The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober: Lopez Royalties & Princely Barter

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By Melissa S. Wollering

A highly-underrated acquisition, written off by some, Felipe Lopez has been putting #4 pop back into the bat. As in Paul Molitor, not Brett Favre; you football-convert-Brewers-abandoning-season-is-over-I’m-onto-bearded-forest-dweller-Aaron Rodgers fans. Unfortunately, Lopez didn’t solve any pitching problems which have taken the Milwaukee Brewers out of postseason contention.  So when should we use Prince for all he’s worth? I mean, worth on the market? We’re onto 2010’s hunt.

It’s worth noting, Ken Macha called Lopez a “hitting machine” this week. Now rewind to Rickie Weeks.  Weeks had finally created momentum at the leadoff spot before his season-ending wrist injury May 17th. Until Lopez arrived on the scene, the Brewers couldn’t set runners in-motion for Braun/Fielder plate appearances. Now Lopez is serving a sterling silver decanter of leadoff juice in anticipation of the two young hitters. It’s almost a nightly ritual.

Could this once short-term rental be worth a Melvin investment? Felipe is a free agent after this season, and depending on the strength of a Weeks’ return, he may be worth a look. It took Weeks years to start a season the way he did in 2009, but even at his best, Wickie numbers do not equal those of Lopez.

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Lopez has a .363 batting average and .419 on-base percentage that’s taken Milwaukee’s watery Beer Cheese soup and made it consistently thicker and more productive. In Chart One of two in this week’s “Chart Magnificence,” we break down runs per game between Weeks, Lopez and the production drought which occurred when neither was contributing.

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Disclaimer: this doesn’t mean the Milwaukee Brewers’ record is any better with the guy. The Crew has gone 14-20 (at the time of posting) since Lopez has arrived in the land of Miller. During the 55 week period in which there was no Weeks OR Lopez, the team was 24-31. Crunch that and you get nearly the same percentage points. Jeepers, creepers Soxman. (Note all Batman references have been slightly altered and do reflect TSB’s preference and bias towards this superior superhero.)

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As of Thursday, the Brewers had moved ahead of the Dodgers and were 3rd in the NL in runs scored. Meaning, the offense has not been the problem anyway.

No, the Brewers fall from grace rests squarely on the shoulders of villains called starting pitchers. The trade deadline was a circus in which Doug Melvin was left hanging from a trapeze. Veterans Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan were shot out of the DL canon of injuries. Manny Parra walked on hot coals long enough to get his own show in AAA.  And Yovani Gallardo just couldn’t live up to the title of SuperAce CC Sabathia or Ben Sheets.

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The circus was so scary, Bill Castro was dismissed as pitching ringleader and Ken Macha is now walking the high wire. Eight pitchers have started for the Crew this season and just one, Yovani, has managed to keep his ERA under 4.95. The rotation has the worst cumulative ERA in the NL. Only the Orioles are worse in all the majors. From a 2008 third-best mark of 3.86 to a cellar-chilling 5.23…oh what difference a year makes.

Also, some of our pitchers, namely Carlos Vanillawafer and Mark DiFelice, are being robbed of strikes.  Check out Jeff’s Lookout Landing.  It breaks down the ten pitchers in the majors with the fewest strikes called.

Even worse, take a look at it by team.  The Brewers get fewer strikes called than any other TEAM in MLB, which certainly doesn’t help our already dismal ability to pitch. In other words, we’re getting screwed!

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Moving along, here’s my royal pain-in-the-arse question of week.  Some of you will not be happy with me, however: when is it worth it to deal Prince? Dave at Fan Graphs has some great stats to back the argument up. If you could put a price tag on his .300 batting average, his gong show of home runs and his walk total which is already matching 2008’s in 150 fewer plate appearances, what would that price be? And would it be enough to put the Brewers in Ken’s Hunt for a 2010 Machtober?

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We’re only ponying up $7.5 million this year and $10.5 next until 2011 brings dreaded free agency with Scott Boras playing the lead role of Lucifer. A record-breaking contract  aroma is obviously wafting through some organization’s front office.


Look at it this way. Without Fielder, Milwaukee would still have Mat Gamel (could move to 1B), Rickie Weeks (could be asked to play a position other than 2B, although that could mean OF), Alcides Escobar, JJ Hardy, Casey McGehee and (if we could snag) Felipe Lopez to work the infield. I would also support giving Craigy Counsell another 1-year deal, and for heaven’s sake, give him more than $1M this time!  He’s earned it ten-fold.


Trading a HR Derby, All-Star player after a disappointing season is not easy to market to the Milwaukee fan base, but the money he could rake in to replace our starting pitching rotation could make the difference in a 2010 bid for the playoffs.


Chris Capuano was once slated to return as early as late May of 2009, but ran into injury complications. Other than a Capuano return, Milwaukee has no one ready to move up the pitching ranks.  The once “one year away” Jeremy Jeffress has bigger grass issues than the stuff he plays on.


Fielder has been the man the Brewers organization has been building playoff runs around. “He’s only with us two more years.  That means we’ve got two years to get there or we may never get there.”


I would argue it may be worth flipping that philosophy by using Prince to get to the playoffs in an unconventional way. Deal him for all he’s worth to invest in a starting rotation that can move you in that direction.  If this 2009 season is proving anything, it’s that having Braun & Fielder isn’t enough to reach Machtober.

