By: Melissa S. Wollering
Last year at this time, Milwaukee fans put pitching on their Christmas wish list to Santa. Alas, they never got it. After anxiety and doubts about the starting rotation in Spring Training, injuries by mid-season and complete engine failure by season’s close, Melvin needed to ante up this off-season. Scoring Randy Wolf and LaTroy Hawkins was a necessity to keep fans and the rest of the 40-man roster happy this holiday season and well into the New Year.
An 80-82 record with the second-worst ERA average in the NL at 4.83 certainly compels a GM to put pitching on his priority list. Melvin has already partially defined his career by his one-season wonder acquisition of CC Sabathia. Picking up Braden Looper last season stopped minor bleeding but couldn’t siphon off the deluge that flowed as a result of multiple injuries and sheer non-performance in what became Armless ‘09 .
So here’s to hoping Randy Wolf is nothing like Jeff Suppan. Suppan’s four-year, $42M contract has produced a 29-34 record sprinkled with severe fan frustration. It’s hard to remember the Suppan of World Series Ringbearing years.
If a three-year $29.75M deal sounds overpriced to you, then let me know what you think Melvin should have done as an alternative. Overspending by $2-3M for critically vital help is often what it takes to get what you need as a small-market team. Yes, we try to sign guys outright for that $2-3M difference, but those signings rarely result in reliable, contributing, immediate talent.
Look at the positives. 33-year-old veteran Wolf is a lefty, went 11-7 in ’09 with a 3.23 ERA. He pitched well enough to earn his performance bonus from the Dodgers and has a positive attitude on and off the field. In Wolf’s interview on Sirius XM Radio, he explained how flattered he was by Doug Melvin’s courting trip to LA and says he feels good “as a free-agent pitcher…when you have a team that really wants you there and wants to win and feels that you can help the team do that.”
Wolf will likely start behind Gallardo, be followed by Parra, and for lack of a way to off-load the guy, continue with Suppan. Bush will likely return, but his contract is not yet firm. Saturday is the deadline for the Crew to offer arbitration-eligible Bush something that will probably resemble just over $4M. The Crew bought Looper out rather than pick up his $6.5M option.
LaTroy Hawkins isn’t getting as much buzz but he’s just as important of an acquisition. Even when Gallardo, Parra or Bush got the job done in ’09, they were often forced to hand the game off to an incompetent middleman.
Mark DeFelice will likely miss 2010 after shoulder surgery, David Weathers’ storm of fury isn’t returning, Seth McClung might get hung out to dry and a potential Claudio Vargas signing wasn’t a done deal as of time of publish.
For a two-year $7.5M commitment, Hawkins could lead a team of relief rounded out by Carlos Villanueva, Mitch Stetter, Todd Coffey and Trevor Hoffman. Chris Narveson and Chris Smith have a shot at a bullpen spot if David Riske or Seth McClung don’t warrant one. You know me, I’d put Suppan in the bullpen and get another starter somehow/someway, but that’s just me. Despite the holiday spirit, I have zero faith the Soup will warm in 2010.
Doug Melvin may agree with me by going for a low-risk, comeback gamble in Mark Mulder. Scheduled to speak with him in January, Melvin might be willing to offer Mulder a minor-league deal with incentives to pitch in the majors if he can pull off consistency.
Speaking of consistency, by the time this article is published, I hope the Brewers have secured the one, the only, Mr. Craig Counsell. My personal hero, the only shining light of consistency during rough times, the only guy with the original “All Along the Watchtower” batting song and the only guy content signing a $1M contract last year to stay with the Brewers even though he earned it ten-fold, it looks like the Brewers will pony-up $2M for him shortly. YES, YES AND YES. Throw in that club option for him. Welcome him back with a parade. It will be the smartest $2M you spend this year, mark my words.
Other Notable Offseason Pickups: Carlos Gomez, George Kotteras, Gregg Zaun
Other Notable Minors Ready for Majors: Angel Salome, Hernan Iribarren, Adam Heether, John Axford
Other Returnees: Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Casey McGehee, Alcides Escobar, Mat Gamel, Rickie Weeks, Mike Rivera, Jody Gerut