Mailbag: Why let Cirillo go?

Mailbag: Why let infielder Cirillo go elsewhere?

Judging from your e-mails after a quiet Winter Meetings and the news that Jeff Cirillo is the newest member of the Minnesota Twins, the Brewers will be getting a lot of lumps of coal in their stockings this holiday season. For the last time in '06 we'll dip into the mailbag, starting with the Cirillo issue.

I'm furious that Cirillo was "let go" and signed with the Twins. Right now, this whole offseason seems like a big mess. I'm sick of the fan favorite being let go just about every year. This time, money had nothing to do with it. Cirillo should have finished his career in Milwaukee.
-- Jason G., Appleton, Wis.

Do you think Doug Melvin regrets being impatient with Tony Graffanino and signing Craig Counsell? Cirillo was a fan favorite and a great influence to the Brewers' younger players. I don't think Counsell is going to do anything more than Cirillo did. Graffanino, Cirillo and Bill Hall would have been plenty of backup if someone in the infield got injured.
-- Evan M., Milwaukee

Now that Cirillo is going to Minnesota, I have to ask the question: Since when does it make more sense to sign a career .260 hitter in Counsell than a .298 hitter in Cirillo? I understand that the situation was more complicated than that because of the situation with Graffanino, but it is still clearly a bad move.
-- Jeff Z., Milwaukee

That trio was pretty typical of the dozens of e-mails I got regarding Cirillo, who signed with the Twins last week because he believes Minnesota will be able to offer him more playing time. A few weeks ago, Brewers GM Melvin worried that Cirillo would be the only backup infielder he had, but after signing Counsell and being surprised by Graffanino's decision to accept arbitration, the infield got crowded in a hurry.

Does he regret moving quickly to sign Counsell when Graffanino was slow to respond to an offer? Melvin says no. He insists that Counsell is preferable because he is a better defensive option at shortstop, where J.J. Hardy still has to prove he can avoid injuries. That does seem to hold water; Counsell has a .980 fielding percentage in 335 career games at shortstop, while Graffanino has a .963 percentage in 105 games at that position. Melvin would also argue that the Brewers now have two veteran-type, low-strikeout hitters off the bench, one left-handed and the other right, instead of two right-handed options in Cirillo and Graffanino.

The bigger question is whether Melvin intended to commit this amount of payroll to backup infielders at the start of the offseason. Again, the GM says it isn't a problem because so many regulars -- Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Hardy among them -- are earning near the league minimum. It also remains to be seen whether Counsell and Graffanino are happy with the playing time they'll get. If the team suffers anything close to the number of injuries it endured in 2006, both will see plenty of action.

It was difficult for a lot of people to see Cirillo go in the 1999 trade to Colorado, and his latest departure adds salt to that wound. Cirillo gave everything he had to Milwaukee, loved the fans here and wanted desperately to stay. But he also saw his Major League window closing, and didn't want to spend potentially his final season sitting on the bench.

It might be early, but do you have an outlook on what the bullpen will look like? Who is the long man? Will Derrick Turnbow be the guy in front of Francisco Cordero? Will Brian Shouse have some help for lefty situations?
-- David R., Appleton, Wis.

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You don't pay a guy more than $5 million to be a setup man, so Cordero is the closer. Turnbow and Jose Capellan are two power options who will team to pitch the setup role with Matt Wise, who has shown that when he's healthy he's one of the better options in the league. Shouse will probably be the lone left-handed option and Dennis Sarfate, who is out of Minor League options, looks to be the front-runner for the long-relief role.

If the team goes with an 11-man pitching staff, we're already at the limit. Other options include newly acquired Greg Aquino, another hard-thrower who has experience as a closer with Arizona, and Grant Balfour, a sleeper candidate who was claimed off waivers earlier this offseason. The team also has to figure out what to do with Ben Hendrickson, who is also out of options and almost certainly would be claimed off waivers should the Brewers try to send him to the Minors. Given his past struggles, he is a long shot at best.

