Monday, August 24, 2009

Hall’s Career as a Brewer Comes to an End

The Milwaukee Brewers dealt Bill Hall to the Seattle Mariners for minor league pitching prospect Ruben Flores (source: here). Seattle grabbing Hall makes sense because Jack Zduriencik, former Brewers Director of Amateur Scouting, is now General Manager of the Seattle Mariners. Brewers Assistant General Manager Gord Ash admitted the Brewers’ hands were tied in the negotiations, which meant getting anything in return, given the circumstances, was lucky for the Brewers.

The Brewers designated Hall for assignment last week, which gave the team 10 days to trade or release him. If the Mariners wanted to wait, they could have signed Hall for the veteran minimum after the Brewers released him. If that happened, the Brewers would have been responsible for all of the $10.5 million remaining on Hall’s contract. Seattle did not want to risk that Hall would sign with a different club, so they worked with the Brewers on this aspect of the deal. Presumably, Milwaukee paid most of the remaining $10.5 million with Seattle picking up a small portion of Hall’s salary. Seattle now owns a team option on Hall for 2011, which consists of $9.25 million and a $500,000 buyout.

This trade comes as no surprise. What does surprise me, though, is how Hall’s hitting statistics have plummeted since signing his contract with the Brewers after the 2006 season. In 2006, Hall hit .270 with a team high 35 home runs and 85 RBI (source: here). Since then, Hall changed positions twice and has never looked the same at the plate. He hit .254 with 14 home runs and 63 RBI in 2007, and .225 with 15 home runs and 55 RBI in 2008 (source: here). Last off-season, Hall had lasik eye surgery, which the Brewers hoped would help him improve offensively. Unfortunately, that was not the case. In 214 at bats this season, Hall hit .201 with 6 home runs and 24 RBI. Since signing a four-year contract after the 2006 season, Hall’s stats have inexplicably nose-dived.

Hall provided a number of unforgettable Mother’s Day homeruns with his pink bat; those are memories that Brewers fans will always cherish. On the other hand, Hall’s offensive statistics tanked once the MLB implemented a rigorous steroid-testing program. Hall was not implicated in the Mitchell Report, and there is no verification that he was on the infamous list of 104 major leaguers that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. At this point, it is mere speculation backed by some suspicious statistics. All the same, his performance has been routinely disappointing. I wish him luck with the Mariners, but I’m ready to move on.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Milwaukee Bucks Continue Wheeling and Dealing

Milwaukee Bucks General Manager John Hammond continued to reshape the Bucks’ roster by trading power forward Amir Johnson and guard Sonny Weems to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for small forward Carlos Delfino and guard Roko Ukic. Earlier in the off-season, the Bucks acquired Johnson from the Detroit Pistons in a three-team trade. After the Bucks signed free agent power forward Hakim Warrick to a one-year contract at the end of July, Johnson became expendable (source: here). Delfino joins the Bucks in a “sign and trade;” he played in Russia last season, but the Raptors retained his rights (source: here).

This deal works out well for both sides because the Bucks have a glut of power forwards and the Raptors have a surplus of small forwards. Johnson was in the final year of a three-year contract, anyway. Preliminary indications are that Delfino will sign a three-year deal for $3 to $4 million a season (source: here).

Hammond acquiring Delfino is no shocker. Hammond was in the Detroit Pistons front office when the Pistons drafted Delfino in the first round of the 2003 NBA draft, and has kept an eye on Delfino ever since. With these moves, Hammond is reshuffling the Bucks roster without committing too much money long term. This allows the Bucks to have ongoing financial flexibility and some fresh blood, too. All in all, I think it was a good move.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Brett Favre Signs with the Minnesota Vikings

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Brett Favre signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings (source: here). If Favre is on the Vikings' opening day roster for 2009 he is guaranteed to earn $12 million. If Favre is on the Vikings' opening day roster for 2010 he is guaranteed to earn $13 million. This news comes several weeks after Favre’s highly hyped self-imposed deadline of July 31st, on which he promised he would make a final decision about returning to the NFL once and for all (for those of you who can’t keep it straight, he decided to stay retired). So what does all of this mean? For one thing, it means that the unending coverage dedicated to Favre retiring, un-retiring, and retiring again will be back in full swing now as Favre un-retires once more.

Favre’s return really should catch no one by surprise. Throughout his career, Favre has been very reluctant to have any type of medical procedure. Then, this off-season, he undergoes elective arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder despite being in “retirement” (source: here). We should have seen this coming.

Vikings fans better hope that the surgery helped him. Favre’s reputation for delivering victory in the clutch has come under fire in recent years. Over the last four seasons when his team was within 7 points of their opponents in the 4th quarter, Favre threw 29 interceptions and only 19 touchdowns. Furthermore, Favre’s last pass as a Green Bay Packer was an interception in overtime of the 2008 NFC Championship game in Green Bay. Last season, Favre had nine 3rd quarter interceptions and seven 4th quarter interceptions, which ranked worst in the NFL for starting quarterbacks. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Favre’s trademark ability to make big plays under immense pressure.

