Monday, August 24, 2015
(image courtesy of JSOnline.com)
It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Doug "The Stache" Melvin, the Brewers general manager of over 12 years, was relieved of his duties effective when a suitable replacement is found, and will be transitioning to an "advisory role." This may sound like a polite way of saying he was fired, but on the contrary it was a mutual decision being talked about with the ownership for quite some time. It was pretty clear with the signing of Craig Counsell as manager in May that the writing was on the wall for Melvin, who was in the last year of his contract. Since that hiring, the Brewers have sold off a lot of their veteran players, and now with Melvin stepping down, an complete multi-year rebuild has been all but cemented, whether owner Mark Attanasio wants to admit that or not. I would expect that nearly every other job in the front office will be vulnerable when the season ends, and I would not be surprised if DM's Canadian cohort Gord Ash - the assistant GM - is canned as well (who by the way is somehow older than Doug Melvin).
It's a pretty popular line of thinking with the casual Milwaukee Brewer fan to blame Melvin for every single bad trade or signing, but it is easy to overlook all of the good he has done for the franchise as well. The CC Sabathia trade in July 2008 and the Zack Greinke trade in December 2010 by themselves should be enough reasons for every single fan to personally write Doug a letter to thank him. Without those trades we don't make the postseason either year, and the Brewers would certainly not be drawing 2.5 million fans in a year they are probably going to lose 95 games. Yes, Mark Attanasio and the crop of young players that came up in the 2000s deserve a lot of credit as well, but Melvin was the guy pulling all of the strings. Melvin also orchestrated the trades that brought Carlos Lee, Richie Sexson, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Gomez, Shaun Marcum, and Francisco Rodriguez here. He understood our market and was not afraid to spend money and sacrifice future prospects to win at all costs, and when it comes down to it, that is what every fan wants at heart. Ten years ago Milwaukee was never even close to any free agent's radar, and now it is honestly surprising if an offseason goes by in which we don't sign a big name. Not to be forgotten, and certainly the most impressive thing to me, was Melvin's ability to find pitchers off the scrap heap - sometimes literally bagging groceries - who would go on to productive seasons. One of the things that Doug said that has always stuck with me the most was that just about any professional pitcher can save 25 games, but it is the next 10-15 saves that make a closer cost big money. Doug had a knack for finding guys for just the right window of time, and then knowing exactly when they were used up to release them, and it's because of that strategy that I have never believed in giving closers hefty contracts. Solomon Torres, Derrick Turnbow, John Axford, Jim Henderson, Trevor Hoffman - the list could go on forever. Bottomline is the 'Stache brought winning baseball back to Milwaukee, and he will certainly be missed.
Doug Melvin did not make his decisions alone, however, and was often aided by one of the best scouting departments in the league, which brings me to my final point - who will replace Doug? A lot of signs point to Brewers Scouting Director Ray Montgomery as a likely candidate. He is young and already well respected in the league, and the Brewers are known to like to promote from within. Whoever it is, I think the team is likely to go the route of a young sabermetric-type guy as so many teams are moving towards these days. It's kind of like global warming - at a certain point sabermetrics has shifted from theory to fact, and it makes a team seem dumb and stubborn not to be on board with it. I still think Craig Counsell would be well-suited for the job and is in my opinion still a candidate despite his 3-year contract as manager and a vote of confidence from Mark Attanasio, but there are certainly plenty of exciting assistant GMs in the game now that would also be worthy candidates.
To say the 2015 has been rough would be an understatement, but as I've been saying, all of the moves this year have been necessary and have me very excited for this team's future. I can't wait to see the changes in store for the offseason and am already eagerly awaiting the release of the 2016 schedule.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.24:
Brewers 53-72, -26.0, -19.5 WC (2 @ Indians, 3 v. Reds, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 51-71, -26.5, -20.0 WC (1 v. Tigers, 3 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Brewers, 3 @ Cubs)
Twins 63-61, -12.5, -1.5 WC (3 @ Rays, 3 v. Astros, 3 v. White Sox)
2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+17 worked)
Peter - 39
Tuesday, August 18, 2015
All photos from Madison v. Green Bay NWL Wild Card Game available on Flickr.
