Money at root of Brewers’ mound woes

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Michael Hunt
April 26, 2010
— The fact that Jeff Suppan is somehow generating news to the point that the Milwaukee Brewers-related portion of cyberspace is being exhausted in late April says pretty much everything you need to know about the situation.

This problem should’ve been resolved in spring training.

Had jobs been awarded on merit instead of W-2s and long-forgotten track records, Suppan would’ve quietly been taking his customary seat in the bullpen Sunday instead of answering questions about his demotion as a starter.

The year after the Brewers hit well enough to contend but failed to qualify for the playoffs because of a starting rotation that was last in all of baseball in earned run average was no time to give Suppan another chance, just because he was historically durable or accounted for a disproportionate chunk of the payroll.

The last thing (well, other than a sweep-clinching 12-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs) the Brewers needed was to give the early impression that little has changed regarding their pitching issues.

By giving Suppan two starts and the opportunity to run up an 8.68 ERA, they did just that. At the start of business Sunday, the Brewers were No. 23 in starting ERA, not far off their ruinous 2009 pace.

And that’s not counting the gruesome beating a location-challenged Dave Bush, who happened to be the staff ERA leader at 2.41 after three starts, took from the Cubs.

Of course, it’s early and there was no guarantee that Suppan’s replacement for those two starts would’ve done any better.

Maybe this is all they have. And had Manny Parry stood up in the spring, we wouldn’t be having this needless conversation, either.

But in pro sports, perception usually trumps reality.

Suppan on the mound for two starts gave the impression that it was all about his team-high $12.5 million salary, even if the Brewers say it wasn’t about the money.

One way or the other, it’s always about the money.

Although the Brewers didn’t exactly have a lot of options in 2003, it was about Glendon Rusch’s $4.25 million salary before his 1-12 record finally embarrassed them into removing him from the rotation.

It’s so much about the money with Suppan that releasing him wouldn’t be advisable for a small-market team that needs to keep drawing 3 million to meet expenses, even with revenue sharing and a cash-churning stadium.

Non-capacity crowds for the Cubs on Friday night and Sunday afternoon was telling in that respect.

Sure, the $12.5 million is already spent, but that would be in addition to a $2 million buyout owed Suppan next season for termination, the $7 million the Brewers are underwriting Boston for Bill Hall’s services, the $4.5 million David Riske is earning from the disabled list this year, the $1 million buyout of pitcher Braden Looper and the $700,000 buyout of pitcher David Weathers.

Add it up and there is absolutely no financial incentive to let Suppan walk with even more money in his account.

Personnel mistakes are made all the time. Living with them is the real sin. The reality is teams like Milwaukee are often forced to overpay and/or overextend a contract to get pitching.

The Brewers exacerbated the pain by not cutting their losses in the spring, when it became apparent that Suppan was finished as a starter.

But what’s done is done. What really matters is they’re still left with an iffy rotation a month into the season, no matter if Suppan is collecting a big check from the bullpen or his couch in California.

“It all comes down to pitching the way our club goes,” manager Ken Macha said. “You can’t expect to put up double-digit runs as we did on Washington and Pittsburgh.”

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