… And, We're Back.

I know, I know– I never really left.

Michelle and I are now settling in to our new apartment in Sun Prairie.  It’s nice here.  So far we like it.  It’ll probably be even better after we dig out from under all the boxes.  Big thanks have to go out to all the peeps that pitched in last weekend, because we definitely couldn’t have done it without them.  It would have taken us 2 days easily, and we might not have even fit in the trucks we rented; props have to go to Lisser and J. Hill for the mad packing skillz.

At this point, I am having a hard time figuring out where to start with unpacking.  We have so much to dig through, you can’t really *put* anything anywhere.  What would be ideal is a second apartment next door that could have been used as a staging area.  We could then open boxes, unpack them, and immediately put things away in the place they should go in the real apartment.  Is that too much to ask?

Michelle said that when the cable guy came over today, he asked, “So did you guys just move from a REALLY big house?”

Anyway, there’s plenty to do, but I’m glad that we’re back online and in contact with the outside world while at home.  The site will be going down over the weekend for a while as my old internet service gets shut off and the server gets moved to its new home.  Because of this, I will post the Drama Jocks’ sportscast in a different location (there will be a redirect).  I better get done with this blog, though, and start helping Michelle with boxes…

This Is Where the Fun Begins.

Just got home from work for the day, and I have off for the big move until Monday. Jen is going to come over for a while this afternoon to help me lug some bigger-ticket stuff to Goodwill, and to lend a hand with a little living room packing.

Most everything here is packed, but there are some things in nooks and crannies that you just don’t always think to put in a box right away, y’know? Eh, maybe you don’t.  Anyway, I have today and most of tomorrow to finish it up.

Right now, I’m going to order me up some Jimmy John’s; they’ve got kind of a crappy drive, so I don’t think it’ll be as fast as usual.  But I’ve got enough to do in the meantime…

But, my point was that you may not here much from me in the interim.  I wanted to have most stuff done by tomorrow in the afternoon so I could do a podcast with Schneider and get it up on the web.  That DEFINITELY won’t be the sort of drawn-out process it was last week.

Other than that, though, we will most likely next commiserate from my new address!

Always has, always will.

Hope you enjoy the new look of the site. The previous theme, while clean and serviceable, had grown a little stale on the development side; it hadn’t been updated in quite a while to take advantage of some of the newer features that WordPress (the site’s platform) has to offer.

One of the things that this revision allows me to do is add some additional modules to the sidebars at the right. Also, since there are two of them, you don’t need to scroll as much to see everything over there. I thought folks might be interested in seeing some of the recent comments or posts they might have missed…

Thanks for your continued interest, and enjoy your visit!

Into the Home Stretch

Michelle and I are moving this upcoming weekend.  I have made it pretty clear to everybody that, giving my brutal moving schedule of the last several years, I feel like I have no karma left when it comes to requesting help for a move.  We seriously contemplated hiring movers before coming to the conclusion that we just couldn’t afford it.

Michelle had the wonderful idea of turning it into a “moving party,” complete with an evite, competetive furniture moving, and of course, plenty of food and beverages along the way.  We got a lot of our friends and family to voluteer to help, and because of that, I feel like we’ll probably have an OK time with the move.

Here at my house, I am starting to run out of places to stack the boxes and still be able to pack.  Probably going to have to start stacking in front of the TV pretty soon.  Maybe I should have packed the living room first instead of last…

Anyway, if you’re helping out this weekend, thanks in advance.  I was really impressed with all the support we got up front.  Off to bed for now!

Automotive Ineptitude

I grew up in a place where the hood of a car was propped up on the weekends on a fairly regular basis.  The reason was two-fold: my folks drove a lot of less-than-awesome automobiles for a good stretch of time, and my dad also posessed the technical acumen to solve a lot of his own problems with cars.

I helped out, but I didn’t absorb much, and served more in the capacity of a tool holder/fetcher/light-pointer than anything else.  Suffice it to say, I moved out of Eagle River with the bare minimum of knowledge about cars.

I think that’s a fairly typical situation these days.  Not only have automobiles become more complex machines, with their computerized parts and compact designs, and proprietary elements, but the way that cars work has actually gotten lots and lots BETTER over the last 20-30 years.  An average guy doesn’t need to know as much about how the car works or how to fix it, because they simply don’t break down as much.

