Thursday, March 24, 2005

What's the deal w/me and money??

So, I decided go out out for a night out on the town and get some cheap wings. It was one of those spur of the moment decisions. I went to park in a different parking ramp, this time away from the notorious ramp where minorities try to steal people's wallets.

I left the bar around 1 AM and headed back to my car to go home and crash for a couple hours. I get to the parking ramp and make the turn to start walking up the ramp when I hear some girls screaming. Being relatively not sober, it took me a second or two to realize what was happening. I see the two girls at the top of the first level and realize that someone stole one of their purses. And then here comes this dirty old man sprinting down the exit ramp where I was. I realized what had actually happened almost exactly at the same time that the purse snatcher was right in front of me.

So I let my instincts take over in a gut reaction. I think the bum had intended on just running right by me, giving me a stiff arm just in case I tried doing something. But I don't think he thought that I knew what was going on. So I just reacted and speared/clotheslined the guy with my right arm and shoulder! I must have lunged at him in the perfect spot because I still can't figure out how I stopped his momentum and put him on his back, instead of him just running over me like a truck. I must have stunned him pretty good because I grabbed the purse back like there was nothing to it. He got up and stumbled off. I returned the purse to the very appreciative girl and I was off on my way home.

I really wished I knew what it is with me and parking ramps. This marks the third episode in the last four months. Prior to that, nothing in four years. Whatever...all I know is that my shoulder hurts like a mother f*cker right now!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Bill Hall Experiment

It appears as if Bill Hall's role with the 2005 Crew will be in an even more expanded role than it was with the 2004 Crew. It appears to me as if Hall will take over Keith Ginter's role as the "super sub" who can play three infield positions plus dabble a little bit in the outfield if needed in a pinch. At the same time last year, it was Ginter who was trying to learn on the fly how to play the corner outfield positions. We all saw how that turned out -- not too good to say the least. Hopefully Hall can make the adjustment better than Ginter did a year ago. Hall is definitely much more athletic, as well as quicker than Ginter was. With that being said, it appears as if the Brewers will break camp with only four outfielders, with McGruder being the lone reserve. 3TO will also be able to man a corner position if needed as well. However, I do not care for the idea of Billy Hall being given more at bats either. Hall's bat and Ginter's bat are not even close in comparison. Outside of McGruder, there isn't really much of an option since all indications are that Dave Krynzel will be sent down to Nashville.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Back from the Desert Southwest

Well, it was quite the vacation. Went down to the Phoenix area on March 10th and came back late on the 16th. The theme of the week was nothing but food, golf, and most importantly, spring training baseball.

We got down to Phoenix and its 70 degree weather around 5pm on Thursday, leaving the Wisconsin snow behind. We had quite the time getting our rental car with Alamo at the airport, it took well over an hour to get the SUV we had ordered. When we got there, the only SUV's that were left were hundreds of Ford Escapes, or a couple of huge, Canyonero-esque Chevy Suburbans, nothing in between like my dad had requested. We finally were able to raise enough hell so that a Chevy Trailblazer magically appeared. Then we were off to find the hotel in Scottsdale.

We stayed at what seemed like was one of the seventeen Marriott Hotels in Scottsdale, particularly, the Scottsdale Renaissance Marriott on the north end of town. The area was a lot more than just the hotel, in fact, there really wasn't even a hotel. It was more like a gated community of condos with its own shopping center, pool, tennis courts, etc. I failed to take advantage of the tennis courts!! Each **room** had its own private jacuzzi as well. I really liked that, even though I only went in it a few times. The one problem that I had with the room was the number of bugs and flies that were all up in our grills the entire time there. They didn't seem to bother anyone else as much as me, but I didn't expect to need a mosquito net to sleep in peace at night!

On Friday, my dad and I went to our first spring training game in Scottsdale, home of the SF Giants. Scottsdale Stadium is located right downtown and was sold out. We got a couple general admission tickets and sat out on the grass berm in the outfield. I was really impressed with the stadium, much nicer looking than the Brewers' main field. It was also the first time that I was exposed to 90+ degree heat in many months! We both did some heavy duty perspiring all while not lifting a finger! After the game, things got a little out of hand....

My mom and sister had the car, so us two guys were on our own for getting back to the hotel. We took a free trolley that got us to a huge shopping mall just north of downtown, where we decided to walk back from to our hotel. Let's just say that this wasn't one of our better decisions on the trip!! Well, I at least, didn't account for the fact that when you're driving at 45 MPH down the main drag, it wouldn't seem too far to walk, but I was wrong. Plus it was hotter than shit outside. To put this in perspective, it took about 20 minutes to get to the hotel to the stadium on the way to the game. The game finished up around 3 PM, got on the trolley, went a few blocks, and was at the mall by about 3:30. After walking for TWO HOURS while dodging over expressway on-ramps, getting blisters from new shoes, and having to drop a deuce in sweltering heat, we made it back. I was ready to collapse, and did!

