February 2013

Hart ahead of schedule

Brewers first baseman Corey Hart was still using crutches Wednesday but said he was ahead of schedule in his return from right knee surgery.

Hart underwent a procedure on Jan. 25 to repair a torn meniscus and smooth an imperfection in the joint surface. He hopes to be cleared for more intense rehab after an MRI scan late next week scheduled for March 8, and remains hopeful about rejoining the Brewers before the end of April.

If he does, Hart would beat the original four-month projection by a full month.

“Everything is coming faster than they thought it would come,” Hart said.

This comes as very good news for Hart, considering his prognosis was much direr at one point. After his knee began barking when Hart tried to intensify his offseason workouts, he underwent an MRI and was recommended for surgery that would sideline him 3-4 months.

But that surgery was delayed a few days while Hart sought a second opinion from Dr. Richard Steadman, a Vail, Colo.-based specialist considered one of the world’s foremost knee experts. Steadman recommended a much more invasive microfracture surgery and told Hart he was out for the year.

But over the next few days, Hart said, Steadman and Dr. William Raasch, the Brewers’ head physician, conferred and opted for the original procedure. Afterward, the Brewers projected a four-month rehab.

More to come over at Brewers.com.

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It’s here: Pitchers and catchers report

photo (36)There’s a scary sight: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel crew and yours truly ready to board a flight for Phoenix, where Brewers pitchers and catchers report today for the start of Spring Training.

We’re no spring chickens, but many of the players already in camp are, and that seems perfectly fitting this year. A team that will sink or swim in 2013 based on the success of its young arms is staggering its report dates in an ongoing effort to find a perfect formula for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers with zero to three years of Major League service time report Tuesday and will work out Wednesday and Thursday before the rest of the pitchers and catchers, plus all of the position players, officially report on Friday. The Brewers’ first full-squad workout is Saturday.

In practice, the foul lines are already chalked, the bright green grass is cut and Maryvale Baseball Park is buzzing with activity.

Players like Mark Rogers — one of the group of young starters sure to lead the Brewers’ spring storylines — who live year-round in Phoenix have been working out for weeks. Others, like No. 1 starter Yovani Gallardo, reported early to prepare for next month’s World Baseball Classic.

By Saturday, the clubhouse will be crowded. Click through to read about some of the storylines I’ll be tracking this spring. And then click here to read my full Spring Training preview.

Off we go…

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Ramirez’s place among game’s third basemen

News from my friends at MLB Network:

The Brewers’ Aramis Ramirez will be featured in MLB Network’s “Top 10 Right Now: Third Basemen” at 8 p.m. CT tonight. Ramirez makes the list for the first time since this series began in 2011.

Hosted by Brian Kenny, MLB Network determined its rankings of the top 10 third basemen using “The Shredder,” which uses statistical analysis to measure performance. In addition, renowned author Bill James and MLB Network analyst and former infielder Bill Ripken both give their own personal lists of the top 10 third basemen in baseball.

The “Top 10 Right Now” series continues at 9 p.m. CT with “Top 10 Right Now: Shortstops,” leading up to the start of MLB Network’s countdown of the “Top 100 Right Now” on February 15.

Sorry, I can’t spill where Ramirez finished on the Network’s list. Where you you think he should fall?

Since the show is about “right now,” here’s how the list would look if we included only third basemen who qualified for the batting title and based it on 2012 OPS:

1. Miguel Cabrera .999
2. Adrian Beltre .921
3. Aramis Ramirez .901
4. David Wright .883
5. Chase Headley .875
6. David Freese .839
7. Ryan Zimmerman .824
8. Pedro Alvarez .784
9. Alex Rodriguez .783
10. Chris Johnson .777

And adjusted OPS (OPS+), which accounts for league and ballpark factors:

1. Miguel Cabrera 165
2. Chase Headley 144
3. David Wright 143
4. Adrian Beltre 137
t4: Aramis Ramirez 137
6. David Freese 129
7. Ryan Zimmerman 121
8. Pedro Alvarez 117
9. Alex Rodriguez 112
10. Kyle Seager 110

Looking for another statistical measure? Here’s the list ranked by FanGraphs’ WAR:

1. David Wright 7.8
2. Chase Headey 7.5
3. Miguel Cabrera 7.1
t4. Adrian Beltre 6.5
t4. Aramis Ramirez 6.5
6. Ryan Zimmerman 4.5
7. David Freese 4.1
8. Kyle Seager 3.6
9. Mike Moustakas 3.5
10. Hanley Ramirez 3.0

And Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR:

