Pushing the Panic Button
When in doubt, fire someone.
That appears to be the message coming from the Milwaukee Brewers front office after last night’s game. General Manager Doug Melvin, indicating that the Blue Crew’s lackluster performance against the cellar dwelling San Diego Padres put him “over the edge”, jettisoned utility man Bill Hall and pitching coach Bill Castro along with demoting starting shortstop J.J. Hardy to Triple-A Nashville in favor of minor league “phenom” Alcides Escobar. It was the second year in a row that Melvin felt the need to invoke ‘drastic measures’ in an effort to spur on his supposedly underachieving ballclub. The moves are reminiscent of last season’s firing of Manager Ned Yost with 2 weeks left in the season.
Today’s moves will no doubt be welcomed by many Brewer fans. Hall has been a favorite target of fans wrath since the Brewers overpaid him after one good season two years prior, even though that year should have been seen as an aberration given Hall’s minor league numbers. Ironically, his dismissal comes after a game in which he hit his 6th home run of the season. The fact that the team is willing to absorb the remaining $10+ million of Hall’s contract is a true measure of their desperation. Likewise, the demotion of Hardy is hardly a surprise. Hardy has struggled all season to find his way at the plate, though he remained a steady defensive presence at shortstop.
On the other hand, the firing of Castro smacks of unfairness. Clearly, he’s been designated as the fall guy for Melvin’s failure to put together a credible major league pitching staff. Castro patiently waited 17 years for his shot as a pitching coach and he certainly deserves better than this. Given what he had to work with, it’s hard to believe that former pitching coach Mike Maddux would have fared any better with this group than did Castro. The staff raised expectations early in the season so, when they reverted to form, Castro was the one who was on the hook for their ineptitude.
While he may not say so, it’s obvious Melvin is feeling some pressure from owner Mark Attanasio. This is the club he put together and it was clear from the beginning of the season that this team had some serious shortcomings starting, but not ending, with the pitching staff. For reasons partly beyong his control, Melvin was unable to replace departed starters CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, leaving a large void at the top of the rotation. The Brewers have also been victimized by their familiar characteristics of a streaky offense overly dependent on the home run and sometimes shaky defense and base running. None of these conditions are conducive to winning baseball.
The moves are not without some risk. Unlike last year, there is no quick fix for the pitching situation. There will also be pressure on Escobar to justify the organization’s faith in him. As a prospect, Escobar not only represented the future of the franchise, but was also a potential bargaining chip to acquire more pitching. If he comes up and fails at the big league level, that option will no longer be in play and the Brewers will be facing much the same situation next year.
In the best case scenario, these moves will light a fire under the team to get them back into the playoff chase. The odds are more likely, however, that this is just window dressing for an uneasy fan base. Doug Melvin and manager Ken Macha had better hope that it’s the former because next time they may be the ones to face the fire.