It’s a workable situation until you get to certain “required” maintenance where that average guy is just going to get bent over, to put it as mildly as possible.  One of the things that you get with a manual transmission auto is the “timing belt.”  It’s a part that most manufacturers will recommend replacing somewhere around 60-75,000 miles.  My Mazda just hit 87K.  I haven’t changed it yet.

It’s not that I haven’t thought about it.  Particularly with my 80-mile daily commute, I actually spend a little bit of time dwelling on it every single day.  On one hand, I’m sure that it’s a good idea to have this job done, and on the other, I can’t help but think back to my days of Ford Festiva ownership.  I drove Willy, my 93 Festiva, for about 7+ years and over 100,000 miles.  I bought when its odometer was at about 52K.  My mom recommended at the time, “hey, get that timing belt replaced first thing.”  It seemed like a prudent move.  It was my first car that I actually bought, and I wanted to get going on the right foot.  I don’t remember what it cost, but for a little car like that in 1998, I’m pretty sure it was fairly reasonable.  That was all well and good, but I drove that car another 100K (twice as long as it went on the first timing belt), and never thought about replacing it again.  I drove it into the Rawhide sunset with that same belt that was installed at Lakeland Motors on that fateful June afternoon.

So when I get the coupons in the mail from the Mazda dealer, imploring me to get that timing belt replaced, warning me, “Don’t Wait Too Long!” and I see that the coupon is for $100 OFF this service (when I know the last time I did it, albeit 10 years ago, the total service wasn’t 100 bucks), I think of that second belt that went into the Festiva and I wonder, are they just trying to screw me?

I envy those of you who have a reputable mechanic that you feel you can trust.  I don’t have the vaguest idea of how to go about finding one, and in all likelihood, I will bumble through my years of auto ownership, getting boned on one deal or another, at predictable intervals, in accordance with my maintenance schedule.

The Fates of Forty Men 2009 – Part 5: Outfielders & Catchers

Overall, the performance by the Brewers in these areas was up to par in 2009.  Granted, though, that “overall” rating was bolstered pretty significantly by Ryan Braun’s bat and Mike Cameron’s glove.  They’re going to have some tough choices to make for 2010, because, as they say, “defense starts up the middle,” and two key parts of the Brewers defense are facing free agency.

* – lock for the 2010 opening day roster

** – good bet to be on the opening day roster

Ryan Braun* – You can talk all you want about how everyone has to be theoretically on the table as trade fodder when the Brewers are as desperate for some starting pitching as they must be this winter.  Braun is one of two exceptions (Yovanni Gallardo is the other) on this roster.  He’s got a contract that will last another 6 years, and since his Major League debut in 2007, he really hasn’t slowed down.  Braun made his second all-star appearance this year, while en route to hitting .320 with 32 homeruns, 114 RBI, 20 stolen bases, and he was the only player in the majors to collect 200 hits (and the first Brewer to do it since Paul Molitor in 1991).  To sum it up, he’s a stud.  Only Prince Fielder’s amazing season keeps Braun from being the club MVP this year.  One uncanny aspect of Braun’s offensive game: he still whiffs at too many pitches out of the zone and strikes out more than he should.  In the field, Braun took a step backward on paper at least, committing 2 errors in left field after an errorless 2008.  Fact is, though, the guy was still in just his second season as an outfielder.  The fact that he plays as well as he does out there is a testament to his athleticism.  He’ll continue to slowly but surely get better with the glove (look at the strides Prince made in his 4th full season in the majors), and as long as the Brewers have him, they will have a perennial MVP candidate.

