The MLB 30 + 2

In the offseason I'll take anything for a story idea. Today's thought comes from a twittering that Lange posted. Well, there is a quick answer to his question, and it was immediately brought up by fellow Brewers fan and twitter friend miketotheg. With even leagues, 1 team would be without an opponent for each series as there would be 15 teams in each league. I do agree with Lange though, I really wish the NL Central didn't have 6 teams in it, especially compared to the 4 in the AL West.

If there were to be even numbers in each league; there would be three solutions. 1) Play a full season of inter-league games 2) Retract two teams 3) Add two teams

1) Play a full season of inter-league. I know some people who would like to see this. But, I wouldn't expect it to happen any time soon. Baseball purists already dislike the idea of the inter-league as it is.

2) Retract two teams. Ok, which two? Rays = 1. They can't draw a crowd, even after going to the World Series, and their stadium sucks. But which team gets the 2nd axe? Marlins? Nationals? No, they each have new stadiums. Pirates? Once again, new stadium, plus no way would they get rid of one of the classic teams, plus Pirates fans will go to games, if they can get a damn team worthy of watching. So who??? Exactly, there really isn't a good 2nd option, especially with so many newer stadiums having been built, locking teams into leases and contracts and whatnot.

That leaves us with option #3....add two teams. The beauty is there would really be no change in playoffs. There wouldn't be a Wild Card, but there would only be 4 teams in each division. Expansion has its risks (see: NHL, Krispy Kreme), but with risk comes reward. The NFL successfully runs 32 teams which it can do because of wild popularity of the sport. One reason NFL can get away with it though is the limited number of games. With 8 home games (not including playoffs), each game is a holiday of sorts. Can it work with 81 games? Depends what market you move to. So, where exactly:

Ok, with the recent ridiculousness surrounding Orlando by a politician and a TV journalist. Orlando getting a MLB team is a current topic. Here's the thing Orlando, what makes you think you can fill a stadium, when your friends 1 hour away in Tampa aren't putting any asses in seats, not to mention the ballhawker heaven that is Landshark Stadium with the Marlins attendance woes (new stadium in a better location will help). Sorry Orlando, dreams don't always come true, but keep wishing upon that star.

I don't know, why I would say Omaha....why not though. They host the College World Series, and ummmm have good steaks. Think about it though, aside from Kansas City, most of the plains has nothing, can't we throw them a bone? Omaha has a large population, a thriving college town nearby in Lincoln. Even Iowans can get in on the action, all they have is a slightly worse version of the Chicago Cubs...called the Iowa Cubs. ... I'm done with this thought, it won't work.

Apparently Omaha is Beautiful City...Good for Them!

Canada isn't a city! I know, I know. Let's break it down, and we can do this quickly. I really only envision 3 possible cities that could support a team. Montreal = Already failed. Ottawa = Too far north. Vancouver = Too close to Seattle. Thanks for playing Canada.

I mean, the good folks from Buffalo deserve to have something other than the shitty ass Bills, but, I don't think this will work. They are pretty rabid Sabres fans though if I recall from my last visit there.

This would put the Brewers AAA team in flux. But Nashville, makes a great centralized location for a large fan base throughout Tennessee, and even Kentucky. They quickly latched onto the Titans when the Oilers moved into town.

Realistic Locations

San Juan, Puerto Rico:
Not too hard to imagine this. If memory serves me right, they were pretty quick to latch onto the Expos when they came to town. They are very, very avid baseball fans. I'm pretty certain they would instantly pour support for a new team. This is a very viable, and plausible option. Also would look good for the MLB in the Latin American communities. And look, they already have a stadium!

Las Vegas:
Vegas has been wanting to get a professional sports team for some time, and why not, they are a big enough city that is continually expanding. My big problem though, is most people who have moved there, moved from somewhere else and will likely continue to support their already favorite teams. Sure, they might support the Vegas team, but would they really be die-hards? Plus, you'd have to hope they wouldn't have such blind of ambition as the Cubs fans do, or else they'd be broke from betting the house.

Lange didn't like this choice looking at the Hornets leaving town, the Bobcats coming and doing little better, and of everyone's favorite NHL team, the Hurricanes. I'm thinking about the success of the Panthers though, and the fact the Carolinas are big in minor league baseball. There is plenty of population that really has little else to cheer for in terms of the Major Leagues. I think it would be successful.

And now for my two selections

How does a city of this size get by with nothing more than a AAA baseball team? Talk about getting a whole state involved immediately for what one could assume to be a loyal fanbase. Ok, sure, the folks in the northwest part of the state might be Sox or even Cubbie fans, but, they are basically in Chicagoland anyways, hence don't count. I'm almost positive that a professional MLB team in Indy would succeed immediately. Listen, they love sports, they have the fantastic Midwestern summers, and if their passionate displays of fandom ring true for baseball as it does for the Colts, or even of the many collegiate teams...then you have a die hard fan base. I once asked a bartender at the Indianapolis airport while waiting for my flight, who they cheer for mostly. He really didn't have an answer saying, some cheer for the Reds, some for the Cubs....but no true loyalties. If they got their own team, they most certainly would. The main problem is, that it leads to a lot of Midwest teams, and how do you place them within the conferences?....minor detail in my book.

