Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was willing to can manager Ned Yost with 15 games left in the 2008 Wild Card race. Last August, he fired pitching coach Bill Castro, options the struggling JJ Hardy to Triple A, and showed Bill Hall the door. If Attanasio wants to keep a consistent message, he needs to make at least one of these three moves.
By Jake McCormick
Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds, the Brewers mustered enough offense to support a quality two run, eight inning performance from the combination of Manny Parra and that day’s Triple A call up Marco Estrada. With a 4-2 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth, Trevor Hoffman was given the chance to prove he’s still the Brett Favre of closers. The Hoff could’ve shut the door on the Brewers’ first win in nine days and temporarily quelled the fan base’s ever-growing hunger for sacrificial lambs. Instead, he all but guaranteed Attanasio’s yearly ritual of in-season roster cuts will happen sooner rather than later.
Contrary to the eight game losing streak, there are actually some players that have produced unexpectedly. Yovani Gallardo’s only problem is a slightly high pitch count from a combination of walks and strikeouts. Chris Narveson has proven he is a better starter than reliever. Carlos Villanueva has seemingly returned to his 2007 form. Casey McGehee is making a strong bid for first half team MVP and an All-Star appearance. Corey Hart has caught fire over the past six games, raising his average to .276 and belting four home runs in the process.
All of these positive developments from previous unknown commodities will be in vain if something isn’t done to show failure is not an option. But Attanasio isn’t a passive owner, and I would expect to see at least one of the following changes occur before the calendar turns to June:
1. Fire Ken Macha
Managers can’t hit, field, or pitch, but they are entrusted with smelling blood in the water and pulling a pitcher before things get too messy. With that said, the manager is usually the first to go in a shake up, and Macha has said little that indicates he is willing to make any big changes. It also doesn’t help that Ken Macha looks a lot like Ned Yost reincarnate with his Ben Stein personality, station-to-station mentality, and refusal to hold team meetings or really assert his leadership.
Milwaukee already showed it’s a team that doesn’t respond well to a passive-aggressive style of management, so the only clear solution would be to try going the opposite direction (or close to it). The best option right now would be Dale Sveum, who did do well managing the last 15 games of 2008 and has done a good job as the Brewers’ hitting coach.
2. Cut Jeff Suppan and let the padawans learn on the job
The justifications are endless for getting rid of the biggest free agent bust in Brewers history. Suppan is picking up garbage innings in a bullpen that has a 6.35 ERA (worst in the MLB) in 129.2 innings so far (fifth). He was passed over in favor of Parra for a spot start, and there are more than a few arms down on the farm and on the DL that are capable of eating innings more efficiently than Soup.
Zack Braddock has been tabbed as Milwaukee’s closer in-waiting, John Axford is flourishing as a full-time reliever, Chris Smith is putting up lights out numbers as a closer, and Chris Capuano can see the MLB light at the end of a two year tunnel. Combined with the encouraging debut of Marco Estrada, where he retired nine Reds in a row Tuesday before giving up a moonshot to Joey Votto, Suppan is standing out like a DOS operating system next to Microsoft Windows.
(I forgot to mention Tim Dillard, Chuck Lofgren and Kameron Loe, but realistically anyone not named Jeff Suppan will do.)
3. No more Time for Trevor
The Hoff has been hassled enough that even his Hall of Fame credentials can’t mask the scent of the spoiled milk that is his arm. Hoffman has blown five saves in 10 chances after blowing four saves total in 2008 and 2009, and each one has been so painful to watch that it almost makes me cry for the days of Eric Gagne. When that thought crosses the mind of a Brewer fan, it’s time to put Hoffman’s chase to 600 on hold (at least temporarily).
Todd Coffey and LaTroy Hawkins (when he returns from the DL) would most likely be tabbed as replacements should Hoffman get the hook. But Carlos Villanueva has performed well under pressure and has the added benefit of a repertoire that inflicts fairly equal damage of lefties and righties alike. It won’t be easy pulling an Ol’ Yeller on Hoffman, but keeping him in the closer spot will prove to be much more embarrassing to him and the team as the season wears on.
These potential roster moves may not turn the season around immediately, or for the better, but the Brewers are at a point that “staying the course” is being interpreted as “we’re ok with underachieving and mediocrity, at best.” Any move the team makes will appease a fan base that expects accountability from management and players. Given Attanasio’s brief history as Brewers’ owner, the times should be a-changin’ soon.