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Should Tommy John be in the Hall of Fame?
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Grading the Brewers Front Office

on 11/15/2001

By acquiring Quevedo, the Brewers got a young starting pitcher that will help anchor the rotation for years to come.

With the recent completion of the World Series, the 2001 MLB season has officially come to an end, and the preparation for the 2002 season will begin. This is the perfect time to look back at the moves that the Brewers' front office made over the last year in preparation for and during the 2001 season. The following is a list of the significant transactions that were made in the past year. The grades that I've given these took several factors into consideration: performance of the players involved, the involvement of the player in the team's success, financial implications, and the always important impact on the Brewers' future.

Signed Luis Lopez to a Two-Year Contract Extension

In a move that didn't make a lot of sense to me, the Brewers resigned Luis Lopez to a two-year contract extension worth $1.4 million, with a possible $300,000 in performance bonuses. I don't understand why the Brewers wanted to lock up Lopez with a multi-year deal, because utility players aren't all that important or hard to find. Lopez played solid defense and hit an acceptable .270/.326/.387 in 2001, but his career numbers are considerably lower. This was a poor move by the Brewers, as they could have gotten the same production out of Marcos Scutaro or Lou Collier for about $500,000 less per year. Grade: D

Nearly Traded Jeromy Burnitz and Santiago Perez for Phil Nevin and Heathcliff Slocumb

I'm including this deal because it actually was agreed upon and set to happen, provided that Burnitz and the Padres could agree on a contract extension. They couldn't come to terms and the deal fell through, however. Burnitz went on to have another solid year for the Brewers, while Phil Nevin continued to show that he was in fact a late bloomer by hitting .306/.388/.588 with 41 HR and 126 RBI. The Brewers continue to have questions at third base, and are looking to acquire a 'contact hitter' this off-season. If this deal had gone through last year, it appears that neither of these would be an issue right now, in addition to lowering payroll. All Brewer fans can say about this one is 'what if...' Grade: INC

Signed Curtis Leskanic to a Three-Year Extension

To lock up their closer for an extended period, the Brewers signed Leskanic to a 3-year deal worth $7.2 million guaranteed with a chance for up to $12.9 million with incentives. It turned out that the incentives were a good idea, as Curtis had a disappointing 2001 season. He managed to save only 17 games, while blowing 7, with a decent 3.63 ERA. He got off to a slow start, and struggled a bit with his control. His inconsistency eventually caused Davey Lopes to go to a closer-by-committee. It was revealed near the end of the season that Curtis required surgery to repair damage to his rotator cuff. It is widely speculated that he pitched through pain for part of the season, and that the injury might have contributed to his inconsistency. It is unclear at this point if Curtis will be ready to pitch at the start of next season. I still believe that Curtis will be a decent closer for the Brewers in the remaining two years, or at least a solid setup man for the bullpen. That's a lot of money to be paying to a setup man, though. Grade: C+

Traded Santiago Perez and Chad Green for Brandon Kolb and Will Cunnane

Shortly after the Burnitz/Nevin deal fell through, the Brewers and the Padres agreed on this deal. Originally Perez and a player to be named later for Kolb and another player to be named later (from here on abbreviated as PTBNL), Green and Cunnane would be the players to eventually complete the deal. Perez was out of minor-league options, and the Brewers didn't have a place to fit him on the Major-League roster either. Trading him for Kolb essentially got the Brewers a serviceable middle relief arm for a player they couldn't use. The surprising thing about the trade was the inclusion of former first round draft pick Chad Green. Green had seemingly hit a wall in the minors and was definitely earning the label of a bust. By including him, the Brewers' front office showed that they wouldn't tolerate a lack of progression and results. Most fans were happy to get anything for Green at that point. Over the course of the season, the players involved left both sides disappointed. Perez was slated to compete for the starting job at shortstop for the Padres, but didn't serve in much more than a utility role for most of the season. Green continued to flounder in the Padres' minor-league system, and was eventually released. Cunnane made the Brewers' 25-man roster out of spring training, but was the victim of sporadic use and was eventually designated for assignment. He completed the rest of the year with AAA Indianapolis. Kolb spent the majority of the year in AAA, but was called to the majors several times during the season. His appearances in Milwaukee were vastly inconsistent and included some that were absolutely horrific. Kolb was removed from the 40-man roster at the end of the season. Both Cunnane and Kolb are now minor-league free agents, but either could be with the Brewers next year. The bottom line on this trade was that we got two pitchers for next to nothing. Unfortunately, neither pitcher performed well. Grade: C+

