Let me start by saying that for the first three plus months I never even dared to think it was possible. When you oh-so-wisely acquired CC Sabathia in July, I made peace with the fact that this was only a half year rental. As soon as anyone asked me what I thought about the Brewers chances of keeping CC for the future, I immediately told them to forget it. Draft picks. We were going to get a couple compensation draft picks to restock the farm system and replace the likes of Laporta, Jackson and Brantley. And I was fine with that. More than fine, actually. My Milwaukee Brewers had finally made a statement about "going for it." Those words were magic to my ears. I even abstained from blogging for the remainder of the season, out of fear that I might jinx what I believed was the oncoming end of the 26 year postseason void. And when that happened, it verified my faith in you, Doug. My belief in your status as a genius. You ended the postseason drought, and it was okay that CC would soon be moving on to greener pastures.
But then something funny happened. Both you and Mr. Attanasio stated that you would make an honest effort to sign the big lefty. You each acknowledged how much this guy is worth, and that he deserves every cent. But you would not rule out a CC signing in the free agent period. My gut reaction, of course, was that this was just company-speak to appease the fan base. Hoping is one thing, reality is another.
But the next to speak up was Ryan Braun. And the cornerstone of the franchise too thought it was possible for CC to stay in Milwaukee. Easy for him to say, sure, but I couldn't help but wonder if CC and Ryan had talked seriously on the subject. And then of course came the blow that knocked me out of (perhaps) reality...CC himself said it was possible. He said the clubhouse was like no other he'd played for, and he'd love to stick around if it could work out. And now, the guy who attempted to be so realistic, so accepting of those compensatory draft picks was completely lost to dream of what might be. And I'm daring to dream, Doug. I'm daring to dream.
That's because the signing of CC Sabathia would be the biggest transaction in the history of the organization. Think Reggie White to the Packers. In that equation, of course, Ryan Braun would play the role of Brett Favre: the talented up-and-comer that makes the veteran believe in the future of the franchise. Given that Mr. Favre is no longer a player in our beloved state--that makes a possible CC signing all the more impactful.
And so, from the moment I got home from the elimination game against the Phils, I've been crunching the numbers and trying to figure things out. You're a genius, Doug. I know that. So you don't really need my help. But I figured if I could make the numbers work, there'd be no doubt that you could too...
So here's my plan for '09, Mr. Melvin, the plan that includes one CC Sabathia. Our ace starting pitcher. #1 in the front of the rotation. The plan starts, of course, with signing him.
Step 1--CC Sabathia
I figure it's going to take at least $22 million a year to keep the big man in Milwaukee. Ryan Braun implied that perhaps CC would take a contract with one less year offered to stay in Milwaukee. I'll let you work out the details on the number of years, Doug. But I'm going to consider that we'll be $22 million above last year's salary. So that's what I'll look to make up.
(Truthfully, you actually paid a portion of CC's $9 million contract last year. But I know our beloved owner said by doing that it meant the club would be in the red for '08. And given the economic hardship right now, I'm not sure we can assume 3 million fans will come through the turnstiles again. Even with the championship-level squad I'm about to propose. So we'll look at making up the entire $22 million.)
We'll refer to this difference as the CCIP--the CC Investment Pool. I work at a company that's big on acronyms, and the "CCIP" just sounds kind of important to me. And it is pertinent-- because I'll be keeping a running total as we go. Just remember that step one is to get the big guy signed. We'll continue to look at the 2008 roster in order of the size of the '08 contract....
CCIP= - $ 22 mil
Step 2--Ben Sheets ($11 mil in '08; free agent)
I think it's quite clear that the Ben Sheets era is over in Milwaukee. Personally, it will be rough seeing him in an Astros uniform. And I'm not going to rehash Benny's injury history. We both know it is what it is. Ben still goes down as one of the greatest Brewers pitchers in club history. But step 2 involves not resigning Ben Sheets. Compensation draft picks are a plus.
CCIP= - $11 million
Step 3--Eric Gagne ($10 mil in 'o8; free agent)
Unlike others, Doug, I do not begrudge you for the Gagne signing. I actually think it was remarkable to sign the guy to a one year deal. 9 times out of 10, when you sign a guy to what is essentially a contract year, he's going to perform for the next contract. It's also amazing how many Brewers fans pissed and moaned (oops, forgive the language, Mr. Melvin) when Cordero got away, only because those are the same fans that complained when you acquired Cordero in the Carlos Lee trade. They mocked you for grabbing a "has-been" closer. And then they complained when you let that "has-been" get away. A fickle fan base, huh? Anyhow, there's no dispute that the one year deal with Gagne did not pay off. So step three is that we do not sign Eric Gagne.
