Friday, December 13, 2013

Hunter Morris is not the answer

                With Corey Hart, James Loney, and Logan Morrison off the market the options are running out for the Brewers open spot at first base.  Ike Davis seems to be their top target as of right now, but Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland, Adam Lind, and Mike Carp are also probably available should the Pirates be able to snipe Davis.  None of these players are slam dunks and each one will cost a player in to acquire.  That has led some people to wonder why Hunter Morris isn’t in play.  The answer is really quite simple if you look past his “2012 Brewers Minor League Player of the Year” season.
                I won’t take that away from him though.  He was pretty good in 2012 at Double-A Huntsville.  He hit 301/357/563 with 28 home runs.  So yeah, if that’s all you’re looking at it seems confusing that he isn’t being talked about more.  Unfortunately for Morris, the Brewers are aware of his contributions before and after that season.  Take a look:

2010 (A):             251/306/436
2011 (A+)*          277/299/461
2013 (AAA) :       247/301/457

*He did get promoted to AA in 2011 but he only played 4 games (17 plate appearances) so I didn’t include those stats.

Another thing to consider: BABIP (batting average on balls in play)

2010:  286
2011:  289 (again not including the 17 PAs at AA)
2012:  342
2013: 280

That 2012 BABIP is so far out of line it’s simply unsustainable.  This is evidenced by a return to the norm in 2013.  The power is real, I'll give him that, but that 2012 "breakout" is an illusion.  This is why Hunter Morris is not being seriously considered.
              I hear a lot people say that if he isn’t ready now at 25, he’ll never be ready.  There is no logic in that assertion.  Morris is below replacement level player right now so why would you want to put him on the Brewers 25 man roster anyway?  Because he’s getting older?  That’s no argument.  Some people take longer to develop.  Morris was just added to the 40-man roster this offseason so he has all 3 options remaining.  That means the Brewers can let him develop for three more seasons if they really wanted to and he clearly needs that time.  I’m sure we’ll see him in Milwaukee at some point this season but it may not be until September.  His performance in 2014 will tell us a lot about his future, but a lot will also depend on who the Brewers do get to play first base.

Brewers draft lottery ticket in Rule 5

                Yesterday the Winter Meetings ended and unfortunately the Brewers were unable to fill their hole at first base.  They didn’t leave entirely empty handed though.  The Rule 5 draft took place yesterday and the Brewers were more active than they have been in recent years.  I won’t pretend to care about the minor league part of the draft, but I am intrigued by their major league selection. 
The Brewers drafted 21 year old Taiwanese left-handed pitcher Wei-Chung Wang from the Pirates.  He intriguing not because I think he can be good, though he could be for all I know.  He’s intriguing because I have absolutely no idea what he is at all.  I mean, yes, he’s a left-handed pitcher.  Aside from that, he’s a complete mystery.  This is because he’s only pitched 1 season in professional baseball and that was for the Pirates rookie league club.  He was only eligible because after the Pirates signed him, it was learned that he would need Tommy John surgery.  They voided his original deal and signed him to a lesser contract.  He immediately became eligible for the Rule 5 draft when his original deal was voided.
The way the Rule 5 draft works, the Brewers are going to have to keep Wang on their major league roster for the entire 2014 season or give him back to the Pirates.  There are ways to work around that by having him spend time on the DL with a “convenient” injury, but he would have to spend at least 92 days on the MLB roster.  Should the Brewers find a way to keep him on the roster for 2014, they will then be able to option him normally starting in 2015.  That would give him 3 years to develop in the minors.  I have no idea what his potential is, but the Brewers must think either he can be a quality reliever right now or a starter in the future.  That’s intriguing, especially for a club that has had such trouble developing starters, left-handers double so.
So what are the Brewers supposed to do with arguably the most inexperienced player in the major leagues for a season?  Well, clearly they will have to put him in the bullpen.   Because he’ll only be facing batters once a game, it’ll let him get by with lesser stuff.  That will also limit his impact (positive or negative) on the season.  To further aid him, the Brewers would likely only use him in lower leverage and mop-up situations.  Perhaps they will use him as a left-handed specialist.  (In general I’m against wasting a spot on a LOOGY but I’d make an exception here.)  They have at least one left hander in the pen with Gorzelanny, but he recently had surgery to clean up his shoulder and it’s not guaranteed he’ll be ready when the season starts.  They also have recently acquired Will Smith.  Doug Melvin said they will look at him as a starter in Spring Training and make their decision then.  I can see one of three things happening with Smith.  He could be the fifth starter for the Brewers which would allow Wang to take the LOOGY role.  He could pitch out of the pen and the Brewers could use 2-3 lefties (two of which may only be LOOGYs and that’s scary).  Or, Smith could start in AAA, which would also allow Wang to fill the LOOGY role.
I think there is a solid chance the Brewers take a look at Wang in the spring, don’t like what they see, and give him back to the Pirates before he ever pitches an inning.  Still, if he can survive in the bullpen for a season, he offers a lot of upside.  Or at least I think he does.  Even if he develops into just a back-end starter this was another savvy move by Melvin and the Brewers.  In a season where contending is a longshot at best, I think it’s worth the risk.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Updated roster and payroll projections.

