What’s Brewing in ’09: The $90M Mark, Blood Sacrifice & Child Smuggling

By: Melissa S. Wollering

 

When we saw everybody at the fan event [in Milwaukee last month], we were still at a bit of a discomfort point [with the pitching]. Now, I’m at a little bit of a discomfort point on the payroll.” –Mark Attanasio

 
Reporters chuckled, but here’s the sobering truth: one of baseball’s smallest payrolls is pushing $90M. That becomes reality should Gagme make the team and he and other players become eligible for their negotiated incentives.

 
Or it could pay off. Picking up CC Sabathia and Ray Durham last season pushed them beyond $90M but gave the team a NL Wild Card birth. It also fueled ’09 ticket sales. 1M+ are gone—the earliest date in franchise history. Plus, the org set a new single-day sale record on Saturday. That’s Guns N’ Roses-sellout-style.

 

 

 

 
One concern is over the Brewers’ portion of MLB revenue sharing, which is expected to tank like Derrick Turnblow’s pitching in ’07. One possible replacement: Gov. Jimmie Doyle’s proposal for a special team license plate. Just shell out cash to the DOT and a portion pays off the Miller Park stadium debt.  Bonus = you could pick the “M” or the ball-in-glove logo. I’ll take retro, please in honor of the Eau Claire native who designed that logo. It’s been named among top 5 sports logos of all time by some.

 

 

There may have been no life raft for the payroll had Milwaukee successfully courted Sabathia for ’09. Attanasio’s brilliant plan: “We were going to buy a small, regional bank and apply to the government for federal aid. All that TARP money could have helped us.”

No amount of TARP money could have bought you a spot at the front of the line last Saturday. That’s when single-game tix went on sale at Miller Park, half-naked fans braved the cold days prior and hot dogs get passed out to lucky dorks at what they call the Arctic Tailgate. If you didn’t get what you were looking for because opening day has been sold out for centuries, you can shed blood for tickets. I’m not kidding.

 

 


The BloodCenter of Wisconsin location near Wausau is entering donors into a drawing for two Opening Day Cubs/Brewers tickets. Seriously, if you’re willing to sacrifice blood for just a chance at getting in, I cannot do anything but honor your dedication and then vomit in my mouth.

 
More feel-good news: the US Airways Flight 1549 co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, will throw out the first pitch opening day. He’s from the village of Oregon, near Madison, of which I shall soon reside. Glad I have someone famous in my town despite the fact it is named after a state. By the way, they should give him a cameo on Lost as a pilot of yet another plane going down on that island.

 
Fine, I’ll talk real baseball. In Spring Training, we’re seeing more Mike Rivera and less Jason Kendall. This will hold true for regular season as well. Macha says he wants to the give the Incredi-Kendall more rest, considering he contributed to a franchise-record 149 games last season.

 
Corey Hart has left his ’08 September stats in the dust and is all-of-a-sudden red-hot. This Monday, he went 3-3, including a 2-run homer. Brad Nelson’s getting a look in the outfield. Chris Duffy seems to have the one-up on Trot Nixon if Macha can only take one of the two. And Counsell changed his batting stance and is commanding positive results.

 
Speaking of Craig Counsell, he recently pulled rank like Colonel Potter on M.A.S.H. He took Vinny Rottino’s semi-broken-in infield glove and commandeered it like Jack Sparrow to a French vessel in the Caribbean. Apparently, Alcides Escobar has two of JJ Hardy’s old gloves because he likes the softness as well. I’m told these guys slather them in conditioner from time to time – no joke. That’s a Pantene commercial in the making.

 

 
In week 2 of “Ace’s Corner,” Macha set the exhibition rotation as Suppan, Gallardo, Parra, Looper and Bush, although Looper’s going to miss a start now due to tightness in his left-side. Many think this could be the start-of-the-season lineup too, designed to take pressure off Gallardo and give the home crowd the opportunity to cheer for Looper on Opening Day at Miller Park. Gallardo’s record could also benefit from facing lower-caliber opposing starting pitchers.

 
Danny Knobler at CBSSports is flattering us. He thinks Gallardo has Cy Young potential this season. However, Gallardo’s the last on the 40-man roster to not yet agree to terms for the ’09 season. Get a move on it, Yo-yo.