1. Miguel Cabrera 6.9
t2. David Wright 6.7
t2. Adrian Beltre 6.7
4. Chase Headley 6.0
5. Aramis Ramirez 5.4
6. Brett Lawrie 4.1
7. Ryan Zimmerman 3.8
8. David Freese 3.6
9. Alberto Callapso 3.2
10. Mike Moustakas 2.9

Putting too much emphasis on one season, you say? OK, here’s Baseball-Reference’s WAR for third basemen over the past two seasons:

1. Adrian Beltre 12.3
2. Evan Longoria 9.5
3. Chase Headley 8.6
4. David Wright 8.6
t5. Aramis Ramirez 7.9
t5. Pablo Sandoval 7.9
7. Brett Lawrie 7.6
8. Alberto Callapso 6.2
9. Alex Rodriguez 5.7
10. Ryan Zimmerman 5.4

And OPS+ for the past two seasons:

1. Evan Longoria 142
2. Pablo Sandoval 140
3. Aramis Ramirez 137
4. Chase Headley 135
5. Adrian Beltre 134
6. David Wright 132
7. David Freese 125
8. Chipper Jones 122
9. Ryan Zimmerman 120
10. Alex Rodriguez 115

So, how would you rank the game’s third basemen? I’ll look for your own lists and justifications in the comments.

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Spring broadcast schedule set

The Brewers announced a Spring Training broadcast schedule today which covers 34 games with a combination of Brewers.com webcasts, Brewers Radio Network broadcasts and FOX Sports Wisconsin telecasts.

The most games — 17 — will air exclusively online, with a combination of FS Wisconsin’s Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder and radio voice Joe Block on the call. Another 16 games will air on the team’s statewide radio network (and online) with Block and Hall of Fame voice Bob Uecker, and five more games will be televised by FS Wisconsin. Three of those TV games will feature Anders0n and Schroeder; another two will be produced by other FOX Sports regions and simulcast on FS Wisconsin.

The Brewers open their spring slate on February 23 at Maryvale Baseball Park against the Oakland A’s at 2:05 p.m. CT. Milwaukee will play a total of 35 Spring Training games this season, including 17 at Maryvale Baseball Park and two exhibition games at Miller Park.

Tickets for the Brewers’ games at Maryvale are on sale at Brewers.com and other outlets. Tickets for the two exhibition games at Miller Park will go on sale at a later date.

Here’s the full broadcast schedule. All games are at 1 p.m. Arizona time unless noted:

February 23 vs. Oakland Athletics — Brewers.com
February 24 vs. Cleveland Indians (ss) — Brewers.com
February 25 vs. San Diego Padres — Brewers.com; at Cincinnati Reds — no broadcast
February 26 vs. Seattle Mariners — Brewers.com
February 27 at Kansas City Royals — Brewers.com
February 28 vs. Chicago White Sox — Brewers.com
March 1 at Colorado Rockies — WTMJ
March 2 vs. LA Angels of Anaheim — WTMJ
March 3 at Chicago-NL (ss) — Brewers.com
March 4 — OFF
March 5 vs.Team Canada — Brewers.com
Wednesday, March 6 at Seattle Mariners — WTMJ
March 7 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks — WTMJ
March 8 vs. Texas Rangers — WTMJ
March 9 at Cincinnati Reds — WTMJ
— DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME BEGINS –
March 10 vs. San Francisco Giants — Brewers.com
March 11 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers — FSW/WTMJ
March 12 at Texas Rangers — Brewers.com
March 13 at Arizona Diamondbacks at 9 p.m. CT — FSW/Brewers.com
March 14 — OFF
March 15 vs. Cleveland Indians — WTMJ
March 16 vs. Cincinnati Reds (ss) — WTMJ
March 17 at Los Angeles Dodgers (ss) — Brewers.com
March 18 at Cleveland Indians — Brewers.com
March 19 vs. LA Angels of Anaheim — FSW/WTMJ
March 20 at San Francisco Giants (ss) — Brewers.com
March 21 at Chicago White Sox — Brewers.com
March 22 vs. Chicago Cubs — WTMJ
March 23 at LA Angels of Anaheim (ss) — WTMJ
March 24 vs. Colorado Rockies — Brewers.com; at San Diego Padres — FSW
March 25 at Oakland Athletics — WTMJ
March 26 — OFF
March 27 vs. Kansas City Royals (ss) — Brewers.com
March 28 at Colorado Rockies — WTMJ
March 29 vs. Chicago White Sox at Miller Park at 7:10 p.m. CT — FSW/WTMJ
March 30 vs. Chicago White Sox at Miller Park at 1:10 p.m. CT — WTMJ

You can also see the spring schedule over at Brewers.com.

