This year has been distinctly different from the past ten years of failure in this organization. Granted, each year has had its own characteristics, but in contrast to past years, where change for the sake of change seemed to be the "plan" of choice, this year gives me a vague sense of new thinking. Is this just ever-bountiful optimism? I'm not sure yet. There appears to be some recognition that the old model of patchwork free agent acquisitions didn't work. There seems to be a willingness to admit defeat and act accordingly. Furthermore, there seems to be a break from the obvious scapegoat trick. As I said though, I'm not convinced. I will know after this off-season, of that I'm sure, but it would be helpful to know now.
Let's look at the available evidence. First after whacking Lopes, there has been relatively little rumbling about Dean Taylor. There has been debate, but not enough to inspire the kiss of death, the vote of confidence. It would certainly be easy to try and buy another year by bringing in an entirely new administration. This isn't meant to say that Dean shouldn't be fired or that he should. There is ample reason to go a different direction, and at the same time reason to believe that if Wendy has actually changed her mind on how to run things, that Dean could do alright. Then again, it could be Bando II.
The other evidence stems from the in-season trades and moves. In a tough sellers market, Dean managed to deal Houston, Loretta, Wright, and Ochoa. In terms of a new direction, the Brewers showed a willingness to treat Lo and Wright as sunk costs by paying their salaries to make deals. He also managed to ditch some salary as well. The deals netted the team one good prospect, in Ben Diggins, as well as a net of 5 PTBNL (player to be named later) type players. All of the players we are receiving have been named, I believe, with only one outgoing player left to be named. Overall the players received fit expectations varying in quality from almost roster filler, to solid major leaguer, and fringe prospect. Looking at the rest of the team Jose Hernandez, Matt Stairs, Lenny Harris, and a catcher should have been dealt as well. Of those, Lenny and the catcher were long shots, though I am a bit surprised that Lenny didn't get a bite with his over inflated .300 batting average. On the other hand, dealing Wright and Lo was seen as very difficult from the out set of the season. In the end I think Dean deserves a B for his efforts: a solid all around mix of talent and salary savings. An A grade would have required a major prospect of some sort which almost certainly would have come only in a Jose deal.
Clearly, a number of those players could have been kept on in an attempt to avoid 100 losses. By being incredibly active, the team has demonstrated some recognition of past mistakes. The names Nilsson and Nomo come to mind. The team is also making a much more overt attempt to play minor leaguers with promise in the waning portion of the season. Contrasting that is the scattershot nature of this spate of transactions. Izzy Alcantara was exposed for little reason other than some sort of attempt to maintain order. Jimmy Osting was apparently judged by 3 starts. Jayson Durocher was valuable only because he performed immediately. The promotions of David Pember and Ben Diggins seem to flow more out of a desire to "show" youth instead of build with it. I'd love to be able to say that I have confidence that Dean and Co. have made very deliberate decisions on who they think is ready and will really benefit from the September call up. I remain skeptical that a true plan yet exists. What you'd like to see would be a commitment to get these young guys regular playing time, and not an emergency double header start. There's plenty of veteran players on the club that could have their time scaled back, so that Jim Rushford can get everyday time and work on making those adjustments for next year.
Having gone through the evidence, I see enough to warrant-guarded optimism that things are getting better. On some level, incremental improvements are being made. Conversely, enough ambiguity exists, that a recent Wisconsin State Journal article about how the management is still refusing to acknowledge that they goofed and are still playing "what if" games, rings true. Develop a new plan that involves building a talent base to contend at a set future date, and stop worrying about what move you can make that might get you to .500 next year.
Player of the Week
Normally here at player of the week, I look for who has done the most during the last week to help the team. The player is usually having an excellent hot streak. Heading into the Chicago series, there were a number of contenders, but all of them universally fell flat on their faces. So this week, I choose to honor a player whose hard work an perseverance have allowed him to rise through the ranks and show enough for Dean and Co. to promote him to the big leagues. The player is a bit light on conventional tools, and will probably never be much more than a role player, so this week I honor David Pember. (admit it, you all thought I was going to say Rushford didn't ya).
Prince Fielder HR pool
I think Jim Goulart (MassBrew, in our fan forum) and I were feeling pretty good about our predictions right before Prince got promoted. I ran the numbers at the time, and he was on pace to hit 19, which is exactly what I picked. Then he got promoted and sick, struggling for over a week. It's entirely plausible that Prince's return to health may have been hampered by his diet. Even if he's well overweight, it's still hard to keep on losing weight and recover at the same time. It's not an indictment or anything, just a simple observation. Anyway, Prince finished with 13 HR's giving the crown to Patrick Ebert, with an honorable mention to Toby Harrmann for guessing 14. I will surely cook up more prediction contests over the winter for our amusement.