Saturday's main event for me was a round of golf at Arizona State University's own Karsten golf course. It was right next to Sundevil Stadium and their baseball field. It provided for some very scenic backdrops. The course was actually designed about 10 years ago by Pete Dye, who is famous for designing many, many impossible golf courses, such as the TPC of Sawgrass in Florida and Whistling Straights In Wisconsin. Having seen what Whistling Straights looks like first hand, I can honestly say that the ASU Karsten course was pretty close to the same thing, only scaled down just a notch. The fairways were very narrow, with tons of sand bunkers and railroad ties dotting the perimeter of each hole. The mounds and hills were also rampant throughout the course. It must have taken a ton of work to sculpt the entire course. The only thing that made the course manageable compared to Whistling Straights was the length of the rough. It was over a foot long, like it was for the PGA Championship last summer, but instead was only a couple inches long so it was easier to maneuver around in.

As for how I performed, I thought I did extremely well, considering it was my first time out in over 6 months, plus the fact that it was the most difficult course that I have ever played on in my life. My tee time was for 11:45 and me and my dad got there around 10:30 so I could get a little practice in on the driving range and putting green. My dad decided to stick around and watch me get frustrated as all hell on the driving range. I'm not sure, but that might have been the first time in about 10 years that he's ever really seen me hit a golf ball. I made him take some video of my swing so I could see what I look like when I'm up there hacking. I was cringing when I saw it for the first time!! No wonder I had to have back surgery!!! It feels like I have a decent swing, nothing like the guys on Tour, but not terrible either. It turns out that I'm just one big whirling durbish out there!!!! I looked so terrible, the only thing I could do was laugh at myself!! Anyway, after hitting a bag of balls, my dad left and I headed to the putting surface to time the greens a little bit. Turns out that the greens were damn near impossible. I also discovered that I had given myself a blister the size of a dime on my right pinky finger, didn't have any bandaids, so I had to drastically change my grip, all before I even teed off on the first hole! I was just a little nervous on the first tee...playing with three old guys that were damn near pros, plus having the starter staring me down the whole time, and that's not even mentioning the fact that a four lane highway was directly in my shank-left zone! I hacked the first hole up with a 10, spraying my first drive right at some on-coming traffic, losing 2 balls, and managed to hit a pitching wedge 210 yards somehow. To make a long story short, I managed to get a hold of things and shot a 51 on the front, and a 47 on the back, for a total of 98 in my first round of the year at a damn near impossible course. I'll take it.

Sunday, we went to the Maryvale Complex for the first time, which is in not such a nice neighborhood in west Phoenix, where the Brewers hold their games and workouts. All four of us got there around 10AM. I immediately went to get a ball to have signed for autographs, and no sooner did I get out of the fan shop, but the two phenom prospects, Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, came out of the clubhouse and walked right past me to the practice fields. I promptly got both of their autographs, which promptly made my day! In all, I got Fielder, Weeks, Vinny Rottino, Brad Nelson, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Dave Krynzel, Jeff Housman, Mike Adams, Doug Davis, Chris Capuano, and Nedley Yost to autograph my baseball.

I then went over to watch the minor leaguers, (the future of the Brewers). This was actually pretty exciting for me. I got to see so many of the players that I've read about and followed for the past couple of years. There were 8 different fields, I think, and a row of 4 batting cages, and two other separate areas for pitching/catching/bunting drills. It was really a nice setup with how everything was organized down there.

I had a chance to talk to Vinny Rottino, an old HS teammate and college classmate, for a little bit. He said that he would be focusing on catching a little bit more this year than in the past, but he still intends on being the super utility guy as he was last year. He felt that it was the best chance for him to make it to Milwaukee, since every team needs a super sub off the bench. He looked really smooth receiving the ball when catching, but I never got the chance to see him, or any other catchers for that matter, make any throws to second or third base.

Other highlights from minor league camp.

....Catcher Lou Palmisano is one helluva cocky S.O.B., by far the most self-confident player I seen there.

....2005 1st round Pick Mark Rogers is huge, especially for only being 18. He seems like a very nice guy as well. His mechanics seemed to me as if they could use some more work, although they didn't look too bad, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least bit if he ran into arm trouble in his career if no changes are made to address his cross-body throwing style.