Signed Tyler Houston to a Two-Year Contract Extension

In what I believe was a solid move by the Brewers, they signed Tyler Houston to a 2-year, $3 million contract. Tyler had put up decent numbers in 2000, causing some to wonder if he could turn out to be a Nevin-like late bloomer. He continued to hit well in 2001 (.289/.343/.472), and exhibited defense at third base that was greatly improved from the previous year. Unfortunately, Tyler suffered a stress reduction in his ankle in mid-July that sidelined him for two months, and an aggravation of the same injury ended his season after a short return. Signing Houston for two years at a fairly low rate was a good move by Dean Taylor, because it allowed the Brewers to see if his increased production was legitimate. Houston could be very good trade bait at the 2002 trade deadline. Grade: B+

Signed Jeffrey Hammonds to a Three-Year Contract

The Brewers were a player in the free agent market, signing Hammonds to a three -year deal worth $21.75 million guaranteed, and potentially totaling $24.0 million if incentives were reached. Some fans were leery about this signing from the beginning, sighting Hammonds' injury prone past, and the 'Coors Field Effect.' Others simply felt that the Brewers had significantly overpaid. The good thing about the signing was that it moved the aging Marquis Grissom from a starting roll. Unfortunately, all the pessimists were correct on this one. Hammonds had lingering shoulder problems for much of the year, and they eventually led to the end of his season after only playing in 49 games. At seven million a year, the Brewers needed him to be a much larger contributor, and had to be thoroughly disappointed that he lived up to his injury-filled reputation. To further disappoint, he only hit.247/.314/.425 in his limited time. He did exhibit good hustle and solid defense, but the Brewers didn't give him 21 million for just those things. If Hammonds doesn't stay healthy, then the Brewers are in for two more disappointing (and expensive) years with Jeff. Grade: F

Signed Geoff Jenkins and Richie Sexson to Four-Year Contracts

In two moves that showed the Brewers' commitment to the future, they locked up leftfielder Geoff Jenkins and first baseman Richie Sexson to four-year contracts through the 2004 season. Even though both would have been the Brewers property through that time anyway, this move bought out the three arbitration years that they would have been eligible for after 2001. This move allows the Brewers more financial flexibility, as they know exactly how much they will owe the two sluggers while avoiding the pain of the arbitration process. Jenkins will receive $18.0 million over the four years, with Sexson getting $17.5 million. Sexson proved to be worth every penny in 2001, hitting .271/.342/.547 with a team record tying 45 HR and 125 RBI. Jenkins hit a disappointing .264/.334/.474, while playing in only 105 games due to injury. Geoff is becoming a bit injury prone, and will have to stay healthy and perform much better to be worth the $8.25 million that he'll get in 2004. Grade: A-

Traded Marquis Grissom and Ruddy Lugo for Devon White

In an 'our garbage for your garbage' deal, the Brewers traded Grissom and a PTBNL to Los Angeles for Devon White. Grissom had worn out his welcome in Milwaukee with flat-out poor play. White was labeled as a clubhouse cancer for the Dodgers, who were also unhappy with his lack of production. This move was more financially motivated for the Brewers, because it saved them a lot of money. Grissom had two years left on his contract, worth a guaranteed $10 million, while White had one year guaranteed for $5 million and either a $5 million option, or a $900,000 buyout for 2002. The Brewers never really planned on exercising his option, so the deal freed up $4.1 million for 2002, which eventually allowed Taylor to sign Burnitz to an extension. The PTBNL was eventually named as Ruddy Lugo, who was a promising young pitcher and the Brewers' 3rd round draft choice in 1999. While many were upset to lose a prospect like Lugo, you had to figure that the Dodgers would get a solid prospect for taking on 4.1 million in salary. The trade worked out well for both teams in 2001, because Grissom played well in LA, and Devon White played well above expectations in Milwaukee. White was one of the constants in an injury-plagued season, and showed no signs of being the clubhouse problem that he was in LA. Since the season ended, the Brewers have indeed declined White's option, but it is very possible that the Brewers will resign him to a smaller deal for 2002. Grade: A

Signed Jeromy Burnitz to a Two-Year Contract Extension

Near the end of an off-season that was filled with trade rumors surrounding Jeromy Burnitz, who was entering the last year of his contract, the Brewers' put those talks to rest when they signed the right fielder to a two-year extension. With much needed financial relief provided by the Grissom/White trade, the Brewers were allowed to meet Burnitz' demands. The extension was worth $20 million total, including salaries of $6.5 million in 2002, $11.5 million in 2003, and a $2.0 million signing bonus. Burnitz rebounded from a disappointing 2000 season, hitting .251/.347/.504, with 34 HR and 100 RBI. His name still came up repeatedly around the trade deadline though, as many believe that the Brewers will try to move Burnitz before they have to pay his steep 2003 salary. The back-loaded nature of the contract allows the Brewers to keep Jeromy around at a reasonably low cost next year, while exploring possible trades. If they can't find any takers though, $11.5 million is an awful lot for a small market team to pay to a 34-year-old outfielder. Grade: B+