Mike Cameron – Cameron continued to show why he is important to this team in 2009: his offensive stats aren’t flashy (he is downright frustrating to watch at the plate at times), but he hits from a variety of spots in the order, and beyond that, he is a great clubhouse guy and tracks down a ton of balls in center field.  The knocks against him this off-season: (1) he’s a free agent who made 10 million bucks this year, (2) he’ll be 37 on opening day in 2010.  But at the same time, the Brewers have nobody ready to step up and play the sort of D in center that they’ve gotten used to the last couple seasons.  If the Crew lets him go and devotes that money to pitching instead, they better get themselves some strikeout pitchers, because Jeff Suppan’s 5.29 ERA would look a helluva lot worse without Cameron scaling the wall and sprinting around the gaps behind him…

Corey Hart – Corey had an up-and-down (but mostly down) season.  Hitting coach Dale Sveum drilled the importance of patience into the heads of the Brewers free swingers, and for Hart, that meant a 30-point jump in his on-base-percentage and a 3-year low in strikeouts, but his average was also the lowest its been since he became an everyday player, and his homerun total took a dramatic tumble (24 in 2007, 20 in 2008, 12 in 2009).  The timing of his appendectomy couldn’t have been worse; he was finally starting to string some hits together, then sat out most of August and never really bounced back.  He’s definitely a guy that has showed promise from time to time, both on offense and defense.  With the Brewers’ stacked farm system, though, and maybe no place but right field to stick Mat Gamel in 2010, Hart’s name is going to be tossed around a lot in trade rumors this off-season.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see him shipped out in a package deal, but if he doesn’t get moved, he’s probably back starting somewhere in the outfield next year.

Jody Gerut** – Right about the middle of June, swapping Tony Gwynn Jr. for this guy seemed like about the dumbest move of the season for Milwaukee.  Gerut came around later when Hart went out and there was some more playing time to go around.  He showed a little pop here and there, and wasn’t bad with the glove.  He’s up for arbitration and probably will be an affordable backup outfielder.  If they really gut the roster (dumping Cameron and Hart), it could put Gerut in the mix for starting in 2010.  That scares the crap out of me.

Frank Catalanotto – ‘Cat’ was brought in as a left-handed backup outfielder when Brad Nelson and Chris Duffy, who both had nice springs, crapped out.  He, too, had some decent games and collected a key hit here or there.  He’s nothing special, though, and I expect disinterest in his return to be mutual.  If he lands anywhere, I expect to see him back in the AL.

Corey Patterson – The one-time top Cubs prospect didn’t do much in 2009, appearing in a total of just 16 major league games.  He’s 30 now, and has never hit better than .276 in a season where he played at least 100 games.  This is another guy like Gerut, though, who could tumble into the Brewers plans if the incumbents are gone.  It’s another situation where I’d worry about our team’s prospects if he is around and being considered for a starting job…

Jason Bourgeois – As opposed to the other three backups on the 40-man, Bourgeois is on his way up instead of down.  He has bounced around the minors a lot (played with 5 organizations so far), but might finally have shown enough to stick in the big leagues.  He’s got speed, and doesn’t look totally overmatched at the plate.  The Brewers could end up keeping him on the 25-man if they don’t come up with any decent alternatives to backup in the outfield.  Otherwise, don’t expect to see him on April 5.

Jason Kendall** – The Brewers starting catcher the past two seasons finds himself in a similar position to Mike Cameron– he has done a decent job, not a great one, at a position where the Brewers just don’t have a lot of good options to replace him.  For all the people you hear saying “Mike Rivera could start,” let me say this: get your fat head out of your stupid ass.  When they signed Kendall to a 2-year deal in the winter of 2007, you know they were thinking, “that’s about how long it will be until Angel Salome is ready,” and that plan has fallen through.  Salome had an injury-plagued 2009 and definitely took a step back down in Nashville.  It’s sounding like Jonathan Lucroy, who was the #1 catcher at AA Huntsville this year, has passed Salome on the organizational depth chart.  But, odds of Lucroy being ready to be a big league catcher in 2010?  Razor thin.  Personally, I don’t dislike Kendall.  He’s a tough guy, plays a lot at a rough position, handles the pitchers well, and if not spectacular behind the dish, he is stable.  The Brewers might have to just suck it up for another year or two with the 35-year-old Kendall and wait for Lucroy to be ready.  The other options, frankly, suck.

Mike Rivera** – Rivera is a decent backup catcher.  That is all.  He got a little more playing time this season, and his offensive numbers looked much more ordinary than in 2008, where every ball he swung at seemed to turn to gold.  At 33, he has never been an everyday catcher in the majors, and he never will.  He’s arbitration-eligible for the first time and should come back pretty cheap.  If not, the Brewers could easily move Salome up to Milwaukee and not regard it as a loss.

