Analysis of the Kyle Lohse Signing

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The Brewers have signed Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract making Scott Boras look like a genius again. In this market, at this late date and with the draft pick compensation attached to Lohse, to somehow convince the Brewers (and probably the Brewers owner Mark Attanasio) that they needed Lohse when they didn’t need Lohse is worthy of a bow.

Let’s look at the signing.

For Lohse

We’ll know soon enough whether Lohse was a creation of the Dr. Frankenstein-like corpse rejuvenation of former Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan or if he has become a different pitcher whose new mentality, mechanics, approach and stuff that can translate the knowledge everywhere. But here are the facts:

  • Lohse gives up more fly balls than ground balls and is going from a home ballpark that allowed 140 homers to a ballpark that allowed 230 homers
  • The Cardinals’ infield defense was average; the Brewers’ was bad
  • He’ll be working with a catcher that’s not Yadier Molina

Because Lohse learned to pound the strike zone, trust his catcher and defense, and not worry about the outcome as long as he made his pitches—Duncan trademarks—he reached a level of success with the Cardinals that he never did in any of his prior stops. That he’s leaving the Cardinals isn’t as much of a factor as where he’s going and going to Milwaukee to join a pockmarked team with multiple holes and is floating halfway between a rebuild and clinging to the tendrils of contention, his margin for error is gone and what worked with the Cardinals is unlikely to work with the Brewers.

In short, he can do the exact same things with the Brewers he did with the Cardinals and have drastically different—and worse—results.

For the Brewers

Anything they did was bound to make a gutted starting rotation better. They were beginning the season with Yovani Gallardo at the top of the rotation and a series of question marks behind him. There’s some ability with Wily Peralta and perhaps useful mid-rotation arms with Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers. Their bullpen isn’t particularly good and manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t distinguished himself as a field boss who can inspire overachievement in his players. It’s a bad sign when a pitcher signs with a club a week before the season starts and he’s automatically their number 2. Of course it has to be footnoted why Lohse was sitting out for so long as teams didn’t want to surrender the draft pick compensation, but they were also concerned about what I alluded to earlier: that he’s not going to be as good away from the Cardinals and not worth the money he wanted and, by all rights considering his performance, deserved.

For the National League

Are teams looking at the Brewers and seeing how they can hit thinking, “Whoa!! They got Lohse!!! Watch them!!”?

No.

Lohse is a pitcher who’s a “Yeah, we can use him I guess” arm, but he’s not a difference-maker for a mediocre team. The Brewers have him for three years when they’re locked in the vacancy of a simultaneous rebuild/contend. History has proven that’s not only very hard to do, but can be destructive when a team surrenders a draft pick (the 17th overall) to get the player who: A) won’t help that much; and B) will cost them the draft slot where there can be a very good player available (Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels were taken at 17).

I wouldn’t have done this and I doubt the Brewers’ baseball people would’ve done it either if they weren’t forced to do so by the owner who’s the latest in a long line of smart men who were sold on a player they didn’t need by the mastermind named Scott Boras.

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Who is Garrett Jones? Plus Other A.J. Burnett-Related Stuff

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Before anything else, I don’t think these negotiations are going to go anywhere. It’s just a sense that the Yankees and Pirates aren’t a match financially or in what the Pirates are willing to surrender to get A.J. Burnett. The Yankees’ tack appears to be, “We’ll pay some of the freight, but not all; you give us decent prospect A and B.”

The Pirates want the Yankees to pay almost the whole contract of $33 million and take negligible return.

Regarding Burnett’s no-trade clause, the Yankees wouldn’t be engaging in these talks with the Pirates (I don’t think) if there were any chance of Burnett rejecting the deal. Various people have said that because Burnett’s wife doesn’t like to fly, all of the teams Burnett has blocked are on the West Coast.

If Burnett really wants to get away from the Yankees, then I suppose going to the Pirates wouldn’t be all that bad. He’d pitch in the weaker league in a big ballpark without any expectations and be able to rejuvenate his free agent credentials for the winter of 2013-2014. For the Pirates, they could multiply the return by trading Burnett at some point in the next two years to a team that the Yankees wouldn’t trade him to like the Red Sox or Blue Jays.