                   With the Winter Meetings coming up next week and after a couple of minor to moderate deals the Brewers have made recently, I decided now would be a good time to update the my projected 25-man roster.  You can find the original here.  Since I wrote that, the non-tender deadline has passed.  As you'll remember Burke Badenhop was traded so the only arb-eligible players left were Marco Estrada and Juan Francisco.  Both were tendered contracts, the total sums of which are to be determined but it's estimated the two combined will cost around $5 million.  In much bigger news, the Brewers recently traded Nori Aoki for LHP Will Smith.  I think that leaves the Brewers with only 2 spots left to fill.  One of those spots should be filled by Corey Hart.  I recently estimated his contract to be around $6 million plus incentives.  Here's where I see the roster now:

C: Jonathan Lucroy ($2 MM)
BN: Martin Maldonado ($500 k)
1B: Corey Hart ($6 MM)
BN: Juan Francisco ($1.4 MM)
2B: Scooter Gennett ($500 k)
BN: Rickie Weeks ($11 MM)
3B: Aramis Ramirez ($10 MM)
BN: Jeff Bianchi ($500 k)
SS: Jean Segura ($500 k)

LF: Khris Davis ($500 k)

CF: Carlos Gomez ($7 MM)
OF: Logan Schafer ($500 k)
RF: Ryan Braun ($12.5 MM)

SP: Kyle Lohse ($11 MM)
RP: Jim Henderson ($500 k)
SP: Yovani Gallardo ($11.5 MM)
RP: Brandon Kintzler ($500 k)
SP: Wily Peralta ($500 K)
RP: Tom Gorzelanny ($2.8 MM)
SP: Marco Estrada ($3.5 MM)
RP: Rob Wooten ($500 k)
SP: Tyler Thornburg ($500 k)
RP: Donovan Hand ($500 k)