Angel Salome – After a 2008 where Salome owned the Southern League with a .360 average and earned a September call-up to the playoff-bound Brewers, it was notable that he did not make it to Milwaukee in 2009.  The Brewers need one of two things from a catcher: they need a guy who is going to rake at the plate, hitting in the 2, 5, or 6 hole, or a guy who is going to way above average defensively, making his offensive liabilities something they can live with.  Right now, Salome is neither.  He had a chance to bump Rivera off the 25-man with a great spring in 2009, but instead he was hurt and saw limited playing time.  He’ll get a similar chance in 2010, but the odds of seeing him in Milwaukee seem lower right now than they were a year ago.

The Fates of Forty Men 2009 – Part 4: Infielders

The Brewers had a couple pleasant surprises, some tough injuries, and ultimately are left with hard decisions as we make our way into the offseason.  Overall, though, the position players were the strength of the club.  If people are healthy, they should score runs next year, no matter what.  If guys need to be traded, there are reinforcements or comparable alternatives on the way…

* – lock to be on the 2010 opening day roster

** – good bet to be on the 2010 opening day roster

Prince Fielder** – Prince was pretty easily the MVP of the team this season.  After smacking 50 homeruns and starting in the all-star game in 2007, his production “dipped” slightly in 2008.  This season, he not only brought all of his offensive numbers up, he also played in 162 games and made some significant strides in the field; he is no longer a defensive liability at first base.  He has a contract for 2010 already, and still one more year of arbitration after that.  The toughest question the Brewers will face in the off-season about Prince is, “is it time to trade him?”  There is a (sometimes) unspoken understanding that the Brewers won’t be able to pay Fielder enough to keep him in the long term, and his agent, Scott Boras, will price the big guy out of the Milwaukee market.  In my humble opinion, Prince has shown that he is at least as valuable as having a top-tier starting pitcher.  This guy will be a perennial MVP candidate who pitchers are scared to face.  He has also become a leader in the clubhouse.  I’m feeling the same about Prince as I was last year about CC Sabathia– we may lose him in the end, but he’s too good to not ride the wave.  Trade him, and who bats 4th in your lineup?  How do you protect Ryan Braun?  I hope the Brewers make every effort to sign him to a long-term deal this winter, but who can predict what will happen?  The only thing I can predict: no matter where he plays, Fielder will be the most feared bat in any lineup.

Rickie Weeks** – Weeks was well on his way to his best season yet when he tore another sheath in his wrist.  He was settling in to his position defensively, hitting for a respectable average, and doing the things you expect a leadoff guy to do (in addition to blasting 9 homeruns in the first 7 weeks of the season).  Doug Melvin has given him a vote of confidence, and moreover, said that moving him to another position was not an option that the team was considering.  With the overall goal of improving the starting rotation at nearly any cost, though, it’s tough to take definitive meaning from that season-ending press conference.  I expect Rickie to be back (he’s still in the midst of his arbitration years), but I don’t think you can really discount the slight possibility of a trade with anyone.

Casey McGehee** – What a surprise from this time a year ago!  The Cubs minor league  castoff played well enough once he got his chances to warrant serious Rookie of the Year consideration.  The guy came from basically nowhere to hit .300 and drive in 60+ runs.  There were a few balls he didn’t get to over at third base, but he was dealing with bone fragments in his knee all year, and was still pretty solid for the most part.  What I worry about with McGehee is the Bill Hall syndrome: how do we know for sure that this isn’t going to end up being the best season of his career?  Is it reasonable to expect him back next year, hitting 5th in the lineup with the same sort of production we saw down the stretch?  It’s tough to say.  With another bluechip prospect right behind him at third base, I feel like the Brewers will have to consider using Casey in a trade scenario if anyone is interested.  That is, if Mat Gamel gets himself straightened out in winter ball.