Remember this: there were teams—inexplicably including the Yankees—pursuing Carl Pavano after Pavano pitched well for the Indians and Twins following his disastrous tenure with the Yankees; Burnett was never as bad on or off the field as Pavano.

I’ve been asked several times who Garrett Jones is and why the Yankees would want him.

The Pirates have apparently said that they’re not interested in moving Jones and certainly not to do the Yankees a favor in filling their DH slot and taking Burnett’s salary in the process.

But here’s what you need to think about when wondering why the Yankees would want Jones.

The Yankees need a relatively inexpensive left-handed bat with pop to share the DH role with Andruw Jones, Alex Rodriguez and other righty bats who’d DH against lefties.

Jones spent 11 seasons in the minors with the Twins and Pirates and hit 158 home runs before getting a legitimate chance in the big leagues—minor league stats. As a 28-year-old rookie in 2009, he hit 21 homers in 82 games.

Jones is arbitration eligible for the first time and due for a salary of something between $2.25 million-$2.5 million. The newly budget conscious Yankees could fit him into their salary structure and then pay a backup middle infielder. (For some reason, they want Eric Chavez back—maybe because he’s handsome? I can think of no other reason.)

Examining Jones’s platoon splits, he’s a good choice for the Yankees. Jones hits righties really well; has power to center and right field which makes him a fit for Yankee Stadium—hit trajectory link; and has had success against good pitching (he’s hammered Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, Matt Cain and Yovani Gallardo among others).

It makes sense for the Yankees to want Jones and some sense for the Pirates to want Burnett. But there’s no match for an exchange of the players along with Burnett’s salary so it’s not going to happen with one being traded for the other. In fact, I don’t think it’s going to happen in any configuration at all.

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Shifting The Moneyball Goalposts Yet Again

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As much as Moneyball tried to paint the picture that “this is the way to build your team and if you ignore it you’re an idiot”—and succeeded to some degree—it was never the “way” to build a team. It was a strategy borne out of necessity and opportunity.

In fact, Billy Beane is not, nor was he ever, a “genius”. What he did took nerve, but that nerve stemmed from being locked in the vacancy of having limited funds and competing against teams that were raiding his cupboard on a year-to-year basis.

The truth is becoming more mainstream with articles such as this one in today’s New York Times discussing how smaller markets have grown smarter and therefore more competitive.

Are they getting smarter?

Possibly.

Are they more competitive?

Definitely.

Is there a connection to Moneyball?

Um. No. Not really.

Considering the teams remaining in the playoffs, you have one that connected on a deep strike to try and win this year while they still had a mid-lineup combination among the best in baseball with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The Brewers brought in a Cy Young Award winner in Zack Greinke; a solid mid-rotation starter in Shaun Marcum; and traded for an All-Star closer to function as their set-up man in Francisco Rodriguez. As a result of this, they’re in the NLCS under a moderate budget. But their farm system is gutted and once Fielder and K-Rod leave, they’re going to be hard-pressed to repeat this success. As long as Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are healthy, they’ll still be competitive, but this good and able to cover up flaws like an atrocious defense that cost them dearly last night? To protect a vanilla manager who does bizarre things? It’s hard to see.

The Cardinals have the best manager of his generation in Tony LaRussa and made a series of “win now” maneuvers signing Lance Berkman and trading Colby Rasmus for ancillary, depth pieces to augment LaRussa’s frequent bullpen usage. They also benefited from a superior Braves team collapsing and allowing them the opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Tigers are a big money team that spent lavishly on a set-up man in Joaquin Benoit and made smart deals in getting Doug Fister and Delmon Young at mid-season for basically nothing. But without one of the three best pitchers and hitters in baseball—Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera—they’d be golfing now.

