Matthew Pouliot

Ron Roenicke

Brewers revert to thrifty form

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The Brewers’ offseason opened with speculation about a push for Josh Hamilton. 3 1/2 months later, their biggest pickup has been Tom Gorzelanny.

Mark Attanasio’s Brewers won 96 games and went to the NLCS in 2011, and while the team lost Prince Fielder afterwards, it was able to bring in Aramis Ramirez as a replacement. Still, despite Ramirez’s best efforts, the team dropped to 83 wins and a third-place finish in the NL Central last year. The bullpen was the biggest problem, and when the Brewers couldn’t extend Zack Greinke, they traded him away to the Angels, sacrificing their second star in 12 months.

The curious thing is that while the Brewers were open to giving Greinke a $100 million deal, they’ve made no effort to distribute that money this winter. Gone also are the salaries No. 3 starter Shaun Marcum, No. 4 starter Randy Wolf and overpaid reliever Francisco Rodriguez. Those were four of the Brewers’ six highest-paid players last year, accounting for more than $38 million of a season-opening $98 million payroll.

Lesser lights Myjer Morgan, Manny Parra, Kameron Loe and Jose Veras have also been lopped off. That’s another $7.7 million.

The replacements: Gorzelanny at $5.7 million for two years, fellow reliever Mike Gonzalez at $2.25 million and infielder Alex Gonzalez at $1.5 million. The only other newcomer due a significant salary is reliever Burke Badenhop (acquired from the Rays) at $1.55 million. All told, they’ll combine to make about as much this year as K-Rod did last year.

As is, the Brewers are looking at a payroll about $25 million-$30 million shy of their 2012 figure. And they certainly have needs. Marco Estrada rates as their No. 2 starter behind Yovani Gallardo. A legitimate eighth-inning guy would be nice. The lineup was pretty well set before Corey Hart’s recent knee surgery, but a quality outfield option would be useful in case either Norichika Aoki or Carlos Gomez can’t repeat his 2012 performance.

Alas, most of the quality players are long gone now. But Milwaukee would still seem to be an obvious fit for Kyle Lohse if the team wasn’t so intent on retaining its first-round pick. Instead, it seems the Brewers will do little and hope for the best. The bullpen can’t be any worse and some young pitching might step up, but the odds are against the offense being as strong again and this is a team that’s going to need a lot of luck to get back to the postseason.

Pierre, Polanco, Stanton expected to top Marlins order

Giancarlo Stanton
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That’s the way new Marlins manager Mike Redmond is looking to kick off his lineup; Juan Pierre, Placido Polanco and Giancarlo Stanton are likely to occupy the top three spots.

Sadly, Pierre and Polanco seemed like givens to bat first and second from the moment they were plucked from the bargain bin this winter. The alternatives there the middle infield duo of Donovan Solano and Adeiny Hechavarria.

On the other hand, Stanton batting third is a bit of a surprise and quite seemingly a mistake, particularly given the lack of proven hitters behind him. Justin Ruggiano and Logan Morrison will be the  fourth and fifth hitters in some order.

Let’s face it, most of the Marlins innings that begin with the leadoff man are going to unfold in a couple of ways:

– Pierre and Polanco both make outs, putting Stanton up with none on and two out.

– Pierre singles, attempts to steal second or gets moved up by Polanco. Stanton comes up with a man on second and one out and immediately gets pitched around or intentionally walked to set up the double play.

My thought is that it makes a lot more sense to hit Stanton fourth. For one thing, if he’s going to come up with no one on, it’s much better that he does it at the start of the inning, giving him a chance to start a rally, than with two outs. And hitting him fourth should open up more situations in which he’s up with multiple men on, making the intentional walk less likely.

Cleanup hitters simply get more RBI chances than No. 3 hitters, even without accounting for the fact that they get fewer at-bats. Last year, NL No. 4 hitters drove in 1,658 runs while hitting .272/.343/.470. No. 3 hitters, despite hitting slightly better at .283/.356/.469, drove in 1,509 runs.

Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things. The Marlins would have to figure out how to hit Stanton second, third and fourth to have much of a chance of avoiding the NL East basement this year.

Giving Aaron Hill $35 million another misstep for Diamondbacks

Aaron Hill
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Arizona GM Kevin Towers has mastered the art of buying high and selling low this winter.

In giving Aaron Hill a three-year, $35 million extension on Friday, Towers made another high-risk, low-upside move.  Second basemen have a history of cratering earlier than most, and Hill is going to be 32-34 during the years his extension covers.

Of course, Hill was terrific last season, one of the NL’s 10 best players. However, he has a terribly inconsistent history on offense (Hill has a career OPS of .759, yet he hasn’t actually posted an OPS in the 700s since 2007), and his glovework has gone from outstanding in his mid-20s to above average now. He’ll almost certainly be a below average defender by the time his new deal ends in 2016.

The big problem here is that Hill is going to play this year at 31. His new deal doesn’t kick in until 2014. Contracts of this type for second basemen in their 30s are practically unheard of and for good reason.

According to Baseball-reference, Hill has accrued 21.4 WAR through age 30. Here’s a list of every other second baseman since 1900 to amass between 18 and 25 WAR through age 30 and what they did from ages 32-34, the years Hill’s extension covers.

Jimmy Williams – .195/.257/.235 in 374 AB – (0.7) WAR
Del Pratt – .313/.370/.437 in 1,702 AB – 10.2 WAR
Max Bishop – .271/.433/.368 in 1,053 AB – 8.5 WAR
Red Schoendienst – .293/.345/.403 in 1,688 AB – 9.7 WAR
Bobby Avila – .247/.334/.343 in 1,351 AB – 3.0 WAR
Ron Hunt – .285/.395/.320 in 827 AB – 3.7 WAR
Davey Johnson – .325/.411/.554 in 157 AB – 1.8 WAR
Dave Cash – .227/.287/.280 in 397 AB – (0.7) WAR
Steve Sax – .237/.287/.315 in 710 AB – (0.6) WAR
Bill Doran – .272/.372/.387 in 1,151 AB – 4.9 WAR
Robby Thompson – .217/.307/.340 in 692 AB – 1.7 WAR
Delino DeShields – .221/.329/.340 in 497 AB – 0.2 WAR
Ray Durham – .289/.360/.484 in 1,466 AB – 7.1 WAR
Luis Castillo – .270/.366/.315 in 1,031 AB – 0.9 WAR
Brian Roberts – .244/.308/.340 in 459 AB – 0.1 WAR
Orlando Hudson – .246/.318/.352 in 1,155 AB – 3.1 WAR

The old-timers don’t look so bad. Pratt, who played from 1912-24, sustained no drop-off due to age, and Schoendienst, a late-bloomer as a hitter, ended up in the Hall of Fame. However, of the 11 players here to play in the last 50 years (everyone after Hunt), only Durham maintained his previous level of production at ages 32-34. Most of the rest weren’t useful at all. That’s the tendency with second basemen: once they stop being quality regulars, their lack of versatility prevents them from contributing even as part-timers.

Taken altogether, the average player here produced 3.3 WAR from ages 32-34. The Diamondbacks  are expecting much more than that from Hill after guaranteeing him $11.67 million per year. History suggests they’ll almost surely end up disappointed.

Mariners wager their future on Felix Hernandez’s right arm

Felix Hernandez
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If you had to bet big on a pitcher for the next seven years, Felix Hernandez seems as good a choice as any. He hasn’t been in Justin Verlander’s league these last two years, but he also hasn’t been extended to 270 innings per year like Verlander has. And while I think I’d choose Clayton Kershaw over anyone, I do feel a little bit safer trusting someone with Hernandez’s thick build over the slighter left-hander. I think Kershaw is the better bet to contend for Cy Young awards deep into the decade, but Hernandez is the  more likely of the two to still be throwing 220-230 excellent innings per season.