J.J. Hardy – How the heart-throb has fallen.  Two years ago JJ was an al-star shortstop and one of the cornerstones of Milwaukee’s resurgence.  In 2009, he never got himself going at the plate, and the August demotion not only delayed his free agency by a year, but more or less sealed the deal with the Brewers moving on to Alcides Escobar at short.  I would be shocked if Hardy is still on the team in February, much less April.  What I worry about, of course, is his value.  He was a more attractive trade commodity a year ago.  At this point, do you use him in a package deal for a major league starter?  Or could he possibly net a near-ready, mid-level pitching prospect from a team in dire need of a starting shortstop?  Either way, all those Milwaukee ladies with their #7 jerseys are going to be sad next Opening Day…

Craig Counsell** – Counsell had possibly the best season of his career in 2009, at 39 years old.  Last season, it seemed like the Crew was willing to check out what else was available on the market for utility middle infielders.  They wound up back with Counsell at a very reasonable price.  Assuming Craig is interested in coming back, I will also assume the Brewers are interested in having him.  A similar “wait-and-see” exercise and a late signing wouldn’t surprise me, though.

Alcides Escobar* – When Escobar joined the team on August 12, I leaned over to Dave Schrubbe (figuratively) and said, “Well, there’s our starting shortstop for the foreseeable future.”  While he was here in the waning weeks of the season, he did nothing to make me think otherwise.  Earlier in the year, when Hardy was bumbling, another one of my favorite phrases was, “I don’t care how raw Escobar’s offensive game is; anybody could come up here and hit .230.”  Well, he did that and them some, finishing with a .304 average in 125 ABs, and pulling off a series of amazing plays all over the middle of the infield.  The Brewers have an embarrassment of riches at this position, and Escobar is going to be our guy for at least another 5 years.

Mat Gamel – The other half of the Brewers bluechip AAA duo for 2009 looked more certain than his counterpart, Escobar, to be up in Milwaukee this season.  He made it, but really didn’t make much of it.  The blame fell on inconsistent playing time, and Doug Melvin admitted in later interviews that if they were only going to have Gamel up with the big club to ride the pine and pinch hit time to time, he would have been better served to stay at Nashville all year.  Personally, I couldn’t decide which impressed me less– the .242 average, or the 54 strikeouts in 128 ABs.  I am hoping against hope that he magically shakes the funk while playing in Venezuela over the winter, but right now, the more likely scenario seems to be that Gamel goes back to Nashville to start 2010, and Casey McGehee starts the year at third base.  Things could be worse, but this is not how it was supposed to play out.

Hernan Iribarren – I don’t know if this guy sticks on the 40-man all these years just by default, or what.  A couple years back, it was sounding like he might actually push Weeks for his job if the latter couldn’t step it up at 2nd base.  Then they moved him to the outfield, then back to the infield, and then he spent a little time on the bench here or there as an injury fill-in, but hasn’t done anything spectacular in Milwaukee.  Still, he hit .311 in 105 games for Nashville this summer.  Seems to be a capable infielder, so if Counsell decir.des to retire, and/or they end up having to trade Weeks, I could see Iribarren in Milwaukee to start 2010.  Do I think either of those things will actually happen?  No.

Felipe Lopez – Definitely the best mid-season pickup the team made this year.  After scrambling to fill the leadoff spot after Weeks got hurt, they finally traded for Lopez and solidified both the top of the order and 2nd base.  Lopez had some fantastic hitting streaks and great individual games on his way to hitting .310 with a .383 OBP.  Both respectable numbers for a leadoff guy, and he hits both ways.  The one place his game is lacking at the top of the order is on the basepaths– only stole 6 bases all year.  Lopez was here after being signed to a 1-year deal by Arizona.  He is a free agent again after the season, but the Brewers could offer him arbitration.  If they do so, he projects as a ‘Class A’ free agent, so it would mean the team that signs him would owe Milwaukee their first round draft pick next year, plus the Crew would get a sandwich pick beteween rounds 1 and 2.  That steep a price on a second baseman would pretty much assure that no one else would pursue him.  Hence, count on the Brewers to say thanks for the help, but see ya later.

The Fates of Forty Men 2009 – Part 3: Relief Pitching

The bullpen was one of the strengths of this team through most of the season.  There were some great stories of redemption, resurgence, and long-awaited debuts.  If the starters could have gotten through at least six innings a regular basis, the relief guys probably would have looked even better down the stretch.