Traded Juan Acevedo, Kane Davis, and Jose Flores for Mike DeJean, Mark Leiter, and Elvis Pena

In the Brewers' first in-season move, they traded pitchers Acevedo and Davis along with minor-league infielder Flores for pitchers DeJean, Leiter, and minor -league infielder Pena. The deal was originally made to acquire Pena, who was a solid shortstop prospect with very good speed. Most viewed Acevedo and DeJean as equals in the deal, and Leiter and Flores were essentially viewed as throw -ins, as Flores had been a six-year minor-league free agent signed by the Brewers in the off-season, and Leiter was nearing the end of his career. Davis was out of minor-league options, so the Brewers needed to trade him before they lost him since he hadn't earned a roster spot. The trade ended up as a steal for the Brewers, though. Acevedo had a short and injury filled stint with Colorado before being traded to Florida. Davis had a surprisingly good season in Colorado, posting a 4.35 ERA. Flores signed with Oakland recently as a six -year free agent. For the Brewers, DeJean thoroughly outperformed Juan Acevedo, and exceeded everyone's expectations. Mike was a workhorse, throwing 84.1 innings with an outstanding 2.77 ERA. Leiter made some important fill-in starts for the Brewers before an arm injury sidelined him for much of the year. His option for 2002 was recently declined. Pena had a disappointing season in AAA Indianapolis, but still has time to develop and remains one of the only legitimate prospects in the upper levels in the Brewers' farm system. DeJean will head into next season as one of the top bullpen arms in the league, and Pena will compete for a spot on the 25-man roster. Grade: A+

Traded Mickey Lopez for Bobby Sismondo

In a minor deal, the Brewers traded minor-league infielder Mickey Lopez to the Phillies for a PTBNL. The player that the Brewers received turned out to be 24 -year-old left-handed pitcher Bobby Sismondo. In eight games with AA Huntsville, he was 1-2 with a 2.18 ERA, with 16 K and 4 BB in 20.2 innings. It was a low profile deal, but there's nothing wrong with acquiring a lefty pitcher with some potential for an infielder. Sismondo was acquired too late to get a completely accurate read on him, though. Grade: B

Traded David Weathers and Roberto Miniel for Ruben Quevedo and Peter Zoccolillo

In the Brewers' only deal at the trade deadline, they traded free agent-to-be David Weathers to the Cubs for starter Ruben Quevedo. The Cubs traded for Weathers to help with their playoff push, and chose to mortgage some of their future to do so. By acquiring Quevedo, the Brewers got a young starting pitcher that will help anchor the rotation for years to come, and will compliment Ben Sheets and Nick Neugebauer very nicely. In ten starts with Milwaukee, he compiled a 4.61 ERA (Which is skewed by an awful first start), and struck out 60 in only 56.2 IP. Losing Miniel in the deal upset some, but Roberto and Ruben are close to the same age, and Ruben was major-league ready, while Roberto was still only in class A Beloit. The Brewers also got Zoccolillo, who performed well in his assignment to Beloit. The 24-year-old was effectively demoted though, so that should be taken into consideration when viewing his stats. This is exactly the type of deal that the Brewers need to continue to make: A veteran free agent-to-be for a young player with HIGH potential. Grade: A+

Other Minor Moves

The front office also did some things that the casual fan might not notice. Dean Taylor has a knack for finding cheap, low-risk/high-reward type guys for both AAA Indianapolis and Milwaukee. He's found guys like Jay Tessmer, Brian Lesher, and Alex Sanchez for AAA, and Mac Suzuki and Tony Fernandez for the Brewers. These moves provide guys to fill out an AAA team that is lacking in true prospects, and provide the Brewers with some guys that could perform well at very little cost. Dean Taylor, David Wilder, Greg Riddoch and Jack Zduriencik inherited an organization with a farm system that was a mess. Taylor's staff has done a marvelous (yet time-taking) job of rebuilding the system from the ground up. The two drafts under his staff have been outstanding. Hiring Bill Lajoie as a senior advisor and Larry Doughty as a national cross checker provided veteran advisors on the staff, and helped to make further improvements to a scouting staff that had already been vastly overhauled and improved by Taylor. Unfortunately, the effects of these moves and the drafts won't be visible in Milwaukee for a couple more years.

Summary and Overall Grade

Most of the moves that the Brewers made this year were good for the team. Taylor doesn't have an easy job, as the restricted payroll that he has to use doesn't do him any favors. With that in mind, Taylor has to make the BEST use of the $50-60 million payroll. He hasn't done a great job of this, but it hasn't been bad either. The result on the field got worse again this year, which is all that matters in the end. Taylor is making right moves the majority of the time, but the Hammonds signing and the 68-94 record drag the final grade down. Overall Grade: B


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