....Manny Parra looked to be the most polished of the pitchers in minor league camp. His delivery looked very smooth, and had some life on his fastball. I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a spot start in Milwaukee like Chris Saenz did last year. Hopefully he's over his arm troubles from last year.

....Catcher John Vanden Berg (UW-Milwaukee) did not impress me at all behind the plate. Reports are that he can handle himself at the plate, but when I saw him catch, I was less than impressed. He couldn't block a ball to save his life, and the number of passed balls in an intrasquad scrimmage was also very high. I could see the pitchers almost privately getting upset with him on the mound.

....Dana Eveland didn't appear to be as large as I thought he would be, which was a nice surprise. I was expecting David Wells, but he was nowhere near that size. Spotted his heater really well in simulated scrimmage. Pretty funny/joking guy too.

...."The Hurricane" Hernan Irrabaren looked very good, both in the field and at the plate. The ball seemed to really jump off his bat, especially for his size. He also picked up on my "Hurricane" shout out.

....Alcides Escobar looked to be in grade school. He made the Hurricane look like Albert Belle.

....One of my personal faves, Roque Mercedes, looked very mature for his age, great build, didn't see him actually throw though.

....Ty Taubenheim looks like a freakin' linebacker!! He's the biggest player they had in camp. Even though he's a relief pitcher, he kept joking about his superior batting/bunting skills ala Ben Sheets.

....Angel Salome looked like the shortest player in camp. I'm 6'4'' and had the chance to stand next to him, he topped out at my chest, and that's WITH his spikes on! Never did get a chance to see him in action, however.

And now my observations from the games and players that I had to pay to watch.

....Ben Hendrickson simply didn't look too good. I'm not sure what it is, but it just doesn't look like he has any confidence in himself at all. It seemed as if he didn't throw a first pitch strike, he would sulk the rest of the at bat by getting down on himself more and more. I would truly have liked to have seen Lil' Ben pitch in Indianapolis last year where he dominated the league because I just can't believe that it's the same player. His velocity appeared to be down, nowhere near reports of a 90+ mph fastball. He couldn't come close to spotting his fastball either, it seemed as if he was just hoping that it would be somewhere in the strikezone, instead of hitting the corners. The "so called" adjustments to his delivery also seemed to be playing games with his head. When he left for the clubhouse after his outing was finished, he passed me on the first base line. He seemed as if he had no idea what had just happened and was out of ideas, but that's just my observation. I'm sure he was frustrated. I sure do hope that he can pull it together because now is the most opportune time for him to get comfortable in the big leagues with him and JJ Hardy being the only two likely rookies to make an impact with the Crew this year.

....Prince Fielder is a man playing amongst boys. I don't believe that he's only 20 years old, he looks at least 30!! All the reports about him being able to hit are true. He does have a good eye, but I noticed that it seems like he makes his mind up before he gets to the plate what he wants to do. Either he'll look at a lot of pitches, or he'll go up there swinging for the fences at the first three pitches that he sees, no matter where they are. His defense looked pretty solid in the field, but I can see him having problems receiving throws from the infielders with his limited stature. He won't be able to save as many throwing errors from the likes of Helms and Hall like Overbay and Sexson are able to do with their taller frames.

....Rickie Weeks also made a good impression on me. It was my first time seeing the Sheffield-esque batting stance. I wish him the best of luck with that! I've never been a fan of all sorts of movement in the box. I'd prefer a quiet approach like Molitor or Ginter and just explode on the ball when it gets to the zone. I can see him having some difficulties getting his timing down with his new stance. He is one of the quickest players that I've seen in a long time as well. Also a lot bigger than I had expected. Attached at the hip with Prince. It seemed as if the two of them didn't talk to anyone else but each other. Must have been lonely when they were split up for the split squad games last Tuesday.

....Didn't get a chance to see J.J. Hardy play shortstop as much as I wanted to. Too much Bill Hall out there for my liking. I did like what I saw on defense though. Very, very smooth. He seemed like he was in slow motion sometimes out there. Maybe it's just me, but I thought he would have had a stronger arm than he does. Maybe he just wasn't displaying it at times, doing just enough to make the play. Positioning and footwork were phenomenal. Had a good approach at the plate, but didn't seem to do a whole lot when up there, which is to be expected.

