Before we dip into the mailbag, I want to start the new year with a nod to the bloggers at "Brew Crew Ball," who should have received the credit for digging up news of the Brewers' new TV play-by-play man. In my original story Thursday, I credited another blog, "Al's Ramblings," but an e-mailer correctly pointed out that Brew Crew Ball had it first, by 11 minutes. Nice find, guys.
I get asked a lot whether I surf the blogs, and the answer is yes. In addition to the two Brewers blogs already mentioned, I am a fan of national blogs Deadspin and The Big Lead, and the message boards at Brewerfan.net are stocked with incredibly passionate fans. I do not post, but I do surf around from time to time to get a feel for what the diehards are talking about. To be honest, the blogs and message boards can sometimes spark story ideas, especially during the dog days of the regular season and those quiet weeks during the offseason. In the end, Major League Baseball and MLB.com exist for the fans, and it's nice to know that there are so many Brewers-backers out there following the team with fervor.
Enough sucking up. On to your e-mails:
What do you think about Jeff Suppan's contract? General manager Doug Melvin has said that it's important not to tie up large amounts of money for the future, and this contract is HUGE. I'm excited to have Soup for next year, but I don't know if he'll age well. All of his peripherals (WHIP, K/9, etc.) have declined the last few years, and I won't be surprised if we're paying a league-average (at best) pitcher $10.5 million per year at the end of this contract.
-- Martin D., Oconomowoc, Wis.
For the record, Suppan is due $42 million over four years, and the Brewers hold an option for a fifth. It's the largest contract in franchise history, bigger than the four-year, $38.5 million deal that Ben Sheets is now halfway through.
Did the Brewers overpay? Not when you put Suppan's deal up against others signed by pitchers in this winter's frantic free-agent market. But Melvin had been critical of the inflated market, and it surprised a number of observers when the Brewers jumped in so quickly and decisively. If anything, the Suppan deal is an indication that Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash see the Brewers poised to be serious contenders in the National League Central, and that they felt the missing piece was one experienced starting pitcher.
If all of the kids can stay healthy and the Brewers do indeed contend over the next four years, Suppan's contract could look like a good investment. If J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, etc., cannot stay on the field while they are still in their pre-arbitration years, and if the team does not contend before Chris Capuano, Bill Hall, etc., hit free agency, Suppan's contract could be a major obstacle. There are a lot of "ifs," but given Suppan's long record of durability, it was a risk Melvin and Ash were willing to take.
I was delighted on Christmas Day to hear Suppan signed with the Brewers. Most likely, what will the pitching order be?
-- Gregg, Ames, Iowa
I received this question a lot, and my best guess is that he will either start the year as the No. 3 or 4 starter, behind Sheets and Capuano, in front of Claudio Vargas and either in front of or behind Dave Bush. The Suppan/Bush decision could come down to matchups against the Dodgers and Cubs.
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But I have come to the conclusion that we all spend way too much time in the offseason and Spring Training trying to figure out the pitching rotation. The Opening Day assignment is a huge honor, but a week into the season, because of off-days, there really is no such thing as a one through five rotation. What's important is picking who the five starters are, and barring injury, the Brewers are one of the few Major League teams already set in that area.
Is Vargas a lock for the rotation, or are you just making projections? Vargas' career ERA is almost 5.00 and last year it was a hair below that. Carlos Villanueva, on the other hand, had a 3.69 ERA. I know he only pitched a handful of games, but I feel like he deserves a shot much more than Vargas.
-- Mark K., Madison, Wis.
All indications from Melvin and manager Ned Yost are that Vargas will be in the Brewers' starting rotation. He is more experienced than Villanueva, his 12 wins last season with Arizona would have tied for Milwaukee's team lead, and at 28 years old, Vargas still has time to make the type of improvement that Doug Davis made after the Brewers plucked him off the scrap heap. Given Villanueva's success last season, it is easy to forget that he began 2006 at Double-A Huntsville. It couldn't hurt him to start '07 at Triple-A Nashville, and I suppose he also could compete for a bullpen spot. Either way, he is Option A should the Brewers need a sixth starter.
I was re-watching the Brewers Str8up segment on Capuano and noticed that he was using his right hand to chart. Does he write right-handed, or was he just holding the pen in his right hand for the camera?
-- Suzan G., Middleton, Wis.
Capuano pitches and bats left-handed and writes right-handed. Davis pitches left-handed but bats and writes right-handed. It's a mad, mad world.
After having a breakout season, Hall is sure to get rewarded via arbitration this winter. Can the Brewers again try to sign him to a multiyear deal, or must they go year-to-year with him? Also, will he continue to work out in the infield, in case mass injuries occur, or will he retire the smaller glove for the long haul, as it appears he will be in center for the season opener?
-- Doug Z., Madison, Wis.
I'm guessing the Brewers will try once again to lock Hall into a multiyear deal, a proposal he declined last spring (given the year he had, that turned out to be a very wise decision). And even though Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino give the team nice insurance in case of injuries, I'm guessing that Hall will hang onto those infielder's gloves. In a perfect world, though, he will not have to use them.
I am reading the book Moneyball. What does Mr. Melvin think of this approach to uncover hidden talent? How much data do the Brewers use in evaluating players? What stats do they focus on? Athletics general manager Billy Beane is a fan of walks and on-base percentage, two stats that are often under the radar screen for many fans. After reading the book, I begin to see how small-market, small-budget teams think, and why big-ticket free agents really can't fit into the plans for organizations like Oakland, Milwaukee and Minnesota.
-- Phil B., Madison, Wis.
Melvin, Ash, director of pro scouting Dick Groch and director of amateur scouting Jack Zduriencik fall somewhere between the old-school scouts and the number crunchers. Melvin employs a man named Dave Lawson -- a pecan farmer from Texas -- who is extremely deft at working the numbers, and every time you talk to him, Melvin has a new stat nugget to relay. The Brewers also make extensive use of their computerized scouting system and no longer employ advance scouts.
At the same time, Groch is a strong believer in traditional scouting methods, and a handful of the Brewers' young, in-house numbers crunchers and video gurus -- remember names like Karl Mueller, Mike Schwartz and Zack Minasian, because you'll be hearing about them in the future -- are learning the trade. The amateur scouting side is heavier on the traditional methods, and in the big picture, Zduriencik's results speak for themselves.
Why didn't the management give Frank Kremblas a shot at one of the coaching jobs? He did take the Brewers' Triple-A team to the playoffs and win one championship.
-- Jorge R., Orlando, Fla.
It was a sort of domino effect that worked against Kremblas. The Brewers needed a first-base coach, a third-base coach and a hitting coach. They favored Jim Skaalen as the hitting coach because he filled that same role in the Minor Leagues and, like Kremblas, was familiar with a number of the Brewers' current players. They favored Nick Leyva as the third-base coach because of his extensive experience, including a stint as the Phillies' manager. That left first base, and the Brewers picked Ed Sedar because of his baserunning knowledge plus his experience coaching outfielders. Kremblas' expertise is on the infield, where the Brewers felt covered with Leyva and bench coach Dale Sveum.
One day, Kremblas will get his break. He is only 40 years old, his players love him and he remains one of the better Major League managerial prospects in the Minors.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.