CCIP= - $1 million
Step 4--Jeff Suppan ($8 million in '08; $12.5 million on '09)
I tried, Doug. I really did. But there's no way I can imagine anyone helping us unload this contract. I even considered the Yankees, but even they are not going to over spend on a number 5 starter. Not the way Suppan finished last year. And not when you consider that he's also under contract in 2010. So step 4 is dealing with the fact that we're keeping Jeff Suppan. (Although, you are the genius, Doug. So if anyone could figure it out, you could. And that sure would help with some of the very tough decisions I'm going to have to make moving forward. But I just couldn't do it...)
CCIP = - $5.5 million
Step 5--Ray Durham ($7.5 million in '08; free agent)
I'm not sure exactly how much of Durham's '08 contract you ended up paying. I know the Giants included cash considerations. But I have to believe you're saving at least $2.5 million by not having him on the roster next year. And step 5 is to not resign Ray Durham.
CCIP = - $3 million
Step 6--Mike Cameron ($7 million in '08; $10 mil in '09)
I spent a large portion of the '08 season defending the acquisition of Mike Cameron. I maintain that he's the greatest CF I've ever watched roam CF, not named Tori Hunter (and ever-so-slightly ahead of Devon White, during his Blue Jay years). I think the majority of Brewers coaches and players would attest to those comments. That being said, we desperately need to eliminate some of the strikeouts in this lineup. And the veteran leadership that Cameron provides may have to wait next year until we acquire a few veterans at the July trade deadline. And so, Step 6 is to not exercise the option on Mike Cameron.
CCIP = + $4 million
Step 7--Bill Hall ($4.8 mil in '08; $6.8 in '09)
Here's another significant contract increase that I didn't think I'd be able to move. I mean, what team is going to overpay for a guy who hits .225.? But then I remembered what Billy did to the Pittsburgh Pirates last year. And, even more, I remembered that they're the Pittsburgh Pirates. They desperately need some power in the line-up, and they might be willing to see what a change of scenery does to Billy's swing. That being said, the guy I've targeted in return from the Pirates could never be acquired straight up for Billy Hall. But Freddie Sanchez has been rumored to be on the trading block. And I also know that the Pirates, like most teams, could use more pitching. So step 7 is to trade Bill Hall and Dave Bush ($2.55 million, arbitration eligible) to the Pirates for Freddie Sanchez and a prospect. Freddie has a $6.1 million price tag that, like Hall, escalates over 8 million in 2010. It, however includes a reasonable club buy-out. The difference between Bush and Hall and Sanchez is a savings of $1.25 mil. It's tough to trade pitching away, and I'd never even consider dealing Bush...unless we had CC. But how could the Pirates pass on a pitcher who won a post season game? And how else could we expect them to take Billy's contract off our hands?
CCIP= + $5.25 million
Step 8--Keep Jason Kendall and David Riske (both under contract for '09)
We still haven't seen the best of David Riske yet. And Kendall is a great stop gap until either Salome or Lawrie are ready to go. Both have minimal escalators for '09--from what I've been able to locate it will total about half a million.
CCIP= +$4.75 million
Step 9--Trade Rickie Weeks ($1 mil in 'o8), Tony Gwynn ($.4 mil) and Chris Capuano ($3.75 mil) to the Kansas City Royals for David Dejesus ($3.6 in 'o9 escalates in '10, club option in '11) and Ryan Braun ($.4 million).
Let it be clear that I still believe Rickie will be an all-star in the next two to three years. But it's time for him to pay immediate dividends, by bringing back a legitimate lead-off hitter. Dejesus has been rumored on the block for a while, and the combination of Weeks and Gwynn gives the Royals solid major league ready prospects in return. The Cappy situation would certainly be dependent upon him passing a physical, but if he does look good, the Royals are in no position to pass up on pitching, especially one that is still under arbitration. With DeJesus and Sanchez now batting 1 and 2, the Brewers finally have the table setters that Braun and Fielder deserve. As for the other Ryan Braun, I don't know much about this young relief pitcher other than he seems to be somewhere between a triple A and big league pitcher. I just think it would be nice to completely corner the market on guys named Ryan Braun.