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Update: Arnett undergoes knee surgery

UPDATE on Feb. 7 at 11:44 a.m.: Arnett underwent an ACL reconstruction this morning in Milwaukee and will be sidelined 5-6 months.

Just when it appeared Eric Arnett had turned a corner in his career, the Brewers’ former first-round Draft pick is expected to miss a significant chunk of the 2013 season with a knee injury.

Arnett, the 26th overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana University, will be examined by Dr. William Raasch on Wednesday to evaluate a possible torn ACL in his right knee. If surgery is required, it would be on Thursday, and it would sideline Arnett for 5-6 months.

That surgery is likely, because Arnett has already been examined by Dr. Tim Kremchek, the Reds’ head physician, who recommended the procedure.

Arnett told Brewers officials he was injured doing shuttle runs in preparation for Spring Training.

It’s a stroke of bad luck for a star-crossed player who appeared to make strides in 2012. Arnett, now 25, is 8-19 with a 5.30 ERA in four Minor League seasons, but that includes a relatively successful conversion to relief in 2012 at advanced Class A Brevard County, where Arnett posted a 3.56 ERA and held right-handers to a .224 batting average over 33 appearances.

“He was much better. There was some optimism there,” Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash said. “In short spurts, he appeared to be more comfortable, so this is definitely a setback. But [assuming he needs surgery], he will just have to get geared up for instructional league and make up for lost time.”

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Brewers announce Gonzalez deal

Shortstop Alex Gonzalez passed his physical exam today and formally signed a one-year contract with the Brewers. They needed a spot on the 40-man roster for him, so they waived right-hander Fautino De Los Santos, who was claimed by the Padres.

More to come.

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Group sales begin Thursday

The Brewers have announced details related to the start of group ticket sales on Thursday.

The team will begin selling group packages to the general public for all home dates except Opening Day beginning Thursday at 9 a.m. CT.  Everything you need to know is available in the group ticketing section of Brewers.com, but here are some highlights:

– Groups have the advantage of locking in their seating locations before individual tickets go on sale to the general public on February 23 while saving on service charges that often apply to individual ticket purchases. Groups can also be recognized on the Miller Park scoreboard, secure block seating in a preferred location and get no per-ticket handling fees and up to four tickets to a future game for the group leader.

– For some games, group savings can reach 79% off the regular ticket prices, and tickets to Cubs games, usually designated “marquee,” are available at lower prices.

– Prices for all-inclusive Areas range from $48-$112 per person. They include the new Miller Lite Party Deck, located just above the right field bleachers.

– Party Suites for groups of 20 or 30 are also available for single game rental, with open-air seating, a private lounge that features a wet bar and in-house flat panel HD televisions, as well as complete food and beverage service from DNC Sportservice.

– Key large group days for 2013 are Weather Day (April 18 vs. San Francisco), Girl Scout Night (June 7 vs. Philadelphia), Little League Night (June 25 vs. Chicago-NL), Boy Scout Night (July 22 vs. San Diego) and American Legion Day (August 18 vs. Cincinnati).

If you have a question that is not covered on the website, you can call the Brewers group sales department at 414-902-GRPS (4777).

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Why go to Bosch?

Another of the significant questions being asked today:

Why Tony Bosch?

Why would representatives of Ryan Braun, a player fighting a PED suspension, associate with Bosch, whose father had been linked years earlier to Manny Ramirez’s use of a banned fertility drug? Braun says his attorneys used Bosch as a consultant, and that his name appeared in Bosch’s logbook because — and only because — of a dispute over fees for that service.

Here’s one outside view via FanGraphs.com from Wendy Thurm, who says she spent 20 years as an attorney. It’s a long except, so I hope you’ll also click through to FanGraphs:

I don’t have any information about Braun’s connection to Bosch or Biogenesis other than what’s been reported. But I practiced law for 20 years and spent a great deal of time working with experts in high-stakes cases. Based on that experience, Braun’s explanation is plausible to me. Does the statement raise questions that need to be answered? Yes. Does it necessarily exonerate Braun? No. But his explanation is not absurd on its face, as many contend. Let me explain why.

When preparing a case for trial or, in the instance, an arbitration, a lawyer typically retains one or more experts. This is particularly true when a case involves factual disputes on topics beyond the knowledge of a layperson or judge. Some experts are used to educate lawyers and assist behind the scenes in preparing the case. Other experts are retained as “testifying experts” who will provide their expert opinions on the disputed factual issues via sworn testimony.

The law treats behind-the-scenes experts quite differently from testifying experts. The work of behind-the-scenes experts, or consultants, is considered confidential and within the ambit of the attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product privilege. Lawyers rely on consulting experts to test theories and potential approaches to the case without fear that the consultant’s identity, advice, opinions, and conclusions will be disclosed to the parties and lawyers on the other side of the case.

