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August 12, 2009
The Milwaukee Massacre
Placed 3B-R Scott Rolen on the 15-day DL (PCS), retroactive to 8/8; activated OF-L Chris Dickerson from the 15-day DL. [8/11]
Optioned SS-R J.J. Hardy to Nashville (Triple-A); designated UT-R Bill Hall for assignment; recalled SS-R Alcides Escobar from Nashville; purchased the contract of OF-R Jason Bourgeois from Nashville; outrighted RHP Nick Green to Huntsville (Double-A); fired pitching coach Bill Castro, and replaced him with Chris Bosio on an interim basis. [8/12]
I know I just named this article, but to some extent I'm not sure what the big deal is, as much as it's a slow news day and everyone's just caught their breaths since the Rios Disgorgement, and after so much mulling of how neat it would be if the Brewers would just play ball and deal Escobar (or Hardy) to get that starting pitcher they so obviously need, and thereby contribute to the repopulation of the shortstop position equitably across the entire major leagues.
Doug Melvin obviously had other ideas, and I can't say as I blame him. Beyond a couple of trajectory-altering injuries early on, Hardy's career has had its ups as well as downs in terms of performance. At one point he was perceived as a second-half player, but now we're in August and I don't think anyone considers playing in a Latin winter league the second half of anything. While chucking him or Escobar to make a play for the playoffs might have made sense in the abstract, the more practical reality is that we're talking about a rotation stocked with LAIM*-oes. Swapping one of the shortstops would have, at best, gotten this team one quality starting pitcher, and it has become obvious it needs at least two. Having shackled themselves to hurlers who have, in the past, dared to be mediocre, the Brewers' range of possibilities similarly had to get dialed back to mediocrity. They're a .500-ish ballclub that should feel lucky to be even that good, given a third-order winning percentage of .440 in our Adjusted Standings Report. If Melvin decided to be practical and see his team as a sub-contender, rock on for his sense of realism.
So he kept the two shortstops, and if they initially banked on having Hardy get turned around, they also had options-literally-that allowed them to change gears once they'd achieved genuine disgust with their starter. If there's one thing that's really just flat-out strange about Hardy's season, it's this one split: in night games, he's hitting like J.J. Hardy (.271/.347/.450 and .288 BABIP in 294 PA), and in day games, he's having a hard time outhitting Ray Oyler (.133/.189/.177 and .167 BABIP in 123 PA). That's a recent development and not a career-long problem, and any suggestions about what might be involved coming from me-vision changes? lifestyle isues? vampirism?-would be the waggiest of WAGs.** Strangely, his day/night line-drive splits are nowhere as extreme, and are instead both bad (8.1 percent of all day-time PA, 9.5 percent of all night-time PA).
And so they turn to Escobar while keeping Hardy, and fie on all those clubs with established cases of shortstop envy. Although he arrives having hit .298/.353/.409 with the Sounds, the bass line involved strikes less-happy notes: it's all batting average, as he's drawing unintentional walks little more than six percent of the time in almost 500 plate appearances. That's not the end of the world, but Escobar's power also hasn't come along much either. To be fair, he's in his age-22 season in Triple-A, and power isn't the core of his game-brilliant defense, contact, and speed on the bases are. He's delivering on all of those scores, and he's managed to swipe 42 bags in 52 attempts. He's also gotten plenty of bunting practice (19 sac bunts). He may well be the keeper between the two, but nothing like a two-month audition to strengthen your convictions one way or another, and no reason to rush a deal involving either Escobar or Hardy when you stand to have more suitors at the Winter Meetings and more time to work out something substantial than you will right now.
Cutting bait with Hall makes all sorts of sense, and again speaks to the belatedly developed pragmatism. Perhaps throwing away the body attached to a sunk cost of $10 million or so doesn't add up to much in a world where $70 million in contract gets snapped up for virtual Scooby snacks, but at least the Brewers get the roster spot on their 40-man back. If somebody with higher ambitions-say, the Red Sox, for example-decides to make a play for Hall to cover their own still-desperate shortstop situation, maybe the Brewers even manage to lose a little less than the $8.9 million they otherwise lose from their 2010 payroll. (I'm including the $500,000 buyout of his $9.25 million club option for 2011, because like Melvin, I think it's worth being realistic about some things.) To be fair to Hall, the man was always willing to go to whatever position he was ordered to, but his best uses and his best seasons were as a multi-positional utility infielder, and not as an everyday anything anywhere.