Another year, another home team championship for me! Congratulations to the Kenosha Kingfish for winning it all last week Thursday, defeating the St. Cloud Rox to win the NWL Summer Collegiate World Series 2 games to 0. The Kingfish have continued a nice little streak I have going - the last 3 champions of the Northwoods League have all been teams I owned a ticket package for. The Mallards won their 2nd league title in 2013 when I was living in Madison, the Lakeshore Chinooks won last year, and this year the Kingfish in only their 2nd season of existence. As he was all season, Eric Filia was one of the key members who led the team to the promised land. He finished the year 5th in the league in batting at .340, to go along with 48 runs and 55 RBI primarily hitting out of the 3-spot in the order. For a 72-game schedule and probably his first time ever using a wood bat, that's pretty damn spectacular.
Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our 7 treks down to K-hole and getting to know the city a little bit better, and I'm sure we will be renewing again in the future, but we chose to attend a Mallards playoff game in lieu of the Kingfish this past Monday. We've been a fan of the Mallards longer than any other team, so no matter where we end up they will always be our "Northwoods League home team." We for sure had to get out there at least once this season and this was our last opportunity to do so. I have grown accustomed and come to expect something new at Warner Park every time I go, and this year was no different. One of the last open picnic areas was closed off in left field with brick and elevated onto a platform for better viewing, and the second and most obvious addition to the Duck Pond was the double-decker pizza bus. It's pretty much just that - you walk into the "ground floor" of the bus to order pie that is cooked right in the bus, and you can eat it on the "top floor." This is a mobile bus that has been going around to the different parks owned by Big Top Baseball. We didn't get to go inside, but since the Kingfish are also a part of Big Top, we will have to make a point of it next year. Yet another example of how this ownership group is constantly trying to innovate and improve the fan experience.
It didn't quite feel like a Mallards game on this night as the stadium was probably only a quarter full, a far departure from the team that has been obliterating summer collegiate attendance records for the past decade. Madison won 3-2 to advance to the South Division finals, and would lose to the eventual champion Kingfish the following night. The Mallards got a stellar pitching performance from Andrew Beckwith, who gave up only 1 unearned run in 6 1/3 quick and efficient innings. A leadoff homerun in the 1st by Anthony Gonsolin would be all the support he would need, but they tacked on 2 more in the 4th just for good measure. The Bullfrogs made a game of it with a run in the 8th to cut the deficit to 1, but North Carolina junior A.J. Bogucki took the ball for the final 2 2/3 innings and shut the door. Bogucki has been a proficient starter all year for the Mallards, but Donnie Scott was pulling out all the stops and wanted his best guy out there to finish the game, which was I'm sure what the league was hoping for with the new single-game elimination divisional format.
Another Northwoods League season is in the books, which means pretty soon I'll be replacing the window fan in our bedroom with plastic wrap to keep the cold out.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.18:
Brewers 51-69, -26.0, -18.0 WC (3 v. Marlins, 3 @ Nationals)
Reds 51-65, -24.0, -16.0 WC (2 v. Royals, 4 v. Diamondbacks)
Twins 59-59, -12.5, -2.5 WC (3 @ Yankees, 4 @ Orioles)
2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+17 worked)
Peter - 38
Monday, August 10, 2015
In his first year in office, Commissioner Rob Manfred has already caused quite a stir with proposed and implemented changes to baseball. Perhaps the most obvious for anyone who has been to a game this year are the "pace of play" initiatives - the between innings pitch speed clock and batters being required to keep one foot in the batters box at all times to name a couple. These tweaks have shaved an average of 8 minutes off of games this year in a rather non-invasive way. There have been talks of reducing the schedule back to 154 games, various discussions of how to inject more offense into the game, rebuilding relations with Cuba, even recently Manfred being open to moving back the trade deadline due to larger number of teams vying for playoff spots now. The most intriguing to me is something that has not even been on baseball's radar for 20 years: expansion.