CCIP= + $5.9 million
Step 10--Do not resign Guilerma Mota ($3.2 mil in '08)
CCIP= + $9.1 million
Step 11-- Exercise the club option on Solomon Torres ($3.2 mil in '08; 3.75 mil in '09)
I'm not sure Torres will survive another season as closer, but he's too good not to bring back and the salary is very affordable.
CCIP= + $8.55 million
Step 12--Craig Counsell ($2.8 million in '08; $3.4 in '09 club buy out of $.4 mil)
I like Craig Counsell and think he's good for this ball club. But even he has to realize that, in order to keep CC, we can't pay a utility infielder over $3 million. So, Doug, I think you need to buyout Counsell's contract and then ask him to come back at $1 million. I'm willing to bet he gives the "Whitefish Bay discount" just to be a part of this team. If not, that $1 million could be put to the likes of a Russel Branyan or another utility infielder. I sure hope Counsell takes the deal though. It saves us $2 million, if he does.
CCIP= + $10.55 million
Step 13--I'm just going to assume that Mike Lamb isn't on the books for anything significant. We let him go.
Step 14--J.J Hardy ($2.65 mil in 'o8; arbitration eligible)
This is actually a two-step process. First, you have to convince J.J. that he's the club's future at third base. Alcides Escobar is the shortstop of my choice, and I think we need to bring him up in '09. J.J.'s been a shortstop his whole life, so this is going to be a tough one to accept. Especially when you consider that Escobar will almost certainly make more errors than J.J.'s 15 last year. Escobar committed 20 in AA, but the extra range that he has to offer makes it all worth it. If Cal Ripken (albeit later in his career) and ARod can swap positions, so can J.J. Hardy. And the selling point, Doug, is that with his somewhat limited range at short, J.J.'s probably never going to be a gold glove shortstop. But with his glove, I think he could be a gold glove third baseman--very, very soon. This also allows Matt Gamel to try either the OF or 1B and become the heir apparent to Prince in a few years.
The second part of this step is to lock J.J. up for three years. There's just not a huge market for 3B, and I'm not convinced that Gamel (30 errors in AA alone) will be ready to man the hot corner anytime soon. That means J.J. holds the fort until Greene is ready. After another solid year, I have to assume J.J.'s looking at a million dollar increase.
CCIP= + $9.55 million
Step 15--Brian Shouse ($2 million in '08; free agent)
As solid as he has been, I think it's time to look to Stetter to be our lefty specialist of the future. That means we're going to have to let Shousey walk.
CCIP= + $11.55 million
Step 16--Sign Todd Coffey to $1 million deal.
He was good enough for us in the last couple weeks to make him an offer. The fact that he was cut from the Reds should make it a very affordable contract.
CCIP= + $10.55 million
Step 17--Gabe Kapler ($.8 million in '08; free agent)
I don't see anyway how you can not bring this guy back in '09, Doug. The only problem is, he won't come as cheap as he did last off season. I have to assume Gabe's going to demand at least $2 million. But the good news is, he revived his career here, and I think he'll want to stay, which is especially good news for a friend named Jonny, who has developed a very, very serious man crush, Doug. He's even dubbed him "Gabe Ruth." So keep him around for Jonny, or I'll hear about it all next season. I'm not sure he can man RF every day, but my '09 plan involves Gabe being out there the majority of the time.
CCIP + $9.35 million
Step 18--Seth McClung ($ .75 million in '08; arbitration eligible)
Here's another guy who will see a marked (and deserved) increase in '09. I can't imagine where the team would have been without his right arm, however, so we have to bring him back (unless the Pirates would prefer him to Bush, which I doubt). I don't have him making the starting rotation, but he'll be in the pen in the event of an injury. And I have to say, given the way he pitched from the pen late in the year, Doug--I'd give Seth a serious look at the closer role in '09. That would allow Torres to return to his more comfortable set-up role...I'm guessing McClung's salary will jump up to 2.5 million next year.