 
Omar Aguilar is an underdog for a bullpen spot, but the RHP reliever is turning heads in Spring Training. Chris Narveson is playing B games and won’t make the roster, but did pitch a 3-inning no-hitter Monday. And Trevor Hoffman pulled a CC gesture of gratitude, by taking out a full-page thank you ad in the San Diego-Union Tribune. Stay classy San Diego.

 
By the way, CC made headlines for smuggling a small child into spring training. This needs no explanation.

 

 

 
In “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” apparently teams approached the baby bears about trading for Kosuke Fukudome, although get this: ONLY IN TRADES where GM Jim Hendry would have had to take back BAD CONTRACTS. The Mariners, which have been trying to pawn pitchers Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard, are rumored to have been among them. “Hontou desu ka” is how you ask really? in formal Japanese.

 
In “Just a Bit Outside,” I share with you the first Uecker line of the season at 2:22 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25th versus the Oakland A’s. Brewers execute a double-play to end the inning and Cory Provus shares a Bob-on-a-fishing-boat story complete with Bob’s big catch. Ueck says, “Actually, that took place underwater as I held onto the big catch for dear life, hoping one of them would pull me to shore.” Ah…it’s good to hear that voice again.

 

 
And because you crave more “Chart Magnificence,” this week I bring you the JJ Hardy-Carlos Quentin Bar Graph courtesy of our friends at Beyond the Box Score. Of course we salute Soxman in this Chart edition. If you’re wondering why it’s comparing a LF to a SS, they looked down the list of ’08 WAR and picked players of similar value where public perception was different. Now they want to see if Carlos could rebound fielding-wise in what they considered a more “constrictive” ballpark. Geeky…but so wonderful.

Stay tuned for more Spring Training insight and Brewers Worth Fantasizing About for your fantasy rosters next week…

What’s Brewing in ’09: The Gag Rule & Spring Training

By Melissa S. Wollering

It’s time to redeem yourself, GagMe. A gag rule forbids discussion of a particular topic.  I instituted the gag rule when Eric Gagne ruined my life, namely when he used a plunger to push $10M down the drain while compiling a 5.44 ERA in 50 appearances.

Now he has a minor-league offer with big-league camp invite attached. If he makes the team, he gets $1.5M, possibly $3M in incentives. If that’s not enough to make you choke, here’s the arrogant son-of-a-jackal’s response:

“You look at your paycheck every two weeks and it’s like, ‘Man, that’s crazy what I get paid for,’ and you put pressure on yourself,” Gagne said. “I knew [Doug Melvin] took a chance on me last year…and it didn’t work out with me.”

You think?  You pitch 6.98 for two months, go on the DL for your shoulder, then give up two homers and four runs against the Reds on July 12th and you’re shocked at fans’ boos?  You’re the first EIGHT FIGURE reliever in the club’s history and still in utter befuddlement as to why we screamed like you murdered our mother?

There are only two open bullpen slots, so go duke it out with Jorge Julio, Todd Coffey, Eddie Morlan, Mark DiFelice and Tim Dillard.  See if I care whether they tear you up. Gagne says he’s looking forward to playing with Trevor Hoffman.  Funny, bet Hoffman’s not looking forward to playing with you. When Gagne retires, I’m throwing a gag party. That’s the new gag rule.

Darn, no more goggles jokes. Gagne and Bill Hall both got LASIK eye surgery in the off-season.  He says the goggles gave him a headache all the time. Welcome to my world, Eric.  Welcome to my world.

In a new update called “Ace’s Corner,” Yovani Gallardo will not be #1 in the rotation after all. Ken Macha wants him the middle of the rotation, which is fine with me. Dave Bush or Braden Looper in the #1 spot would be my wager, in that order.  Although, my buddy Jason Craig (nicknamed because his roommates found him on Craigslist) thinks the Soup’s On in Numero Uno. 

Manny Parra must sing Stevie Wonder in the shower. He changed his number from 43 to 26 this season because he’s very superstitious. He wore 26 in HS, was drafted in the 26th round, signed on the 26th day of the month and is 26 years old right now. Wow. At least he did it the right way, making it to the big leagues first Alshon Jeffrey, cough, Steve Spurrier. The number could pay off: our friends at Razzball think lucky 26 is a fantasy sleeper.

Last week Macha confirmed what I called three weeks ago; which was Wickie Reeks will top the batting order, J.J. Hardy will bat #2. As for our OF Corey Hart, he got more than he’s worth AND avoided arbitration, finally netting $3.25M for one year.

