Friday, February 18, 2005

Ben Sheets' Contract

The Milwaukee Brewers and Ben Sheets agreed on a one-year contract for 2005 worth $6 million. The amount was reached one day before both sides were scheduled for a salary arbitration hearing in Tampa on Monday. The $6 million figure is a compromise from both sides in that they met directly in the middle of each side's salary arbitration offer. In my opinion, there was no reason why each side couldn't have just agreed on this amount after they exchanged figures back in December. It would have saved a lot of time and hassle.

On a related note, the Twins' Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, the closest rival to Sheets in terms of age, makeup, potential, and salary, signed a four-year contract extension for $40 million, thus buying out his last two years of arbitration. This news would appear to be excellent news for Brewers management and their fans. With all the crazy off-season signings of mediocre pitchers, at best, for multimillion dollar contracts (Kris Benson, Eric Milton, Russ Ortiz, Derek Lowe, and Jon Lieber), it wouldn't have been impossible to see Sheets command an annual salary of over $15 million a year if he performed as he did last season. At that price, it would have been very difficult for the Brewers to commit such a huge portion of their future salary to just one player, even if he is a Cy Young candidate. But now it would appear that he would come at a lower price if he chose to re-sign with the Crew by signing an extension. Something along the lines of a four year deal worth 9 - 11 million per year would be a similar offer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Brewers Adopt New Revenue Strategies

From the Milwaukee Business Journal

by Mark Kass

The variable ticket pricing plan to be introduced by the Milwaukee Brewers for the upcoming season could generate an additional $1.5 million to $2 million for the financially strapped team.

The ticket plan is one product of a review the club's management conducted of its business operations under new owner Mark Attanasio, said Rick Schlesinger, Brewers' executive vice president of business operations. Attanasio, a Los Angeles investment banker, purchased the team for $220 million in a deal approved by Major League Baseball owners in January.

"We've looked at everything we do to see if we can find a better way to do it to make more money," Schlesinger said. "Our mission on the business side is to increase revenue and give it to the baseball operations people so they can put a better team on the field."

Attanasio has already committed to increasing the team's payroll for the 2005 season from $28 million to about $40 million.

Some changes have already been implemented, such as the variable ticket pricing and a new nine-game ticket package. Other improvements are likely to be announced over the next several months, including specialty retail shops at Miller Park, more in-game activities for children and more business sponsorship opportunities.

The variable pricing will only apply to the 10 games against the Chicago Cubs and the three games vs. the New York Yankees at Miller Park. The additional fee, which will range from $3 to $9 per ticket, will depend on seat location. For example, a field infield box seat that normally costs $35 per game will sell for $44 for the 10 "marquee games."

The additional fees will not be charged to fans who buy full season tickets or partial packages, including the nine-game packages the team recently introduced.

Market research

The Brewers conducted market research before introducing both the nine-game season ticket package and the "marquee game" plan.

The team hired Milwaukee-based Dieringer Research Group to conduct focus groups after the 2004 season. The Brewers followed up with in-stadium and telephone surveys.

"We analyzed this carefully to make sure we were making the right decision for our fans and for this team," Schlesinger said.

Brewers management decided to try the variable pricing on what are expected to be the most popular games of the home schedule. In 2004, all 10 Cubs games drew at least 40,000 fans, almost double the team's single game attendance average.

"From the studies we've done, it is clear that a large number of fans for these games come from out of town," Schlesinger said.

Variable pricing has been adopted by more than half of the teams in Major League Baseball, Schlesinger said.

"It is becoming a fact of life in baseball," said Jim Pokrywczynski, an associate professor of advertising and public relations at Marquette University. "It has become another resource that teams like the Brewers have tried to increase revenue to become more competitive."

Pokrywczynski said fans who want to attend the Cubs and Yankees games are likely to not mind paying the extra fee, which they would have to do if they bought the tickets from a ticket broker.

"Why shouldn't the Brewers be able to pocket some of that extra money that people are willing to pay to see those games?" he said.

Ticket sales

The Brewers' season ticket sales are running ahead of last year's pace, which Schlesinger attributed to the enthusiasm among fans about Attanasio's purchase of the team.

The team had about 7,000 season ticket holders in 2004 and would like to build the ticket base back to more than 10,000, where it was in 2001, the first year in Miller Park.

