December 20, 2010

Brewers Are The Favorites - Now What?

The last time this year's edition of the Brewers boasted a winning record, the club was a whopping 2-1. Absurd and unexpected breakout seasons from Rickie Weeks, Casey McGehee, and Corey Hart could not counteract the fact that this was a deeply flawed club. Their sluggers helped on defense about as much as Green Bay Packer wide receivers; their pitching staff was a mess of Parras and Narvesons. The lineup was the baseball version of U2's "All that You Can't Leave Behind;" you could turn it off after track 5.

Entering this offseason, the primary Brewer-related question was where the club would ship star slugger Prince Fielder. Milwaukee was bringing back only one good starting pitcher and two solid relievers; there were no plans in place for how to handle Game 2 of the 2011 season. The minor league system was barren. Unquestionably it was time to rebuild. Get some value out of Fielder before he inevitably bolted to the East Coast after one more losing season.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin started quietly - a Mike Rivera here, a Carlos Villanueva there. Then in his first blockbuster deal, Melvin plucked Toronto's emerging ace Shaun Marcum. I suspect Marcum isn't familiar to many readers, but the fifth best WHIP and the third best ERA in the 2010 American League isn't messing around - not when you make five starts against the Red Sox and four against the Rays.

The price was steep - top second base prospect Brett Lawrie. But prospects are prospects and established stars are established stars. Machiavelli wrote, "Men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others." With the Jays conceding 2011 despite an 85-win 2010, it is clear who took which route in this deal.

And then, of course, Greinke. For the Royals' ace, Milwaukee shipped four young players yesterday to Kansas City. He needs no introduction, but Greinke has put up a 3.32 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 8.3 K/9 since 2007. Marcum in the same time period put up a 3.72 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 7.3 K/9. Gallardo had a 3.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 9.7 K/9. All are in their prime. They're as good as the Cardinals top three, only backed by, you know, more than two position players who can hit.

The Greinke deal is closely intertwined with the Marcum deal. The Brewers' emphasis on immediate contention - basically, making the Marcum deal - is what persuaded Greinke to waive his no-trade clause for the Brewers when he didn't for the Nationals.

Faced with a choice of conceding 2011 before the season or letting the year play out with a losing record, Doug Melvin chose the third option - contending. Maybe Prince Fielder will leave after the season, maybe not. Greinke and Fielder may both be gone after 2012. But C.C. Sabathia is gone now, and the memories of 2008 are not. Sabathia created excitement, an emotion that doesn't die when a season ends. Babes still own their Brewers T-shirts, size Extra Small. In a market much smaller than Pittsburgh, with a losing team and a nondescript park along a highway outside of town, Milwaukee drew 2.8 million fans in 2010. They'll draw more in 2011.

Maybe the Jays and Royals would have gotten nothing for their aces after 2012, but that's a nonexistent problem in December 2010. This is what I don't get about the Pirates. If the grand plan is to win 88 games in 2012, what does that have to do with winning 57 games in 2010, winning 62 games in 2009, winning 71 in 2011? Maybe we could win 82 in 2011. Maybe there are 162 games on the schedule in 2011 and there's no point in doing anything but putting a team on the field that might win a lot of them.

To be sure, the Pirates have secured themselves against attack. The Process is logically unassailable - but life happens in the present tense. It's time for the Pirates to act accordingly.


  1. I suggest signing a 1B/OF platoon player. They only have 5 players who currently fit that mold. To contend with the Brewers pitching, the Buccos need to field at least 7 mediocre hitting first basemen in every game.

  2. In their defense, 5 first basemen is the Red Sox way.