that what you will, but I think he’ll get an audition at 2nd base in spring training.
  • Mike Lamb** – late-season waiver pickup from Minnesota, where it sounds like it was just a bad fit for him.  Lamb’s got another year at 3 million on his contract, so I look at him as a Bill Hall-type guy at a substantially more reasonable price.  That, and he’s left-handed.
  • Brad Nelson – His fate is tied to that of the Prince.  If they trade Fielder, Nelson seems like the next reasonable choice from within the organization to play first base.
  • Rickie Weeks** – I think you can say for sure that Rickie is a bust.  The guy hit .473 in college and has a lifetime average of .245 in 445 major league games.  What the hell happened?  Potential only takes you so far, but the Brewers have been uber-patient with this guy.  For that reason, I have a feeling he’ll be back.  Unless someone comes along with an amazing trade proposal, management won’t be able to stomach giving up on him.  Melvin is sitting in his office right now wringing his hands and saying, “What if Ned wouldn’t have kept batting him in that leadoff spot the past 2 and a half years…?”

OUTFIELDERS

  • Ryan Braun* – Duh.  After signing an 8-year contract in May that ties him up through his first 3 free agent years, and following up his Rookie of the Year season with his first All-Star appearance, Braun is this generation’s Yount.  His biggest weakness right now is probably his own arrogance; if he gets a hitting coach to convince him that by playing within his own abilities he could have Pujols-like numbers, Braun will also be a perennial MVP-candidate.
  • Mike Cameron** – Toughest part of deciding what to do with Cameron is looking beneath him on the organizational depth chart.  Is 10 million too much to pay for a 36-year-old outfielder who will struggle to hit .250?  Yes.  Do you have a good alternative?  ……. I’m not sure, either.  If the Brewers lose both Sabathia and Sheets and can’t replace them with a free agent pitcher, I think they let Cameron go, too.  The thinking there would be that 2009 becomes a “rebuilding” year, and you let someone else give it a shot in center.
  • Tony Gwynn** – Maybe you give that shot to Tony Gwynn, regardless?  Here’s a guy who projects as a leadoff hitter, and whose best skills have always been in the field.  The Brewers haven’t have a legit leadoff hitter since Fernando Vina, so they certainly can’t do worse than they have been.  The biggest knock you hear on Gwynn is that the organization doesn’t seem to have any confidence in him, but I challenge you to find someone that can explain why that is.  Even as I sat here writing this, my gut instinct was to write him off, because management has been doing that for 2 years.  But when I think about it reasonably, there’s just not a good reason to do so.  I honestly feel that over the course of 162 games, Gwynn would be as good in center as Mike Cameron at this point in his career, and he’d give you something different at the plate anyway.  I grant you that he’s got no power, but he does have speed, and if he could hit .275 while getting on base at around .360, you’d have a fine leadoff guy, no matter how few homeruns he would hit.
  • Corey Hart* – Had an All-Star first half, although you never would have guessed it, the way the season ended up.  He hit just .239 after the break, dragging his season average to under .270.  The worst part, in my mind, was that by September, Hart just looked lost at the plate.  If a pitch was coming, he was swinging flailing at it.  Hopefully, the second-half struggles are something that some time off and a fresh start will cure.  There’s no way Corey will be supplanted in right field in the off-season, but if his 2008 swoon were to eek into ’09, he would need to start watching his back.
  • Gabe Kapler** – Last December, he was a footnote-type free agent signing.  It was an interesting story, just because he was coming out of a 1-season retirement to play for the Brewers.  This season, Kapler definitely proved he has value as a backup outfielder.  He can play all three positions, and he’s baseball smart.  I don’t think he’ll ever be even a part-time starter (unless somebody is hurt), but it would be dumb not to hang on to a very good 4th outfielder.

Well, I had a LOT more to say about that than I thought.  Enjoy the rest of the post-season!  I’m rooting for Tampa, myself.  Should be a good ALCS.  The NL matchup is interesting, too.  And now, there’s just 17 weeks left until spring training…

One thought on “The Fates of Forty Men”

  1. I love you, Jason. Reading your blog is the highlight of my morning, plus, I can HEAR you saying everything you have wrtten. I’m also rooting for Tampa–go Rays! Show the “big market” teams what you’re made of.

    Mom

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