Okay. The Brewers have a flair for the dramatic. We all get that, and we all saw it coming from a mile away. It had to happen eventually
Doug Melvin, Mark Attanasio, and the rest of the Brewers organization were so quiet this offseason… with the exception of revamping the bullpen by bringing in sturdy pieces like Tom Gorzelanny, Michael Gonzalez, Burke Badenhop, and Michael Olmsted, the Brewers did virtually nothing this offseason.
This, after the club two years prior sold the farm in acquiring two starting pitchers—Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum—to immediately contend for a World Series run. Then, the following year, after offering a $100 million contract to Prince Fielder and ultimately losing him to a deal that was both twice the length and double the monetary value, went after veteran (and rival) third baseman Aramis Ramirez to help replace some of Fielder’s prolific offense.
Let’s stop here for a minute. I can’t cite any articles, and I neither feel like, nor do I think it’s possible for me to go back to the twitter reactions from Brewers fans when they signed Ramirez. What I can tell you is that it was not universally positive. I was watching very closely (hoping they’d move on either Jose Reyes or Ramirez), and I remember the reactions very well. The detractors (of which there were quite a few) were contending that Ramirez was too old, not a good enough defender, and overpriced.
Ramirez was 33 years old last season, so he is on a bit of an age tilt. But he still managed to surpass even the optimists of the signing, including myself. I saw Ramirez posting an honest .275 BA with around 15-20 homers and 75-85 RBI. Worth the money, but only just. Instead, Ramirez put the hammer down on everyone and slammed 27 homers, 105 RBI, and he put up a slashline of .300/.360/.540, numbers that pushed him into ninth in MVP voting, which would have undoubtedly been higher if the Brewers were a playoff-bound team. Along with Braun’s improved power numbers, the two (along with Corey Hart) made for one of the most threatening 3-4-5 punches in all of baseball. That isn’t even bringing up his defense, which was stellar… so stellar, in fact, that Ramirez was a top-five finalist for a Gold Glove at third base (and in my humble opinion, should have won it).
What have we to learn here? Brewers fans are passionate… as passionate as any in baseball, and they react like crazy when this team makes signings perceived as risky. They want this team to be good both in the present and in the future, and the additions of Kyle Lohse and now Yuniesky Betancourt have jarred the fanbase, and have kept the streak of flashy offseason moves by the Brewers alive.
First, Lohse. Let me get this out of the way… if I see one more Jeff Suppan comparison, I’ll burst. Honestly. Lohse is NOT Jeff Suppan 2.0. Suppan didn’t have any of the tools that Lohse has, Suppan was always mediocre-to-bad, whereas Lohse has had an average career until his explosion onto the scene the last two years with the St. Louis Cardinals.
I can argue all day about why Lohse is better than Suppan, but any self-respecting fan can look at the situation and see that it’s simply the truth. Suppan threw an 85 MPH fastball and didn’t hit his spots. He sucked with the Brewers, he sucked before, and he still sucks now. Plain and simple.
Lohse works primarily with his 2-seam fastball that sits around 90-91 MPH, a hard dipping change-up in the low-80s, a very tight slider in the mid-80s that almost looks like a slider/cutter hybrid, and a curve in the low-70s. He mixes his pitches well, he hits his spots, and he gets a lot of ground ball outs, a valuable tool in fly ball-friendly Miller Park. He won’t have a K/9 above 7.0, but he’ll get a decent amount of strikeouts on location and familiarity of the division alone.
Lohse was undeniably good last year. His 16-3 record (.842 W-L%) led the league, he pitched to a 2.86 ERA in 211 innings, to go along with 143 strikeouts and a remarkable WHIP of 1.090. He had another good year the season prior, going 14-8 with a 3.39 ERA in 188.1 IP with 111 Ks. Two great seasons. And the big thing about Lohse is the fact that all of the stats are going the right direction… in 2010, he had a BB/9 of 3.4, in 2011 it dipped to 2.0, and in 2012 it was a microscopic 1.6. His K/9 has gone from 5.3 in both 2010 and 2011 to 6.1 in 2012, and he boasted a career high in K/BB with a 3.76, a very good, top of the rotation number.
All of this because he switched from a 4-seam fastball, with which he had less control, to a 2-seam fastball (starting in 2011), which has been the catalyst for his success.
Point is, don’t write Lohse off. It’s foolish to condemn him before he even wears Brewers blue. He’s a great No. 2 behind Yovani Gallardo, and while it’s hard to see him having an ERA below 3.00 again this season, it’s not hard to imagine a solid ERA in the low-to-mid 3s. All of that for the 10th best free agent available to start the winter, and well below the five year, $75 million dollar contract agent Scott Boras was reportedly seeking.
Now, a few words on the much maligned Yuniesky Betancourt, whose signing came the day after Lohse’s. Betancourt, of course, was the primary shortstop in the 2011 NL Central champion Brewers squad, and while he didn’t shock the world with his offensive production (.252/.271/.381, 13 homers, 68 RBI), he didn’t completely offend anyone. His defense wasn’t as glaringly bad as advertised either, even initiating one of the defensive plays of the year for the Brewers on May 9th, 2011.
So far, if his contract information has been released, I haven’t been able to find it (aside from it being a one year, major league deal), but if the Brewers were able to snag Alex Gonzalez, their other main utility infielder, for $1.5 million, my guess is that Yuni B. came dirt cheap—probably around $1 million with a few incentives.
His defense isn’t great. In fact, it’s pretty subpar. He sort of makes up for it on offense, but even his bat is frustratingly streaky. He boots his fair share of routine plays on defense, and he practically never draws walks at the plate. But he has some pop in his bat, he has the ability to make astounding defensive plays, and can play every infield position, though to varying results ranging from average to… not so average.
The vitriol surrounding the return of Yuni to the Brewers is probably mostly in a comical context, as he has earned a reputation of being a player that fans love to hate, but the move itself was practical. With Taylor Green and Jeff Bianchi headed for the DL, Donnie Murphy seeing the door, Corey Hart out until at least early-May, and Mat Gamel out for the entire season, the move was not only smart and cheap, it was necessary. The Brewers could have taken a chance on someone else, but they’re familiar with Yuni, and by all accounts, he’s a good guy to be around in the clubhouse, so why not?
The biggest drawback of the past two days is that the Brewers surrendered the 17th overall pick in the first year player’s draft by signing Lohse, which was a major reason Lohse was without a home until just this week, and a big reason many fans aren’t happy about his arrival. Losing that pick sucks, but the Brewers farm system isn’t as bad as most believe, and I think they can take that hit. Having a solid No. 2 behind Yo and in front of an extremely talented No. 3 in Marco Estrada makes the Brewers a much better team.
To say they’re World Series contenders is a pretty big stretch. To say they’re a better team in a much better position to make a run at a playoff spot? That’s not quite so outlandish, and it’s because of these moves.
Take a chill pill, Brewers fans… opening day is 5 days away! It’s going to be a fun season, and I fully expect the smart additions to rebuild the bullpen, add Lohse to the rotation, and bring back Betancourt for infield depth will prove to be a series of moves that will silence the Melvin critics for at least a few months.
If I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow. But I think we’re all hoping I’m right.