The bullpen, though, is one of those areas on many teams that gets re-tooled from year to year.  Pitching is such a hot commodity, it’s often tough for a small market club to retain their best players once they reach free agency.  The Brewers have been following a fairly prudent model the last several seasons by starting with a solid closer and working backwards.

They got step #1 taken care of for 2010 by locking up Trevor Hoffman right away on Tuesday.  Oh, and speaking of season reviews and the mainstream sports media: I have to mention that Adam McCalvy from brewers.com has a pretty nice summary of everything that went right and wrong for the Brewers this year, so if you missed it, I think it’s worth a look.

* – player is a lock to be on the 25-man opening day roster
** – a good bet for the 25-man
Trevor Hoffman* – Baseball’s all-time saves leader did exactly what was expected: solidified the back of the bullpen and served as an outstanding role model for all the young guys on the team.  For a guy to come in here at 41, convert his first 13 save chances while en route to an eventual 37, and never have a whiff of an injury after recovering from a strained oblique in spring training, that’s all pretty remarkable.  Getting him back in the fold immediately (and still at a relatively affordable price) will allow Doug Melvin to focus on bigger problems.
Todd Coffey* – Always a fan favorite when he sprints out the ‘pen to reach the mound, Coffey continued to show why Melvin knew what he was doing when he plucked this guy off Cincinnati’s scrap heap last September.  There were a few rare occasions that he couldn’t get a hold or wound cough up some runs, but the guy led the staff with 78 appearances and racked up a 2.90 ERA.  He started the year by not allowing a run in 16 straight appearances.  Definitely will be back, as the Brewers have control of his contract through arbitration.
Mitch Stetter* – I remember watching his first game of the year on TV, and he walked the first batter he faced on 4 pitches so far outside the zone it was like Ricky Vaughn had taken the mound.  After the butterflies settled down in that first inning, Stetter became the stalwart lefty out of the Brewers bullpen.  Like Brian Shouse did in 2008 and to a lesser extent in ’07, Stetter showed that he was more than strictly a lefty specialist.  At one point in June, he set a franchise record by setting down 15 straight batters (over the course of several appearances) via strikeout.  Stetter is also up for arbitration and should be back.
David Riske** – I know what you’re saying– “David who??”  Riske signed a nice, affordable 3-year deal in the winter of 2008, in part because he had a solid record of staying healthy and doing a good job of locating his pitches.  In his first season with Milwaukee, he pitched in 45 games but was banged up most of the way, and banged around more than a couple times.  In ’09, he appeared in one game before being shut down for the year with elbow problems.  Unless the Brewers decide they have better options or can include him as a throw-in on a trade, expect him back for another go-’round in 2010.
Mark DiFelice** – Last year, I wrote that DiFelice making the opening day roster would be a bad sign for the Brewers.  In a way, it turned out to be true, but not because of anything DiFelice did.  Last winter, he perfected a much bally-hooed cut fastball, and the 32-year-old rookie baffled enough hitters with it to strike out 48 in 51 2/3 innings.  The burden of too many innings is probably what did DiFelice and his shoulder in back in August.  The Brewers have exclusive rights to tender him a contract for next season.
Carlos Villaneuva** – Villaneuva showed once again that he is at his best in short stints out the bullpen; his time as a fill-in starter did not go well.  He still gives up a lot of hits in bunches, but then will come back and strike out 2 or 3 in order.  One thing I noticed about him this year is more of a bulldog-type attitude.  He seems to an anti-Parra in a way, doing whatever’s asked of him, and not appearing to get too riled no matter what.  He’s arbitration eligible for the first time and will probably be back.
Chris Smith – Smith bounced back and forth from Nashville to Milwaukee around mid-season while the team was scrambling to find some fresh arms after the starters went in the tank or on the DL.  He threw some good innings, and definitely got better as time went on.  Ended up with 35 appearances.  He’ll probably get a nice long look down in Arizona, but whether or not he sticks depends on what the Brewers are able to acquire in terms of free agents.
David Weathers – In his second turn with Brewers, the journeyman righty dished up 26 hits and 13 earned runs in just 24 innings of work, covering 25 appearances.  The Crew picked him up from the Reds on August 9, when their desperation for anybody that could take the ball for an inning or two was at its peak.  Paying the buyout on his contract could be $400,000 of the best dollars Melvin spends this winter.
Claudio Vargas – Another late-season pickup, this time from the Dodgers in exchange for basically nothing (just Vinny Rottino), the erstwhile Brewers starter threw exclusively from the ‘pen and displayed some of that rare talent for pitching into and out of some remarkable jams.  Who knows?  He might’ve escaped a few more if Ken Macha would have given him the sort of leash he had with Ned Yost back in ’07.  Vargas is a free agent that Melvin has already cut once before.  They might give him a look, but I’d be surprised to see him back (almost as surprised as Vargas was in August when he found out he was coming back to Milwaukee).
Seth McClung – After a brilliant ’08 when Big Red seemed to come into his own, and a winter during which he was seriously discussed as a 5th starter, he was back to inconsistent mop-up duty for long stretches in 2009, before succumbing to the injury bug.  The Brewers have arbitration rights with McClung, but may decide that their money is better spent elsewhere.
John Axford – A one-time Yankees cast-0ff, Axford was a late addition to the 40-man after playing parts of the year at single-A, double-A, and triple-A.  He’s another guy who could factor in with a good spring in 2010.
Omar Aguilar – Split 2009 between high-A Brevard County and AA Huntsville.  Playing in the Arizona Fall League, but it would be pretty shocking to see him with the Brewers in 2010.  Nashville, if he’s lucky.
Alex Periard – Threw 42 innings covering 12 starts between Wisconsin and Brevard.  Another would-be shocker for making the team.
Mark Rogers – The Brewers first-round pick in the 2004 draft finally played a full season in the minors without setbacks.  Also going to Arizona for the Fall League, but will not be ready to contribute in Milwaukee until at LEAST 2011.
Cody Scarpetta – Only on the 40-man roster because of a technicality regarding the way he was signed.  Played at single-A Wisconsin in 2009, no chance of playing for the Brewers in 2010.

