Sports Illustrated’s off-season grades

15 02 2008

Jon Heyman from SI graded every team’s off-season moves today. I’m not sure if Heyman is a pessimist, but his look at the Brewers was definitely from the “glass half empty” point of view.

He criticizes the Mike Cameron signing because of the 25-game suspension. He implies that the Gagne signing is a bust because he was accused of taking HGH in the Mitchell Report. He also says that Jason Kendall is an awful signing because of his unimpressive play last season.

These criticisms are beginning to sound like a broken record. Heyman is a great sportswriter and I very much enjoy reading his articles, but this assessment seems a bit off. Let me explain:

  • Mike Cameron may not have been the left-handed LF that Doug Melvin sought at the outset of the off-season, but he brings a veteran clubhouse presence, above-average speed, Gold Glove-caliber defense, and plenty of pop to the lineup.He improves Milwaukee’s defense drastically, which alleviates a major problem from last season. Cameron may strikeout a lot at the plate, as shown by his 160 Ks in ’07, but it is not because of a lack of plate discipline. He consistently takes 4+ pitches per at-bat, and his OBP was 86 points higher than his batting average (.242 compared to .328). Milwaukee also lacked a solid running game on the base paths last season, and Cameron brings a legitimate 20/20 caliber player into the mix. In pitcher-friendly PETCO last season, he still slugged 21 HR and had 18 SB. He gives the Brewers a versatile player to place potentially in the two-hole when he returns.

    That brings us to the 25-game suspension. It is obviously not ideal for a player to miss the first month of the season, but Milwaukee does not have to pay him for those games, at least. In addition, the Brewers learned firsthand last season that the division is not won at the beginning of the season. The Crew started off 24-10, yet they ended up losing the division to the Chicago Cubs down the stretch. If they are able to start the season strong again, Cameron will be a nice addition to keep that winning spirit alive. Melvin is looking long-haul with Cameron, understanding that players need to be there in September, not just in March.

  • Now on to Eric Gagne. There is no excuse for using PEDs, but Selig has not suspended anyone for anything at this point in time. It may not be a great PR move for the Brewers, but it stabilizes the back of the ‘pen for the year. Gagne will most likely not address the issue publicly, as it could affect MLB investigations, but it is important to note that HGH was not banned by Major League Baseball at the time Gagne is accused of buying it. Federally, however, that is a crime. That would involve a trial, so the Brewers should get Gagne for the whole year.Plenty of experts have focused on Gagne’s struggles in Boston, while choosing to ignore the fact he pitched very well in Texas before the trade. In fact, a 2.16 ERA in 33.3 innings pitched is fine work from a closer. In addition, Gagne is moving to the NL, which usually causes prognosticators to lower their projections for pitchers because the lineups are not as powerful as AL lineups. Instead, experts look at less than 19 innings of work and assume that Gagne will always pitch like that. He may never be as good as he was in L.A., but he is certainly not the pitcher he was in Boston. Expect improvement in Milwaukee.
  • I am tired of everyone dwelling on the fact that Jason Kendall is not an offensive force. Do they really think that Milwaukee signed him with the expectations that he would put up a .300 batting average 20 HR and 70 RBI? Obviously not.Melvin signed Kendall to be a stabilizing force behind the plate and to help make pitchers more comfortable. It has been widely publicized that the majority of the Oakland’s pitching staff’s ERAs went up almost a full point after Kendall left the team. Pitchers have publicly said that Kendall makes them feel much more comfortable and calm when on the mound, yet people say that Kendall cannot help the Brewers because he cannot produce offensively. Milwaukee has plenty of offense. Kendall is there to help Milwaukee’s starting pitching, which was a large factor in the bullpen’s meltdown late in the season. If you would prefer, call it a signing banking on “intangibles.”
  • Finally, Heyman mentions nothing about David Riske or Salomon Torres.I understand these are not glamorous signings, but they can potentially help the bullpen immensely. Riske has been called the best value-signing of the off-season, and his 2.45 ERA in the American League echoes that sentiment. Riske will probably be called on to stabilize the 8th inning role for Milwaukee, which will allow Turnbow to slide into a middle relief role that will ease the stress of late-inning situations that he had been struggling with.

    Salomon Torres, on the other hand, is the exact type of pitcher the Brewers needed to acquire. Yost lamented last season about the bullpen’s lack of pitchers that could pitch more than one inning. Torres is an innings-eater that can also pitch in the late-inning situations.

    Last season, Torres struggled with injuries to a 5.47 ERA in 52.7 innings. Melvin is banking on a healthy Torres can return to the form he had between the 2004 and 2006 seasons. During those seasons, Salomon never pitched less than 92 innings in a year, while posting a 2.64, 2.76, and a 3.28 ERA, respectively. If he can bounce back from his injury-plagued season, Torres will serve as an important cog in the Brewers bullpen.

I am not naive enough to say that the Brewers deserve an A for their off-season moves, but they certainly do not deserve a C+. How a team like the Rockies (who’s main acquisition has been Yorvit Torrealba) can receive a better grade than the Brewers, I do not understand. Sure, the moves may not pan out like Doug Melvin plans, but Melvin has gone out and actively improved areas that needed improvement. Plus, he did it without sacrificing the farm system, which is incredibly important for a small-market team. I would give the team more like a B+…which is what the Rockies and Cubs got, coincidentally.

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