In Spring Training, 3B prospect Mat Gamel’s shoulder hurts. He didn’t tell anyone prior to camp because he thought it wasn’t serious enough. Yeah, right.  He was also a bit “late” to warm-up the first day because his wife is expecting, so his teammates gave him the Bronx cheer and told him they were none too happy. Then Macha and Gord Ash had a stern talking to the young man last Thursday. Tough crowd in Maryvale these days.

Gamel has the same shoulder problem as Lil’ TG (Tony Gwynn, Jr.), so no throwing for now.  This is coming at a time when he could have seen more action due to Bill Hall’s calf injury. Billy should be back in action in a little more than week.

In other ST news, the once-porky Prince is slimmer! He says he beefed up his cardio regimen, no pun intended.  You’ll also notice Prince has a new tat on the right side of his neck – angel wings to complement the Asian character on the other side. Sweet. Also sweet: fat kid pictures of Prince from the 80’s on this week’s Two Fisted Slopper Blog, courtesy of a Cecil interview.

You have too much time on your hands if you’re the group of Brewers fans who set up shop last Friday to wait for single-game tickets that go on sale this Saturday. Sales managers sent them home and told them they should come back to Saturday’s Arctic Tailgate after they’ve put down their crackpipes.

In another new update “What A-Rod’s Done For Me,” Ryan Braun is standing by A-Rod. He says no one’s perfect. Braun met A-Rod in 2001 on a recruiting trip to U of Miami, allegedly the same year Alex started taking banned substances. Alex later helped #8 transition from 3B to LF and Ryan still considers Alex a mentor. Btw, Braun started his own clothing line called Remetee and he’s the cover boy of this season’s media guide.

In “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” former-Cub, now-Brewer Casey McGehee is prominently featured on the Cubs’ pocket schedule. Really? Who’s your Director of Marketing/Promotions?  That’s like featuring Gabe Kapler on Miller Park’s $2 Scorecard, which they only print once a year.

In “Just a Bit Outside,” it’s official.  Ueck will omit the word ‘Jimmy’ and insert the word ‘Cory’ into his two-bit comedy routine. Cory Provus of Cubs Radio replaces Jim Powell. FSWI’s Brian Anderson says Cory is low-maintenance, humble and a solid journalist. Good, because I would not categorize Bob Uecker as low-maintenance.

Meantime, blonde bombshell-lovers everywhere are mourning the loss of Trenni Kusnierek with the announcement that Telly Hughes is to replace her. Hughes is a DUDE, yes that’s right, a MAN who’s made some cameos as a studio host on FSWI. At least they didn’t promote Jeff Cirillo.  Dave, I’m convinced your interview would have impressed beyond Telly’s. The name reminds me of four dancing PBS characters.

Trying to redeem themselves, FOX Sports Wisconsin is making it up to me by televising 136 regular-season games in 2009 with WMLW also broadcasting 151 games over-the-air! When I worked for WMLW in 2003, we hired Pat McCurdy to write and sing our commercial jingle “WMLW means Milwaukee” and it’s still around. Thank you Pat and WMLW for helping me live life to the fullest between April and October.

And finally by request, more “Chart Magnificence.” Let us examine spray charts for Alcides Escobar’s ground balls, courtesy of a new feature at the Minor League Splits database. Here are all the balls Escobar hit that were classified as ground balls by minor league scorers. Green is a hit and red is an out.

Compare that to Huntsville 2B Mike Bell, who played in the same park, had about the same number of at-bats, and racked up a .220 BABIP on ground balls, though he hit far fewer of them overall than Alcides.

Look for more on spring training and Attanasio’s fear of reaching $90M with his payroll next week…

What’s Brewing in ’09: Milwaukee’s Infield

By Melissa and Jason Wollering

Don’t start hate-blogging about it now because we can’t handle it this early in the year, but Wickie Reeks will almost certainly be hitting at the top of the order again in ’09. Melvin defends Weeks to Baggot in this article. Bernie’s Crew also crunches Weeks’ average stats, pointing out at least he’s not a detriment to the team.

MW: Brother Jay, these articles bring up some great points about two common perceptions. 1. Why do people think second basemen have to be contact hitters, say, like Jimmy Gantner?

JW: For those who remember watching PBS when the show debuted in 1980, “3-2-1 Contact” this: 90 players struck out at least 100 times in ‘08 and 14 were second basemen.