....Corey Hart seemed to be the toughest player to figure out. He seemed so erratic. He'd look great on one play, then look completely lost the next. I saw him play in left field every time he was in the game. He can definitely move around out there. He did have some problems communicating with Brady Clark in center on a routine deep fly ball. Brady had to make a last second dive after standing still to catch a ball that Hart had called and lost track of. Displayed an above average arm when forced to make a throw. I am affraid everytime he needs to either make a shoe-string, diving, or sliding catch. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he killed himself trying to make the impossible play. He was a mixed bag at the plate. Seems to handle the inside pitches well when he's ahead in the count. Struggled when the pitcher got ahead of him. Made pretty good contact.

....My favorite whipping boy, Wesley Helms, didn't do much of anything to distinguish himself in the 3B race with 3TO Russell Branyan. Reports of Wes losing a lot of weight and looking much more fit didn't seem to fit with what I saw. He still looked like his doughboy self. I think the fact that he had a nice, new short haircut might have been what made everyone seem to think he came into camp in great shape. I will say, in disgust, that he did move around better than last year. He was making solid contact, even though it didn't show up in the hit column. He even knocked my socks off when he made a diving stab on a grounder towards the line and made the play. Maybe, just maybe, there's hope for him being useful this year afterall.

....Russell Branyan, 3TO, is just plain awesome. He can hit for days. Enough said.

....Another interesting little tidbit that I got out of Dougie Davis. He said that he loved it in Milwaukee and really appreciated the chance Doug Melvin took on him. I asked him if he ever envisioned him heading back to the Texas Rangers. He said that he would really like to, but not with their current ownership they have in place there. He said he really likes Buck Showalter, but cannot stand for GM John Hart. Here's hoping that Hart is around in Texas for the next 5 years!!

Back to the vacation!! Monday we were back at the Spring training complex early around 10 again to see more minor league action before the actual Brewers - Diamondbacks game at 1pm. We got to see an intrasquad game between all of the top minor league prospects. That was the highlight of see all the young guys.

After the game, Dad and I met up with Mom and sister and headed to a comedy club on the ASU campus. It was my first time seeing an actual, real comedy act. Some guy that has appeared on Comedy Central, can't remember his name, was there and was really quite funny. I was quite impressed and woke up the next morning with my stomach in pain from laughing so much.

Tuesday I went out and played the TPC of Scottsdale. They hold the FBR Open there for the PGA Tour in February. That tournament routinely draws the largest crowds on tour, except for the Majors. I didn't play the Stadium Course, where the PGA plays, but instead played the Desert Course. The weather was actually pretty refreshing. It was only about 50 degrees, tops, but the sun was out and there was a nice breeze. The course was in immaculate condition. It was a completely different layout that the course I played earlier in the week. If you didn't hit the fairway, there was a good chance you were hitting from desert rocks and sand. Luckily, I hit the majority of the fairways for a change! The TPC was nowhere near as tough as the Pete Dye designed course. I ended up shooting an 89, which is the best 18-hole round of golf that I've ever had. I don't know what it is, but I always tend to play my best on the nicer courses for whatever reason. I also spent waaay too much money in the pro shop after my round, but that's what credit cards are for!!

After the round of golf, I headed back to the hotel, showered up, and grabbed something to eat before heading off back to Maryvale to catch the Brewers - Rangers night game. Sheets made his second start of the spring and didn't look to good, nothing to be worried about yet. The highlight of that game was getting to see Vinny Rottino make a couple plays at 3B in the later innings of the game.

We didn't do much of anything special on Wednesday, except for clearing out of our hotel room and heading to the airport.

There were a lot of things that I wished I had time to do when I was there. I never made it to my favorite restaurant in the world, the Waffle House. That will continue to haunt me. I would have liked to go up into the mountains to either drive/walk/hike for a little bit. We did that the last time we were there, but the weather was terrible and couldn't fully enjoy it. I also would have liked to get a tour of the BOB (Bank One Ballpark). It looks so similar to Miller Park, I would have liked to check it out.

Other thoughts....the number of banks in Scottsdale was simply mind-boggling. On the main drag, Scottsdale Road, you seriously couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Wells Fargo, Bank One, or M&I Bank. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear Wells Fargo's headquarters were in Phoenix, not San Francisco. On a ten mile stretch of the main drag, there were seriously at least 10 different WF banks. That's absurd....The layout of everything is so much different than in Wisconsin, obviously. But everything is so secluded. There are walls around EVERYTHING down there. Every building must be somewhat similar to specifications of nothing really flashy, and adobe/clay looking buildings....Not too many places had Miller Lite on their menus. That really made me unhappy. Being from Wisconsin, I take it for granted and just automatically assume bars and restaurants will have it all over the country. Wrong....The food was some of the best food that I've ever eaten in my life, besides my mothers, of course. I seriously put on 10 pounds from eating meals 2 and 3 times a day, instead of my regular school routine of eating scraps once a day. My body didn't know what to do with all the stuff I was feeding it!!