In addition, the number of businesses that have renewed sponsorships is ahead of the team's goal.

A year ago, the Brewers were dealing with the public relations fallout of the departure of team president Ulice Payne and the decision to sell the club.

"The environment around this team has changed dramatically in the past year," he said. "Everything is very positive right now."

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

2005 Brewers Preview, Part II

2004 Season Review

The Milwaukee Brewers suffered through another tough season in 2004, posting a record of 67 wins against 94 losses, good for last place in the National League Central Division. This marked the twelfth consecutive losing season in Milwaukee.

There were several bright spots for the Crew in 2004. They posted a winning record through the first half of the season and generated a buzz in Milwaukee that hadn’t been seen since in years. At one point in early July, the Brewers had recorded 44 victories and were six games above .500, third place in the division, within striking distance of the wild card, and only seven games behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ben Sheets had one of the best years of any starting pitcher in the Major Leagues. He was flat out dominant, perhaps recording the most impressive season by a Brewer pitcher in club history. Sheets finished fourth overall in the majors with a 2.70 ERA. Had he received any run support from his teammates, his 12 – 14 record would have been much more impressive and would have garnered him more recognition in the Cy Young award voting at season’s end. Ben Sheets set a club strikeout record of 264 K’s in 237 innings pitched, good for a 10.03 K/9 ratio. His WHIP was also phenomenal – 0.98.

Doug Davis also opened many eyes with a steady performance as the #2 starter behind Ben Sheets. Davis was a waiver wire claim by Doug Melvin late in 2003 from the Toronto Blue Jays. Melvin has had previous experience with Davis from their days together in the Texas Rangers organization. Insiders were skeptical to see if Davis could perform at the high level he displayed with the Brewers at the end of the 2003 season. He matched that performance, and then some. Davis finished the season tied with Sheets at 12 wins, was second on the team with 207 innings pitched, and had a 7.21 K/9 ratio. It should also be noted that the duo of Sheets and Davis finished first in the majors among teammates with quality starts.

Relief pitcher Dan Kolb also finished his first full season as the club’s closer. All he did was set a new club record for saves, notching 39, good for eighth in the National League. Kolb displayed outstanding control – allowing only 15 walks over 571/3 innings. Taking the advice of pitching coach Mike Maddux, Kolb did not fully exert himself during each appearance. Instead of throwing high 90’s heat, he relied on a low 90’s sinker that displayed much more movement and did not tax his fragile arm as much. This forced him to pitch to contact instead of trying to overpower everyone, which resulted in a meager 3.30 K/9 ratio. To demonstrate how dominant Kolb was at times with this new approach, he allowed only one extra base hit prior to the All Star break.

Another pleasant surprise was the play of first baseman Lyle Overbay. After coming over in the much debated Richie Sexson trade during the prior off-season, Overbay was handed the first base job immediately. He did not disappoint. In his first full major league season, he posted a batting average of .301, on-base percentage of .385, slugging percentage of .478, and an OPS of .863, good for 44th in the majors. He collected 174 hits, added a triple, and put up 16 home runs over the span of 579 at bats in 159 games. Overbay also showed a knack for discipline at the plate, drawing 81 walks. Oh, and it should also be mentioned that he led the entire major leagues in doubles with 53, no small accomplishment for a player in his first full year of big league ball!

Brady Clark also managed to turn some heads and gain the respect of Ned Yost as being a gritty, scrappy ballplayer. Clark finally was given the opportunity to play everyday as the Brewers’ starting right fielder for the majority of the year for the first time in his career rather than being a bench player or Triple-A castoff. Although not showing much power offensively, Clark managed to post a robust .385 on-base percentage.

Those were the main pleasant surprises for the 2004 Milwaukee Brewers. Everything began to unravel after the All Star Break. The Brewers posted the worst second-half record in MLB history for a team with a winning record at the Break. To say the wheels completely fell off would be quite the understatement. After the All-Star break, the Brewers were a wretched 22-53, winning only six games in 27 attempts in August. The club struggled home with 94 losses, matching 2003’s loss figure, for a .416 winning percentage.