There are several factors in Favre’s favor, though. First, Favre certainly will benefit from playing 10 games in a domed stadium, if he plays the full season, that is. Furthermore, he will only have one cold weather game to endure (December 28th at Chicago). If Favre stays healthy, this makes the Vikings the presumptive favorite to win the NFC North, which now boasts the best quarterbacks of any division in the NFL. On the other hand, Favre missed almost half of the Vikings’ training camp. That can’t be good for his physical fitness. Also, questions remain about a nagging bicep injury, too.

The Favre retirement story has been covered from just about every angle recently (and I suppose I am contributing to the madness with this post). People are asking, is Favre the missing piece to making the Vikings a Super Bowl team? How will this impact Favre’s legacy? Will his consecutive starting streak be intact at the end of 2009? There are lots of questions surrounding Favre’s decision to return to the NFL, and the answers to these questions will be played out over the next several months. There’s no question, though, that everyone will be watching.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Green Bay Packers and B.J. Raji Reach Deal

The Green Bay Packers and former Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji agreed to terms on a five-year contract according to sources close to the negotiations. Preliminary indications are that the Packers gave Raji, the 9th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, a five-year contract worth $28.5 million with an additional $18.5 million in guarantees (Source: here). The Packers decided to get Raji under contract instead of waiting until the players drafted on either side of him agreed to terms (8th pick Eugene Monroe by the Jacksonville Jaguars and 10th pick Michael Crabtree by the San Francisco 49ers). This was a well-calculated tactical move by the Packers.

Raji is represented by Athletes First, the same agency that represented Keith Rivers, the 9th pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2008 NFL Draft. Rivers had a similar holdout last season and ended up agreeing to a five-year deal worth a reported $20.1 million with an additional $15.7 million in guarantees (Source: here).

It’s interesting to compare Raji and Rivers’ contracts. What strikes me most is that Raji stands to receive almost $8.4 million more in total value and a little less than $3 million more in guarantees than Rivers received just one year ago. Although that seems like an astronomical increase in such a short amount of time, Raji potentially could have received even more money because of two anomalies coming out of the NFL Draft this year. First, Mark Sanchez, the 5th pick by the New York Jets, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the 7th pick by the Oakland Raiders, obtained large raises this year over players picked in those slots in 2008. Second, if the Packers waited until Monroe or Crabtree signed, they could have ended up paying Raji even more money. I applaud the Packers for taking charge of the situation.

Raji left Green Bay a few days ago for Boston because a deal did not seem imminent at the time. Raji missed 14 practices during the holdout and will most likely sit out during the Packers first preseason game this Saturday at Lambeau Field against the Cleveland Browns. Getting Raji into camp as soon as possible is paramount if the Packers want Raji to play in their first regular season game at home against their division rivals, the Chicago Bears. I mean, we want to win, of course, but we may as well get our money’s worth, too.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

4 Big Moves by Brewers General Manager

Milwaukee Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin made four bold moves yesterday:

1. he fired pitching coach Bill Castro, replacing him with Triple-A pitching coach and former Brewer Chris Bosio;

2. he sent starting shortstop J.J. Hardy to Triple-A;

3. he designated Bill Hall for assignment; and

4. he brought up Alcides Escobar, the top prospect in the Brewers farm system.

Melvin went 3 for 4. The only move I disagree with is firing Bill Castro. The Brewers pitching has been inconsistent this season, but that can’t all fall on Castro’s shoulders. A little over two months ago, all reports were that Castro and the pitching staff were meshing well (Source: here). Castro spent 17 years as the Brewers bullpen coach, he deserved more than a four-month tryout as pitching coach. By firing Castro, Melvin is trying to make Castro the scapegoat when Melvin is the one that needs to look in the mirror. He is the one who assembled this below average pitching staff.

The three other moves were long overdue. The only downside I see to sending Hardy to Triple-A is that it hurts his trade value in the off-season. Hardy can’t become a free agent until after the 2010 season, which gives the Brewers some options. Hardy should play some second base and right field at Triple-A. Rickie Weeks is injury prone, and Felipe Lopez is a free agent after the season. Mat Gamel looks like the third basemen of the future for the Brewers, so unless Alcides Escobar flames out at shortstop in the majors, Hardy’s best chance to play for the Brewers in 2010 will be at second base or right field.

Designating Bill Hall for assignment hurts Mark Antanasio financially. Hall is scheduled to make $6.925 million this season, $8.525 million in 2010, and has a $500,000 buyout on his 2011 team option. That means designating Hall costs roughly $10 million. Unfortunately, for all parties involved, Hall’s playing over the last season and a half forced Melvin’s hand. What the future holds for Hall is somewhat of a mystery. If Hall wants to play in the major leagues again, he will have to dramatically improve his hitting. If that doesn’t happen, Hall might have played his last major league game.

Last, but certainly not least, Melvin called up Alcides Escobar, the top prospect in the Brewers minor league system. Bringing up Escobar harkens back to the Brewers calling up an 18 year old Robin Yount (Source: here). Every scout raves about Escobar as being a complete player that can bat leadoff. If that is the case, he is the perfect panacea for the Brewers. Bringing up Escobar in the middle of a pennant race will give the Brewers a chance to see whether Escobar can live up to his hype.

For better or worse, August 12, 2009, marks a very interesting, and possibly historic, day in Brewers history.