Enemy Off-Season Update: The Brewers

Milwaukee's signing of outfielder Mike Cameron, made official on Monday, was just the latest maneuver in what has been a busy off-season for GM Doug Melvin.

The Brewers bid adieu (lot of French people up there in Milwaukee) to the following key players from the '07 club:

  • Relievers Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink, who left for big free-agent money in Cincinnati and on Chicago's South Side, respectively. (Melvin made Cordero a competitive offer but has acknowledged he may have bungled the negotiations.)
  • Longtime Brewer Geoff Jenkins, whose $9MM club option was declined. Jenkins signed with the Phillies.

Here's who the Brewers have added:

  • Cameron, who signed a one-year, $7MM deal (including incentives), though he will have to sit out the first 25 games of 2008 owing to his violation of MLB drug rules.
  • Reliever and funny goggles wearer Eric Gagne, who agreed to a one-year, $10MM deal.
  • Former Cub catcher Jason Kendall, who signed a one-year, $4.25MM deal with a vesting option for 2009.
  • Reliever Guillermo Mota, who came over from the Mets in exchange for Estrada.
  • Reliever David Riske, who left Kansas City for a 3-year/$13MM deal plus a club option for 2011.
  • Reliever Salomon Torres, acquired from Pirates in trade for two minor league pitchers.

Aside from just replacing the guys who left, what problems was Melvin trying to address? Here are the areas in which the GM and his manager, Ned Yost, thought the team needed to get better:

  • Defense. The Brewers finished 12th in the NL with a .982 fielding percentage. Slugging third baseman Ryan Braun, a one-man blooper reel in the field, made nearly one-fourth of the team's 109 errors all by himself.
  • Run-scoring/getting on base. Led by Prince Fielder, the youngest player ever to hit 50 home runs, the Brewers bashed a team-record and MLB-high 231 HR, but finished 11th in the NL in runs scored. (Lots of homers, but relatively few runs scored--where have we heard that before?) Yost pointed to the team's low walk rate as a problem.
  • Getting more innings from the starting pitchers. The Brewers lost 16 games last season in which they led by three or more runs, most in the Major Leagues, but Melvin said his starting staff, not the relief corps, was the team's biggest disappointment. He pointed out that Brewer relievers were pivotal in the team's 24-10 start, then weakened when Milwaukee starters consistently failed to pitch deep into games.

So how did they do in addressing the problem areas?

Regarding the defense, I see the Cameron signing as a big positive. It will enable the Brewers to move Bill Hall back to the infield, where he'll replace Braun at third. Hall was never a brilliant infielder, but even if he's a bad third baseman, he'll be a defensive improvement over Braun.

Young Braun, meanwhile, will replace Jenkins in left. Learning a new position may stifle his offense, but considering what a great hitter he is and what a terrible third baseman he was, it seems like a worthwhile gamble. For that matter, Hall had a terrible year at the plate in '07 while learning his way around center field; the move back to the infield might just help him rediscover his bat, which could help make up for any fall-off from Braun.

Behind the plate, the Brewers sacked Estrada, who was dismal at gunning down potential base-stealers (11 of 84, 13%), and are replacing him with our old friend Kendall, who was really dismal (5 of 57, 9%). Though Kendall is reputedly a great handler of pitchers, it would be hard to say there is a defensive upgrade here.

As for the need to get more men on base and increase run-scoring, I think the departed Jenkins has been an underrated offensive player throughout his career, and Cameron is coming off a year of .242/.328/.431. That was in hitter-unfriendly San Diego, however, and even in that cavernous park, Cameron connected for 43 home runs in the last two seasons.

Turning back to the catchers, Kendall has been an OBP guy his entire career; his predecessor, Estrada, walked 12 times in 442 PA last season and finished with an OBP of just .296. But Estrada also connected for 10 HR, which is about 20 seasons in Jason Kendall years. Again, hard to say that Kendall will represent a step up.

Where the Brewers may get the biggest offensive lift is from a rebounding Hall, who was not even a shell of the hitting force in '07 that he was in '06 or '05 (OPS+ of 89 vs. 125 in 2006 and 116 in 2005) , and also, Ryan Braun, who amassed 34 HR and 97 RBI even though he didn't even put on a Milwaukee uniform until nearly the end of May.

Focusing specifically on Yost's concern, the team's low walk rate, Kendall should help a little, but the Brewers' greatest hope may simply be in the maturation of their many young hitters and their greater mastery of the strike zone.

Lastly, the pitching issues.

The key to the Brewers getting more innings from the starters would seem to be getting an injury-free year from Mark Prior oops I mean Kerry Wood Ben Sheets. It would also help if Chris Capuano, who won 29 games and logged 440 innings between 2005 and 2006, straightened himself out and joined Sheets and some of the impressive young Brewer arms in the starting rotation.

The bullpen changes are obviously significant. Gagne is now four years and several surgical procedures removed from being one of the game's great closers. His back issues have reportedly been resolved to the point where he is back on a regular running regimen and as a result, has lost a lot of weight...which means he'll look better in front of a mirror, but doesn't necessarily mean he'll replace Cordero's 44 saves.

As for the other bullpen additions:

Mota was suspended for steroid use for the first 50 games of '07; thereafter he went 2-2, 5.76, with 47 K and 18 BB in 59 1/3 innings. He has put a lot of miles on his 34-year-old right arm, and though as recently as 2006, Mota was pretty effective, helping the Mets lock up the NL East title in 18 appearances down the stretch, he hasn't had a good full season since '04. And how does one not wonder which parts of Mota's effectiveness were chemically aided?

