PD Sunday Sampler
Up until a couple of days ago, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to write about this morning or if I was going to write at all. With so many fine new contributors to the Pocket Doppler ‘family’, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find ground that hasn’t already been well covered by the time the weekend rolls around.
The “inspiration”, as is often the case with me, was provided by sports talk radio. On Friday, the subject matter on one of the local shows centered on the Milwaukee Brewers and their chances for this season. Conventional wisdom has it that the Brewers are “all in” this year, as they traded their best young players in high profile deals for pitchers Zach Grienke and Shaun Marcum. This argument is furthered by general speculation that this will be the last year in Milwaukee for slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. Following that line, a caller suggested that if things didn’t go as planned for the Brewers this year, General Manager Doug Melvin should begin to explore trade opportunities for Fielder, as well as Grienke and perhaps Marcum too, in an effort to replenish the farm system. He specifically cited the example of the Minnesota Twins trading former staff ace Johann Santana to the New York Mets. He contended that if Grienke and Fielder performed as anticipated, they would be priced out of the Brewers financial range leaving the team in the lurch for the future.
I have a problem with this kind of speculation on a number of levels.
First and foremost, it’s illogical to think that the Brewers will struggle if Grienke and Marcum play well. Those pitchers were acquired with the idea that they were the missing links to a team with so much offensive firepower. I have to believe that if they perform to their capabilities the Brewers will at least remain in contention all year long for a playoff spot in the National League. Likewise, the same applies to Fielder, who stands a better chance of earning the top dollar that agent Scott Boras is expected to demand if he can provide a big offensive boost to the team.
Secondly, I may be in the minority here but I believe that the Brewers’ window of opportunity extends beyond this year and maybe even up to the next 3 or 4 seasons. At this point, I’m not completely convinced that the market for Fielder will be what Boras thinks it is. There are only a few teams in the majors that are in a position to meet Fielder’s asking price and three of the most prominent, Boston, the White Sox and the Yankees are already set at first base with Adrian Gonzalez, Adam Dunn/Paul Konerko, and Mark Texiera respectively. If St. Louis first baseman Albert Pujols decides to explore free agency, that further limits the market for Fielder though it could bring the Cardinals into play if Pujols goes elsewhere. Those circumstances could conspire to keep Fielder in Milwaukee’s price range or prompt him to sign another short term contract with the Brewers in hopes that the market for his services will improve.
Even if Fielder does leave, the Brewers are well positioned everywhere except perhaps at shortstop and centerfield. Corner outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart are signed for the next few seasons, as is starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Grienke is still signed through next season and there’s a reasonable chance that the Brewers can keep him longer. His past history of mental problems that my PD colleague Chris touched on in an earlier post suggest he might be content to remain in Milwaukee rather than chase the big bucks in a larger media market. The club has also been reported to be seeking an extension with Marcum. Under these conditions, it might actually better for the Brewers if Fielder departs because it will free up money to keep the starting pitchers.
The key for the Brewers is the four year contract extension that second baseman Rickie Weeks signed last week. With the early part of his career being sidetracked by injuries, Weeks is just starting to scratch the surface of his ability with the breakout season he had last year. If he can remain healthy, Weeks could be the catalyst for a Brewers resurgence. Along with young catcher Jonathan Lucroy and the others, Weeks’ extension insures that Milwaukee will have a solid nucleus for the foreseeable future.
None of the above is a given, of course. Even new manager Ron Roenicke admitted that his team would be hard pressed to compensate for the loss of any of the starting pitchers to injury for an extended amount of time. The Brewers’ shaky defense could still undermine their pitching upgrade and I remain skeptical about a bullpen that foresees roles for fossils like LaTroy Hawkins and Takashi Saito. Closer John Axford also has to prove that he was more than a one-year wonder.
But neither are there any guarantees for a team with a healthy farm system. The Brewers have been channeling prospects through the organization since Paul Molitor left town and have all of one playoff appearance (and a quick exit, to boot) in all that time to show for it. The greatest need for prospects is when a team is losing and ownership needs to point to a source of hope for the fans. Owner Mark Attanasio knows he needs to keep the turnstiles moving for the Brewers to remain viable in Wisconsin. If he can keep most of this team together for the next few years, they should be able to compete long enough to resupply their minor leagues for the time when it’s once again necessary to tap into them.
