October 2009

Former Brewers in the postseason

loretta.jpgI missed the end of the Cardinals-Dodgers game yesterday so the morning
highlights were my first chance to see a pair of former Brewers come up
big for L.A. Ronnie Belliard tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning with a hard single up the middle before Mark Loretta
won it with bloop. It reminded me of July 25, 2001, when Loretta’s
single snapped the Brewers’ 11-game losing streak with a 4-3 win over,
you guessed it, the Dodgers.

It also made me wonder how many former Brewers are out there on the
eight Division Series rosters. I found only five, including four
members of that woeful 2002 team that lost 106 games. I think it’s safe
to say that the quartet is having more fun today:

Dodgers
IF Ronnie Belliard (Brewers’ 8th round pick in ’04, played in Milwaukee 1998-2002)
IF Mark Loretta (7th round ’93, played 1995-2002)

Cardinals
None

Rockies
None (a groin injury kept Jorge De La Rosa off the NLDS roster)

Phillies
C Paul Bako (played in Milwaukee in 2002)
OF Matt Stairs (played in Milwaukee in 2002)

Angels
None

Red Sox
None (though skipper Terry Francona ended his playing career with the Brewers from 1989-90.)

Twins
None

Yankees
LHP CC Sabathia (you might remember him from ’08)

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Melvin: Trading Fielder, Braun would be 'tough one'

Detail05 copy.jpgBrewers general manager Doug Melvin said he may need to sacrifice some of the team’s offense this winter to improve the pitching staff, so he was asked the obvious follow-up. Is he willing to trade Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder

“Wow. That would be a tough one,” Melvin said. “I didn’t mean it that way. I don’t see that happening.” 

The comment came Wednesday during Melvin’s annual year-end meeting with local reporters at Miller Park. Both Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash said what they have been saying for weeks, that in order to improve a team that finished 80-82 they will have to bolster a pitching staff that finished next-to-last in the National League with a 4.87 ERA, including dead last with a 5.37 starters’ ERA. Melvin said he wants to add at least two established starters.

Thumbnail image for fantasy_a_braun_fielder_300.jpgThe team’s most valuable pieces at the moment are Braun and Fielder, who combined in 2009 for more RBIs (255) than any duo in the Majors this season. Braun hit 32 home runs, joining Albert Pujols as the only players in history to belt at least 30 homers in each of their first three seasons. Fielder finished second in the NL with 46 home runs and tied Howard for the Major League lead with 141 RBIs. 

“But it’s a 25-man — and, really, a 30-35 man — team,” Melvin said. “In fantasy baseball, you can dream about what you could get back for Prince or Ryan Braun. In reality, there’s not too many teams that can give up the package that we would really want that would guarantee you to be competitive.” 

Ash said there have been spirited internal debates on the topic. Is there more value in a bona fide No. 1 starter who makes 30-plus starts and affects perhaps 20 other games by leaving the bullpen fresh? Or in an MVP candidate like Fielder who plays every inning of every game and has the potential to affect all 162? 

“I’m going with the hitter,” Ash said.  

In fact, Brewers officials have had internal discussions about whether Fielder could be locked into a longer-term deal, according to Melvin. He’s entering the second season of two-year contract through 2010 that buys out the first of Fielder’s three arbitration years. He will still be under Brewers control in 2011 but would hit the free agent market following that season. 

Compare that to Braun, whose contract runs through 2015. If the Brewers could convince Fielder and agent Scott Boras to take an extension, it would give the Brewers a larger window in which to put the right pieces around their slugging duo. 

“That’s something we have talked about with Mark [Attanasio, the team's principal owner],” Melvin said. “We don’t have a plan for doing that at this time. You can say it’s in the back of your mind or whatever, but it’s coming more forward as a decision we have to make in two years’ time. …

“Mark, from an ownership standpoint, knows that’s a major decision that’s down the pike. It’s not next week, it’s not next month, but it probably comes up in our conversation every time we get together.”

In the short-term, the Brewers’ focus is on the pitching. Melvin knows that it won’t be easy to find solutions. 

“There’s not any downtime this offseason, but I’m looking forward to it,” Melvin said. “It’s a challenge. I’ve got a lot of energy and I’m ready to improve the ballclub.” 

Melvin03 copy.jpg
Ash01 copy.jpgAll photos courtesy of Scott Paulus/Brewers

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Tidbits: Hoffman, Suppan, Sheets, Hardy

The discussion about whether the Brewers would trade Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder was the most interesting part of general manager Doug Melvin’s year-end wrap-up with the media, but here’s a taste of the other topics discussed:

- The Brewers officially announced their new deal with closer Trevor Hoffman, who re-signed for one year plus a mutual option for 2011. The contract guarantees $8 million and could pay as much as $16.5 million over two years. 