The Rangers were built by a young GM in the Moneyball mold of someone who’d never played but was well-versed in statistics. It took awhile for Jon Daniels to gain footing and he survived making one of the worst trades in baseball history in sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton; but since then he made some trades that were absolutely brilliant by raiding the Braves farm system for Neftali FelizElvis Andrus and Matt Harrison when they traded Mark Teixeira a year-and-a-half before he was up for free agency. That took nerve, but it was only possible because the Rangers weren’t contending and in desperate financial straits to the point where they could ignore fan entreaties to keep their star. Now that they’re in better condition financially, they’ve been able to use a loaded farm system to acquire a Cliff Lee in 2010 and the numerous bullpen components that have brought them to the verge of a second straight pennant.

It all goes in cycles.

Moneyball was trendy because it was a neat story of a triumph over adversity for a “can’t miss” superstar who transferred his inability to fulfill that promise on the field, but became a star off the field.

The problem was that what Beane did was more gutsy than smart. He’s an actor. And his new role is that of the boxed-in everyman; the excuses are that everyone else is using his template and doing so with more money than he has and his antiquated ballpark has made it impossible to draw fans and attract marquee free agents. But if he’s a genius, shouldn’t he figure something else out?

It’s laughable that Beane was politicking for and openly wanted the Cubs GM job and they didn’t even ask to interview him, instead focusing on and apparently getting Theo Epstein.

Like the X-Files, the truth is out there and those who aren’t invested in the concept of “Beane as genius” are seeing it and shunning him or at least questioning the portrayal.

The dismissive way in which Moneyball writer Michael Lewis discusses the Rays (“they have investment bankers running it and have been lucky in the draft”) is exactly the same argument that people used to contradict his salable and practically ridiculous narrative of Moneyball. I’m wondering whether he sees that or is blocking out this reality in a psychiatrist’s dream case of egomania.

Beane’s persona-switch from hard-charging, ruthless, corporate monster to happy-go-lucky, shrugging man of the people who’s trapped where he is in a system that’s swallowed him up doesn’t explain away a series of horrible trades and drafts. But that doesn’t fit into the story.

There is no one way to build a successful team—a team that’s going to win the World Series. The 2011 storyline is that the big money clubs, rife with superstars and recognizable names, all got bounced in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely due to humiliating collapses. Next year it might be the opposite; or it could be something different entirely; or the same thing.

But the mythmakers will look for an angle, even if they have to conjure one from nothing just like Moneyball. And just like the moving the goalposts of Moneyball, it’s a desperate act that’s still occurring as we speak.

The public and media are beginning to see it.

Finally.

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The Brewers Had Better Win This Year

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I’d scarcely remembered hearing Brewers manager Ron Roenicke talk before last night’s NLCS game 2 between the Cardinals and Brewers.

Now I know why.

During his in-game interview on TBS, it became crystal clear why the Brewers on-field behaviors are so out-of-control that they’ve become despised throughout the league.

Apart from Brewers (and presumably Cubs) fans, everyone wants to see them lose to a Cardinals team that, prior to this series, wasn’t exactly a contender for Miss Congeniality.

Tony LaRussa clubs aren’t well-liked because they play old-school and on the edge—they’re not out there to make friends; they’re out there to beat you. The Brewers are reviled because they think they’re better than they are; they behave as if they’ve won 5 championships; and are so overt in their celebrations that their arrogance is palpable.

On the Brewers roster are three players who have championship rings: Francisco Rodriguez, Craig Counsell and Jerry Hairston Jr.

One self-interested pitcher—whose reputation isn’t sterling in any context—and two utility players.

I doubt their voices carry much weight—literally or figuratively—in that clubhouse.

The player with the weight, Prince Fielder, is running things and he’s a sullen, mercurial individual who has come through for his club, but is also the one who has to be viewed as the catalyst for the Brewers act.

Nyjer Morgan can be referenced as the “attitude” behind the Brewers, but it all stems from Fielder. If he told Morgan to tone it down, Morgan would tone it down.

Roenicke is so soft-spoken and understated that the only way to judge him is the way his team behaves. There are managers who don’t say much in the Gil Hodges tradition, but players know not to muck with them and are aware that the manager is in charge.

Roenicke is just sort of there in the Bob Brenly scope of a manager hired not to screw it up. And he hasn’t. Yet.