Testifying experts are not cloaked in the same level of privilege and confidentiality. In order to qualify as a testifying expert, the witness must establish her expertise in the subject matter in dispute. After that, she must explain the facts and documents she relied on to form her opinions, any experiments she conducted, her conversations with the retaining attorney, and any other basis for her opinions. Lawyers for the opposing parties are entitled to cross-examine the expert.

Braun’s appeal focused on the validity of the urine test that allegedly showed a high level of testosterone. His attorneys reportedly attacked the test in two ways. First, by showing that MLB’s drug testing protocol was not followed; and second, by showing that an improperly-handled urine sample could lead to a much higher-than-normal testosterone reading. Braun’s statement says that his attorneys used Tony Bosch “as a consultant” and that he answered questions “about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples.” Sounds to me like Bosch worked as a behind-the-scenes expert and advised Braun’s attorneys as they prepared to challenge the positive test.

Why Bosch? Why use someone who’d already been linked to banned substances? I don’t know for sure, but it makes sense to me to his lawyers would consult with someone who had experience with a player (Manny Ramirez) who had tested positive and had been given a 50-game suspension. If you’re a lawyer defending a client accused of participating in a drug cartel conspiracy, you want to consult with people who knows how drug cartels work. Sure, there are law enforcement experts that you’ll want to testify for the client, but you also would like to consult with former drug cartel members. It’s entirely possible that Bosch had information from Ramirez’s situation that was useful to Braun’s lawyers in preparing their appeal.

And what of $20,000 to $30,000 that Braun’s attorneys allegedly still owed Bosch? Isn’t that a lot of money to pay a consultant to answer some questions about T/E ratios and tampering with samples? No, it’s not. My guess is that Braun’s appeal cost upwards of a million dollars. Twenty or thirty thousand dollars for a consultant is a drop in the bucket.

Why didn’t Braun get out in front of the story? Why not disclose his connection to Bosch and Biogenesis after the New Times report last week? Two reasons. For one, Braun may not have known that the Biogenesis documents contained any reference to him. The New Times report didn’t identify Braun in any way. Why get out in front of a story without knowing the facts? Second, if Bosch was a behind-the-scenes consultant, then his identity and work on Braun’s appeal was privileged and confidential. If Braun had issued a broad statement disclosing everything he knows about Bosch, it could result — down the line — in a waiver of confidentiality. Braun’s statement today was narrowly crafted to address only the documents in Yahoo!’s report. If I were Braun’s attorney, I would have advised precisely the same approach.

What does all of this mean? Where does it leave us? With many more questions than answers. But those questions should be asked — and the answers listened to — with an open mind. Those who have already decided that Braun’s statement makes no sense and that’s he lying or covering up wrongdoing will only hear what they want to hear going forward. But that won’t necessarily get to the truth. And the truth is what we should all be seeking.

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Why was Braun redacted from original report?

The Miami New Times has published a story answering one of the myriad of questions raised by last night’s Ryan Braun news:

If Braun’s name was listed alongside players like Alex Rodriguez and Melky Cabrera in the logbook of Tony Bosch, the figure at the center of baseball’s widening probe into performance-enhancing drugs, why was Braun’s name redacted from images of clinic records included in the New Times‘ original reporting?

The answer, from this morning’s report written by the New Times‘ Chuck Strouse:

Simple: An abundance of caution.

As Yahoo! notes, the records do not clearly associate either Braun, [Francisco] Cervelli or a third player who this morning denied all ties with Bosch (Orioles third baseman Danny Valencia) with use of supplements. Yahoo! apparently obtained copies of just these page of Bosch’s notebooks independently of New Times.

The players listed in New Times investigation either clearly appear multiple times in Bosch’s records (like Alex Rodriguez), or had evidence in the recent past of PED use, like Bartolo Colon, who was suspended 50 games last year.

So, there’s one question answered. There are more, like will Braun’s legal team release evidence supporting Braun’s alibi, that his team only went to Tony Bosch as a consultant during last winter’s appeal? Why would they pick Bosch of all people, a man previously connected to banned substances through slugger Manny Ramirez? Where will MLB’s investigation go from here?

Oh, and “thanks” to everyone who pointed out that this MLB.com story from Saturday was ill-timed.

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Braun statement

Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun just released this statement:

“During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant. More specifically, he answered questions about T/E ratio and possibilities of tampering with samples.

“There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch’s work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under ‘moneys owed’ and not on any other list.

“I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch.

“I will fully cooperate with any inquiry into this matter.”

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