 “By signing Trevor Hoffman, that was a big splash for us,” Melvin said. “If our pitching is going to improve, we have to keep the success we had at the back end of our bullpen. And also, to attract free agent starting pitchers, one of the first questions they always want to know is, ‘Who is the closer?'” 

- Melvin hinted that the focus on pitching could make it difficult for the team to re-sign its key free agents, including center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall. Rickie Weeks is the second baseman, Melvin reiterated, making it likely that free agent Felipe Lopez will also be let go.

Assistant GM Gord Ash conceded that it’s difficult for teams to win with unproven players up the middle but insisted it can be done. He mentioned Lorenzo Cain and Logan Schafer as the team’s top center field prospects and said Jonathan Lucroy was the team’s top catching prospect. Interestingly, Angel Salome’s name was not brought up.

- Jeff Suppan, the Brewers’ 2009 Opening Day starter, is not guaranteed a spot in the 2010 starting rotation despite his $12.5 million salary. It will be the final season of his four-year contract, and he projects as the team’s highest-paid player for the second straight year. 

“I think Jeff is a professional and he knows that he will come into camp and [compete],” Melvin said. “You have to give him some credit for the fact he’s been given the ball a lot of years. He’s very seldom injured. … I don’t think there will be very many guarantees about who will be in the rotation. We probably have to make it more competitive to get better.” 

- Free agent righty Ben Sheets, who missed all of 2009 following elbow surgery, is still on the Brewers’ radar.

“Ben is somebody who would have to be on anybody’s list when it comes to improving your pitching staff,” Ash said. “We’re not up to date with his physical condition right now since he’s no longer in our care, so that would have to be Step 1. But from our point of view, we enjoyed Ben as part of the Brewers and there’s been, ‘once in a while’ conversations with his agent to remind him that we still have that ongoing interest. It hasn’t been followed-up yet.”

- Melvin already interviewed one potential pitching coach on Monday and was to travel with Ash on Thursday to interview another candidate. He wouldn’t say whether he had already spoken with former A’s and Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson, an early favorite for the position because of his past working relationships with Brewers manager Ken Macha and bench coach Willie Randolph

“We don’t want to advertise who we’re looking at,” Melvin said. “The cat’s out of the bag on one guy. I interviewed him on Monday and another team interviewed him the next day.” 

- Ash shed more light on the options that faced third baseman Casey McGehee, who underwent successful surgery on Tuesday. McGehee has a lesion in his knee, Ash said, that causes fragments of bone to break away. He could have had a more intensive procedure to inject healthy cells into the knee to promote re-growth but it was a riskier procedure that could have sidelined McGehee weeks or even months into the 2010 season. 

“He elected, after consulting with a couple of surgeons, to have kind of the intermediary procedure done, and that was to take out all of the fragments and hope that area of his knee remains intact,” Ash said. “We don’t have 100 percent guarantee on that. What we do know about Casey is that he’s an excellent worker and he’s motivated.” 

- Melvin did little to dispute the notion that shortstop J.J. Hardy will be traded this winter to make room for Alcides Escobar. Hardy’s value is down both because of his poor 2009 season (he batted .229 and was optioned to the Minors in August) and because the rest of the league knows that the Brewers are ready to install Escobar. 

“It might be down a little bit,” Melvin said of Hardy’s value. “But there are still clubs that have interest in him. Shortstop is a big hole to fill.”

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Brewers unveil 2010 prices

The Brewers unveiled 2010 ticket prices on Tuesday, freezing individual-game prices for in five seating areas and raising prices $1-$2 in seven other sections. 

Individual game ticket prices will remain at 2009 levels in the club infield, club outfield, field bleachers, loge bleachers and Bernie’s Terrace. Throughout the ballpark, prices range from $8 for seats in Bernie’s Terrace to $50 for the field-level seats closest to home plate.

“A second season of over three million in attendance in 2009 speaks to the tremendous support and passion of Brewers fans,” Rick Schlesinger, Brewers Executive Vice President of Business Operations said in the club’s ticketing release. “We believe that our ticket pricing for 2010 reflects both our appreciation of our loyal fans and our sensitivity to ensuring that Brewers baseball is affordable to all, especially in difficult economic times. 

“The cost for a fan to attend a Brewers game in 2010 will remain well below the Major League average, and our ownership will continue to invest ticket revenue in player salaries, player development, and the Miller Park experience.” 

