Sunday, February 13, 2005

2005 Brewers Preview, Part III

The Off-Season

The off-season leading into the 2005 season has been one of the most exciting and optimistic in recent memory. The lead development was the sale of the franchise by Bud Selig to a Los Angeles based investment banker, Mark Attanasio. Attanasio, 47, is considered a lifelong baseball fan that grew up in New York. He has been a Group Managing Director of the Trust Company of the West, a money management firm, since 1995. On January 13th, Major League Baseball unanimously approved the sale of the Brewers at its regularly schedule ownership meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Attanasio brings a desperately needed jolt of enthusiasm to a club that has programmed its fan base to accept losing, a bare-bones payroll, and inept management from both the baseball and business sides of the franchise for over a decade now. Each facet has shown glimpses of change during this off-season.

Front Office

Let us begin with the business side of the franchise. The largest and most notable improvement will be in the payroll. Last year, the Milwaukee franchise had a payroll around $27 million; dead last in the majors, even behind the Montreal Expos who were proportionately owned by each franchise. With the new ownership finally in place, the 2005 payroll is expected to be somewhere in the $40 million range. Attanasio has even indicated that it could go up further if the right player was to come along and be available to the club. This remains unlikely now since the majority of the roster is set for the upcoming season.

New and improved season ticket packages were also introduced for the 2005 campaign. In addition to being able to purchase full season and 20-game ticket plans, as was the case last year, fans can now choose a 9-game plan with a tenth game being offered for free. There are several different options for the 9+1 game plan: hot summer nights, weekend plan, rivals plus, or the premiere plan. Each plan has its advantages. The premiere plan offers the opening day game against Pittsburg. The rivals plus plan offers games against the Cubs, Yankees, and Twins. The weekend plan offers nothing but games on Saturdays and Sundays. The hot summer nights package also includes games against the Cubs, Yankees, Twins, as well as the Braves and Expos.

Mark Attanasio has also mentioned that he would like to better market the franchise. He wants to make the Brewers more than just Milwaukee’s baseball team. He wants to further incorporate the state of Wisconsin, as well as surrounding states, such as the UP of Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and even the northern Illinois area to make the Brewers more of a regionally-based club. This would make the Brewers franchise more lucrative and profitable. Even though Milwaukee itself is considered to be one of the smallest sports markets, if a “grass roots” marketing campaign can drum up more interest in the club from remote areas, then the franchise could potentially operate with a medium market budget. A perfect example is the second annual Brewer’s Winter Tour that is making stops at various cities all across Wisconsin to promote the club for the upcoming season.

Baseball Transactions

It goes without saying that the trade that brought LF Carlos Lee over from the Chicago White Sox for Scott Podsednik, Luis Vizcaino, and minor leaguer Travis Hinton was the best trade to happen for this franchise in years. What it showed to the fans of Milwaukee was that management was indeed committed to putting a winning product out on the field day in and day out. The Brewers were able to take on salary in a trade and acquire a marquee player, instead of getting rid of one, i.e. Richie Sexson a year ago. Lee is scheduled to make $8 million in 2005 and has a team option which will almost assuredly be picked up for $8.5 million.

This was not the only high profile trade that GM Doug Melvin orchestrated. Just days before the Lee trade, Melvin pulled the trigger by sending closer Danny Kolb to the Atlanta Braves for arguably their top pitching prospect - 24 year old, flame thrower Jose Capellan – as well as lesser known pitching prospect Alec Zumwalt.

Capellan enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Braves’ farm system in 2004. After starting out for their A+ affiliate, he quickly moved through the ranks to finish the year with the big league club in Atlanta. Capellan was ranked the 5th best prospect and #1 pitching prospect in the Double-A Southern League by Baseball America after compiling a 5 – 1 record with a 2.50 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 50.1 innings. His repertoire includes a high-90’s fastball, sharp 12 to 6 curveball, and a developing changeup. His most memorable moment for Brewers fans happened last year at the Futures Game during the All Star break. He struck out Brewers top prospect Prince Fielder on three consecutive fastballs. Capellan is currently being tried out as a starting pitcher, but could very well end up as a dominant closer in the big leagues. Look for him to start the year at Triple-A Nashville and be called up sometime in 2005 to Milwaukee.

Another trade that Melvin orchestrated was between him and the devil himself, Billy Beane of the A’s. He pulled the trigger that sent infielder Keith Ginter to Oakland who in turn gave the Brewers relief pitcher Justin Lehr and minor league outfield prospect Nelson Cruz. Lehr is expected to contribute to the big league club this year. He posted a 5.23 ERA in limited action of 32.2 innings last year, his first action in the majors. Lehr is a hard thrower with a fastball that can reach the mid 90’s. But the key to this trade was Cruz. The 24 year old Cruz, finished with an OPS of .947 between three different minor league levels during 2004. Listed below are his stats for the year, obviously, he’ll have to work on cutting down his strikeout total.

2004 Total .326 .385 .562 .947 137 536 109 175 26 99 51 149 16

Among the free agents that signed with the Brewers, catcher and West Salem, WI native Damian Miller will provide the biggest impact. Miller signed a three year contract for $8.75 million. Miller played for Oakland last season where he hit .272 with 9 homers and 58 RBIs. He has caught some of the best pitchers in baseball over his career – Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito. Now Miller will get the chance to add Ben Sheets to that prolific list. The Brewers received very little production from the catcher spot last season between Chad Moeller and Gary Bennett. With Miller expected to be the primary catcher, it forces Moeller into the backup slot where he will be one of the better backups in the entire league.

The other significant signing was that of Ricky Bottalico. The Brewers needed a veteran presence in their bullpen to provide the youngsters some much needed grit and leadership due to the departures of Kolb and Vizcaino. Bottalico actually had a pretty good year for the Mets last season, after missing the majority of the 2003 season due to shoulder surgery. In 69 1/3 innings, Bottalico issued 34 walks and struck out 61 hitters. He allowed only three homers - a very good sign coming to homer-friendly Miller Park - and held opponents to a .215 batting average. Bottalico will serve as one of the main cogs along with Mike Adams and Justin Lehr.

Projected 2005 Roster

CF Brady Clark
2B Junior Spivey
1B Lyle Overbay
LF Carlos Lee
RF Geoff Jenkins
3B Russell Branyan
C Damian Miller
SS J.J. Hardy

C Chad Moeller
3B Wes Helms
MIF Bill Hall
OF Dave Krynzel
OF Chris Magruder

RHP Ben Sheets
LHP Doug Davis
LHP Chris Capuano
RHP Ben Hendrickson
RHP Victor Santos

Bullpen RHP Mike Adams, closer
RHP Ricky Bottalico, setup
RHP Justin Lehr, setup
RHP Matt Wise, middle relief
LHP Jorge de la Rosa, middle relief
RHP Brooks Kieschnick, middle relief
RHP Wes Obermueller, long relief


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home