The Fates of Forty Men 2009: Part 2, Starting Pitching

No one will debate that this was the Brewers’ achilles’ heel in 2009.  The Brewers starters had the worst collective ERA in the National League.  Of their 5-man rotation on opening day, 4 finished with an ERA over 5.00.  2 had an ERA over 6.00.  To put it simply, if they return over 40% of this rotation next year, it will NOT be a good 2010.  Having “innings-eaters” on your team is one thing, but if they’re not giving you a legit chance to win, what the hell’s the point?

* – denotes a player that is a lock to make the 25-man roster for opening day in 2010

** – denotes a player that is a good bet to be on the 25-man

Yovanni Gallardo* – Yo did not start the first game of the season, but was the de facto ace throughout 2009.  After an injury-shortened 2008, Gallardo came back to start 30 games, win 13, strike out over 200 batters, and pitch 185 innings.  He had his bouts of wildness as well, though, and the coaching staff shut him down for the year with a week to go in the season after he eclipsed 3,000 pitches for the year.  He also led the staff with 94 walks.  Gallardo will absolutely be back, hopefully with an extended contract, but also hopefully with some more help at the top of the rotation.  He’s one of only a couple home-grown talents the Brewers can tout on their pitching staff, and one of the best pitchers in baseball.  A top-flight pitching coach (which the Brewers claim to be after) could be beneficial for him.

Jeff Suppan** – A year ago, I grudgingly conceded that the Brewers would have no choice but to bring him back.  Suppan’s albatross of a contract will continue to strangle them for one last season.  After cutting Bill Hall loose and eating about 7 million dollars of that terrible contract, I don’t see them being able to afford another, by cutting Suppan.  However, if I were the GM, I would ask any team if they were willing to go halfsies on Soup’s 12 mil for 2010.  Once again, his 2009 was peppered with flashes of brilliance sprinkled across a wide tapestry of awful outings: there was the Easter Sunday game on national TV against Chicago, where he walked in 2 runs in one inning.  There was the 2-game stretch in late July where he gave up 15 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings against the dregs of the NL in Pittsburgh and Washington.  There was also the July 3 game vs Chicago, when he surrendered just 1 run in 7 innings but the Brewers couldn’t muster a win.  Over the course of a season, though, a 5.29 ERA and 1.69 WHIP speak for themselves.  Suppan looked erratic and overmatched more often than not all season long (even when he was rehabbing in Nashville, he was getting shelled).  I would cry a river of joyful tears if they could find a way to unload him, but it’s not going to happen.