Riske picked the right time, his "walk year" with the Royals, to have a nice season. His career numbers are actually quite close to those of Linebrink, who has been regarded as one of the better non-closer relief pitchers in baseball.

As for the almost 35-year-old Torres, who considered retirement following the trade to Milwaukee, his walk and strikeout rates remain good. He even contributed 12 saves out of the Pittsburgh bullpen last season, and as long as Yost doesn't call on him more than 50 times or so, he should help.

Bottom line on the new guys in the Brewer pen: Mota is shaky, Torres is okay, and Riske is maybe okay+. But if the marquee guy, Gagne, can't deliver, Melvin and Yost are going to be scrambling. (Derrick Turnbow's control problems hardly cast him as a good fallback.)

All in all, as a Cubs fan, I find this to be a scary team. Great young talent up and down the roster, including plenty of promising arms. I would rate the Brewers' moves this off-season as mixed, tending toward the positive because of the addition of Cameron and the resulting shifts of Hall and Braun. They'll be a more than worthy opponent for the Cubs and rest of the NL Central in '08...which should make it all the more fun to break their hearts all over again.

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  • Manny Rondon faced 13 batters ... and got 10 to K. Not a bad day's work.

    Eric S 8 hours 31 sec ago view
  • With several other Cubs hitters bailing out on curves today I think overall it wasn't being seen well. It for sure looked silly but a good breaking pitch coming at you and then breaking down isn't the easiest thing to see and has made many hitters look silly. Also Soler should have more walks this year but for quite a few called strikes that were actual balls and even the called strike he bailed on was borderline.

    johann 10 hours 58 min ago view
  • it's not like we're talking about a guy who's never had issues with pitch selection and seeing the ball over here. we're talking about a guy who has some rather legendary swing-and-misses at breaking stuff who's been exploited low. going forward it's worth paying attention to seeing if he can be exploited inside, too. he seriously bailed out of the box on a called strike. sure it was a good curve, but he obviously didn't see that well at all.

    crunch 11 hours 10 min ago view
  • It would seem like he is figuring it out now and it's really coming together. Really happy for him. Joe was really protecting him from the 3rd time through the order, but as you allude to, he is earning trust to go deeper.

    Wondering if has potential to become a #3 pitcher? His current stats certainly support it.

    The E-Man 11 hours 19 min ago view
  • That doesn't count b/c CRUNCH didn't see it on his 60" HDTV 5 times in replay.

    I have seen many players "bail out" when the ball looked like it was gonna hit them.

    Especially with the advent of the splitter and pitchers that can really get the ball to dance. Marmol, Sutter, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe, Smoltz, Arrietta...

    These guys have made the best bail out only for the ball to come over the plate and be called a strike.

    No shame in that. The same way players whiff hard enough to cause them to drill a hole in the ground from spinning.

    The E-Man 11 hours 24 min ago view
  • a 60" TV with slow-motion replay and multiple looks on that replay helps...a lot...

    it's one thing to shy away like he did the 2nd time, it's another to bail out of the box on a called strike. that happened in the 1st one he pulled away from. he misjudged that one by a foot or so...

    crunch 11 hours 43 min ago view
  • Good Hendricks sure is fun to watch. He was hitting all his corners today and the Phillies couldn't do anything with his changeup.

    johann 12 hours 19 min ago view
  • Bryant and I believe Zobrist both did that too.

    johann 12 hours 37 min ago view
  • Soler BB acumen and plate awareness is excellent. Not unusual for even the best players to react as if they were about to hit them, "even though they weren't that close" from your vantage point sitting on your deck, or wherever.

    The E-Man 12 hours 38 min ago view
  • soler vs inside breaking balls is scary.

    he's had 2 inside curve balls today where he reacted as if they were about to hit him even though they weren't that close...one he bailed out of the box on, it was a called strike.

    crunch 12 hours 56 min ago view
  • j.urias optioned back to AAA...guess we wont be seeing him in the LAD series.

    crunch 13 hours 4 min ago view
  • so is him actually getting 2 hits in a game (2 doubles!)...first time he's even been on base 2 times in a game since 9 games ago on his 3/4, 1bb day.

    im ready for him to at least look like a 2-slot hitter since he's gonna be slotted there no matter what he does.

    crunch 13 hours 59 min ago view
  • That Heyward move to avoid Bryant's ball hit at him was a thing of beauty too.

    johann 14 hours 17 min ago view
  • 9 pitches in and this game already rules.

    HR, double...bryant's turn (who came out to a Kris Kross song for some horrible, horrible reason).

    ...2 run inning...zoobrest hitting streak at 14.

    crunch 14 hours 22 min ago view
  • First time I saw Herrera was yesterday. He took like 100 pitches, fouled off a ton off Lester.

    Very nice young player and perfect leadoff guy.

    The E-Man 15 hours 31 min ago view
  • Obviously not Phil. But he mentioned this on Wednesday.

    "Dominican Summer League (DSL) Opening Day is Saturday June 4th, so probably about 8-10 pitchers and position players presently at EXST in Mesa will be sent to the Cubs Dominican Academy (probably sometime this week) and be assigned to either DSL Cubs #1 or DSL Cubs #2."

    In the comments here: http://www.thecubreporter.com/05242016/cub-power-d...

    QuietMan 16 hours 10 min ago view