At least they’d better not be done.
With their current issues, the bullpen was probably the last place the Brewers needed to upgrade for a legitimate run at a championship. First was defense; then there was a lefty specialist to deal with the Phillies; then there was bullpen help.
Perhaps they were concerned that someone—specifically the Cardinals—were going to go after K-Rod and wanted to preclude that from happening while simultaneously bolstering what’s been a moderate strength.
There are two ways to go in making deals to improve: enhance a strength or fix a weakness.
The Brewers bullpen has been serviceable with John Axford closing and will be better with K-Rod either setting up for Axford or taking over as the closer. (It isn’t clear as to what they’re doing, but I’ll guess that, for now, Axford will hold onto his job.)
Was this a smart move for the Brewers?
Well, it was aggressive. K-Rod is mostly reliable in the regular season and while he’d like to have the contract kicker worth $17.5 million come into effect by finishing 55 games this year, he’ll get a good contract somewhere if he does enter free agency this winter. The Mets have sent some money along with K-Rod and are receiving two players to be named later.
As a closer, K-Rod was never a lockdown arm in the playoffs. He was notoriously unreliable for the Angels, always seeming to fail at the hands of the Red Sox. He’s not a guarantee to be a help to the Brewers setting up/closing now or in the post-season. He’s wild and is prone to the home run ball. His strikeout numbers are still solid though not as massive as they were earlier in his career. He’s a different pitcher relying on control of his fastball, a great curve and good changeup more than he did when he was young.
He will help the Brewers now.
It’s not hard to figure out what the Brewers have to do next.
Their infield defense is awful. Looking at Axford’s numbers in comparison to a pitcher like Kyle Farnsworth—who’s functioning with a fast and rangy infield with the Rays—and the difference is shocking. Axford’s BAbip (batting average on balls in play) for ground balls is .273; Farnsworth’s is .153.
This is no coincidence nor is it a stat taken out of context to prove a point. It’s a problem.
With the addition of K-Rod and the great starting pitching, they must-must-must improve the defense by finding a slick-fielding shortstop to replace Yuniesky Betancourt. That means J.J. Hardy, Jason Bartlett, Brendan Ryan or Jack Wilson—someone who can catch the ball. They won’t hit much worse than Betancourt has and they’d improve the defense markedly.
Casey McGehee hasn’t hit either and his defense at third base is mediocre. The Brewers could go after a historically solid defender who has some pop like Kevin Kouzmanoff of the Athletics or Casey Blake of the Dodgers.
To accompany the “go for it” mentality that GM Doug Melvin is exhibiting and contingent on getting a shortstop, they could do something drastic like trade for an outfielder and move Ryan Braun back to third base for the rest of the season. Braun wasn’t a good defensive third baseman, but he won’t be much worse than what they have now and they’d augment the offense with a Carlos Beltran or Kosuke Fukudome.
When discussing the Brewers trading deadline needs two days ago, I said they had to try and win this year. Prince Fielder is leaving as a free agent and their window of opportunity is short. Trading for K-Rod is reflective of that—Melvin knows what the Brewers are and he’s going for it in 2011.
But if they want to truly go all-in, they can’t stop at K-Rod.
And they won’t.
I’ll post about how this affects the Mets later today.