Today’s Daytona 500 marks the 10 year anniversary of the race in which NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt was killed. That event also heralded the beginning of the end of my interest with racing.
I was never a big ‘car guy’ but I have a good friend who was into it and I used to look forward to Daytona and ‘speed weeks’ as a sports bridge between the end of the football season and the beginning of baseball. I was also a big Earnhardt fan. I was fascinated by his persona as an outlaw in the sport who evolved into the circuit’s biggest star; going from ‘Ironhead’ to “The Intimidator”. Even if he started at the back of the field, you could usually count on Earnhardt being a factor in any race with other drivers nervous at the prospect of seeing that black Chevrolet in their rearview mirror. Earnhardt appeared indestructible on the race track and 10 years later, I’m still incredulous that he lost his life in what seemed to be such a routine (at least as it looked on TV) wreck.
Since that day, NASCAR became diminished for me and, judging by the TV ratings, many others as well. I switched my allegiance to Dale, Jr. and tried to remain engaged in the sport. After some early promise with his father’s team, DEI, Junior’s accomplishments never really matched his popularity, leaving his career as a mere shell of his namesake’s, fairly or not. Eventually, with the inclusion of Toyota (blashphemy!) and the homogenization of the sport (“Car of Tomorrow”, ugh!), to too many rule changes along with the domination of Hendrick Motorsports (with the ironic exception of Junior) and a points system that inordinately rewards also-rans, NASCAR lost most of its remaining appeal for me.
I’m sure I’ll check in on the ’500′ at some point today, especially since there’s not much of note on opposite. It remains a milestone on the sporting landscape in a similar manner to once greater events such as the Indy 500, Wimbledon or the Kentucky Derby. But mostly it will just serve as reminder that the event no longer measures up to the days when I still expected the iconic #3 to be the first one to cross the finish line.
RANDOM SAMPLINGS: It looks like the University of Wisconsin’s time in the top 10 of the college basketball rankings will be short-lived. Even assuming that the Badgers avenge their loss at Penn St. this evening at the Kohl Center, they are likely to drop in the polls after their loss at Purdue. More than most seasons, there seems to be a dichotomy with this Badger squad; they’re a top 5 team at home but maybe not even top 20 on the road………..The Badger football team has exchanged some coaches with the NFL this offseason, losing DB/LB coach Greg Jackson to the 49ers and RB coach John Settle to the Eagles, while hiring Safeties/Special Teams coach DeMontie Cross from the Bills by way of Purdue. Along with a new defensive coordinator next season, look for the Badgers to have a new look on defense, which may not be entirely a bad thing………..I noted last week that UW guard Jordan Taylor was inexplicably left off the list of finalists for the Bob Cousy award recognizing the NCAA’s top point guard. Lo, and behold, Taylor’s performances against Michigan- and Ohio- State(s) prompted his name to be put back on the list. And rightly so………..Speaking of Ohio State, there was a new development in “Spit-Gate” this week as OSU center Jared Sullinger now says that he was spit on in the tunnel leading to the Kohl Center court before and after their loss in Madison. Sullinger initially ‘tweeted’ that the violation occurred as fans rushed the court after the game. There’s no more reason to believe that happened than there is to think Sullinger is exaggerating but the changing of his story doesn’t support his credibility………..The Marquette Warri, er, Golden Eagles may have kept their slim NCAA hopes alive with yesterday’s home win over Seton Hall. But they’ll probably still need a good showing in the Big East tournament to avoid the NIT………..Joe Montana’s son Nathan, a quarterback at Notre Dame, announced that he was transferring to the University of Montana. Oh, the irony…………Finally, congratulations (again) to the UW-Green Bay women’s basketball team. With yesterday’s win at UW-Milwaukee, the Phoenix clinched a share of the Horizon League title. It is the 13th consecutive regular season league championship for the program. Must be something about the number 13 this year in Green Bay.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the rest of your (snow-filled) weekend.