When you hear the word "expansion" as a ballpark enthusiast, first you immediately get excited about a future ball trip. It's at least two more cities and ballparks I get to go to! And adding a team in baseball means not only just that one major league team, but also at least 5 other minor league affiliates. So expanding MLB to 32 means at least 12 more teams in reality. After that, you start speculating where those teams could be, no matter how infeasible. Yes, Erik and I would love to go watch a series in Havana, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. Charlotte has been in talks for many years as the next viable market, but they just spent a lot of money on a new AAA stadium. Portland also has been a city mentioned in the same breath as expansion, due in large part to its proximity to Seattle and having almost no market competition. But it was only a few years ago that the Beavers left town, and I find it hard to believe if a city can't even support (and finance a new stadium for) AAA baseball, that a major league team would be likely. The most exciting and probable in my mind is baseball returning to Montreal. Montreal is the largest remaining North American market without a pro ball team at any level, and it is a very wealthy city that is relatively close to other large east coast markets, not to mention natural competition with Toronto. The obvious hurdle in Montreal is the stadium issue. One of many, many reasons the Expos moved was because of the albatross known as Olympic Stadium, and its repair and funding bills that have moved well into 10 figures. The stadium was never proper for baseball and only got worse as the years went on, but on the heels of a couple of very successful Blue Jays exhibition series the last couple of years, and possibly even a regular season series in 2016, it is clear the people of French Canada are very excited for the return of baseball, and more importantly that it is a more stable financial situation than it was 10 years ago, which is what MLB really cares about. Granted, it is a large assumption that Montreal would build another stadium, but I see that as the only thing stopping the city from getting another team, whether that be by expansion or the Rays or Athletics moving (who knows what the future holds for those teams). Build it, and they will come.
Other cities I think are very good candidates for expansion are San Antonio, Mexico City, Oklahoma City, or if the stadium situation was right, Las Vegas. Vegas would almost assuredly have to be away from downtown and a covered stadium for it to work, and it is always a gamble (pun intended) to put any sort of sports team in a city where tourism is the major industry. MLB would love to grab a city outside of the US to expand is reach, and Mexico City is the most likely non-Canadian candidate for that. San Antonio is one of the top 10 largest cities in the country and could definitely support a team, and they also have the Alamodome to serve as a decent temporary structure until a suitable facility is built. Much like Le Stade Olympique, the Alamodome has hosted some preseason exhibition series and has drawn very well despite its shortcomings as a baseball venue. The geographical locations of OKC and San Antonio give them both a huge advantage in this game. Having a bunch of teams close enough to be rivals but not so close as to infringe on territorial rights is definitely something MLB wants, particularly in a baseball hotbed like Texas. As with any city, it is going to come down to market size, stadium, and most importantly money/wealthy ownership group. There are not a lot of cities that have that combination, so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out. I will say with relative certainty though that I expect MLB to be expanded to 32 teams within 15 years, and I would be very surprised if both the Rays and the A's stay in their respective cities. Major League Baseball will most certainly capitalize on its popularity and financial prowess sooner rather than later, before the NFL completely swallows the entire world.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.10:
Brewers 48-65, -24.0, -15.5 WC (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Phillies)
Reds 49-60, -21.0, -12.5 WC (3 @ Padres, 4 @ Dodgers)
Twins 55-56, -11.5, -4.5 WC (3 v. Rangers, 3 v. Indians)
2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+15 worked)
Peter - 34
Monday, August 3, 2015
(photo courtesy of CBSsports.com)
You have to give credit to the Milwaukee Brewers front office - they rode the wave as long as they could. After sucking for most of the 90s and into the and early 2000s, the Crew put together a pretty impressive stretch of 10 years or so when they ranged from competitive to downright fantastic. They went "all-in" and mortgaged their entire farm system - not once, but twice - leading to their first postseason appearance in 26 years in 2008, and coming within 2 wins of the World Series in 2011. All of the team's on-field terribleness and off-field advanced scouting for many years allowed the front office to have to tools to go out and get star-caliber players, and have a legitimate pre-season chance at the playoffs nearly every year since 2005. We're talking about impact players that would otherwise have no interest in coming to Milwaukee, players that before Attanasio we could not even sniff an attempt at affording, and throwing boatloads of money into not only large contracts, but millions in stadium upgrades. The Brewers went from just something to watch in the summer to pass the time between Packers seasons, to drawing 3,000,000 fans a year in the smallest market in baseball, and in general creating a buzz and pride around town that had not been seen since the year I was born. The Brewers literally did everything they could to squeeze every last drop out of every dollar they spent, but sooner or later, the bough had to break. This occurred this past week, when the team traded 20% of their active roster, and pretty much waved the white flag that they were entering what would likely be a multi-year rebuilding period.
