While the Rangers were putting their first runs on the board against the Crew last night (but long before it all collapsed around Mike Adams), I was chatting about the winter, the kids, and the upcoming season with one of the veteran Brewers bloggers, Al Bethke, of Al's Ramblings.
If you're still waiting for my 3rd base preview, rest assured it's coming soon. Yesterday was the seventh day, so I rested. (I hadn't done something each of the previous six days, but no matter.) In fact, I trust my third base preview will be my most controversial opinion yet. Watch for it late tonight.
Here's the chat with Al; I hope you enjoy it!
Brew Crew Ball: There were lots of changes for the Brewers since October--what came as the biggest surprise to you?
Al (Al's Ramblings): Without a doubt, the Pods/Lee swap. I realize we picked up some salary, but Pods is coming off a horrible campaign, a lead-off guy who barely ended up with a .310 OBP...and we got a solid corner OF for him, wow.
BCB: That really surprised me, too. It's early to say, of course, but do you think the Brewers will pick up the 2006 option on Lee's contract?
Al: I would assume they would, if Lee stays healthy, pretty soon. Even if one of the young corner OF's do well in AAA, Lee or Jenkins has trade value.
BCB: Given that Lee stays healthy, and that we're lining up for a logjam at the corner OF positions, who would you rather see stay, Jenkins or Lee?
Al: They are basically statistical twins. I would say since Geoff signed a long-term deal with the team, he'd be more likely to stick around. I'd also go with Geoff because Cruz and Hart are RH, with Nelson LH. I like both the RH's more than Nelson.
BCB: I like both those guys over Nelson, as well. Especially Hart at this point. Speaking of Hart, and possibly speaking of Cruz and Lyle Overbay, what do you think of all the possible position-switching in the next year or two? I've heard rumblings that Cruz could try his hand at third; Overbay, if he isn't traded, could become an outfielder to make room for Prince. Now that I think of it, that might be a scenario in which Lee stays over Jenkins--if Overbay becomes a LF/RF and Prince is starting, that's two lefties, rather than Fielder/Hart or Overbay/Hart.
Al: 1. I doubt Cruz (or anyone else) makes the switch to 3B this late in their development. 2. Overbay is a fine defensive 1B, and I doubt if he has the arm for RF, so that would leave LF as his only possibility...I doubt it immensely.
BCB: So you see Overbay dealt for pitching in the not-too-distant future?
Al: I see Lyle, Junior Spivey, and maybe even Brady Clark being traded this season, if they stay healthy, and Prince, Rickie Weeks, and Dave Krynzel do well in Nashville. I would guess 2 of the 3 will be gone by 8/31.
BCB: Wow, that's aggressive! I'm with you completely on Spivey. I'm sure, had he stayed healthy, he wouldn't have made it past the non-waiver deadline last year, and since the Yankees have signed a probably sinkhole to play second, I figure Lee Thomas will start scouting the Yankee system pretty soon. What kind of package would you want to get for Lyle? He's still relatively cheap, and has quite a bit of upside for a team that doesn't need 35 HRs out of first base.
Al: I want AA/AAA prospects who are ready or near ready. Obviously 3B is a bit of a black hole in the system, so that'd be one cog I'd try to fill, along with pitching depth. Mostly though, just high level prospects, at the pre-arby stage, pretty much ready to make the jump. Both Cruz and Capellan would be fine examples.
BCB: Do you see any teams as being likely trading partners for Lyle? Great a player as he is, he probably can't be considered any better than a league-average first baseman, and there are a handful of 1B prospects out there--Ryan Howard and Dan Johnson come to mind--who may be available as well.
Al: Well, league average 1B hit .361/.471 last year, so that's a very good producer. You could also see him as a DH in the AL, so I feel they'll be 2-3 teams that would find him useful...not to mention he's still cheap, and won't be a FA until '09. So, any team who has a 1B that is not young/above average may be a trading partner.
BCB: And there's always the possibility that Tino Martinez gets hurt, in which case Lyle and Junior Spivey can go to the Yankees together, in exchange for all of the Yankees' prospects and Steinbrenner buying a beer for every Brewer season ticket holder. Back to Nelson Cruz for a bit: how do feel about that trade? IIRC, you like Ginter quite a bit.
Al: I was/am a big Ginter fan. The only reason I disliked the trade is that we traded a guy who didn't need to be traded, was signed to a friendly contract, played 2B/3B, still near peak age, etc. I like Cruz, and Lehr has a good arm, and is a potentially cheap middle reliever. I'd just rather have Keith, as I remain unsure whether Weeks will be a 2B in the bigs. Also, on a low OBP team, I hate trading a guy who "gets" OBP.
BCB: Do you doubt Weeks's big-league potential overall, or just his defense at second? Where do you see him ending up if he can't hack it as a second baseman?
Al: He has the athletic ability to play anywhere, so I'd say 3B or anywhere in the OF. His bat will be ready soon, without a doubt. He has Sheffield skills.
