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.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.

The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.

For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
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The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.

St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.

The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.

Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?

Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.