The first domino to fall was Aramis Ramirez, who was traded to the Pirates for pitcher Yhonathan (yes that is the correct spelling) Barrios. This trade was about dumping salary and clearing a roster spot more than anything; the player we got in return was secondary. I see that Ramirez has already been benched after 7 games with his new team, and he is 37 years old and retiring at the end of the season, so the trade was a no-brainer. I hope he can make one last playoff run with the team he started with so long ago, and I will always remember him not only for all the years he killed us with the Cubs, but as the best player I've ever seen at charging the slow roller on the infield. The next trade was the big one - Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston for 4 of the Astros' top 20 prospects. We got a 5-tool stud outfield stud in Brett Phillips, who was hitting .320 with 16 homers between A/AA at the time of the deal. He already slots in as our #2 prospect in the system behind the rapidly rising Orlando Arcia, and will almost certainly be the biggest impact player of the deal. Every single Astros blog you read about the trade says something to the affect of "I like this trade, but losing Phillips is going to hurt." The Brewers haven't acquired or drafted a prospect that impactful probably since Ryan Braun, so fans have every reason to be excited. Rounding out the pack are Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser, all with skill sets above many of those in our system, but with a ways to go in their development. Santana is an outfielder described as a "Nelson Cruz type" to quote Doug Melvin. Cruz was a guy who developed late in his career with a lot of raw power, and Santana looks to be following that same trajectory. Both Hader and Houser have some plus pitches, but project to solid back-of-rotation starters or setup guys moreso than an "ace." However, as uneasy as it makes me feel to write this, the Brewers now seem to have a surplus of young arms coming up and might not need an ace yet if Nelson and Peralta continue to develop, and we can hit on at least one of our first-round pitchers of the last 3 years in Devin Williams, Kodi Medeiros, and Nate Kirby, all of whom are in the top 10 of the system.
It was hard to believe following the Gomez deal and all the drama that went along with it, that the Brewers were going to do any more, but they did. Hours before the deadline on Friday, our best hitter in Gerardo Parra was unloaded to the Orioles for pitcher Zach Davies, and bullpen goat Jonathan Broxton was traded to the Cardinals for a bag of balls. Ok, so we actually got an A-level prospect for Broxton, but I am willing to bet somebody in the scouting department just was throwing at a dartboard for that one. Like the Aramis trade, this deal was about dumping salary and clearing a roster spot, although at least for Aramis we got somebody with potential, unlike Malik Collymore from the Cards who I doubt will even be playing in a couple years (the nice thing about recording my thoughts on a blog is I can go back and look at this if he becomes a star and see what an idiot I was). Parra, on the other hand, was somebody we actually turned a profit on. We traded a AA-bat for him in Mitch Haniger last year, a promising player but probably still blocked at the major league level for several years (incidentally he was demoted to A-ball this year in the D-backs organization), and we then flipped him a year later during the best season of his career for the O's #3 prospect and a guy who is near major league ready. The organization feels he is probably going to slide right in and compete for Mike Fiers' spot next spring, and still has his full 6 years of control, both of which are what was attractive about him.
Overall I am very excited for the deals the team made and very excited for the future of this team, something I didn't think I would be saying at all this year. I really didn't believe that the ownership had the stomach for a rebuild, especially considering the uncertainty of the GM position moving forward, but I am glad they did. Next year is going to be another brutal year most likely, but looking ahead to 2017 the Brewers look like they have a chance to start another window of success like they did 10 years ago.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.03:
Brewers 44-62, -23.5, -14.0 WC (4 v. Padres, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 47-56, -19.0, -9.5 WC (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Diamondbacks)
Twins 54-50, -8.0, +1.0 WC (4 @ Blue Jays, 3 @ Indians)
2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+15 worked)
Peter - 31