CCIP= + $7.6 million
Step 19--Ryan Braun ($.455 mil in 'o8; $.745 mil in '09)
This was a step you already took last year, and it's almost as great of a move as the trade for CC itself. Braun's contract being so affordable next year is the biggest reason that re-signing CC is actually possible. He's almost certain to qualify as a super 2 after the season, however, and that means he'll jump all the way up to over $3 mill in 2010.
CCIP = + $ 7.3 million
Step 20--Prince Fielder ($ .67 million in 'o8; arbitration eligible)
Here come the two biggest steps of the process, Doug. There has been a lot of sentiment that Prince should be traded this off season. That includes a fellow actor I know who writes for onmilwaukee.com, Dave Begel (see # 4)--
I respect Dave and his opinions a great deal. He's certainly seen a ton of more games than I have, but I think he's flat out wrong about trading Prince, Doug. Don't get me wrong. I understand that Prince is destined for the American League. But I just can't see moving him while we still have control of his contract for three more years. The trade will come, but it has to happen when we have identified a realistic dynamic left-handed bat to replace him. Frankly, even though he hit less homers in '08, I think it's remarkable that Prince played as well as he did without another legitimate lefty bat in the regular starting line-up. The majority of time Prince was in a key situation, he was either walked or the other team was able to save their only lefty in the pen just for Prince. And even so, he still put up a 30+HR/100 RBI season. And no one can tell me that Ryan Braun isn't a much better hitter because of Prince behind him. Maybe when Gamel becomes more of an established big league hitter--then maybe it will be possible. But we just can't move the big fellow yet, Doug. It would cause too big of a hole in the lineup. And I have a feeling the big fella at first is a drawing point for the other big lefty we're trying to keep. That means a big raise is coming Prince's way. Miguel Cabrera landed a $10 million contract in his first year of arbitration. As good as Prince has been, he doesn't quite match Cabrera, who made much more of an impact as a rookie. That being said a two year average of 40+ HRs and 100 RBIs doesn't come cheap. I'm guessing we're looking at an $8 million contract for '09.
Step 21--Corey Hart ($.44 million in '08, arbitration eligible in '09)
This is the one that hurts the most, Doug. And if you can find a way to sign Prince at a cheaper amount or somehow move Suppan, we might not have to make this last painful step. Anyone who thinks this a reactionary move to Hart's struggles at the end of the season would be completely wrong. I am as big a Corey Hart fan as you will meet. I love the way the kid comes to work every day. It really came down to J.J. or Corey, and it's simply easier to find corner outfielders than it is to find a third baseman. And Corey's going to be due for a huge raise. If JJ was at $2.5 million in '08, then I have to believe you're looking upwards of $3 million for Corey. I realize that Prince critics are going to argue that it's still much cheaper than Fielder, but we simply need Prince's left-handed power for at least one more year. I'm standing by that. So this final step involves trading Corey Hart to the Tampa Bay Rays for SP Andy Sonnanstine. The Rays have plenty of pitching, and with Price and Garza emerging with Kazmir and Shields, Sonnanstine should be available. I also know that the Rays are looking for a right-handed OF bat with power, and reportedly no one garnered more attention last offseason than Corey Hart. Sonnanstine's not arbitration eligible, so his salary should come out even with Hart's in '08.
Step 22--fill the remainder of roster with kids
Gallardo, Parra, Villanueva, Stetter and Escobar are all givens. You'll probably want to lock up Gallardo for a while in 2010. (Perhaps that's when we move Prince.) I'd also look to add Rivera again at catcher and Rottino if Rivera doesn't sign. I'd bring up Irribarren and Nix along with either Brad Nelson or Jay Gibbons. You've also got 8 kids who can compete for the last bullpen spot: DiFilice, Dillard, Pena, (non roster invitees:) Gulin, Narron, Narveson, Bateman, and the newly acquired Ryan Braun.
It's a young team, I get that. But as I mentioned, you will have a chance to acquire more veterans in July, when it's clear that this team is set to return to the post season. Here they are, Doug. The 2009 Milwauke Brewers.
Counsell, Rivera, Irribarren, Nelson, Gibbons/Nix
And the pen: McClung, Villanueva, Torres, Stetter, Riske, Coffey, and DiFilece
Now you just need to make it happen. And it all starts with step 1--signing CC. And, hell, if I can figure out a way to make it happen, well, then you know with a genius like you at the healm--
It. Is. Possible.