According to the Brewers’ figures, their average 2010 ticket price will be $22.10, more than $4 less than the Major League average in 2009 of $26.64 per ticket. The team will also offer discounts for 54 of its 81 scheduled home games. 

The “marquee game” pricing will remain unchanged. On game days, the Brewers will also continue to offer $10 loge bleacher tickets for all non-marquee games in Section 238 plus the popular $1 Uecker seats. 

Season seatholders who renew before Nov. 20 will receive additional savings. Pricing for season ticket packages will remain at 2009 levels in the club infield and club outfield areas while all other sections will increase by no more than $2 per ticket. 

New in 2010 is an opportunity for fans to buy one loge infield box full season ticket and get a second full season ticket free. The offer is available in Sections 210 and 227. 

Season Ticket prices for existing Season Seat Holders are as low as $10 per ticket (for terrace reserved seats) and range from $15 in the field bleachers to $42 in the field infield box.

PDF of ticket prices: 2010_SeatingPricing.pdf

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Surgeries set for Counsell, Parra, McGehee, Looper

Add Craig Counsell and Manny Parra to the list of Brewers set for arthroscopic surgeries in the coming days to fix problems that nagged all season. 

Counsell, fellow infielder Casey McGehee and pitcher Braden Looper will each undergo relatively minor procedures next week to clean up right knee injuries and pitcher Parra will have surgery on his left shoulder.

All four procedures will be performed by Dr. William Raasch, the team’s head physician. In chronological order: 

- Parra will undergo what a club official stressed was a routine surgery Tuesday to clean up the AC joint in his left shoulder. The procedure has been planned for some time, and the injury did not prevent Parra from making his final starts of the season. 

It’s also “not even remotely close” to the shoulder issues in Parra’s past, according to assistant general manager Gord Ash. Parra had season-ending surgery in August 2005 to repair a torn rotator cuff. 

“What Dr. Raasch is going to do is eliminate the friction” outside of Parra’s shoulder joint, Ash said. “It’s nothing inside the joint. It’s been nagging him all year, but not nagging to the point where he couldn’t pitch. There is some irritation there, so we’re going to take this opportunity to eliminate it. It’s kind of like having a pebble in your shoe.”

Ash hoped the surgery would provide some peace of mind for Parra, who had a trying season. He went 11-11 but posted a 6.36 ERA in 27 starts and spent three weeks in the Minor Leagues following a June demotion. Of the 67 National League pitchers who worked at least 100 innings, only teammate Dave Bush (6.38) had a higher ERA than Parra. 

- As previously reported, McGehee will also have surgery on Tuesday, to clean out loose bodies from his right knee. McGehee played most of the season with pain in the joint, and has known since the All-Star break that he would probably require surgery. 

McGehee enjoyed a breakthrough season in spite of the constant knee pain, which affected him more in the field than at the plate. He singled in his first at-bat in Sunday’s season finale to finish with a .301 batting average, and his 66 RBIs led all Major League rookies. McGehee also hit 16 home runs. 

Manager Ken Macha pulled McGehee from Sunday’s game early to preserve his batting average. 

“That’s something he by no means had to do, and I appreciated it,” McGehee said. “I thought [my year] went pretty well. I want to get my defense back next year to where I expect it to be at. Other than that, I feel like I had a solid year.” 

- Also, as expected, Looper will have surgery next week to fix torn meniscus in his right knee. Looper told reporters on Saturday that he pitched all year with the issue. 

He led the Brewers and set a career high with 14 wins and led the National League with 34 starts, but also led the Majors by allowing 113 earned runs, 39 home runs and posted a 5.22 ERA. Looper wondered aloud whether the pain in his knee contributed to his trouble keeping the ball in the park. 

“I tried the best I can to get the ball down because that’s my whole game,” Looper said Saturday. “I don’t know [if the knee played a part in pitches staying up]. I know I haven’t been as consistent this year. That’s the thing that upsets me, I hope that [the knee] didn’t cause that.

- Counsell has been dealing with an injury similar to Looper’s since Spring Training, when he briefly considered surgery that would have sidelined him for several weeks. Instead, he opted to play through it and enjoyed his best season in years, batting .285 — a career high for a full season — with a .766 OPS — his best mark since 2000.  

In recent days, Counsell had said he would not have surgery. On Monday, he changed his mind, and will also have his surgery scheduled for next week. 

- In another medical matter, Ash said that outfielder Corey Hart had visited Monday with Dr. Don Sheridan, a Phoenix-based hand specialist who confirmed the diagnosis of Hart’s right hand injury. Hart has a pair of sprained fingers but no fractures and will require only rehabilitation.

