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.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.