MW: And it’s a little-known fact, last year Weeks was second in runs scored among NL leadoff hitters. He was also #1 in all of baseball in scoring from second base on a base hit – 23 for 24. Eat your pinstripes Johnny Damon; you went 9 for 22. Onto #2: The leadoff guy must BB a lot.

JW: Big sis’, last week Melvin asked reporters how many players walked more than 100 times last season. Answer = Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, Fat Al Pujols and Pat Burrell; none of whom are leadoff guys.

MW: Did I ever tell you I sloot Melvin’s argumentative skills? Speaking of walks though…

Prince may be King after $18M, but his increased platoon split is one of Paul Noonan’s 10 Biggest Brewers’ Fears. Coming into the league, he hit against both lefties and righties with fervor. But with the Crew already lopsided, we don’t need lefties thinking Prince is easy-to-manage at the plate. He’ll need to take his walks in ’09. No more .313 OBP, even if that is your “real weight” buddy.

In , seven Brewers minor leaguers signed contracts for ’09: SS Alcides Escobar; 3B Mat Gamel; 3B Casey McGehee; 1B/OF Brad Nelson, C Angel Salome and relievers Tim Dillard and Mitch Stetter. Stetter has the best shot at making the club in spring training as their lefty relief specialist. Dillard’s not out of the question, either.

As for Escobar, his baby’s mama is causing drama. But Alcides’ potential has implications for the team’s best defensive infielder – James Jerry Hardy. Melvin isn’t afraid to say the reason JJ’s never been offered a long-term contract is Escobar. Melvin doesn’t want to ask the SS to move to third either, even though speculation regarding that increased this off-season. Enjoy ‘09 and expect Hardy to contribute big: over the last two seasons he’s hit .280, averaged 25 get-up-get- up-get-outta-here-gone’s, and 77 RBI’s.

And who’s on third? Bill Hall. But there’s some speculation that position could become 3B by committee. Crazy, but true. Mike Lamb worked several wonders for the Crew off the bench last season and will be used again. My clear choice when needed is none other than Craig Counsell. And since my readers enjoyed last week’s flow chart, here’s a comparison graph on Counsell’s production since 2002, courtesy of Right Field Bleachers.

This season, In-Between Hops (the site markets itself as a full keg of Brewers with a couple pints of generic baseball news) calculates there’s a 30% chance the Crew could be the 12th team in MLB History to have four 30-HR hitters and a 7% chance it could be the first team to ever possess five.

Ken Macha is not Pete Rose– but if he were, he’s told the media he thinks five of his guys can knock out 25+. There’s a small chance that seven Brewers could go 25+ in ’09: Braun, Cammie, Prince, Hall, JJ, Hart and Weeks. The odds of this may be similar to me replacing Jim Powell….but nevertheless it is possible.

Shouse…Shouse…let it all out. He’s the next we’ll have to live without as Tampa Bay picks him up. He got a two-year gig, we were offering one. Ray Durham may not play for anyone in ’09. The MLB Network is starting off its first season by spewing hogwash. No Jon Heyman, the Brewers do NOT have interest in free agent lefty Oliver Perez because that investment would be as worthwhile as the last Citibank bailout. Hardricourt sniffs a Boras marketing ploy and we concur.

Surprise! Ben Sheets’ ratings are higher than General Hospital ’s or Days of Our Lives…cmon’ man, I needs me some guarantees. Like Marquette shining without Tom Crean, take your inflated self-worth Ben and issue a courtesy flush.

Don’t have a coronary, but Cappy could be back before the All-Star Break. Melvin estimates as early as May, and some have already shot the Chris Capuano as “Comeback Player of the Year” phrase out. The lefty is recovering from Tommy John’s.

This week in “Friendly Fire With the Cubs,” Rich Hill may fly east to nest with the Orioles. This time we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.

And finally, in “Just a Bit Outside,” Cubs’ pre-game WGN radio announcer Cory Provus may be the front-runner to replace Jimmy Powell. Here’s Jimmy’s farewell to fans. Timeline = February 25th. Uecker reaction = “Back in the day, I signed with the Milwaukee Braves for $3,000. That bothered my dad at the time because he didn’t have that kind of dough. But he eventually scraped it up. Say new guy, how do you catch a knuckleball?

Wait until it stops rolling, then go to the backstop and pick it up.”