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Hoffman, Brewers strike a deal

trevor-hoffman-by-ap-223x300.jpgThe Brewers hit the offseason ground running, agreeing on a new deal with would-be free agent closer Trevor Hoffman less than 24 hours after their 2009 finale.

The Brewers and Hoffman reached terms Monday on a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2011 that means that Hoffman, Major League Baseball’s all-time leader with 591 saves, will seek No. 600 as a Brewer. 

It also means that general manager Doug Melvin can move on to other pressing matters, like rebuilding a starting rotation that ranked worst in the National League with a 5.37 ERA during the Brewers’ 80-82 season. 

Melvin did not attend Sunday’s season finale in St. Louis, where Hoffman suffered his fourth blown save of a 37-save season but picked up the win when the Brewers rallied in the 10th inning. Melvin said he had to leave for an “assignment” related to the team’s pitching, but assistant GM Gord Ash said Monday that the trip was not related to Hoffman. 

Josh Goldberg, a spokesperson for the Beverly Hills Sports Council, said Hoffman’s agent, Rick Thurman, would not have any comment. 

Melvin and Ash will meet reporters on Wednesday afternoon to wrap-up the season. The Brewers will probably wait for that event to announce Hoffman’s new deal.
 
Hoffman told MLB.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after Sunday’s game that he was deep into negotiations with the team about a return. He will earn $8 million in 2010 and the 2011 option could pay up to $8.5 million if Hoffman hits incentives for games finished. The buyout is $500,000 but would increase to $1 million if Hoffman finishes 40 games, a milestone he has surpassed in every season since his injury-shortened 2003.  

Back in January, Melvin wooed Hoffman away from his home in San Diego with a one-year, $6 million contract that formally ended Hoffman’s 16-year association with the Padres. Despite being 41 years old and missing most of April with an oblique strain, Hoffman still managed to finish 2009 ranked fifth in the National League with 37 saves, and his 1.83 ERA was second-best in the league among pitchers who worked at least 50 innings. 

It was Hoffman’s lowest ERA since 1998, when he led the NL with 53 saves and posted a 1.48 ERA, good for second place in NL Cy Young Award balloting. 

“Looking from the outside, you would have concerns about age. Being around him for a year, that’s a non-factor,” Ash said Monday while stopping just short of confirming that the sides had a deal.

How long might he be able to pitch?

“As long as he wants to,” Ash said.

Asked after the Brewers’ final home game to assess his first season in Milwaukee, Hoffman joked, “I feel really old. We’ve got a lot of young guys in here that are energizing to be around. It’s been fun to be part of a new organization. I have a lot of respect for what they’re doing and I’d love to come back.” 

Hoffman’s cell phone was not accepting messages on Monday. He was driving along with three other Brewers pitchers from Milwaukee to Minneapolis for the Monday Night Football showdown between the Packers and Vikings. 

Hoffman will turn 42 on Oct. 13.  Ash believes he has been effective for this long because Hoffman has thrown so many change-ups in his career, a pitch that puts less stress on the arm than, say, a slider, and because of Hoffman’s incredibly extensive training program. Fellow relievers were wowed by the steps Hoffman took to prepare to pitch.

“[My stuff] really hasn’t changed in 10 years,” Hoffman said. “For me, it’s about location, location, location and executing pitches. I give a lot of credit to ‘Kid’ and Mikey [Brewers catchers Jason Kendall and Mike Rivera] for their video work. When you develop that trust in what is being put down by your catcher, you throw with a lot of conviction.” 

Does he feel good enough to keep pitching into his mid-40s? 

“I just go one day at a time,” Hoffman said. “I was fortunate to catch some breaks when I did and was able to weather some ‘activity’ with some low pitch counts. I like it here [in Milwaukee] and I would like to be back with these guys.”

Now he will be.

Cameron exits finale with concussion

Brewers center fielder Mike Cameron’s season ended four innings early on Sunday after he suffered what a club official called a minor concussion on a dive in the sixth inning of the season finale.

Cameron dove to rob the Cardinals’ Colby Rasmus of a hit and then struck out swinging in the top of the seventh inning before Corey Patterson replaced him in center field. 

“I think I hit my head when I slammed into the ground,” Cameron said. “It’s just weird, a weird feeling. I caught the ball, though. I’ve done it a few times. I’m doing OK though. I’ll be fine.” 

Cameron said he has suffered several concussions during his career. He also suffered facial fractures in a scary collision with then-Mets teammate Carlos Beltran in 2005. 