RP: Will Smith ($500k)
RP: Free Agent

                   With one roster spot open in the bullpen, I estimate the payroll to be approximately $86.2 million.  That's only $1.2 million more than last year.  It's here I'll remind you that every club is receiving an additional $25 million from Nat'l TV deals.  Don't expect them to use all of that money on the payroll.  They have other things to spend on like the First Year Player Draft, international signings, ballpark improvements, scouting system, etc.  Even then, they should have at least another $5 million left to spend.
                    The Brewers will have several decent or better internal options to fill that last roster spot, but I discussed depth here and I believe it's actually in their best interest to sign a free agent.  The Brewers are reported to be looking for a reliever with closing experience and for better or worse, as you can see by my payroll estimate, they'll have plenty of money to spend.  Though, I'm not advocating spending $10 million on a "proven closer."  Closers aren't things.  I've already discussed what I might do with bullpen here.  I still believe there is an outside chance they buy another starter, in which case Thornburg would move to the pen.  It's really slim, and with what's left on the market, I'm heavily leaning towards giving the 5th rotation spot to Thornburg.  The Brewers have stated they'll try Will Smith out of the rotation in Spring Training, but I think he'll have to do a lot to take the spot from Thornburg.  Either way, one of them will likely be in the rotation and the other in the pen.
                      I think it's possible the Brewers could trade one or more of Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Aramis Ramirez, and Rickie Weeks.  The problem with Lohse and Gallardo is finding decent replacements, assuming the plan is to compete.  If the plan were to rebuild then just trade them all and don't worry about it.  It's not though.  They do have several internal options (Smith, Nelson, Hellweg, Fiers, Burgos), but none are as good as either pitcher.  I'm not terribly intrigued by any of the remaining free agents either.  At this point I don't expect either to be traded before the season starts.  They might be on the block by midseason though.
                     The problem with Ramirez and Weeks are their salaries, though I think Ramirez's is less of an obstacle than some believe since $6 million is deferred.  The other problem with Weeks is his performance (or lack thereof) the past two season and to a lesser extent, his hamstring injury.  I will point out that the Yankees are now lacking a second baseman and third baseman (once A-Rod is suspended).  I'm not saying that Ramirez and Weeks are the perfect fit, just that they could be a fit.  I previously mentioned the Yankees as a possible trade partner for Ramirez, but Weeks could make sense too as he can be platooned with Kelly Johnson.  Payroll towards the luxury tax is factored through contract AAV.  So, while Ramirez technically makes $16 million next year, and even though $6 million is deferred, his AAV is $12 million dollars.  Weeks' AAV is just under $10 million.  That's less than what A-Rod or Cano would make individually.  That gives them tons of money to spend while filling two spots reasonably well.  It's the very definition of a longshot, but I think the Brewers would be very open to shedding the payroll.  The main problem is finding a replacement at third.  
                      This year's Winter Meetings should prove to be quite boring.  I honestly don't expect any more trades, but there will be talk.  I do think the Brewers will re-sign Hart before the meetings are over.  Hart is a family man so I imagine the latest would be by Christmas.  If the past is any indication, Melvin will wait before he signs his reliever with closer experience.  This offseason has developed crazy fast though, so I wouldn't be shocked to see all the moves the Brewers make for the rest of it, happen next week.  All two of them.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What would a Corey Hart contract look like?

Corey Hart was finally medicallycleared to resume baseball activities on December 3.  Teams have already been checking in on him and with the Winter Meetings beginning next week I expect his market to develop quickly.  I actually think he’ll sign some time before the meetings are over so I wanted to explore what his contract would look like if he were to re-sign with the Brewers.
                I think Mike Napoli is a perfect comp for Hart.  Here is what they did from 2010 through 2012

Hart:     277/344/509, 56 home runs, 130 wRC+

Napoli: 279/379/552, 54 home runs, 147 wRC+

In 2013 Napoli had a 3 year $39 million deal in place with the Red Sox before something in his medicals tanked that.  He ended up signing an incentive laden oneyear deal.  The base was for $5 million with another $8 million in incentives.  Napoli was slightly better offensively and Hart is a year younger, but the big difference here is that Hart has missed an entire year with knee injuries.  He’s still going to get paid though and with the way salaries are rising I expect Hart’s deal (after incentives) will be close to the $13 million mark reached by Napoli.  Corey has stated that he will be willing to take a discount to stay in Milwaukee but I think if he does it won’t be for much.  I actually think it’s more likely that he agrees to defer payment for the incentives reached, to a later date.  It makes sense for the Brewers and there is precedent for it. 
                Some people have suggested that with all the interest from other teams, for the Brewers to get him, they’ll have to include a team or vesting option for a second year at market price.  I think this would serve as a deterrent.  Hart is getting older and is probably only going to get one more multi-year deal before his career is over.  If he takes that second year he hits free agency when he’s 34 instead of 33.  He would also be giving up an opportunity to cash in next offseason.  Look at it this way:

Best-case Scenario 1:  Hart signs a 1 year incentive laden deal w/option.  Hart has a good season and the option vests.  He makes $13 million in each year of his two years.  He enters free agency at 34.

Best-case Scenario 2: Hart signs a 1 year incentive laden deal.  Hart has a good season.  He makes $13 million.  He enters free agency at 33.

Worst-case Scenario 1: Hart signs a 1 year incentive laden deal w/option.  Hart has a bad year and the team declines his option or they don’t allow it to vest.  He enters free agency at 33 coming off a bad year.

Worst-case Scenario 2: Hart signs a 1 year incentive laden deal.  Hart has a bad year.  He enters free agency at 33 coming off a bad year.