Just want to say thanks, Dad. I truly appreciate everything you did for us to make this happen. That goes for Mom and Sis as well. I had one hell of a time and wish we could do this more often.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Analyzing Doug Melvin

Brew Tasting By Bryan Smith

"In Billy We Trust." Over at Athletics Nation, this is the defining phrase of the site. Across the Internet, Billy Beane is lauded for his talents as a General Manager -- with admirers pointing to the team's performance over the last several years within the constraints of a tight budget.

For one reason or another, I've never been a diehard fan of Beane's. Maybe the constant praise is to blame or maybe the glorification that was Moneyball. I respect the great work he does annually, but often his praise clouds good work throughout the rest of MLB.

One of those people -- ever so quietly -- and my choice for the Majors' most underrated GM is Doug Melvin. While Milwaukee has been less than impressive since Melvin took the reigns in October of 2002, I find that to be more telling of the train wreck he inherited than anything else. While Director of Scouting Jake Zduriencik stockpiles talent beneath the surface, Melvin has proven to be both cunning and innovative.

With the Selig family giving way to Mark Attanasio atop the organization, hope has sprung that the payroll will rise in coming years. If you combine an increased budget with Zduriencik's top-heavy farm system and Melvin's ability to acquire free talent, it is easy to see that the future looks bright in Milwaukee.

First and foremost atop that list is Melvin, who has had an impressive start in his second GM stint. A look into his two seasons of work provides much of his thinking on how to run an organization:

1. Scour the waiver wire, minor league free agency, and other organizations for cheap, undervalued talent.

2. As age old as capitalism: Buy low, sell high.

3. Use contenders' needs/desires as leverage while trading veterans.

4. Stockpile youth.

5. Hire good teachers for organization.

When rebuilding a franchise, I think it's safe to say those are some good principles to have. With limited pocketbooks comes smaller room for error and Melvin has not proven to be a risktaker. Not yet has he signed a free agent to a deal that pays anything more than $2.35M a year, and only once has he inked a multi-year contract with a free agent. There will be time for that, but seeing limited upside, Melvin knew that time was not 2003-2005.

Instead, Melvin spent time looking at all inexpensive options, looking to find those diamonds in the rough. He has succeeded in doing so, as I account 64 Win Shares in 2003 and 78 in 2004 to the Milwaukee front office's watchful eye. Twenty-two players played in two seasons in Milwaukee after being acquired via the waiver wire, minor league free agency, Rule 5 draft or through trade for cash/meaningless minor leaguers. Extraordinary.

In his first offseason, some of Melvin's first moves were landing who would later be his 2004 and now 2005 starting centerfielders. In his first official transaction, Melvin claimed 27-year-old Scott Podsednik off waivers from the Mariners. Once with Melvin in Texas, a recurring theme here, Poddy would go on to compile 37 Win Shares in two years. Replacing him will be Brady Clark, claimed off waivers from the Mets (1/03) when Melvin saw a player with versatility and discipline. After seven and thirteen Win Share seasons, Clark will open the 2005 season atop the Brew Crew lineup.

During that same winter, Melvin signed two pitchers who would later become his first and last man in the bullpen. Another ex-Ranger, Dan Kolb, was signed and would be influential as a reliever in his two seasons. Brooks Kieschnick was given the opportunity by Milwaukee to play both ways, becoming the most unique 25th man in the Majors. Baseball Prospectus 2005 amusingly points out that in 2003 Brooks excelled in his PH role, while in 2004 his strength was his arm. A great way to spend a few hundred thousand, that's for sure.

Melvin's first trade came a week after the Kieschnik signing, as he attempted to shore up two roster spots with two low-A pitchers. Seeing depth in Minnesota's catching and pitching, Melvin deemed Matt Kinney and Javier Valentin undervalued commodities. Of course, later that spring Melvin needed more outfield depth, and subsequently traded Valentin to Tampa for Jason Conti. Sure, neither turned out particularly well, but six Win Shares is better than Matt Yeatman and Gerry Oakes have amassed.

Not all of his discount signing, however, came that winter. Since then, he acquired (to name a few) two starters and two key relievers. Doug Davis was released by the Blue Jays in July of 2003, allowing Melvin to sign the southpaw as a minor league free agent. Yet another player from his regime in Texas, Davis has turned it around this season, as Baseball Prospectus tabbed him as one of the Majors 20 best pitchers last year. While Victor Santos, Dave Burba, and Jeff Bennett (Rule 5) have not contributed to Davis' level, their contributions were well worth their price.

