The last few weeks haven't gone so well for Ken Macha, and there's an increasing possibility that he will and/or should be let go after just one season at the helm in Milwaukee. Until a few weeks ago, I was indifferent on Macha, and felt like he was worthy of one more season in the job before a full evaluation was given. In the last few weeks, however, he's made several moves that I found troubling in both short and long term situations. Here are the offenses we've seen in the last few weeks, and why they worry me.
Mat Gamel. Gamel entered this season as either prospect #1 or 2 on nearly everyone's prospect list, and was fully expected to contribute to the team this season. He made his 2009 debut on May 14, but stagnated on the bench for much of the next two months, picking up just 113 at bats in 57 team games. Despite posting a .267/.341/.493 line as a third baseman, he played in just 23 games there. Since being recalled, he's received just one pinch hit AB. He last appeared in a game on Wednesday: He entered the game as a pinch hitter and was removed without hitting (in a 5-0 game) when Tony La Russa changed pitchers.
Gamel entered the 2009 season as a key element in the Brewers' future plans, but Macha's decision to let him sit on the bench in May, June and now September may have cost him three months of development time this season, and now he could be sent back to Nashville to open 2010. I disagree with but understand the decision to play Casey McGehee more down the stretch, but burying Gamel at the end of the bench is a poor long term decision.
J.J. Hardy/Alcides Escobar. This is a tough situation, and even an expert manager may occasionally struggle with it. The Brewers have a league average at worst major league shortstop in J.J. Hardy, and a potential star in the making in Alcides Escobar, but both can only play one position, so Macha is forced to find a way for the two to split time and do the best he can with what he has. It's possible there's no correct answer, but some answers are certainly more wrong than others, and the way this situation has been handled was bad for several reasons:
- When Hardy returned, Macha immediately started him on back to back days. The Brewers have done their best to deny sending Hardy down purely to delay his service clock. So, if Hardy didn't actually give the Brewers the best chance to win in Macha's opinion, then why did heimmediately slot back in as the starting shortstop upon his return?
- Alcides Escobar, meanwhile, has been bounced around with and messed with in the lineup (batting ninth for his first several starts), when he plays at all. There is a legit argument to be made for batting a position player ninth in a properly constructed lineup. With that said, the fact that Escobar was the only position player to start in the nine hole this season doesn't make sense when considering we're talking about a top prospect and one of the potential faces of the franchise. Escobar has a hit in four of his last five games, but has played in just six of the team's 13 games in September.
- Craig Counsell started at short yesterday. As I mentioned above, Macha is in a tough spot with two players who deserve and/or need to play, but he made that problem worse yesterday by benching them both to start a 39-year-old utility infielder. Counsell is having a nice season and several of us like him for various reasons and roles, but there's no excuse for taking opportunities away from Hardy and Escobar to give them to him.
Corey Patterson. He's been to the plate 3751 times this decade, and hit .252/.290/.405. Among players with at least 3000 PAs since 2000, he has the lowest OBP and the 11th lowest OPS. He's coming off a spring that saw him get released by baseball's worst team. Why he's on anyone's roster is a legit question, but Ken Macha started him and batted him leadoff on back to back days against the Cardinals last week. For perspective: Bill Hall's career OBP is 22 points higher than Patterson's. If Bill Hall had started in center and batted leadoff, there would have been enormous howls of protest. Macha found a way to do something worse. The next day, he did it again.
Ryan Braun. Braun has rested in two of the last seven games, for reasons that may or may not be medical. This by itself isn't a cause for alarm, but Macha's decision to tell the media Braun had a sore shoulder without talking to Braun about it was. Braun adamantly denied any issues to reporters, but the fact that the manager and his star player didn't make sure they had their story straight implies either a lack of communication or a communication failure. If something like this had happened with a role player, it wouldn't be important, but when it happens with one of your stars, it's a cause for concern.
Jason Kendall. We cover this topic a lot so I won't belabor it. Jason Kendall is one of baseball's worst hitters, and despite repeated evidence that the Brewers may have better options available, Kendall started nearly every game for several months this season. He's playing less and hitting better lately, but the fact that it took this long to realize a 35-year-old catcher with a .295 slugging percentage shouldn't catch every day is unfathomable.
Now, let me make myself perfectly clear: Ken Macha isn't the only thing wrong with the 2009 Brewers. Even with another manager at the helm, this was probably not a playoff team and almost certainly not a better team than last season. With that said, I think Macha has shown us enough to make the decision that he's not the best manager for this team, and it's time to move on.
Follow the jump for the 2010 coaching staff I would assemble, and feel free to offer yours in the comments.
Manager: Dale Sveum. In hindsight, maybe Sveum should have been retained after finishing the season last year. Familiarity is the key for me here: Sveum has been with the team long enough to watch much of the young core develop. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, what they can and can't do and how they should and shouldn't be handled. He has limited managerial experience, but his brief run as manager in 2008 makes him a somewhat known commodity for the organization and its fans. He's a rare opportunity to provide a fresh face for the organization while also retaining a tie to recent success.
A quick aside - It's possible the managerial search before this season was one of the worst in recent memory. Consider the candidates:
- Ken Macha, who we're already talking about firing.
- Bob Brenly, who has gone on to repeatedly embarrass himself discussing the Brewers on Cubs TV broadcasts.
- Willie Randolph, fresh off a train wreck of a managerial career in New York
- Dale Sveum.
There's two candidates there who would have been terrible, a third that hasn't been very good, and one dismissed first for lack of experience. Maybe they should have looked a little harder.
Bench coach: Don Money. I'd love to keep Willie Randolph in this role and feel like he's done a lot of good here, but I suspect that he'll leave if Ken Macha is fired and he isn't hired to replace him. That's unfortunate, but the Brewers have another pretty talented manager-in-waiting with a track record with the organization in Don Money. He's managed over 1300 games over the last ten seasons in the minor leagues, and worked his way up the ladder with a lot of the Brewers' homegrown talent, having managed everyone from Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks to Mat Gamel and Alcides Escobar. Again, I like the familiarity with the organization here: Money was involved in the development of a lot of the organization's present and future, and hopefully he can use that experience to put those players in the best position to succeed in Milwaukee.
Pitching coach: Chris Bosio. Again, familiarity with the organization is a nice asset. I'm not really comfortable evaluating Bosio based on his limited amount of time with the major league team, and I'm optimistic enough about him to give him a full season to work with in 2010.
Bullpen coach: Stan Kyles. I don't think I've seen a word written about Kyles one way or the other since spring training. That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's not a reason to fire him, either. He stays.
Third base coach: Frank Kremblas. After managing for four years in Nashville, Kremblas left the organization this offseason to take the same job with Indianapolis in the Pirates' organization. Would he come back to the Brewers? It's hard to say, but I'd guess the lure of coaching in the big leagues and avoiding the bus rides of the minors is pretty strong. Like Sveum, Money and Bosio, Kremblas has extensive experience with many of the young players that will be the core of this team going forward, and like Money, he's managed over 1300 minor league games, so he'll be another voice of experience in the clubhouse.
First base coach: Ed Sedar. I see no reason to replace him, but also no reason to promote him. So I'll leave him where he is.
This would be a relatively young and major league experience-light coaching staff, but I think they're exactly what the 2010 Brewers will need: Someone who is familiar with and will understand the young core of this team, and will put them in positions to succeed and produce results at the major league level. The Brewers have built a pretty nice core of young talent, now it's time to put together a coaching staff that can maximize it.
What do you think? Do you like this staff? Would you change anything? Am I completely off base? Have at it. Speculation is fun.