A free agent this offseason, Cameron finished the year with a .250 batting average, 24 home runs and 70 RBIs. It’s his fourth straight season and eighth overall with at least 20 homers, and on Sept. 1 he scored the 1,000th run of his career. With 265 home runs and 296 stolen bases, Cameron became the 20th member of the 250/250 club.  

Hoffman expects to return to Brewers

Trevor Hoffman’s season ended on a low note, but there were plenty of high ones in his first season with the Brewers. He said after Sunday’s season finale that he’s close to signing a deal to return in 2010.

“I think we’re pretty close,” Hoffman said. “I think we’re getting something done.”

Hoffman suffered his fourth blown save after walking three batters in the ninth inning on Sunday, but the Brewers rallied in the 10th for a 9-7 win and Hoffman was the pitcher of record. He finished with a 3-2 record but more importantly had 37 saves and a 1.83 ERA, his best mark in 11 years.

He signed a one-year contract with the Brewers in January after 16 seasons with the Padres. He’s likely working on another one-year contract that would include some kind of option for 2011. Hoffman turns 42 on Oct. 13 but is showing few signs of age.

Braun: Brewers' window to win is closing

fantasy_a_braun_fielder_300.jpgPrince Fielder hit his 45th home run on Sunday as the Brewers battled the Cardinals in their 2009 season finale. Fellow slugger Ryan Braun predicts that the team will look a lot different on Opening Day 2010.

“It’s going to be an interesting offseason, that’s for sure,” Braun said on Sunday morning. “It could be a completely different look next year.”

The changes are already afoot. General manager Doug Melvin announced that he didn’t offer 2010 contracts to interim pitching coach Chris Bosio or bullpen coach Stan Kyles, and Melvin will spend much of his offseason trying to fix a pitching staff that posted the second-worst ERA in the National League.

Unlike last year, Melvin has changes to make to the lineup, too. Center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall are free agents who were just as important to the Brewers off the field as on it, and shortstop J.J. Hardy expects to be traded after a five-year run with the team.

“Look, the reality is that when you’re a mid- or small-market team, you have to take advantage of having guys in that pre-free agency range where you can have them at a relatively affordable rate,” Braun said. “Everybody is starting to make more money. The reality is, Prince will probably only be here one or two more years.

“It’s a small window for us to win. We’re not the Yankees or the Red Sox, where you can have a $200 million payroll. … You have to take advantage of that window and win while guys are affordable. That’s why you have to go for it, every chance you get. You go all-in, that’s my opinion. The goal shouldn’t be to make the playoffs, it should be to win the World Series. You saw how much getting to the playoffs meant to the City of Milwaukee [in 2008] and I can only imagine what it would be like to win a World Series.

“To me, that has to be the goal, and the reality is they have to go for it in the next year or two, because at that point everybody will be free agents and too expensive to keep.”

Of the Brewers’ disappointing 2009 season, Braun said, “We’d like to think of it as an aberration. We’re disappointed we didn’t get back to the postseason. Ultimately, that was our goal. We wanted to build on last year and we recognized that it was going to be difficult without CC [Sabathia] and Ben Sheets, but we thought we had the nucleus of last year’s team back and we had that opportunity. We fell short.”

Macha to return for 2010; two coaches let go

Brewers manager Ken Macha will return for 2010 but some of his coaches may not. 

Macha was formally asked to serve the second season of his two-year contract and the Brewers added a club option for 2011, general manager Doug Melvin said Sunday.

“I have confidence in him,” Melvin said.

Bench coach Willie Randolph and hitting coach Dale Sveum were also told they will be back for the second seasons of their two-year contracts and two other coaches — third base coach Brad Fischer and first base coach Ed Sedar — were extended contracts for 2010. 

Bullpen coach Stan Kyles and interim pitching coach Chris Bosio were not offered new contracts but they will be candidates for the open positions, according to Melvin. The Brewers entered Sunday with a 4.83 ERA, second-worst in the National League, and their 5.38 starters’ ERA was tied with Baltimore for worst in the Major Leagues.

“Our pitching has been our problem this year,” Melvin said. “I think we all can agree on that.”

The Brewers intend to hire a “world class pitching coach,” as principal owner Mark Attanasio put it last week, and former A’s and Mets guru Rick Peterson is one candidate but not the only one. 

Melvin is also considering adding an advance scout to the coaching staff for 2010. For the past several seasons, the team has relied on a video scouting system to prepare reports on opponents. Bosio and Kyles will also be candidates for that position.

The Brewers were 79-82 in Macha’s first season entering Sunday’s season finale against the Cardinals.

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