The main cause for the downward spiral was the anemic offense. The team finished dead last in team batting average at .248. The offense also ranked 28th out of 30 teams in OPS, which stands for on-base plus slugging percentage, the benchmark statistic for measuring a player as well as a team’s offensive value. The team finished with a pathetic mark of .708, only five points from finishing dead last behind the Montreal Expos.

Other key stats that point to the lack of offense show that the Brewers finished ties for last in MLB with a paltry 135 home runs and next to last in runs scored with 634, finishing ahead of only Arizona. But the most glaring statistic was the Brewers batting average of .221 with runners in scoring position. To illustrate just how poor the team was in this category, the next closest team, the Expos, finished 18 points ahead of the Brewers. The club’s mark of .221 also represented the worst mark for any club over the previous three seasons.

Centerfielder Scott Podsednik also had a disappointing second year for the Crew. He batted only .244, down from his .314 mark as a rookie the previous year. He posted just 85 runs and 156 base hits, which are poor numbers for a leadoff man, especially considering he had 640 AB’s in 154 games. Podsednik also struck out way too often, 105 punch outs, which shows a lack of contact and concentration at the plate for a leadoff man. Not every statistic was considered to be a down year for Scott – he did set a club record by stealing 70 bases.

Another key player the Brewers were counting on to have a huge year in 2004 was Geoff Jenkins. Unfortunately, he didn’t live up to his potential or monstrous contract. Milwaukee expected him to provide a much needed source of power in the middle of the lineup. He did lead the team in runs with 88, 27 homeruns, and 93 runs batted in. Without digging deeper, those would look like a fine year for most players. But the 27 homers represented one less than his 2003 year total, and it took him an extra 130 at bats to accomplish it in 2004. His on-base percentage was a measly .325, not the number one looks for in a clean up hitter. This can be attributed to a lack of patience – only 46 walks in 617 at bats, resulting in a walk every 13.4 at bats. Jenkins also led the team with 152 strike outs. Also, just like Podsednik, his batting average also slumped severely, falling from .296 in 2003 to .264 in 2004.

2005 Brewers Preview, Part I

Important Off-season Dates:

Feb. 19: Voluntary reporting date for pitchers, catchers and injured players
Feb. 24: Voluntary reporting date for all other players
Mar. 2: Mandatory reporting date
Mar. 2-11: Teams may renew contracts of unsigned players
Mar. 16: Last day to place a player on unconditional release waivers and pay 30 days termination pay instead of 45 days
Mar. 30: Last day to request unconditional release waivers on a player without having to pay his full 2005 salary
Apr. 4: Opening day! Active rosters reduced to 25 players

Off-season Transactions:
10/26: Signed 3B Matt Erickson to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
11/8: Signed C Mark Johnson to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
11/17: Signed C Pat Borders to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
11/17: Added SS J.J. Hardy, OF Brad Nelson, RHPs Mike Jones and Luis Pena, and LHP Jeff Housman to the 40-man roster
11/28: Signed C Damian Miller to a 3-year Major League contract
11/29: Designated OF Chris Magruder for assignment
12/1: Signed LHP Rigo Beltran to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
12/6: OF Chris Magruder accepted assignment to AAA Nashville and was invited to spring training
12/6: Signed IF Trent Durrington to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
12/7: Lost RHP Pedro Liriano on waivers to the Philadelphia Phillies
12/8: Resigned C Chad Moeller to a 1-year Major League contract
12/11: Traded RHP Dan L. Kolb to the Atlanta Braves for RHP Jose Capellan and a PTBNL (non-roster RHP Alec Zumwalt)
12/13: Selected RHP Marcos Carvajal in the Major League Rule 5 Draft and sold his contract to the Colorado Rockies
12/13: Traded CF Scott Podsednik, RHP Jose Vizcaino and a PTBNL to the Chicago White Sox for LF Carlos Lee
12/15: Traded IF Keith Ginter to the Oakland Athletics for RHP Justin Lehr and OF Nelson Cruz
12/15: Signed LHP Tommy Phelps to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
12/16: Resigned 3B Russ Branyan to a 1-year Major League contract
12/16: Signed IF Kevin Orie to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
12/20: Did not offer a contract to RHP Chris Saenz, making him a free agent
12/21: Signed RHP Julio Santana to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
1/3: Signed RHP Chad Paranto to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
1/7: Signed RHP Jerome Gamble to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
1/10: Sent 1B Travis Hinton to the Chicago White Sox as the Player to be Named in the Carlos Lee trade.
1/11: Resigned Chris Saenz to a 1 year deal and with an invitation to spring training
1/11: Signed IF Steve Scarborough to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
1/12: Signed C Julio Mosquera to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
1/13: Released LHP Matt Ford, making him a free agent
1/13: Resigned LHP Matt Ford to a 1 year, minor league contract
1/13: Signed RHP Rick Helling to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training
1/17: Signed RHP Ricky Bottalico to a 1 year contract
1/19: Signed RHP Brooks Kieschnick to a 1 year deal, avoiding
salary arbitration 1/27: Signed OF Brady Clark to a 1 year deal, avoiding salary arbitration
2/4: Signed IF Jeff Cirillo to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training
2/4: Signed 2B Junior Spivey to a 1 year deal, avoiding salary arbitration