When success happens to these players, gradually their price -- or the perception of it -- rises. And then, you sell. This has been a philosophy that has most recently been used on Melvin's cell phone, and the type that has benefitted the Brewers the most for the future.

Dean Taylor's stay in Milwaukee isn't one to brag about. Like Chuck LaMar, longevity was about the nicest thing you can reflect on. His best move, in my opinion, was the acquisition of Richie Sexson at the trade deadline in 2000. It didn't take long for Sexson to become a hero in Milwaukee, his power and personality made him an immediate fan favorite. But his salary made him a burden and caused Melvin to trade him last winter. With home run numbers galore you can imagine that there were suitors, but would anyone guess he acquired six players in return?

While there was no way to know this before the trade, Melvin was "helped" by the fact that Richie Sexson went down with injury. Lyle Overbay hit 53 doubles as Sexson's replacement, and his emergence allowed the team the good fortune of not rushing Prince Fielder. Junior Spivey's presence would allow for another trade, Craig Counsell was the "veteran leader," Chad Moeller the fill-in catcher, and there is hope for Chris Capuano and Jorge De La Rosa. Nothing fantastic, but this group totaled forty Win Shares last year, and Sexson has already left Arizona. Two thumbs up.

Another Taylor move -- months before his exit -- was a deadline veteran dump of Mark Loretta to the Astros. We can look at this now and find another thing to make fun of Taylor for, but one of the acquisitions was Keith Ginter, a good player. I've sung Ginter's praises for awhile, and even though I still think he is a better player than Spivey, Junior has definitely allowed for his exit. Melvin, seeing Beane drooling at Ginter, acquired Justin Lehr and Nelson Cruz for him. Early reports say the trade will be good for the Brew Crew, who may have found something to be proud of in Cruz.

Finally, with respect to the true "buy low, sell high" moves, Podsednik's waiver claim now looks a lot better after this winter. Knowing the Sox wanted to trade power for speed, Melvin used the most efficient basestealer as bait and landed a big fish. Carlos Lee. Milwaukee once again has another big right-handed bat to complement Geoff Jenkins, and put a little more punch to the middle of the lineup. Don't you mind that Luis Vizcaino, this was one of Melvin's best moves to date.

Another good move was selling Kolb high. While his revival these past two seasons has been fantastic, the strikeout rate is beyond concerning. So, with John Smoltz moving to the rotation, the Brewers were able to get value for Kolb. Good value. Top fifty prospect value. I've already labeled Jose Capellan my most talked about player, and I'll say if he doesn't succeed as a power starter (remember, think Bartolo Colon) he'll succeed Kolb in short time. Great, great acquisition.

But, I would be remiss in talking about Melvin's skillset without mentioning his weakness. Deadline deals. Dumping veterans. For some reason or another, those two have not mixed well, and the returns have not panned out. While trading veterans is not an easy thing, especially fringe players, you hope that every once in awhile something you get back will help out.

Nine veterans: Paul Bako, Ray King, Alex Sanchez, Curt Leskanic, Eric Young, Mike Dejean, Dave Burba, Ben Grieve, Manny Alexander. Not a fantastic group by any means, but certainly something worthy of more Major League return than Wes Helms (16 WS as Brewer), Wes Obermueller (9), John Foster (1), and some cash. I would hardly say this trait is essential in a General Manager -- I mean when they get good he won't need it -- but it certainly helps when rebuilding.

What has helped is good teaching, something Melvin seems very intent on giving his Major League players. Ned Yost has been a good manager, an ex-catcher and then third base coach for the Braves, I've always been impressed while watching him. Butch Wynegar has some solid reclimation projects as hitting coach, maybe dampening the blow of never fulfilling his promise as a catcher. And in my mind, Mike Maddux is one of the game's three best pitching coaches. The help he has given players (especially Kolb, Davis and Ben Sheets) has aided in making Melvin look good.

The newest addition to this coaching staff, if you will, is Damian Miller. This was Melvin's first major free agent splash, and it's hard to call it that when the total sum doesn't reach ten million. But still, Miller has had an excellent history of catching good pitchers, and that should only help this young staff. His offense will always be serviceable, but the combination of low cost, good defense, and hometown hero more than justifies this deal.

Overall, Doug Melvin is a very good General Manager. His stint in Texas was very good, and while it's going to take a bit to get things going in Milwaukee, time will tell that he should stay in his position a long time.

The final question I want to answer today is the following: How long will this winningless drought last? When will Milwaukee get some playoff games? My answer: not long.

