By Jeff Passan, Yahoo! Sports
November 21, 2007
Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason plans of every MLB team before the Dec. 3-6 winter meetings. Our series continues with the Milwaukee Brewers.
2007 record: 83-79
Finish: Second place, National League Central
2007 opening-day payroll: $71 million
Free agents: Francisco Cordero, RP; Tony Graffanino, UT; Geoff Jenkins, OF; Ray King, RP; Corey Koskie, 3B; Scott Linebrink, RP; Damian Miller, C
General manager Doug Melvin, one of the savviest in the game, is constructing the Brewers knowing that he needs to save money for long-term deals with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and the potential gem of the 2009 free-agent class, Ben Sheets.
So nearing an agreement with catcher Jason Kendall, Melvin traded Johnny Estrada to the Mets on Tuesday for reliever Guillermo Mota, who can step into a late-inning role. Should the Brewers' contract offer to Cordero not suffice – and considering the market for relievers compared to what the Brewers can pay, it won't – perhaps he'll dangle Dave Bush or Chris Capuano, as Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra both showed last season that they're rotation-ready.
The Brewers likely will offer arbitration to Cordero and Linebrink, both Type A free agents, which means teams in the back half of the first round signing them must surrender their draft pick. Milwaukee is banking on the paucity of good relief pitching out there as well as their trust in scouting director Jack Zduriencik, which is well-earned.
There's still plenty of work to be done in the bullpen. Milwaukee gave Randy Choate a split contract, hoping he can justify the major-league portion, and should be players for Matt Herges, LaTroy Hawkins, Ron Mahay and others.
And if they really want to splurge, perhaps they jump into the game for a free-agent center fielder. It makes too much sense not to. Move Bill Hall back to third, shift Ryan Braun to left field and suddenly you've got a lineup to rival the division-winning Cubs' and perhaps the best in the National League.
Situations such as the Brewers' are difficult to stomach, because here Doug Melvin goes out and makes a great trade to acquire Cordero, only to know he'll leave via free agency. Who did it take to acquire Cordero? Carlos Lee, who, yes, would have left via free agency.
Milwaukee owner Mark Attanasio is in that no-man's land of spending, with a payroll around $70 million. Imagine that he did OK a deal for Torii Hunter, who has indicated he'd like to play in Milwaukee. Imagine this lineup: Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Torii Hunter, Bill Hall, Rickie Weeks, Jason Kendall. Wow.
As is, Milwaukee can hit, though, so its priorities return to a pitching staff hanging on Ben Sheets. Which is like dangling from a mountain on a string of dental floss, because Sheets hasn't lasted a whole season in three years. In that 2004 season, though, Sheets struck out 264 and walked 32. The only other pitchers since 1900 with more than 250 strikeouts and less than 40 walks in a season are Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Ferguson Jenkins.
So, healthy, Milwaukee's got an ace. And in Gallardo, it's got a future one. And if Capuano can return to his All-Star form of 2006, Jeff Suppan can play the No. 4 role he plays so well and the Brewers have to allow Bush, Claudio Vargas and Parra to fight for the fifth spot – well, that's a mighty nice rotation.
Ultimately, then, it's on the bullpen, which is why the Cordero loss hurts so much. In the season's first two months, he gave up one run. He finished with a 2.98 ERA and 44 saves, second in the NL. He brought respectability to a bullpen that, relying on Derrick Turnbow, had lost it. And with his loss, the Brewers have to start all over, beginning with the end.
NEXT: Minnesota Twins
Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Thursday, Nov 22, 2007 12:07 am, EST
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