Still, it’s all just a guess. Pitching is inherently risky. Unlikely candidates have survived the rigors and won 200 games, and some who look like they’ll last forever are gone in an instant.

Since the expansion era started in 1961, Hernandez, with 32 WAR, is one of a dozen pitchers to have racked up at least 28 WAR through age 26 (using the Baseball-Reference version). Here are the other 11, their WARs through age 26 and their totals from age 27 onward.

Bert Blyleven – 47 WAR – 165-137, 3.71 ERA, 109 ERA+, 44 WAR
Tom Seaver – 35 WAR – 216-151, 3.07 ERA, 121 ERA+, 66 WAR
Dwight Gooden – 35 WAR – 62-59, 4.45 ERA, 99 ERA+, 11 WAR
Roger Clemens – 34 WAR – 259-139, 3.15 ERA, 144 ERA+, 99 WAR
Bret Saberhagen – 34 WAR – 70-47, 3.49 ERA, 124 ERA+. 22 WAR
Frank Tanana – 33 WAR – 138-158, 4.03 ERA, 100 ERA+, 20 WAR
Dave Stieb – 32 WAR – 95-70, 3.57 ERA, 116 ERA+. 22 WAR
Fernando Valenzuela – 30 WAR – 60-71, 4.29 ERA, 90 ERA+, 4 WAR
Pedro Martinez – 29 WAR – 135-54, 2.89 ERA, 160 ERA+, 53 WAR
Dennis Eckersley – 29 WAR – 99-99, 3.59 ERA, 114 ERA+, 30 WAR
Kevin Appier – 29 WAR – 109-93, 4.16 ERA, 112 ERA+, 23 WAR

Of the 11 best young starters in the last 50 years, just three accomplished more from age 27 onward than they did through age 26. There are three Hall of Famers on the list in Blyleven, Seaver and Eckersley and two more guys with Hall of Fame numbers in Clemens and Martinez. None of the other six came anywhere close to getting elected.

My feeling is that the Mariners should have waited on a Hernandez extension. He was under control for two more years at a total of $39.5 million. In essence, today’s seven-year, $175 million contract is really a five-year, $135.5 million extension. In guaranteeing Hernandez $27.1 million per year for those five years, the Mariners are giving him 10 percent more than any pitcher has ever gotten in a long-term contract. CC Sabathia’s Yankees renegotiated deal, Cole Hamels’ Phillies extension and Zack Greinke’s free agent deal with the Dodgers were all for $24.4 million-$24.5 million per year. The Mariners weren’t getting any kind of discount here and thus should have revisited extension talks next winter.

On the other hand, it’s not really all that outrageous of a contract. Had Hernandez been a free agent this winter, he surely would have gotten $200 million on the open market. There’s also something to be said for a move like this reassuring the fanbase. The semi-annual “should Felix go” columns are out the window now, and eager Yankees and Red Sox fans will have to turn their attention elsewhere in search of prey. Salaries are likely to keep going up, so if Felix stays healthy, there’s a good chance he’ll be worth the money. The Mariners’ future through 2019 now hinges on it.

Tigers, Max Scherzer agree at $6.725 million

Max Scherzer
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The Tigers settled at the midpoint with arbitration-eligible right-hander Max Scherzer on Monday, agreeing to a one-year, $6.725 million contract.

Scherzer asked for $7.4 million in arbitration, while the Tigers proposed a $6.05 million salary. He had been Detroit’s only remaining arbitration case.

The 28-year-old Scherzer busted out in the second half of last season, going 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA to finish 16-7 with a 3.74 ERA and 231 strikeouts in 187 2/3 innings. Only Justin Verlander struck out more batters in the AL, and no qualified starter in either league had a higher strikeout rate (Stephen Strasburg would have, but he just missed the 162-IP mark). He also went 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three postseason starts, fanning at least eight batters each outing.

Scherzer will be eligible for arbitration one more time next winter before hitting free agency following the 2014 campaign.