Arbitration Results
Russell Branyan, 3B (2004 salary, $300,000): New contract, $800,000 for 1 year
Brady Clark, OF (2004 salary, $376,000): New contract; $1,150,000 for 1 year
Brooks Kieschnick, RP (2004 salary, $380,000): New contract, $550,000 for 1 year
Chad Moeller, C (2004 salary, $370,000): New contract, $700,000 for 1 year
Ben Sheets, SP (2004 salary, $2,425,000):
Junior Spivey, 2B (2004 salary, $2,400,000): New contract, $2,125,000 for 1 year

Players Invited to Big League Camp

Pitchers (29):
Mike Adams, RHP (40-man)
Rigo Beltran, LHP (NRI)
Jeff Bennett, RHP (40-man)
Ricky Bottalico, RHP (40-man)
Jose Capellan, RHP (40-man)
Chris Capuano, LHP (40-man)
Doug Davis, LHP (40-man)
Jorge de la Rosa, LHP (40-man)
Ben Diggins, RHP (40-man)
Jerome Gamble, RHP (NRI)
Gary Glover, RHP (40-man)
Rick Helling, RHP (NRI)
Ben Hendrickson, RHP (40-man)
Jeff Housman, LHP (40-man)
Mike Jones, RHP (40-man/injured)
Brooks Kieschnick, RHP (40-man)
Justin Lehr, RHP (40-man)
Sam Narron, LHP (40-man)
Wes Obermueller, RHP (40-man)
Chad Paranto, RHP (NRI)
Luis Pena, RHP (40-man)
Tommy Phelps, LHP (NRI)
Andy Pratt, LHP (40-man)
Julio Santana, RHP (NRI)
Victor Santos, RHP (40-man)
Dennis Sarfate, RHP (40-man)
Ben Sheets, RHP (40-man)
Derrick Turnbow, RHP (40-man)
Matt Wise, RHP (40-man)

Infielders (18):
Russ Branyan, 3B (40-man)
Jeff Cirillo, IF (NRI)
Enrique Cruz, SS (NRI)
Trent Durrington, IF (NRI)
Matt Erickson, 3B (NRI)
Prince Fielder, 1B (NRI)
Bill Hall, SS (40-man)
J.J. Hardy, SS (40-man)
Wes Helms, 3B (40-man)
Mark Johnson, C (NRI)
Damian Miller, C (40-man)
Chad Moeller, C (40-man)
Julio Mosquera, C (NRI)
Kevin Orie, IF (NRI)
Lyle Overbay, 1B (40-man)
Pat Borders, C (NRI)
Junior Spivey, 2B (40-man)
Rickie Weeks, 2B (40-man)

Outfielders (8):
Brady Clark, CF (40-man)
Nelson Cruz, RF (40-man)
Corey Hart, RF (40-man)
Geoff Jenkins, RF (40-man)
Dave Krynzel, CF (40-man)
Carlos Lee, LF (40-man)
Chris Magruder, RF (NRI)
Brad Nelson, LF (40-man)

Blog This!

As my lone faithful reader pointed out to me, I haven't written anything in many moons.

Ass clown,

How fucking long does it take for you to come up with a new rant????

Love always, Bone

I tell you what, my friend. I'll come up with something, just for SOB!