As for Bourgeois, there's not a lot to say. I could try and slap together some sort of gag like, "he decorates his apartment with the work of Louis-Léopold Boilly! (snort snort)," but I'm rather bourgeois myself, and might too closely resemble the punchline. So it's best to stick with his utility on the roster, which is limited at best. A former second baseman whose attempts at becoming a utility infielder sort of petered out, he's a speed guy who contributes through getting balls in play to drop for him, but who has nothing else to offer on offense. He's better on the bases than Hernan Iribarren, but can't really play anywhere that you wouldn't rather have Iribarren playing in his place, and Macha rarely sees fit to play Iribarren. Since Mike Rivera and Jody Gerut seem to have been reduced to rostered witnesses of the season's action, I wouldn't hold out much of an expectation that Bourgeois would play. If he did, say by picking up Hall's half of the execrable platoon in right field with Frank Catalanotto, he can be a step up from Hall without threatening the platoon's execrability.
It's easy to feel sympathy for Castro, but I can't say if he's being scapegoated, or being fired for cause less than a five months into his first season on the job. As pitching coaches go, Mike Maddux is always going to be a tough act to follow, but if you consider who the Brewers are employing, is it really on Castro that he didn't get to work with CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets, but instead drew Braden Looper? Maddux didn't "fix" Jeff Suppan; the veteran's been lousy on everybody's watch since he signed up with the Brew Crew. Before he got hurt, Dave Bush blew up, and we mean that in the bad way, which I guess means he got bombed (again, in the bad way) instead of being one. Perhaps the strongest negative is the way in which Manny Parra seems to have re-lost ground since coming back from his punitive assignment to the minors. In the pen, guys like Mitch Stetter had broken through, and journeymen Todd Coffey and Mark DiFelice were contributing, so it isn't like some good things weren't happening on his watch. On the other hand, Castro was a long-term organizational legacy, as opposed to Ken Macha's personal choice.
We'll have to see if it's telling or not that his replacement, Bosio, is yet another former Brewer in an organization that, especially under the Seligs, basically littered its offices with anybody who had an association with the Brewers from the late '70s and early '80s. It would be hard to draw any broad conclusions about Bosio's previous stint as the pitching coach with the (then) Devil Rays of 2003. Geremi Gonzalez either made his comeback or had his first and last good season coming back from a long litany of injuries that derailed his Cubs career. Victor Zambrano had his best year, which helped make him the commodity that put Scott Kazmir in a Rays uni. Rob Bell didn't get his career on track, but then again, nobody ever did get him anywhere close. Can you hold anyone responsible for not having success working with Dewon Brazelton? I don't really think so.
The more interesting dilemma is whether or not this suggests a creeping case of Steinbrennerian bloodlust among the Brewers brass. After all, an equally abrupt late-season bit of hatchet work with Ned Yost can be blamed for the Brewers' subsequent arrival in the postseason. "Pour encourager les autres," indeed. If the Brewers were once a sedate, familial-no, downright seigneurial team, they seem to be making that rapid shift to the sort of organization where bullets in the neck get spread around as liberally as Christmas bonuses.
*: League-Average Inning Munchers, which is in this case is more than a little generous to this team's rotation.
Activated 2B-S Anderson Hernandez; designated MI-R Angel Berroa for assignment. [8/7]
Placed LHP Donald Veal on the 15-day DL (sprained finger), retroactive to 8/4; optioned RHP Steven Jackson to Indianapolis (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Chris Bootcheck from Indianapolis; recalled RHP Jose Ascanio from Indianapolis. [8/7]
Placed RHP Evan Meek on the 15-day DL (strained oblique); recalled RHP Steven Jackson from Indianapolis; claimed RHP Jon Meloan off of waivers from the Rays, and optioned him to Indianapolis; transferred RHP Tyler Yates from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [8/12]