Off-Season 2000: A Look Back

on 08/29/2001

Leskanic's WHIP and K/BB numbers last year should have thrown up a red flag.

As another August winds down with the Brewers closer to last place than first, talk among fans turns to the off-season and next year. Therefore, I thought it would be a good time to look in the rearview mirror and evaluate Dean Taylor's moves from last off-season.

Signed Curtis Leskanic to a three-year, $7.2 million contract through 2003, with incentives to $12.9 million

In hindsight, this looks like an awful move. Leskanic's WHIP and K/BB numbers last year should have thrown up a red flag, but instead he was locked up long-term. He has already lost his role as closer, but we are stuck with him for two more years. To Dean's credit, a good portion of the contract was in the form of incentives, most of which won't be reached by Curtis. However, Dean should have traded him to Houston for Roger Cedeno when he had the chance, which would most likely mean that he wouldn't have...

Signed Jeffery Hammonds to a three-year, $21.75 million contract through 2003

I think most people outside of the Brewers' organization were skeptical about this signing the minute it was announced, and this year has shown that the skepticism was warranted. I think that when healthy Hammonds can be a decent player, but not a $7 million a year guy. Teams like the Brewers can't afford to have big dollars tied up in marginal players, but next year they will be paying Hammonds, Leskanic, and Mark Loretta a combined $14.65 million, or roughly 25% of their projected payroll.

Signed Luis Lopez to a two-year, $1.4 million contract through 2002
Signed Henry Blanco to a two-year, $2.25 million contract through 2002

I'm not sure what Dean was thinking when he signed these two guys to two-year deals. Blanco is excellent defensively, but when he is in the lineup it is like having two pitchers hitting. Guys like Lopez are a dime a dozen, and we actually have a much more promising option at Indy in Marcus Scutaro. If these two guys weren't locked up through 2002, there is probably a pretty good chance that neither would be back next year. However, since they are owed a guaranteed $2.225 million, I would expect to see both on the roster in 2002.

Signed Tyler Houston to a two-year, $3 million contract through 2002

Unlike Blanco and Lopez, Tyler had a breakthrough 2000 campaign and was rewarded with a two-year contract. He was off to a fast start in 2001 before injuring his foot. At this time, he looks like the best option for third base in 2002, and if he is healthy he should be a bargain at $1.55 million.

Signed Jeff D'Amico to a one-year, $2.3 million contract for 2001
Signed Jimmy Haynes to a one-year, $2.2 million contract for 2001
Signed Jamey Wright to a one year, $2.35 million contract for 2001

It was good judgement by Dean to only sign these guys to one-year deals. All three will be eligible for arbitration again this year, but with Ben Sheets, Ruben Quevedo, Nick Neugebauer, Mac Suzuki, and Paul Rigdon as options for next year, the Brewers have some flexibility. The fact that Big Daddy was on the DL most of the year should mean that his arbitration number will be reasonable for next year. Wright and Haynes will each be due a pretty good size raise, but there is almost zero chance that both will be in the Opening Day 2002 rotation. Look for either one of them to be traded, or Haynes to be non-tendered, as it wouldn't make sense to pay a #5/spot starter $4+ million a year.

Traded Santiago Perez and Chad Green to San Diego for Brandon Kolb and Will Cunnane

Though it is not quite as one-sided as it appeared in spring training, Dean came out on top in this trade. Green was released by the Padres shortly after being acquired, and San Diego quickly realized that Perez was not their shortstop of the future, eventually acquiring D'Angelo Jimenez from the Yankees. Kolb was absolutely brutal in his brief stints with the Brewers but has been ok for Indy. Cunnane struggled early on when he was used infrequently, but was improving with a regular workload before he was designated for assignment. He accepted his assignment to Indy and remains an option should a reliever get injured.

Traded Marquis Grissom to Los Angeles for Devon White

This was by far Dean's best move of the off-season. The primary reason for the deal was to get rid of Grissom's guaranteed $5 million contract for 2002 so that the money could be used to re-sign Jeromy Burnitz, but it has turned out to be much more for the Brewers. Yes, Grissom has hit 20 homers for the Dodgers, but in 344 AB's, he has hit .233/.261/.451 for an OPS of 712. Meanwhile, in 309 AB's for the Brewers, Devo has hit .288/.354/.485 for an OPS of 839. The fact that Jenkins and Hammonds missed much of the year with injuries made this move even more important. Actually, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Devo back with the Brewers next year, although for much less than his $5 million option for next season.

Signed Geoff Jenkins to a four-year, $18 million contract through 2004
Signed Richie Sexson to a four-year, $17.5 million contract through 2004

Another shrewd move by Dean was basically "buying out" the arbitration years for Sexson and Jenkins. There are several positives to these deals. To fans, the Brewers showed that they were committed to winning by signing two of the most popular Brewers to long-term deals. If Sexson and Jenkins live up to their potential, the deals will be more than fair for the Brewers. However, if the Brewers decide to go in a different direction, the fact that they are signed to reasonable deals through their arbitration years will make them very attractive to potential suitors. There isn't much negative to say about these two deals.

Signed Jeromy Burnitz to a two-year, $20 million contract extension through 2003

In my opinion, this was another good move. It allowed Burnitz to focus on baseball instead of his contract status. Since his salary for 2002 is only $6.5 million, the $4 million that was saved by trading Grissom almost pays for his salary. Because of his $11.5 million salary in 2003, I would not be surprised if Burnie is traded before then, possibly as early as this off-season. In fact, Dean actually tried to trade him at the July 31 trading deadline this year.

Signed Tony Fernandez to a minor-league contract

Tony was signed to create some competition for Houston and Jose Hernandez at third base, but became Houston's platoon-mate after Loretta went down with an injury. Fernandez filled in admirably in 28 games, posting a .352 OBP. However, he was the odd-man out when Loretta returned and was released.

Overall, I would give Dean a "C" for his moves last off-season. The highlights included locking up Sexson and Jenkins through 2004 and getting rid of Marquis Grissom. However, the contracts that were given to Leskanic, Hammonds, Blanco, and Lopez really reduce the flexibility that Dean will have this off-season to make changes. Also, he failed to acquire his "top priority" - an effective lead-off hitter.

It will be interesting to see what changes this off-season brings for the Brewers. Dean's best moves (Cleveland trade, Colorado trade this April, Weathers/Quevedo trade, claiming Suzuki on waivers) seem to occur during the season. Hopefully Dean has a little better luck this off-season than he did last year.