Brewers shake it up
General manager Doug Melvin made his biggest statement this season about the team’s future, sending former All-Star shortstop J.J. Hardy to the minors, cutting third baseman Bill Hall and firing his pitching coach.
A year removed from a magical NL wild-card run, Milwaukee has faced a stark reality after injuries on top of the free agent departures of Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia. The Brewers (55-57) came into July with a two-game lead in the NL Central before losing 22 of the last 35 to fall 62 games out of the lead and the wild-card race entering Wednesday.
“You’re afraid of this. It happens sometimes. We knew we lost CC. We knew we were going to lose Ben Sheets. We knew that we had to play very well,” Melvin said. “Right now, I get the impression we’re 20 games under .500. We’re two games under .500.”
“It may sound hollow, it may sound unrealistic, it may even sound stupid to some people. We still think we are in it,” team owner Mark Attanasio said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.
“Nobody is running away with this race in the National League Central.
“We need to take care of business and win some games. We have a number of winnable games in front of us right now. And all we need to do is pick up a few games here, and get into September five games under or less.”
Last year, eight of the nine starters on opening day came up in the organization, including Hardy, Hall and Sheets. But second baseman Rickie Weeks (wrist) and right fielder Corey Hart (appendectomy) are injured and Tony Gwynn was traded to San Diego, leaving only All-Stars Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.
“I’m shocked,” Weeks said. “I don’t have the words to say right now. I’m frustrated.”
The shakeup will give top prospect Alcides Escobar a chance to show he’s the shortstop of the future and a potential leadoff man the club sorely lacks. He’s batting .298 with four homers, 34 RBIs and 42 stolen bases in 109 games at Triple-A Nashville. Manager Ken Macha plans to play him today.
It’s the promise of Escobar that may end up costing the Brewers this season. Melvin repeatedly said he had no plans to deal the prospect at this year’s trade deadline, which took the Brewers out of the running for any top starting pitcher they needed.
Hardy, an All-Star two years ago, has been mired in a season-long slump, batting .229 with 11 homers and 45 RBIs. He will go to Triple-A.
“I told him like I told any player, they don’t have to accept the decision we make,” Melvin said. “He’s still young enough to bounce back.”
The Brewers will eat about $11 million in salary to Hall, who was designated for assignment.
He is owed $2,006,557 from the remainder of his $6.8 million salary this year, $8.4 million next season and a $500,000 buyout of a $9.25 million club option for 2011.
Hall has struggled ever since hitting .270 with 35 homers and 85 RBIs in 2006, which led to his new deal. He was hitting .201 with six homers.
“I’m happy about the time I spent here,” an upbeat Hall said. “It’s time for a new chapter in my life.”
Hall will be replaced by speedy outfielder Jason Bourgeois, hitting .316 with 36 stolen bases in 105 games at Nashville.
Melvin said Macha has no reason to worry about his job.
“You’re not totally always happy with the results, regardless,” Macha said. “We’ve had some obstacles to jump over here and still have some and I just want the guys to go out there and give it all they’ve got and for the most part, they’ve done that. The record speaks for itself.”
Pitching coach Bill Castro, who’d been with the organization the last 18 years, is being replaced by Triple-A pitching coach Chris Bosio.
The Brewers are first in the majors in homers allowed (151) and 27th in ERA (4.84), ahead of only the Nationals, Orioles and Indians. The starting rotation has a 5.16 ERA, worst in the National League.
“It’s not all gloom and doom—we can make it gloom and doom if you want to make it gloom and doom, but it’s not,” Melvin said. “It’s a matter of making changes.”
Attanasio said the moves were “completely performance-based decisions.”
“Doug and his staff evaluate these things in a painstaking manner,” he said. “Doug may have said, from his standpoint, he may have wondered if he was too patient. I have no issue with the amount of time he took to make the decision.”