He had a resume of managing in the minors and was on a well-respected coaching staff for a strong-handed manager Mike Scioscia.

But Scioscia’s teams don’t disrespect their opponents and the game the way these Brewers do.

They can defend “The Beast” silliness in which they raise their arms when they do….whatever; say that it’s all in good fun. But it’s offensive; and what makes it worse is that these players have accomplished absolutely nothing to warrant it. There are teams that expect to win and behave appropriately when they do; and there are teams for whom circumstances have coalesced into a perfect storm so their results are better than the reality.

The Brewers loaded up on starting pitching with Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke joining Yovani Gallardo and Randy Wolf; they brought in an All Star closer in K-Rod to set-up for John Axford; their two main bashers Ryan Braun and Fielder have carried them beyond a terrible defense and top-heavy lineup.

Teams like this can win with a weak manager, but they’re not in it for the long haul because Fielder’s not coming back after this season and once the novelty wears off and they need discipline, Roenicke isn’t going to be able to provide it.

The potential championship is worth the compromises they’ve made. But they’d better get that championship this year because it’s the only chance this group is going to have.

All of baseball is watching.

And rooting against them.

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NLCS Preview: St. Louis Cardinals vs Milwaukee Brewers

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St. Louis Cardinals (90-72; 2nd place, NL Central; won Wild Card; defeated Philadelphia Phillies in NLDS 3 games to 2) vs Milwaukee Brewers (96-66; 1st place, NL Central; defeated Arizona Diamondbacks in NLDS 3 games to 2).

Keys for the Cardinals: shut the Brewers up early; get depth from their starters; wait for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to make a mistake and capitalize; maintain their composure.

For a team that’s never won anything, the Brewers have an awful lot to say. There are two ways to handle that: don’t respond to it and respond on the field; or retaliate with similar trash-talk and/or by popping someone.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is simmering and seething at the way the Brewers are talking about his players, notably Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols, but he’s going to specifically tell his players not to engage and to do their talking with their play. They have to adhere to the mandate.

Jaime Garcia has done well against all the Brewers hitters; Casey McGehee is 5 for 17 vs Garcia so presumably he’ll be back in the lineup.

Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder have hammered Carpenter, but yapping at a fiery competitor and one of the best pitchers in baseball isn’t simply stupid, it’s adding fuel to a fire that didn’t exactly need to be stoked.

Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan, Jerry Hairston and Weeks all bash Edwin Jackson; McGehee has 3 career hits off of him and all are home runs; expect to see Hairston at shortstop and McGehee at third in game 2. If anyone’s going to retaliate against the Brewers with a brushback (or one between the shoulder blades), it’ll be Jackson.

Roenicke doesn’t seem to have control of his players—something he should’ve learned from his years working for Mike Scioscia with the Angels—and it could be a big problem; he’s made some bizarre, small-ball calls (similar to Scioscia) with his players this season and LaRussa is smart enough to sit back and wait for the mistake, then strike.

The Cardinals can’t let Morgan and the ridiculous “Beast” nonsense—an arms raised, “GRAAARRRR” thing the Brewers do whenever they get a hit—get to them. It won’t be easy, but if they want to win, they have to do it.

Keys for the Brewers: put their performance where their mouths are; get baserunners in front of Fielder and Ryan Braun; hand the ball from the starters to the set-up man/closer; mitigate Pujols.

The Brewers had better put up or shut up. But they’re the type of group that, even if they lose the first two game and look awful, they’ll talk more.

The problem with taking the personality lead from Morgan is that it’s eventually going to catch up to you if you pull it with the wrong people. The Cardinals are those types of people.

Even Zack Greinke has a is talking now. Greinke’s not someone who’s a talker, but he’s joining in on the fun. Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina and Jon Jay have all knocked him around; and Pujols is Pujols.

Pujols and Rafael Furcal both kill Yovani Gallardo; we don’t know who the Brewers game 2 starter is for some reason; both Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf were better on the road than they were at home; I’d start Marcum in game 2 because he’s better than Wolf and has less of a history with the Cardinals.

