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What We Can Learn From the Livan Hernandez Deal


Well, it’s not the most awe-inspiring deal Milwaukee has inked in recent years, but Livan Hernandez is, by all accounts, a Milwaukee Brewer now.

There’s no question that help in the bullpen addresses a serious concern for Milwaukee heading into the second half of the season – I just wonder if Hernandez can answer that, or more to the point, if Milwaukee is even asking the right questions.

Livan Hernandez was never a dominant pitcher. He was and is a workhorse, a grinder, a man who led the league twice in complete games and games started. He led the league in innings pitched and batters faced three times. Similarly, he led the league in hits five times – which may also be a consequence of the sheer volume of attempts opposing teams have had against him, especially at his peak.

All in all, he seems to be a starter that you could rely on to get a decent job done and keep your team in position to win – up until his early 30’s.

Those days are long gone, however. Hernandez is 37 now, and while it’s not rare for pitchers to do well into their forties – especially when they make the switch to the bullpen like Livan has – it’s rare for excellent pitchers to get released before the All-Star Break. In fact, it’s downright non-existant.

This brings up some questions about how and why the Brewers operate during the trade deadline, especially in a year like this which has shades of 2008 though admittedly even less successful. Still, a piece or two here and there could turn this season around rather quickly.

It would just appear that Milwaukee is not willing to make that commitment.

Age and money are – for the most part – in an inverse relationship in professional sports. The more fo one you possess, the less of the other you can command. Older players who have not yet gotten their big-time contract (or talent, for that matter) will probably never get them. This creates some enticing opportunities when an older player is released or traded, in that they don’t cost as much to add “veteran leadership” or whatever term you care to use when the truth is you are just hoping for one more year until that body that used to harbor so much talent wears out. And you know you can get it cheap with little expectation, so nobody really loses on the deal – in fact, you only really gain from the deal, even if the player does not perform.

Besides the signing of Ramirez and Gonzalez, every deal made this year from Milwaukee looked like this formula was being followed to the letter. Cesar Izturis, Cody Ransom, and now Livan Hernandez are all deals for players who used to be something to talk about. In all honesty, it looked for a time that Ramirez could easily have fallen in that category.

What does that say about the attitude of the front office, who used to be fearless in “going for it” with a

big name signing, even if it didn’t work out (read: Gagne and Suppan)?

Well number one: it’s a financial statement. The current Brewers team isn’t cheap – even with the old boy’s club filling up on the bench. The roster moves currently being made may reflect more the attitude of the team to conserve their finances for a long-term solution rather than load up on one or two-year experiments that will result in little to no gain in the standings. I can’t say I disagree with the move, even if I want desperately for the Brewers to win now, often, and always.

It could also be good news for those worried about where Marcum, Wolf, and Greinke may end up at the end of the year. Last year, with Prince Fielder, it was obvious that he had stayed as a matter of courtesy for years, and the money was now piling on his doorstep so fast the Brewers could scarcely find the money to throw on top. He was gone and the team knew it, so they made a move that ensured some hope of offensive prowess in the future by landing a huge extension on Braun. They did the same thing with Lucroy this year.

Now they have some other choices to make – Greinke, Marcum, and Wolf are all in danger of leaving at the end of the year – if not sooner. Though they are not making moves to get ahead in the standings, they may be making moves that can help them keep ahead in the balance sheet, which would be just as well if you are looking to get a nice big contract at the end of the year.

Livan Hernandez may turn out to be the reliever Milwaukee has been waiting for. He may have a career revival and will be welcomed by Brewers fans with open arms. We were all unsure about the signing of Hairston last year and he turned into the shot in the arm the team needed all the way through the playoffs. Could Hernandez do the same thing? Of course. But if he doesn’t, that won’t matter much either way.

In previous years the Brewers front office, like the team on the field, went for the home run trade or signing. This year, they have made a switch to more small-ball attitude for both sides of the game. They seem content to knock in a piece here or there, and see how everything falls together as the opportunities pile up. Just like on the field, the front office will have to wait to see how the big picture develops.