BCB: I hope the skillset is the end of the comparisons between Weeks and Sheffield. I certainly wouldn't mind seeing him end up at 3rd or CF--the organization is deep at second, and as you said earlier, the cupboard is bare at third. So, we've discussed the Lee deal and the Ginter deal...how do you feel about Kolb for Capellan?
Al: Loved it. Kolb was a waiver wire pickup, and had one skill...he threw hard. Maddux harnessed that and taught him to take some mph off and get some sinking motion on the ball, and suddenly, he was a top closer. Not to mention, Dan's arm health is questionable at best. He all but stopped throwing sliders last year after experiencing arm pain in March...what does that tell you? In '03, he threw 97+ fastballs and 91 mph sliders...last year, almost every pitch was a 91-94 mph sinking fastball. Capellan has had arm trouble in the past, but is one of the hardest throwing young arms in the game...great trade, and the money saved allowed the Crew to pick up Lee.
BCB: It's great to hear that--I agree completely. Time will tell about Capellan's future, but pitching prospects are always gambles (especially minor league FA signing Jerome Gamble) and it seems that you just have to acquire enough high-ceiling guys so that when one goes down, a la Mike Jones, or Nick Neugebauer, or Ben Diggins, there are more waiting to step in. Capellan was just reassigned, so he'll be starting the year at AAA; what do you think is the best way to handle him over the next year or so?
Al: Like all young pitchers, baby them and hope they thrive. Ben H dominated AAA last year, but struggled in the bigs. He has to work on using his curve on every count. Jose, from what I heard, needs a 2nd and/or 3rd pitch. Limit them to 90-100 pitches, hope they learn how to go 6-7 innings on that pitch count, and hope they break through.
BCB: So, I take it, you're not in favor of converting Capellan to a reliever at this point?
Al: Nope. Relievers are a dime a dozen. Capellen has #2/3 SP potential...maybe even #1 ceiling. He should be a SP until he proves he can't do it. The game broadcast just came on, the Crew is #1 in BA, OBP, SLG, and runs scored in the NL this Spring. Granted, some of that is the high altitude of Arizona, but still a good sign. Also, a fine sign of the depth in the minors.
BCB: Hey, that's great news, and I'll bet Prince Fielder has a lot to do with that. Given Melvin's proclivity for finding spare parts who can contribute--like Kolb--what do you think he might come up with (and who's out there who might be available) to help in Milwaukee this year? I see a particular weakness in outfield depth, especially if Krynzel isn't ready.
Al: Yeah, I see him scouring the waiver wire for a 4th OF, because he came out and said he wasn't a big Magruder fan at a season ticket holder function this season. Krynzel should get AB's, should start in AAA. Of course, I say that about Hardy as well, and they are ignoring that.
BCB: Anybody out there you'd like to see Melvin make a deal for to fill that 4th OF role?
Al: A Brady Clark type, play all 3 OF spots, speed, hits for average. I don't have a name, but that's the type.
BCB: My vote is for Jonny Gomes, but he's a tough guy to judge because his 2004 numbers were in Durham, which does wonders for offensive stats. So you don't think Hardy is ready to start at the major-league level?
Al: He may be, but I'd let him start at AAA, prove he's healthy and such, and plan on bringing him up June 1st. I'm not afraid to admit that arby and FA eligibility would keep him down on the farm if I were GM.
BCB: That's a good point. You know, I've said several times that Capellan and Fielder and Weeks should be held back as long as is defensible to keep their arby clocks at zero, but it never occurred to me that the Crew could do the same with Hardy. Would you let Hall start at short in the meantime?
Al: Yes, I would. I like Hall as much as I like any sub .300 OBP guy. He is a fine athlete and if he could just bring up that OBP to .310 or so, he could be a mediocre offensive SS for a decade, as he has great power for a middle IF. Even at .280/.410, he isn't that far under the MLB mediocre SS of .326/.408.
BCB: That's a good point. Like Branyan, it's frustrating to watch him strike out so much, especially given how bad he can look on some of those K's, but he contributes nonetheless. Speaking of the infield, what would you do with Cirillo? He's been hot all spring, but given that Yost seems set on a Branyan/Helms platoon, it seems odd to carry three 3Bs on the roster.
Al: I'd keep Jeff as it sits now, but I'd look out for a player with a higher ceiling, and younger, of course. I still harbor hope Helms is able to be moved for another overpaid player (4th OF?) at some point.
BCB: We both blogged Saturday night about Kieschnick's likely departure. Obviously Brooks is no all-star at this point, as you say he's a spare part, but do you think there's any chance events will make that move look good at the end of the 2005 season?