Braden Looper** – As unlucky and awful as Suppan looked all year, Looper somehow bumbled himself to a winning record, and likely secured a spot on the 2010 roster (provided he wants to come back; his option for next season is mutual, so the team has to want him, and he has to want the team).  The guy would be crazy not to return.  He dished up 39 homeruns and racked up a 5.22 ERA but only lost 7 times, thanks to an unbelievable amount of run support.  He also stayed healthy all year, taking the ball 34 times over the course of the season.  No Brewers’ pitcher threw 200 innings this year, but Looper was closest, at 194 2/3.  With starting pitching in SUCH high demand throughout major league baseball, the Brewers would wise to bring him back.  BUT– they have to be willing to show him the door in camp if they manage to get some decent young bodies in here that actually know how to pitch.

Dave Bush* – He started out a little slow in spring, looked fantastic as the Crew cruised to 30-20 by the end of May, and then took a nosedive after getting nailed in the elbow by a line drive in Florida the first week of June.  After that, the David Bush of late ’08 and early ’09 disappeared.  Does he just need a full off-season to completely rehab that injury?  Can he be a steady cog in the middle of a contending rotation?  Will the Brewers use his last year of salary arbitration to find out?  Count on it.

Manny Parra** – Last year this time, I had become a Parra-believer.  I thought the Manny that 7-0 through the middle of 2008 was the “real” Parra, and his troubles down the stretch were bad luck.  Today, I am much less certain.  After a mid-season demotion to AAA, he was usually better, but still had his moments where he couldn’t find the strikezone.  He would cruise through some innings, setting full lineups down in order, then fall apart the next time through.  Worse, watching him in the dugout and listening to post-game interviews, the guy sounds like a total headcase.  How many times can you be told to trust your ability, but just not be able to do it?  Once again, starting pitching is a hot commodity, and Parra is still relatively young (just turned 27).  A team with some average to slightly-better-than-average alternatives could afford to wait for Parra to come around.  The Brewers might not be that team (they sure weren’t with Jorge De La Rosa).  I expect him back, but if a trade partner wanted Manny thrown in to a deal for a more mature, seasoned, older and proven starting pitcher, I would not hesitate to fork him over.

Mike Burns – He was a minor-league fill-in during the dark days of mid-summer when our rotation not only looked awful, but had been decimated by injuries.  Again, here’s a guy that showed some flashes, but in the end showed why he couldn’t cut it in the major leagues.  Don’t expect him back.

Josh Butler – Picked up from Tampa in exchange for Gabe Gross at the beginning of the 2008 season, Butler started ’09 in Class A, moved up to AAA, then later made his major league debut after the rosters expanded in September.  Clearly, the organization thinks a lot of the kid, but I wouldn’t expect him to crack the rotation in 2010.  Maybe 2011 if he does a good job at Nashville next year.

Tim Dillard – Unless the Brewers make more than a trade or two over the winter, Dillard is likely to be one of those guys they throw in there during spring training, just to see if he can stick in a major league rotation.  He spent less time on the big league roster in 2009 than he did in ’08, and he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in 140+ innings for Nashville (4.51 ERA).  Never say never, but I would be shocked if he were there on opening day.

Chris Narveson – Threw in 21 games in 2009 and managed to pull his ERA under 4.00 with a couple nice spot starts down the stretch, after pitching from the bullpen earlier in the year.  With the rotation in dire straits during the month of September, Narveson was the hot flavor of the week to save the rotation in 2009.  Like Dillard, he is likely to get a look (and deservedly, a longer one) in spring training.  Barring trades and injuries, though, they have to come up with a better option.  Narveson could prove to be a valuable guy to have on call in Nashville when the injury bug crops up for Milwaukee in 2010.

Coming Tuesday – a look at relief pitching…