It always comes down to Pujols when playing the Cardinals. He can look terrible for 15 at bats, then wreck the game and series with three straight games of ridiculous lightning shows. And it doesn’t help that the Brewers and “Tony Plush” AKA Morgan chose to denigrate this era’s Joe DiMaggio in terms of performance and, just as importantly, pride.

What will happen.

It’s difficult to tell whether the Brewers bravado is false or if they actually believe it. Probably both.

The Cardinals are old-school; they’re not looking for friends on the field and that starts from their manager all the way through the team. They’re not happy with the way the Brewers disrespected them when the Cardinals looked finished in the playoff race; that September run that led the Cardinals to the playoffs happened in part because the Braves collapsed and in part because they wanted another crack at the Brewers.

They’re getting it.

This is a horrible matchup for the Brewers; in retrospect, they might’ve been better off facing the Phillies and the overwhelming expectations of a team for whom anything short of a World Series win was a failure. The Cardinals are playing with house money, are livid at the Brewers out-of-control mouths and will be determined to shut them up on and off the field.

The Cardinals hold a distinct advantage in managers; have been here—in this exact same position before—and came through.

When they upset the Mets in the 2006 NLCS, the Cardinals made it a point to ridicule the soccer chant that the Mets use(d) to celebrate Jose Reyes; those Mets were perceived as arrogant, but in comparison to these Brewers, they were the most professional, quiet, go-about-their-business group on the history of baseball.

It’s one thing to yap; it’s another thing to yap and disrespect.

The Brewers are writing checks with their mouths that their team’s not going to be able to cash.

And they’re going to be made to pay.

The Cardinals are going to slap a muzzle on them and be doing the Beast in the visiting clubhouse when they bounce the Brewers in 7 games.

PREDICTION: CARDINALS IN SEVEN.

NLCS MVP: ALBERT PUJOLS.

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The Cardinals’ Last Stand

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Having swept three straight from the Brewers at Miller Park, the Cardinals have kept themselves alive in the NL Central race. They’re still down 7 1/2 games with 25 to play so a comeback would be bordering on the miraculous, but they’re still around—and that was the first step.

This weekend is supremely important for the Cardinals to—at the very least—stay 7 1/2 games behind. The Brewers are in Houston for a 3 game series with the Astros while the Cardinals are going home to play the Reds.

On Monday, the Brewers go to St. Louis for 3 games.

If the Cardinals can cut the deficit another game or two, Monday becomes very, very interesting and important. Let’s say the Cardinals manage to get within 5 games after their home series with the Brewers. The Brewers are then going to Philadelphia to play the Phillies; the Cardinals have the Braves coming to town.

Without providing schedules for each team down the stretch (their opponents are mostly the same), the Cardinals have to make their move now.

It’s hard to see the Brewers stumbling in a 2007 Mets-type way and being caught or passed by the Cardinals. Those Mets were drastically flawed in the starting rotation with Oliver Perez and John Maine both having been coaxed to unexpected 15 win seasons by Rick Peterson and Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez were shells of what they once were; this Brewers club with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf has legitimate starting pitching.

You can also throw the 2008 Mets into that mix. With Johan Santana their starting pitching was better than it was in the previous year, but the bullpen was relying on journeyman Luis Ayala to close after Billy Wagner went down with Tommy John surgery; the Brewers have two legitimate closers in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.

2007 Mets manager Willie Randolph panicked and 2008 manager Jerry Manuel was outgunned; I don’t know how Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke is going to react if his club is pressed by Tony LaRussa‘s Cardinals over the last two weeks.

But the Cardinals crawled back into striking distance with the sweep—similar to the way the Phillies did against the Mets (twice) in the final 5 weeks of the 2007 season.

The last thing the Brewers want to do is let the Cardinals think they have a chance.

That’s what the Cardinals are thinking now.

And if things break a certain way, in seven days time they might have more than a chance. They might have a race; a race the Brewers neither wanted, needed nor expected.

The Brewers have to take care of business by next Thursday or they could have a problem on their hands.

A big one.