I heard the Giants were interested in Geoff Jenkins. With all the young pitching talent they have, what about a Noah Lowry for Jenkins trade? The Brewers need another lefty in the rotation, and Lowry is a talented, young lefty.
-- Reid A., Madison, Wis.

Talk about the Giants seemed to fizzle after the team decided to bring back Barry Bonds. In Bonds, Randy Winn and Dave Roberts, the Giants outfield looks plenty stocked with veterans.

No one seems to notice that Jenkins hit .133 versus lefties and .306 versus right-handers, while Kevin Mench hit .302 versus lefties and .256 versus righties. While platooning isn't an ideal situation, it certainly looks like we could get a lot of offensive production out of right field if we did so next season. Of course, if either of the guys step up during the season, they could get the full-time job. So why is everyone on the trade bandwagon?
-- Chris F., Budapest, Hungary

I'm starting to wonder the same, Chris. It does not appear that Melvin is going to trade either player unless he gets something substantial in return, and you could always platoon Jenkins and Mench in one corner, use Hart in another and put Hall in center field. Some stumbling blocks: Mench and Jenkins will combine to earn about $11 million next season, there are a ton of strikeouts in that group and Melvin has questions about whether Hall can cover enough ground in center. But offensively, you could do a whole lot worse.

Why are the Brewers so hesitant to play Tony Gwynn Jr. every day? I saw enough of him last year to give him an outfield spot.
-- Rich H., Waterford, Wis.

Rushing players to the Major Leagues is rarely a good idea. Gwynn is solid defensively, but 2006 was his first really good season at the plate. It probably would not hurt him to have one more solid offensive season at Triple-A before the Brewers consider him as a leadoff option.

I don't understand all the tiptoeing around pitching. What more does Carlos Villanueva have to do to earn a spot in a mediocre pitching staff? The "what if someone gets hurt" attitude should be retired so we can put a winner on the Major League field.
-- William H., Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

You can't simply retire the "what if someone gets hurt" attitude because someone almost always gets hurt. The Brewers could have been serious contenders last year if they had done better than 6-17 in games started by replacements for injured starters Tomo Ohka and Ben Sheets, and Melvin & Co., do not want to go down the same road again in 2007.

I don't have a problem with a rotation of Sheets, Chris Capuano, Dave Bush, Claudio Vargas and Villanueva, but if one or two guys go down in Spring Training, you're looking at Zach Jackson and maybe Yovani Gallardo as the first callups. Both are extremely promising, and both will probably see Major League action at some point in 2007, but Melvin and manager Ned Yost would feel a lot better about the staff if they can add at least one more experienced arm to the mix. We'll see if anything comes of the discussions with Jeff Suppan.

When do individual game tickets for the 2007 season go on sale? And, what's the latest with Corey Koskie? Does it look like he'll be able to play next year?
-- Brett B., Oshkosh, Wis.

The Brewers have yet to announce the date, but they usually go on sale during Spring Training. Last year, the onsale date was Feb. 25.

As for Koskie, word is that he is feeling good and beginning workouts. I'll look to get him on the phone next month for an update of his progress.

A Brewers holiday poem I would like to share:

'Twas the night before Christmas,' when all through the clubhouse,
Not a Brewer was stirring, not even Brian Shouse.
The stockings were hung by the batting cage with care,
In hopes that Mark Attanasio soon would be there.

The players were thinking of the '07 season in their beds,
While visions of incentives danced in their heads.
And Cordero in his jersey, and Turnbow in his cap,
Had just settled down to catch up on the Winter Meetings wrap.

When out on the field there arose such a clatter,
I sprang to the computer to read all the chatter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
To see a new slugger cracking balls with a smash.

More rapid than fastballs, his home runs they came.
As he whistled and shouted, I will bring the Brewers fame!
"Now Prince! Now, Johnny! Now Hall and Sheets!
On Hardy! On Koskie! On Hart and Weeks!

"To the top of the division! We will beat them all!
Now away with rivals as the Brewers become champs next fall!"
-- Nate P., Green Bay, Wis.

"... not even Brian Shouse." Classic, Nate. Nice job. We'll see if Melvin lands you that slugger.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.