Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Recent Transactions

Here is a nice recap of the recent moves the Brewers have made within the past week. This, according to www.baseballprospectus.com:

Milwaukee Brewers: According to a certain popular General Manager, a front office spends the first two months of the season figuring out what team they have, the next two months putting together the team they want, and the last two months just playing. In April and May the only move the Brewers made that didn't involve shifting Ben Sheets up and down from the DL was the shipment of Pat Borders to Seattle for cash. Now, in a flurry, come three quick moves that significantly change the team's construction.

First came the trade of 2B Junior Spivey to Washington for RHP Tomokazu Ohka. Okha became expendable to the Nationals when he turned his back on Washington Manager Frank Robinson and Spivey became desirable when the thought of playing Jamey Carroll everyday became too horrible to accept (.236/.301/.271 in 156 plate appearances). Assuming that Carroll and Spivey play at their same levels the rest of the season, the difference between the two, by rough calculation, is approximately half a win every 30 games. With Vidro out until the All-Star break, Spivey fills a desperate need for the Nationals. That he's not perfect in most circumstances, or even all that useful in most roles, is besides the point. Right now, with the Nationals in the thick of the most competitive division in baseball, the move gives them maybe a full win in the standings on the offensive side of the ledger.

Of course, to get that win they had to give Milwaukee their fourth starter. With Tony Armas Jr. and John Patterson back on the roster and Ryan Drese claimed on waivers, it became more and more possible to spare Ohka. Of course, as fishy as Ohka is (.212 BABIP--way below average and likely to move upward soon, 17 SO to 27 BB in 54 innings pitched), he's still a guy you can depend on to pitch at least as well as a fifth starter, which is all the Brewers needed. For the Nationals, the move only makes sense if Ohka's conflicts with Frank Robinson were too distracting to put up with. On a baseball level, the Nationals are clear losers in this deal.

The thing that makes this deal happen, of course, is Rickie Weeks. The Nationals had to scrounge up some pretty mediocre arms to fill the hole they created by trading Ohka, while the Brewers were able to call up their best prospect to fill the position left by the departing Spivey.

In 2004, Rickie Weeks ranked ninth on Baseball Prospectus' Top 50 Prospects list, but he fell to #36 in 2005 due to his spotty defense at the keystone and concerns about how well his power was translating to the pro game. Remember that in his last year at Southern University Weeks put together a .500/.679/.987 season with an astronomical extra-base hit rate of 46.8%; in his first two years of pro ball, his slugging rate averaged just .421.

Weeks seems to have finally adjusted to pro pitching. This year at Triple-A Nashville he was crushing the ball at a .320/.435/.655 rate. Weeks had 14 doubles, nine triples, and 12 home runs in 65 hits and 203 at bats, leading to an extra-base hit percentage of 54%. Weeks had little left to prove in the minors, and although his defense is still a question mark, the bat should carry him as a starter in Milwaukee.

After the Spivey/Ohka flip and the Weeks call-up, the other big news in Milwaukee was the arrival of 1B Prince Fielder. Fielder, son of Cecil, will serve as DH for the Brewers' upcoming inter-league series against Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Fielder dominated Midwest League pitching in 2003 to the tune of a .313/.409/.526 line with 27 homers in 502 at bats (which netted him a well-earned league MVP award). Last year he held his own as a 20 year old in Double-A (.272/.366/.473). Hopes were high for Fielder this year and the Brewers aggressively promoted the 21-year old to Triple-A Nashville.

Through May 16th the aggressiveness looked to be a mistake. At that point in the season Fielder was hitting a paltry .226/.350/.316 with only three home runs in 133 at bats (for comparison, he averaged a HR every 18.6 ABs in 2003 and every 21.6 ABs in 2004). Things were looking sorry and the only consolation was that Fielder was still young and might just need time to adjust to the advanced level.

Looks like he adjusted. Since then Fielder has hit approximately .291/.388/.771, with 12 home runs in 96 at bats. Yowza! Of the 28 hits Fielder has had since May 16th, fully 12 of them have been homers; looks like the power Fielder showed in Single and Double A is back. The Brewers promise that Fielder will head back the minors at the end of the six AL games, but if he keeps knocking the cover off the ball, Fielder could easily push Lyle Overbay off first for the 2006 season.

With Fielder and Weeks looking like solid bets for next year's Opening Day roster, and Bill Hall or J.J. Hardy taking significant time at shortstop, the Brewers rebuilding plan might be largely in place by the beginning of 2006.

--Tom Gorman


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