Brewers Hell Week: Replacements Can’t Be Counted On Going Forward
On Monday, the Brewers will mercifully return to Miller Park following what is easily one of the worst weeks in recent franchise history. A six game west coast swing that began encouragingly on Monday with Ryan Braun’s three HR display in San Diego ended with a thud on Sunday as the Brewers dropped their third consecutive series in an extra innings affair to the Giants. During that week the team placed a demoralizing three key contributors on the disabled list: Carlos Gomez, Mat Gamel, and Alex Gonzalez (with all the G injuries, I’m already worried about Gallardo). Though Gomez’s hamstring injury is minor and he should be ready to go immediately once his 15 day DL stint ends, but Gamel’s torn ACL has him shelved likely for the rest of the year and Gonzalez appears to have sustained a knee injury of similar severity (note: if his season is indeed over, Gonzalez’s contract option for next year would not vest, making him a free agent at season’s end and causing further uncertainty at the position). The full extent of Gonzalez’s injury should be known tomorrow, but the replays show that we should be prepared for bad news.
All told, the Brewers had a 3-6 road trip including a stop in St. Louis. Against other teams and without the injuries that number may be easier to swallow. To say that Brewer fans are distraught following this stretch of bad baseball is definitely an understatement.
Milwaukee’s depth will be now put to the test. Since Friday, three new players have joined the team from Nashville to replace Gomez, Gamel, and Gonzalez and each of them played in Sunday’s series finale. They are third base prospect Taylor Green (a G last name? Uh oh…), utility man Brooks Conrad, and shortstop Edwin Maysonet. The 30 year-old Maysonet is back in the majors for the first time since 2009 with Houston, and was a late spring training cut. He impressed coaches in Cactus League play, but don’t expect him to hit much (career line of .257/.332/.371 in the minors). He will backup the similarly light-hitting Cesar Izturis at short. Taylor Green is Milwaukee’s reigning Minor League Player of the Year and hit .336 with 22 HR at AAA last year, prompting many fans to clamor for him over the struggling Casey McGehee. He was called up in late August and went 10/37 with two doubles, and earned a spot on the postseason roster. Despite getting minimal work there at AAA, for now it looks like Green will be part of a three-man rotation at first with the switch-hitting Conrad (who has played second most of his career) and follow lefty Travis Ishikawa.
What should we expect from these players?
I must advise you to not get your hopes up, yet. Those who read internet baseball coverage often are probably familiar with the statistic Wins Above Replacement (WAR), but if you aren’t, it essentially measures how much more valuable a player is to a team than a “replacement” player from the bench or minors, in terms of wins (FanGraphs can provide you with a more in-depth description). I mention this because suddenly, there will be at least two players in the lineup every day who fit the description of a replacement player, and that is concerning. With the possible exception of Green, the chances that the recent call-ups, as well as the backups forced into starting roles like Ishikawa and Izturis, will be significant contributors to the team’s success are not good. Having these players making up two spots in the bottom half of the lineup is difficult to swallow after Gonzalez and Gamel performed so solidly down there, especially considering how much the upper half has struggled.
Over the weekend, owner Mark Attanasio reaffirmed his commitment to winning this year, statements echoed by GM Doug Melvin. But if the current composition of the offense proves it isn’t competitive in this year’s National League, Melvin may have to acquire everyday players at both positions if he truly wants Milwaukee in the postseason again. Everyday players are usually only available through trades, and trading will likely be more difficult with the addition of the second playoff spot (more teams will be in contention at the deadline, which could create a heavy buyer’s market). As for free agency, ex-Cub/Pirate 1B Derrek Lee is available, but his skills have declined to the point where he is no longer an everyday player. He may be a legitimate platoon option though, making him worth auditioning.
In a weaker, Pujols- and Fielder-less National League, it may only take 84-86 wins to claim the second wild card, which I believe would make the Brewers’ 2012 season a definite success. I also believe that it would require astronomical feats for the current Brewers’ roster to accomplish that goal. Attanasio and Melvin seem to understand this, so expect them to pursue multiple hitters through trades in the coming months. But if you think that May is too early to be considering major acquistions, consider that the Brewers fell to 10 games under .500 on May 19th, 2010. Despite playing +.500 ball the rest of the way, they only peaked at 5 games under en route to a 77-85 finish, 14 games back of the division-winning Reds. Though the 2010 Brewers were not blessed with actual big-league pitchers like the 2012 Brewers, that team did not seek to improve via trades. If this year’s Brewers stand pat and fall into a similar hole, it will take a lot to climb from it.
Kevan Feyzi blogs on the Brewers for PocketDoppler.com. He enjoys beer, the outdoors, and closers that can pitch multiple innings. He can be followed on Twitter @fevankeyzi.