The second best-case scenario carries the best chance for Hart to make the most money.  He enters free agency a year younger than in scenario 1 coming off a good year.  In scenario 2 he needs to have two good years to allow him the opportunity to get a multi-year deal in free agency.  Both worst-case scenarios are essentially the same except that in scenario 1 Hart maybe gets another $500,000 from a buyout.  The only way an option makes sense is if it’s a player option.  That way Hart decides what he wants to do.  There is a lot of risk inherent in that option, and I’m not sure the Brewers would do that.  I really don’t think any team is going to go past 1 guaranteed year for Hart, so there’s no reason the Brewers have to.
                Ultimately I think Hart signs a 1 year deal with the Brewers.  It’ll have a relatively low base salary around $5-6 million, perhaps with some of it deferred.  It’ll also include incentives that are reached based on games played and plate appearances that will allow him to make another $6-8 million, also possibly deferred.

Brewers trade Norichika Aoki to Royals for Will Smith

 By Derek Harvey (@2ndHS)

               Earlier today the Brewers traded Norichika Aoki to the Royals for 24 year left-handed pitcher Will Smith.  I previously wrote that it was time to trade Aoki, but despite that I’m not a big fan of this particular trade.  Smith seems most suited for relief and even then he may need to be relegated to lefty specialist.  That isn’t much even for a league average, power-lite, corner outfielder on a (very cheap) 1 year contract.  Still, it happened so we might as well take a look at the implications.
                Obviously this opens a spot for another outfielder and the Brewers have already said they are going with Khris Davis in left field and moving Ryan Braun to right field.  I’m a big fan of this.  Braun will be able to give approximately the same level of defense in right as Aoki provided.  Khris Davis has a much higher offensive potential than Aoki does.  He’s going to be worse defensively than Braun in left, though.  So in essence what we’re talking about here is a decrease in defensive capability in left field and a large increase in offensive capability in the line-up.  That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.
                The question then becomes what to do with Will Smith?  The Brewers have said they will look at him as a starter in spring training.  He did come up through the minors as a starter and made 16 starts for the Royals in 2012, but he wasn’t very good.  In 2013 they used him out of the pen and he was much better.  He throws in the low 90’s with his fastball which was well below average (-10.4 runs) in 2012 when he was a starter, and a little bit above average (+0.7 runs) in 2013 when he was mostly a reliever.  He has solid slider that was worth 2.8 runs above average in relief.  He has a curveball and change-up but neither has been effective.  He has a problem limiting the home run whether he’s pitching out of the rotation or in the bullpen and in Miller Park that could be accentuated.  Smith might have the ability to move to the rotation in the same way Marco Estrada did, but I wouldn’t expect it.  If he is starting in 2014 it’ll probably be in AAA.  For now at least my money is on him throwing out of the Brewers’ bullpen, possibly as a LOOGY.  In 2013, mostly as a reliever, he had a 2.63 FIP and a 0.89! xFIP against lefties, but 4.21 FIP and 3.74 xFIP against righties.  He had similar platoon splits in 2012 as a starter.  Bottom-line, he’s been far less effective against rightes, caveat being the small sample size.
                The last thing to be determined is who leads-off.  The three candidates will likely be Scooter Gennett, Jean Segura, and Carlos Gomez.  I think Gomez has too much power to hit out of the lead-off spot.  Gennett is too much of question mark for me to be comfortable with him.  Segura isn’t necessarily a great option either as he doesn’t take a lot of walks so his on-base percentage is heavily tied into his batting average.  He also cooled off a lot later in the season.  I’m hoping that’s because he was tired after playing the full 2012 season, followed by winter ball, and then the full 2013 season.  Were it up to me I’d put Segura lead-off followed by Gomez.  I want to see more of Gennett before I put him in such an important spot.  I’d have him batting 8th.  Also, that way nothing would have to change when Weeks gets the start against left-handed pitching.
                Smith’s ceiling is as a back-end starter and if he hits that, then this was a decent, if not great trade.  Smiths’s floor, and a more realistic expectation, is as a left-handed specialist.  If that’s the case this was a poor trade.  He could also be a solid middle reliever who’s brutal to lefties.  That’s good, but I’m not sure it was the best use of Aoki.  At the very least I would have waited until the trade deadline, but maybe this was the best they were ever going to get.  It’s a little hard to second-guess something with essentially no information.  I can’t know the level of interest from other clubs or how hard the Brewers shopped Aoki, but if a LOOGY isn’t the lowliest of positions on a baseball team, I don’t know what is.  It did open a spot for Khris Davis which I think alone makes them better for 2014.  But there were better ways of doing that.  Aoki was gone after this year so it’s not like they’ve ruined themselves, but I think they might have sold themselves short.