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The Defensive Equation With The Brewers And Rangers

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Neil Paine writes a piece in the NY Times about the Texas Rangers recent hot streak, how their defense has contributed to winning this season and last.

They’ve done it without an array of “name” pitchers like those of the Phillies, Giants and Brewers; instead, they’ve relied on converted relievers Alexi Ogando and C.J. Wilson; young, unspectacular strike-throwers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison; and a scrapheap pickup Colby Lewis.

While the names are unfamiliar, the results are excellent.

Is it due to the strategy to tell these pitchers to pound the strike zone and let the superior defense take care of the rest despite pitching in a notorious hitters’ ballpark in Arlington?

It certainly appears so.

The Brewers have gone in the opposite direction as the Rangers in terms of putting their team together. Whereas the Rangers built their club with this intention clearly in mind based on the deployment of players and execution of plans, the Brewers have a starting rotation of Cy Young Award quality-talent with Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo; a solid, gutty craftsman in Shaun Marcum; and a workmanlike veteran Randy Wolf.

The Brewers defense is also slow-footed and lacks range. Despite having pitchers in their starting rotation who are better than those on the Rangers, their ERA+ is in the middle-of-the-pack of the National League.

If a team brings in starting pitching the level of that which the Brewers have, ignoring the defense is a huge mistake.

The Brewers are top-heavy with bashers who are more suited to DHing like Prince Fielder; and other regulars who probably shouldn’t be playing at all in Casey McGehee and Yuniesky Betancourt.

The Rangers are deeply balanced and have built their team based on that conscious decision to focus on the factors of pitching and defense with a fair amount of power thrown in.

How much better would the Brewers be if they shored up the defense at third and short and would it behoove them to do so? And would fixing this issue now with the acquisition of a defensive ace at short the likes of Jack Wilson or Jason Bartlett help? There’s been talk of Rafael Furcal who’s been injured and awful, but a pennant race might wake up his game—if he’s healthy. They’d get him for nothing.

The Rangers success with this template is a better option than what the Brewers did. All that great pitching isn’t doing much good if the infielders don’t—or can’t—catch the ball.

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Deadline Players

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If any team is a sure bet to be heavy buyers at the trading deadline it’s the Milwaukee Brewers.

Because they have so much invested in this season and aren’t going to be able to keep Prince Fielder as a free agent, they’re all in for 2011.

There are other reasons why the Brewers are going to be super-aggressive at the trading deadline.

Presumably Brewers GM Doug Melvin knew how promising Brett Lawrie was when he traded him to the Blue Jays for Shaun Marcum. Marcum has been terrific so far this season and is under team control through next year. The Brewers needed starting pitching; they had Casey McGehee to play third and Rickie Weeks at second; and they were forced to take Yuniesky Betancourt‘s contract from the Royals to get Zack Greinke.

There was no place to put Lawrie; he’s never played shortstop and beyond doing something truly outside-the-box and trying to shift Weeks to short to make room for him, this was a mutually beneficial and necessary move. The Blue Jays had a lot of pitching and the Brewers had a prospect the Blue Jays coveted.

Lawrie is expected to be recalled soon; he’s been destroying the ball at Triple A Las Vegas with 79 hits, 38 extra base hits including 15 homers, and a 1.092 OPS in 52 games.

It was a “win now” trade for the Brewers and it’s working; they still need some upgrades.

With that in mind, expect something major to improve the offense, infield defense and bullpen before the trading deadline. I’m talking about any of the three potentially available Mets from Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Francisco Rodriguez; Heath Bell from the Padres; or Jason Kubel from the Twins.

The Brewers are in a very winnable division and the Wild Card will also be available. With their starting pitching of Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo, they’re a major threat to anyone in the playoffs already; if they do something bold like acquire any of the above-mentioned names, they’ll be truly dangerous.

Fielder’s basically gone and Lawrie’s ready for a recall from the Blue Jays. The Brewers know what they have to do—they have to win and they have to win now.

Melvin will do everything necessary to make a playoff run because, given the circumstances, he doesn’t have much of a choice. And he’s right to do it.

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