Slumping Brewers make sweeping changes

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Last night’s loss left the Brewers at 13-22 since July 1, dropping them two games below .500 and 6.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. This afternoon general manager Doug Melvin made sweeping changes to both the roster and coaching staff, demoting starting shortstop J.J. Hardy to Triple-A while calling up prospect Alcides Escobar to replace him, designating longtime regular Bill Hall for assignment, and firing pitching coach Bill Castro.
Hardy was an All-Star in 2007 and was even better last season while hitting .283/.343/.478 with 24 homers, but fell to .229/.300/.367 in 102 games this year and has hit just .218/.281/.338 over his last 250 plate appearances dating back to late May. Despite his struggles Hardy is still just 27 years old and there are plenty of teams that would love to take a chance on him with some arbitration eligibility remaining before he becomes a free agent.
Escobar was always expected to replace Hardy at shortstop and the slick-fielding 22-year-old hit .298/.353/.409 with 42 steals in 109 games at Triple-A to convince the Brewers that his bat is somewhat ready, but this isn’t quite how the switch was supposed to work. Much like 20-year-old Elvis Andrus in Texas, Escobar figures to be an impact defender immediately and has a ton of speed, but doesn’t project as much of a hitter right now and may only develop into adequate with the bat long term.
Hardy still has plenty of trade value, but Hall is a much different story. He signed a four-year, $24 million extension after hitting .270/.345/.553 with 35 homers in 2006, but dropped to .254/.315/.425 the next year and has produced a measly .217/.283/.377 line over the past two seasons while being relegated to a part-time role. Hall has certainly earned his walking papers, but the Brewers still owe him $8.4 million next season and will have to spend another $500,000 buying out his $9.25 million option for 2011.
Castro spent nearly two decades as the Brewers’ bullpen coach before getting a promotion this offseason, but the staff ranks second-worst in the NL with a 4.84 ERA and has served up the most homers in baseball. “A move like this is never easy to make, especially given Bill’s longevity with the organization and considering how hard he worked to reach this position,” said Melvin, who named Triple-A pitching coach and former big-league starter Chris Bosio to replace him on an interim basis.
While today’s shakeup likely comes too late for the Brewers’ dwindling playoff hopes, turning the page on Hall and perhaps Hardy while letting Escobar get his feet wet makes plenty of sense. If nothing else Melvin continues to show that he’s willing to make extremely bold moves whether that means dealing for CC Sabathia and firing Ned Yost with a dozen games remaining last season or cutting some expensive dead weight while turning shortstop over to a 22-year-old now.

Drew Smyly brings youth and experience to Mariners rotation

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PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Trades don’t surprise Drew Smyly anymore.

At age 27, the Seattle Mariners left-hander has been dealt twice. The first swap sent him from the team that drafted and developed Smyly, the Detroit Tigers, to the Tampa Bay Rays in midseason 2014. That trade landed star pitcher David Price in Detroit.

“I was surprised by that one,” Smyly said.

The most recent trade involving him came in January, when the Rays shipped Smyly to Seattle for three prospects in one of many moves by Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. Smyly immediately joined the Mariners’ projected starting rotation, and is having fun getting to know his new teammates at spring training by way of manager Scott Servais’ clubhouse icebreakers.

Servais thinks Smyly is a solid fit as a still young yet experienced pitcher.

“One, being where he’s at in his career age-wise and service time, he’s kind of at the point where, put him in the right environment … very good defensive outfield, he’s a fly ball guy, maybe he does step up and take the next step,” Servais said. “Getting out of the American League East certainly should help him, but there’s no guarantees. Our division’s pretty tough.”

Servais suggested that another Arkansas native, ex-big leaguer Cliff Lee, might have helped sell Seattle on Smyly. Lee is a former Mariner and the two share an agent.

Smyly went 7-12 in a career-high 30 starts last season in Tampa, but won five games from July 30 to the end of the season after starting out 2-11. From May 21 to July 18, he lost seven straight starts.

“Pitching’s tough, you know,” Smyly said. “To manipulate the ball, to make it do different things, to put it in the strike zone with hitters that know what they’re doing. … I just had a rough stretch but I show up at the field every day, play catch and work on my craft and you know, that’s going to turn around one day.”

The 32 home runs Smyly surrendered in 2016 figure to be reduced in Seattle’s pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.

“It can only help,” he said. “But it’s still going to be up to me to execute pitches and pitch well.”

Smyly is set to join the U.S. World Baseball Classic team shortly. Before that, he’ll make his first spring training start in the middle of next week.

“It’s an honor to be able to put your country on your chest and play with some of the guys on that team,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it big time.”

NOTES: Servais plans to roll out what figures to be Seattle’s opening day lineup in the spring training opener Saturday against San Diego. It’s OF Jarrod Dyson, SS Jean Segura, 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz, 3B Kyle Seager, OF Mitch Haniger, 1B Dan Vogelbach, C Mike Zunino and OF Leonys Martin. … Servais said Cano and Cruz will play a little more than is typical for early spring games, as the two will depart for the World Baseball Classic in early March. … LHP Ariel Miranda will start Saturday, then RHP Chris Heston Sunday, RHP Yovani Gallardo on Monday and ace Felix Hernandez on Tuesday.

Mitt Romney’s sons are trying to buy a stake in the Yankees

TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 30:  Tagg Romney son of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gives an interview during the final day of the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 30, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate during the RNC which will conclude today.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Mitt Romney built his professional life in Massachusetts and was once the governor of the state. As such, it is not surprising that he has long identified as a Red Sox fan. So this has to be troubling to him from a fan’s perspective. From Jon Heyman:

The Romney family is bidding to buy a small stake in the Yankees months after their try for the Marlins stalled. If the deal goes through, it is expected to be $25 million to $30 million per percentage point and thought to be interested in one or two percentage points. The Yankees are valued around $3 billion or more.

The effort is being led by Mitt’s son Tagg, one of his brothers and their business partners. Mitt’s spokesman tells Jon Heyman that he has nothing to do with it personally. Tagg Romney is reported to have been planning a bid for controlling interest in the Marlins, but that has fallen through.

I find this interesting insofar as the M.O. for the Steinbrenners has, for years, been to buy out minority shareholders in the Yankees, not seek more. Indeed, when George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees back in 1973 he held just a bare controlling interest and there were a ton of silent partners, most of which were back in Ohio and knew Steinbrenner from his shipping business. I’ve personally gotten to know some of them over the years as there are a handful of them in Columbus and I crossed paths with them in my legal career. They have almost all been bought out in the past couple of decades. They still get season tickets and World Series rings and stuff. You can tell them by their personalized Yankees plates and the fact that, within the first ten minutes of meeting them, they will tell you that they once owned a piece of the Yankees but got pushed out.

In light of all of that it’s interesting that the Steinbrenners are once again accepting bids for small stakes in the team. Especially from someone whose interest in controlling the Marlins suggests that they do not consider it to be a mere vanity investment. Makes me wonder what the Steinbrenners’ long term plans are.