This year should be a bit of a struggle for the Brew, the last season of finding cheap options and, most importantly, further developing their youth. J.J. Hardy will get a ton of at-bats up the middle, as will Dave Krynzel. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder will call their own shots, but I would guess both will be more than ready in 2006. Jose Capellan is very similar and should have 10-15 Major League starts under his belt at this time next year. Those are the big five, the group that should determine whether this rebound happens.

And what they do, I think, is give Melvin a very defined route to take in the next twelve months. Fielder, Weeks and Krynzel will allow for Overbay, Spivey and Clark to become expendable. Along with Hardy, they give the club four starters for under $2M. Throw in the Branyan/Helms combo coming in cheap at the hot corner, and 62.5% of the lineup will be about $5M.

Geoff Jenkins is signed to an extension already, one that will pay him $7.5M in 2006, and then $7M in 2007. Damian Miller will be making $2.35M and $2.25M in those respective seasons. That's just fifteen million dollars, leaving one outfield spot open. Think they have room to lock up Carlos Lee? I think so. Carlos would have a hard time turning down a midseason extension, a move Melvin has proved willing to make in the past.

Melvin also needs to sign Ben Sheets to an extension. A four-year deal for about $50M would in line with the recent signings of Johan Santana, Roy Halladay and Kerry Wood. Sheets is fast becoming one of the game's best, and the club would be seriously mistaken to not tie him up. And with Doug Davis, Chris Capuano, Jose Capellan and Ben Hendrickson filling the rotation for about $3M, the club can afford to pay up for its ace.

All of the above is before the haul that Melvin is likely to get for Overbay, Spivey and Clark. He will have about $10M on the open market to spend judiciously. Really, the only thing stopping this team now is one of the big five failing, which I don't see happening. The combination of these youngsters and a solid core of Sheets, Jenkins, and Lee could be enough to win one or more division titles in the not too distant future.

Then, Melvin will finally get his due.

3TO!! 3TO!! 3TO!!

Another True (Outcomes) Hero
by Tom Meagher
March 10, 2005

Last year, one of the best hitters in baseball was Adam Dunn. Dunn achieved a degree of notoriety for breaking Bobby Bonds’ single-season strikeout record. To many, this was more of a triumph than a failure; Dunn has been dubbed a True Outcomes Hero for his refusal to put the ball in play. His strict adherence to the principles of hitting for the Three True Outcomes -­ the strikeout, the walk, and the home run -­ was music to the ears of many baseball fans.

Things are not all rosy for True Outcomes heroes, however. In a world where batting average continues to be overvalued, sluggers who hit for tremendous power and who get on base often but let their average slide will often face resistance. One such slugger is Russell Branyan. Once lauded as the ultimate modern day True Outcomes Hero, Branyan is spending March fighting for his first full-time major league job with the Brewers.

Branyan, a left-handed hitting third baseman and occasional outfielder, was selected out of high school in the 1994 amateur draft by Cleveland. Branyan struggled in rookie ball, but Cleveland elected to promote him to low-A for his first full professional season. Branyan spent two seasons in the Sally League, and his power numbers were phenomenal. He hit one home run every 13 at bats and notched a whopping .296 Isolated Power. However, Branyan also showed poor command of the strike zone, striking out once every 2.7 at bats. His unimpressive .264 average in two seasons at the Sally League was not what the Indians were looking for.

In 1997, Branyan was promoted to high-A Kinston, where he simply tore the cover off the ball with a .290 batting average and a .663 slugging percentage. On top of that, his plate discipline showed improvement, with his strikeouts down and his walks up. Promoted late in the season to Double-A, however, Branyan couldn’t keep his batting average up, hitting only .234. Nonetheless, his overall production was fine due to the grace of the True Outcomes, as he walked at an outstanding rate and hit a home run every 12 at bats.

In 1998, Branyan adjusted to AA, tearing through pitchers to the tune of a .693 slugging percentage. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by injuries.

Promoted to Triple-A for 1999, however, Branyan fell apart. He struck out 187 times in 395 at bats, putting up a putrid .208 batting average. He managed only 40 singles, but offset that with 42 extra base hits, including 30 home runs. While he continued to draw walks prodigiously, he didn’t do it with enough frequency to save his season. Given a brief audition in the big leagues at midseason, he failed to impress.

Given a second shot at Triple-A at age 24, Branyan managed to improve his power numbers and create a little extra distance above the Mendoza line. Called up to the big leagues on May 31, Branyan made a big impression, smacking six home runs in his first twenty-three plate appearances. Splitting time as a fill-in at DH and in the outfield, he finished his first significant stay in the majors with an excellent .238/.327/.544 line.

