The Brewers finally made a big move, but it had nothing to do with trading for a starting pitcher.
Wednesday's flurry of action that saw shortstop J.J. Hardy sent down to Triple-A Nashville, pitching coach Bill Castro fired and the versatile Bill Hall cut was just the latest in a series of bold steps general manager Doug Melvin has taken. The new guys are prized shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar, speedy outfielder Jason Bourgeois and pitching coach Chris Bosio, all up from Nashville.
There are several areas to talk about, so here we go.
Hardy seems like a sensitive guy, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with his being shipped to Nashville. No one can argue with Hardy's defense … he probably deserves some Gold Glove consideration, but doesn't make enough of the dazzling plays to make the highlights.
No, what has troubled Hardy is his bat. He has hit the ball hard this year, but usualy right at someone or the victim of a sensational play. The 26-year-old is hitting just .229 with 11 homers and 45 RBIs. Manager Ken Macha has tried Hardy in several slots in the batting order without much success.
Hardy is a lanky guy, so maybe his swing is a bit long. Hardy has natural power (50 homers over previous two years), perhaps second only to Prince Fielder on the Crew, but he isn't a homer-happy hitter. On the contrary, he is more of a gap hitter when he is right.
A lot will be made of the fact Hardy is only 20 days away from a critical date in his free-agent status; if he doesn't come back up before September, Hardy will be under contractual control by the Brewers for another year, perhaps making him more valuable in trade talks.
This is the player Crew fans have been salivating over all year. Deemed ready as a major-league defender last year, Escobar spent this year trying to prove he could keep up offensively. He batted leadoff in the Futures Game and compiled a .298 average at Triple-A.
He is a player the Brewers can't afford to play around with like they did Mat Gamel. Gamel received inconsistent playing time despite no clear-cut third baseman and eventually was sent back to Nashville. But Macha is already on the record saying Escobar may only play against left-handers, likely meaning the range-challenged Craig Counsell will start most days. Ugh!
Escobar was second in the Pacific Coast League with 42 steals and could be the leadoff hitter next year depending on what moves are made this offseason.
Bourgeois, meanwhile, should get some time in right while Corey Hart continues his recovery from last week's appendectomy. He ranked 10th in the Pacific Coast League with a .316 average and fifth with 36 steals. Macha is likely to stick with Frank Catalonotto in right, but Bourgeois should get spot starts in right and center (when Mike Cameron needs a day off).
Hall memorably hit walk-off homers on Mother's Day (with a pink bat) in 2007 with his mom in the stands. That came a year after his breakout year of 2006, when he hit .270 with 35 homers and 85 RBIs as he primarily played shortstop following a season-ending injury to Hardy.
Hall was a fan favorite (including mine) because he showed an unselfishness. He played third base, shortstop, second base and center regularly during his tenure and even made a start in left this year and a couple in right before being axed. This move wasn't surprising other than the Brewers decided to eat the rest of Hall's contract (about $10.5 million).
But the handwriting was on the wall: .201 average, six homers, 24 RBIs. He recently made a trip to Triple-A in hopes of rekindling his offensive magic. His stay lasted only four games before he was summoned to replace Hart on the roster.
Hall will land somewhere considering he comes cheap now.
BYE-BYE BILLY, PART 2
Imagine that loyal company employee who eveyone likes and has been around forever in a rather obscure role. Finally, he gets a chance to sit in the chair he has dreamed of. But his group, after a very surprising and excellent start, has generally floundered.
So you fire him. Such is the situation involving Castro, who had served admirably as bullpen coach for 17 years and been associated with the Brewers for 33 years, finally becoming pitching coach this year. But when your starters aside from Yovani Gallardo are maddeningly inconsistent and eventually eroding the confidence of the bullpen due to excessive use, your job in the big chair is on the line.
The Brewers were 15th (out of 16) in the National League and 25th (out of 30) in the majors with a 4.84 ERA, including a 5.16 mark by the starters — worst in the league.
On comes Bosio, the former Brewers pitcher who tends to be a bit more gruff and direct with pitchers than Castro. Recent additions to the bullpen (David Weathers, Claudio Vargas and Jesus Colome) should provide some stability and freshness, but how Bosio figures out his rotation will be the key to what happens the rest of the season.
Just like he did last year when acquiring C.C. Sabathia and firing Ned Yost, Melvin isn't afraid to do what needs to be done. And slowly, Melvin has sent signals to the Crew's core of young players that it is produce or pack up.
Hall and outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. have been shown the door, while Hall, Hardy, secoRickie nd baseman Weeks and left-hander Manny Parra have been sent to the minors while struggling. Right-hander Carlos Villanueva and Hart are next on the hot seat.
You have to like Melvin's tactics despite having his hands tied with the Crew's monetary limitations, but he still has work to do if they are to return to the playoffs this year.
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Written by Steve Drumwright