Feature
 
 
Sign of the Times

Ebert
on 08/07/2001

 
Ben Sheets & Nick Neugebauer (pictured above) aren't going anywhere, as they should be the organization's only 2 completely untouchable players.

Upon realizing that the team has not won a series since the All-Star break, and have not won a home series since May, coupled with the team's recent 11 game losing streak seems to signifiy a need to change things. An overhaul to a certain degree seems likely, as we cannot just wait & expect our currently injured players to bounce back next year & change things significantly.

Out of the gates the season seemed like it may be a long one. People immediately started looking for answers after starting the year 0-4. A trip home to open the brand new & beautiful Miller Park quickly changed things. The team proved that while they may not be heading for a playoff berth, they certainly could make for some interesting games over the course of the season. I don't think I've ever seen a team, outside of the Cecil Fielder/Rob Deer led Detroit Tigers, that could collectively strikeout 10 plus times at the plate yet still win. Of course, as noted by other columns at this website among others, the strikeouts as themselves are not necessarily the problem. The lack of selectivity, situational & clutch hitting & the inability to draw walks are the biggest problems this team faces. Because of that, the exciting games that seemed prevalent well into May, have all but disappeared. The sweep of the Cubs at Wrigley was not a sign of better things to come, simply providing as a false sense of hope. When the exciting plays do occur, they just don't seem as exciting anymore given the team's recent play, or lack thereof.

So what should be done? The team needs better talent, particularly in the lineup. A complete hitter that could serve as an anchor for the lineup seems to be an obvious need. However, acquiring such a hitter may be the single most daunting task for any GM to turn, especially if you're not in the multi-million dollar Jason Giambi market. A more diverse leadoff hitter would be a nice touch as well, and given the team's interest in Roger Cedeno last year, his possible availability this upcoming offseason may make him a oft-mentioned name among Brewer fans, if the Tigers don't beat us to him. Johnny Damon will once again be available if the A's don't re-sign him, yet his contract aspirations given his agent (Scott Boras) don't exactly lend themselves for a logical fit in Milwaukee.

The pitching staff has performed admirably. While not putting up the most ideal of numbers, they have held together & produced by keeping the team in games that could have easily been had if not for the anemic offense. We all know how blessed we are to have the #1 bullpen in the National League if not all of baseball, and despite many recent ugly plays on the field, the Brewers still boast one of the league's better defenses. If our offense was built to play small-ball, similar to the Minnesota Twins, we may be witnessing an entirely different team playing an entirely different style of baseball with entirely different results. But chicks do dig the long ball, from what I've been told.

Ben Sheets has shown what he can do all season. While not performing as good as he can lately, he has flashed the potential to be the staff ace of the Milwaukee Brewers for years to come. Nick Neugebauer has made tremendous strides at the minor league level to give more hope for the future of the ballclub. Out of Ruben Quevedo, Jeff D'Amico, Paul Rigdon, Jimmy Haynes, Jamey Wright, Allen Levrault, etc, we could & more appropriately should have the resources to round out a respectable if not above average starting rotation. Much of this is obviously dependent on some of the current injuries, in particular to D'Amico & Rigdon, among other things. The lower levels offer similar hope in 3-5 years, so hopefully the organization can hang on & fill in with what they have until the system catches up.

For specifics, it may be best to start near the top. No, not Dean Taylor. His efforts to drastically overhaul the organization as a whole have been admirable. His team of officials to run the player development & improve the talent-base are obvious & noteworthy, something we haven't been accustomed to since the days of Harry Dalton. It might just be time to let Davey Lopes go. I have no personal gripes towards Davey, but as others have wonderfully put before, he may not be part of the problem, but he's obviously not part of the solution. Along with him, Rod Carew and the rest of the coaching & training staff departs. With the exception of Bob Apodaca, who has seemed to do an incredibly pro-active job of keeping our makeshift pitching staff effective by making key observations, suggestions & improvements. Felipe Alou may be just what the doctor ordered. While some may question his ability as a manager, his reputation precedes him as a manager that has been known to get the most out of his players, especially young talent. His starpower-like name as a manager could be comparable to that of George Karl, whose presence alone seems to give the Bucks the perception of a winning ballclub. By firing Davey, and with him Rod Carew, both of whom have taken a large amount of the blame for the team's slide regardless of whether or not they have been deserving, the Brewers would be inferring to a certain degree that they WERE responsible for the team's disappointing mid-season slide. This may allow the fans to recognize the scapegoat, to give the team yet another chance to win them over in yet another exciting season as the All-Star game & festivities come to Milwaukee in early to mid-July of next year.

On top of that, I would suggest that out of the Brewers version of the big 3, either Burnitz, Sexson or Jenkins should be dealt in hopes for better, younger players. Ideally, in my mind, Burnitz gets the nomination given his age being on the wrong side of 30, and his relatively large contract. Jenkins carries the most trade value, and Sexson, along with Jose Hernandez, epitomize the team's problems. However, given their age, manageable contracts & importance to the rebuilding efforts of the Brewers, are not likely to be headed anywhere.

Out of Ron Belliard, Mark Loretta, Jose Hernandez & Tyler Houston, at least one of these players should be made available in attempts to improve the talent level of the team. In my mind, Belliard should be the most untouchable, but that also makes him the hottest commodity. Tyler Houston would probably be the next along those lines, and provides at worse a very valuable left-handed bat to come off of the bench. Loretta's impending $5 million dollar deal for next year makes him more available than any of the 4. He seems to be proving to be a bit of a hoax, gaining a reputation he hasn't necessarily deserved. And I can't see the team getting much for Jose Hernandez at all, unless he's added into a deal as a throw-in. For that reason alone, I would become comfortable, whether you like it or not, by getting used to the idea that Jose Hernandez will be playing regularly for the Brewers next year.

Out of our starting pitchers, 1 should probably be made available, again, in hopes to improve the talent-base of the organization. Ben Sheets & Nick Neugebauer aren't going anywhere, as they should be the organization's only 2 completely untouchable players. Jimmy Haynes doesn't carry much value on his own past the trading deadline for teams in desparate need of a 'innings-eater'. Jeff D'Amico could be a mighty chip to trade if he ever stays healthy long enough to prove himself. Until he does so, no need to move him just for the sake of doing so, unless some team is gutsy enough to offer a good enough of a player or two. Ruben Quevedo probably isn't going anywhere given his age & potential, and Paul Rigdon doesn't carry much worth on the trade market at this point in time. Non-closing relief pitchers, like prototypical #5 starters, don't carry much worth on their own unless its at the trading deadline. Pretty much bringing us to Jamey Wright. Wright has shown what he can do when on, and what he can't do when he's not. Either way, his value & marketability probably makes him the most useful, tradable commodity out of our pitching staff.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying that we should fire Davey Lopes. I'm not saying we should hire Felipe Alou. I'm also not saying we should trade Burnitz, Belliard, Loretta & Wright. I am saying that all avenues need to be explored, and that fans should become comfortable with the idea of seeing some of our favorite players depart the Milwaukee Brewers in hopes for better players that fill the holes we need filled. Dean Taylor needs to recognize the team's biggest weaknesses, with weakness number 1 being the team's unproductive offense. This unproductivity is not necessarily a result of too many strikeouts, but too few walks & situational hits. Our current talent base doesn't lead me to believe it will get any better, anytime soon.