Al: Well, it's not a move that we'll look at someday and bemoan as the reason we missed the playoffs by a game or two...unless we win 88 this year, which is unlikely. I am hopeful our bullpen is so full of good arms we just ran out of room for Brooks, which would be odd, as every national columnist lists the 'pen as our weakness. Brooks was a fine PH and had a 3.77 ERA last year, I would have handed him a spot, myself. From a historical perspective, he's the first guy to do what he does since Babe Ruth (though the next most likely to do it is Wes O, irony of ironies).
BCB: Do you think Obermueller is going to make a positive contribution this year? He's been just awful the last couple of years for the Brewers, and while he is a latecomer to pitching, he is already 28 years old.
Al: I expected him to begin at AAA, but he's been lights out in 'Zona, so I assume he's got a spot won, either in the bullpen or as the #5 starter. He's a guy you love to watch pitch, works fast, great athlete, hits 91-93...just never really put it all together. I would say it's a make or break year for him, without a doubt. I would feel his future is probably as a middle reliever. FYI, Glover is just a few days older, it seems like he's been around forever.
BCB: That's interesting...not sure what that says more about, our misperception of Glover or our misperception of Obermueller. Putting all of this together, figuring that at least one starting position player won't be a member of the team by August, what's your projected record for the Brewers in 2005?
Al: I am saying 77 wins, but it could seriously be +/- 10 of that, as the team that finishes the 2005 season could be a lot different than the one who takes the field April 4th.
BCB: I've said 78, and I can see the scenario in which the Brewers are down in the high 60s again, though I'd like to think that won't come to pass. Do you really think the stars could align for 87 wins? What would have to happen to put Milwaukee in wild-card contention (which I think 87 wins would be)?
Al: Good health, ROY numbers for Hardy, and Cappy/one other pitcher providing a solid front four in the rotation. I'm not that worried about the bullpen, as the difference between a 2.75 bullpen ERA and a 4.25 ERA is only 81 runs, based on them pitching 3 innings a game. Using the 10 runs = 1 win standard, that's an 8 win total between awesome and quite bad...so in the real world, probably only a 4-5 win difference.
BCB: I guess all of that is possible. And a catastrophic injury or two to the Cubbies or the Astros wouldn't hurt the cause, either.
Al: I gotta have you throw me the inevitable Sheets question.
BCB: I'm trying to avoid the inevitable here!
Al: I am a big fan of Ben Sheets, but I may be the only person who doesn't want him signed to a long-term contract, at least not until June/July, if he proves himself healthy. Also, I would not go over 3 more years with him, I don't care how good he is this year. Sign him to a 3 year extension max, through 2008, if he proves healthy. I just hate to see so many folks acting as if we need to throw $50M to him, in a franchise betting gamble. The deals for Hudson and Mulder were both fair swaps, and I'd have no problem doing that with Sheets. Young men with back pain scare me.
BCB: You know, the rational side of me completely agrees. It's a quandary for small-market teams that want to compete, as it's so hard to get quality starting pitching in this market unless you develop the arms and they get good fast, like Mulder and Hudson the last few years, or you get a series of bargains combined with good coaching, as the Braves have pulled off lately. Do you trust Melvin to continually put together solid starting rotations even if the organization cuts ties with Sheets?
Al: Other than Beane or Epstein, I'd just as soon have Melvin as anyone. It'll always be a challenge to put together a rotation in a small market. Doug will have a tougher time if Ben is injured than if Ben is traded. There are no "can't miss" SP's in the system, but there is plenty of depth overall, as well as a plethora of position players to swap.
BCB: Speaking of the depth in the system, outside of the usual suspects of Fielder/Weeks/Hardy/Krynzel/Hart/Capellan/Rogers, who do you see as the next guy to develop as a potential impact player?
Al: Of the ones you didn't mention, Nelson or Cruz are the most likely to break through. Of those who are not generally mentioned, I'd say Manny Parra, if healthy; Dana Eveland, another LHP, and Dennis Sarfate, a young pitcher who is likely to be a reliever in the bigs. As for sleepers, I'd pick Ty Taubenheim, a hard throwing RH reliever that [farm director] Reid Nichols suggested might be up in a couple years; as well as Angel Salome, a short, stocky catcher just drafted last June out of New York City. He'll be a few years away, but he's got stud potential. I will also throw this forth in a public forum: Tony Gwynn Jr. will have a decent major league career. He may well never hit, but his defense is outstanding and he runs well...add that to his name, which will give him plenty of chances, he will spend many seasons in the bigs, though likely as a reserve.
BCB: It's good to hear positive things about Gwynn; seems like he's been rushed largely because of his name, or because he's been grouped with Fielder and Weeks, even though his skills aren't quite at that level. Of the following, who do you expect to get the best performance out of at the major league level: Derrick Turnbow, Andy Pratt, Jerome Gamble, or Alec Zumwalt?
Al: Turnbow, then Gamble. I doubt we see either of the others in MIL. Gamble was another outstanding minor league FA signing, just never harnessed his stuff.
BCB: Well, we could go on all night, but I think I'm out of questions for now. Thanks for chatting, Al, let's do it again soon.