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Next Week: My take on what the Brewers should do with Hoffman, Cameron, Kendall, Looper, Weathers, Catalanotto and Riviera…

The Hunt for Ken’s Machtober

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By: Melissa S. Wollering

 
Formerly known as What Milwaukee’s Brewing, The SportsBank.net flips the switch on this baseball column in anticipation of October. On Sunday, Doug Melvin and Ken Macha initiated Step 1 in their master plan to secure a return to the playoffs for the Milwaukee Brewers.  Switch-hitter Felipe Lopez increases options at the leadoff spot, fills the void Rickie Weeks left at second base and could be used to play almost any position in the Crew’s infield if needed. The only problem: this move still leaves fans chomping at the bit for another starting pitcher.

 
First things first: was it worth the price tag? Like finding a Deron Williams Cartier diamond-encrusted watch replica at the Dollar Store, yes it was worth it. Arizona drew the short end of the stick on this one.

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This Lopez move sort of reminds me of last season’s Ray Durham pickup. Lopez is an unrestricted free agent come fall. Milwaukee would need to negotiate to keep him, but has the freedom of knowing they’re not married to a long-term contract.

 
The Brewers could get a compensation pick after the first round next June if he shops another team; Class B is what Doug Melvin’s guessing. Felipe has about $1.5M left on his $3.5M contract.

 
The only thing the Brewers organization sacrificed was AAA outfielder Cole Gillespie and A reliever Roque Mercedes. Gillespie was batting .242 with seven homers and 27 RBI in Nashville, but started the season on the DL. Mercedes was 1-1 with a 1.08 ERA and six saves in 29 games played down in Brevard County. Rookie Mat Gamel was sent back down to AAA to free up space on the roster. No worries; this just gives Gamel daily playing time and it’s only a matter of weeks/months before he’s back in the bigs.

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How This Brings Them Closer to October….


Ken Macha has been frustrated while trying to find a right-handed hitter to anchor the top of the lineup when the team faces lefties. Craig Counsell can still be used at second against right-handed aces if needed, and both Craig and Casey McGehee (another 2B substitute) can be utilized elsewhere in the infield.

 
Rickie Weeks exited stage left with a torn-up wrist just as his curtain had gone up for the first time in opera house history.  Weeks was contributing with a .857 OPS. Lopez may make up for some of that lost production, considering 2B has been a sieve on the flip side (offense) for the Brewers. Lopez has been batting .301 with 18 doubles, six homers and 25 RBI for the Arizona D-Backs. More to love: he is batting .313 from the right side of the plate and .298 left-handed. As of Sunday, he ranked second in the NL with a .372 OBP.

 
Arizona beat writers seem to agree that Lopez is selecting more good pitches to swing at and drawing the walk more often. As a result, he should bring more consistency to the lineup and put more guys on base for Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder to drive home.

 
He also provides a boost to the Brewers’ defense, with solid experience at nearly every position in the infield. He previously struggled with his defensive skills at shortstop, but he’s never disappointed at second. In fact, he may have flown under the radar in value due to the bad wrap he picked up while working his previous position.

 
The NL Central is anyone’s division right now. Any effort to improve the quality of play could increase the W column. Just a handful of wins could be the blueberries in your bran flakes. Think about it breakfast fanatics, and feast on it if the Brewers make it to Machtober.

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Any Downside?


Felipe has called Toronto, Cincinnati, Washington, St. Louis and Arizona home.  If five cities were happy to trade him, what makes Milwaukee his sensation destination?

 
Skeptics believe the move won’t make an ounce of difference because the team does not resemble a 90-win ensemble right now. We’ll let you watch and let YOU decide.

 

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Still Needed in the Quest for October….


Doug Melvin made it clear that he tried to nab a Diamondbacks pitcher in the deal (all bets are on lefty and former Brewer Doug Davis).  However, GM Josh Byrnes wasn’t biting.

 
Melvin says he has little to no interest in handing over Mat Gamel or SS prospect Alcides Escobar, but that may limit the organization’s ability to trade for a pitcher of quality.

 

As you read in Blue Jays Don’t Migrate to Milwaukee, I’m not optimistic Roy Halladay will land on a beam of the retractable roof in Miller Park, but the buzz isn’t going away.

 

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Perhaps the most convincing indication Melvin is serious is that he has a habit of becoming mysterious and quiet right before he pulls the trigger on trades. All is quiet on the Halladay front right now, and he brushes information off as “the same old rumors” when possible.  The C.C. Sabathia trade was a prime example of Melvy’s masterful deception, which the guys over at Right Field Bleachers explain in detail quite well.

 

Many of you read the content of premiere insider Tom Hardricourt as well.  If you do, you know he’s changed his tune in recent days and believes Milwaukee will try to secure Roy if only to get him out of the hands of the Cubs and Cardinals.

 

On Twitter Sunday, Tom let us know Dick Groch, Melvin’s top scouting assistant, was in Toronto watching Roy pitch. Regardless of whether the Brewers club possesses the worm of choice for the early bird, we know they are interested. And a solid nest of starting eggs in the rotation should be Step 2 in the Hunt for Ken’s Machtober.