In 2001, Cleveland’s third baseman, Travis Fryman, started the season on the DL. Demonstrating faith in our hero, the Indians gave the starting third base job to Branyan, and he did not let them down. In the Indians’ game against the Yankees on June 2, Branyan hit his 12th home run of the season, raising his seasonal line to .247/.333/.549. Things were going well for Branyan. Unfortunately, this game also marked the return of the injured Fryman, who pinch hit for Branyan in the eighth inning.

On the basis of Fryman’s excellent 2000 season, Branyan’s spot in the starting lineup disappeared. This left precious little playing time to Branyan, as Marty Cordova and Juan Gonzalez were having very good seasons in the outfield corners while Jim Thome and Ellis Burks had excellent seasons at first base and DH. Branyan only managed 175 plate appearances over the remainder of the season, and he atrophied to the tune of .216/.297/.418, finishing the season at a disappointing .232/.316/.486. Meanwhile, Fryman couldn’t be dislodged from the starting lineup despite hitting only .263/.327/.335.

In 2002, Branyan looked to finally have his shot, as the departures of Marty Cordova and Juan Gonzalez via free agency left left field open. Unfortunately for our hero, nothing went right. Branyan performed terribly, and on June 7, with Branyan hitting .205/.278/.379, Cleveland flipped him to Cincinnati for Ben Broussard. Cincinnati, with its characteristic glut of outfielders and Sean Casey and Aaron Boone at the corners, had no starting job for Branyan, who ended up playing primarily when Casey was injured.

In the little playing time he had with the Reds, he acquitted himself very well, hitting .244/.349/.516. Unfortunately, Branyan also injured his shoulder with the Reds. In December 2002, he had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder, and he wasn’t healthy again until June.

Upon his return, there was no abundance of playing time. For the next two months, Branyan saw mostly pinch-hitting duty, and in 76 plate appearances was hitting .226/.368/.484. Finally, a starting spot opened for Branyan when the Reds traded Aaron Boone to the Yankees at the trade deadline. There was much rejoicing, but it was to be short-lived; in his second day as the starting third baseman, Branyan suffered a high-ankle sprain and missed most of the ensuing month. Perhaps not fully healthy, Branyan slumped in September and finished the season hitting .216/.322/.438.

The Reds, not confident in Branyan’s ability to stay healthy and perhaps not fans of his offensive approach, elected not to offer Branyan arbitration in the offseason, making him a free agent. He agreed to a minor league contract with the Braves, but Atlanta wasn’t too taken with him. The Braves decided to hand their third base job to the underwhelming Mark DeRosa and relegated Branyan to Triple-A. After less than a month, the Braves decided to unload Branyan to Cleveland for a player to be named later, who turned out to be the supremely unimpressive journeyman minor league reliever Scott Sturkie.

Playing once again for Buffalo, Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate, Branyan hit .288/.374/.591 in 366 plate appearances. The Indians weren’t too interested in giving him a major league roster spot, though, as corner infielders Casey Blake, Ben Broussard, and Lou Merloni were each in the midst of career years.

Finally, on July 26, Branyan was dealt to Milwaukee for future considerations. The Brewers immediately called Branyan up to the major league club to take over for the slumping Wes Helms. Over the balance of the season, Branyan started the majority of Milwaukee’s games at third base and hit a tasty .234/.324/.525. Having once again demonstrated that he can adequately handle major league pitching, our hero seemed poised to finally be rewarded with an everyday job.

Sadly, that everyday job may prove illusory. Reports indicate that Brewers manager Ned Yost remains infatuated with Helms, and Helms arrived at spring training as the Brewers' obligatory "in the best shape of my career!" guy. In addition, the charred remains of prodigal son Jeff Cirillo are in Brewers camp, and Brewers intelligentsia has proclaimed that there's a three-man race between Cirillo, Helms, and Branyan for the hot corner.

Helms is certainly talented in his own right, and Cirillo himself was once an excellent player. However, Helms is unlikely to repeat the 2003 performance that his proponents tout, and even then he only hit .261/.330/.450. Meanwhile, Cirillo is three years removed from his last decent season. Branyan's potential is clearly northward of either of his competitors.

The sensible move is to make Branyan the regular starter and to trot out the right-handed Helms on days when the opposition starts a southpaw. Unfortunately, there's reason to doubt that Yost and the Brewers will do so.

All that True (Outcomes) Believers can do now is hope Milwaukee comes to its senses by rewarding our Hero with the starting job he so richly deserves.