Portland, OR:
Figured I better specify Oregon; I don't think the lobsterheads in Maine will switch their "Sawx" allegiances anytime soon. Yes, the lovely city of Portland should have Major League Baseball. Too far from Seattle and San Francisco/Oakland, all these poor residents have for a professional franchise is an NBA team...and no one should be forced to like the NBA. Once again, state pride would be at stake, and you'd have an instant fan base.You'd also have the instant rivalry with the Mariners. Plus with a new stadium, you could have a beautiful ballpark with a picturesque scene that the residents could, just, totally mellow out to. I mean, the fine people of Oregon didn't have their ancestors risk life, limb, dysentery, thieving bands of travelers, and poorly caulked wagons to get to Oregon and NOT have professional baseball!

Oooo, Pretty! Imagine Prince Fielder splashing balls into this?

This post is purely hypothetical, but if there is actually some sort of research on this topic, feel free to share. Our comment board won't bite.


The Farm Report: Starting Pitchers

Our final position ranking is here and it's one that is, without a doubt, one of the most important. Good starting pitching is the backbone of contending baseball teams. Home-grown starting pitching is also something that Milwaukee has struggled to develop.

These are true starting pitchers, players whose role, for the time being at least, is set.

Starting Pitchers

1. Eric Arnett (Rookie)
2. Mark Rogers (High A)
3. Amaury Rivas (High A)
4. Josh Butler (AA)
5. Kyle Heckathorn (Rookie)

If this list were to go ten deep, you'd see names like Chris Cody, Jeremy Jeffress and Evan Anundsen, but we're sticking with five as we've done with every other position.

Kyle Heckathorn will start us at No.5, it's kind of sad that two picks from this years draft immediately rank in the top five starters in the Brewers system. Scouting reports at draft time said that Heckathorn, a righty, throws hard, with a mid-90s fastball and a power breaking ball. Much like the No. 1 pitcher on our list, he threw a lot of innings in college so his professional innings were minimal this year. Since he's a college pitcher he's considered an advanced prospect, I wouldn't be surprised if he joined what could be a very interesting pitching staff at Wisconsin this year.

Sitting at fourth on the list is Josh Butler. Crew fans got a little glimpse of Butler during September call-ups. If you were watching at the end of last season you would've seen a guy with good movement on his fastball and hit around 93-94 on the gun. Butler was the player the Brewers got when they traded Gabe Gross to Tampa Bay. He had been treading water in High A until this season when something clicked. He saw improvement in nearly every statistical category and earned his way on to this list. He may be one of the chief options in case of injury this season.

Next up we have Amaury Rivas. Signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2005, Rivas has been a bit slower developing than the club probably hoped. He really excelled in the second half of last season, after the break he went 9-2 with a 2.26 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 71.2 innings pitched. Combine that with solid first half numbers (4-5, 3.82 ERA) and it's clear why he was named the team's minor league pitcher of the year. If Rivas can carry that success over to Double-A next season he could find himself approaching the majors as soon as next year.

Sitting at No. 2 is Mark Rogers, the former first round pick returning from a rebuilt shoulder who hadn't pitched an inning in two seasons. Indications are that Rogers has gotten his velocity back, he was throwing 95-96 this season and he managed to stay healthy for the whole year. The organization is being very careful (understandably) with him, he only pitched 64.2 innings, but that will change come next season. Rogers is on the 40-man roster already and will likely be assigned to Double-A next year. He'll get a shot at the majors sooner than later.

Eric Arnett gets the top spot, purely on potential and draft position. Much like Jake Odirizzi in our pitcher grouping, we don't have a very good statistical sampling of Arnett. He pitched a ton of innings for Indiana before being drafted so the team had him on a very strict inning count. Scouting reports at draft time said he throws hard, mid-90s, with a good breaking ball and improving change-up. It's difficult to project where Arnett will be assigned next year, college players are generally more advanced so the team likely hopes he will rise quickly.

What's nice to see is that there are talented starters nearing the major league level. The Brewers inability to develop pitchers is notorious, but with the prospects coming up in the next few seasons that should change. Excitement for pitching prospects, weird.


The Farm Report: Pitchers

Part two, in the NBA they'd be called tweeners, guys who might be either one position or the other. In this case, it's yet to be determined whether or not these pitchers are headed for the starting rotation or the bullpen.

In each case I'll give the best indications possible of which end of the pitching spectrum these players are headed for, let's get to it.


1. Zach Braddock (AA)
2. Jake Odirizzi (Rookie)
3. Wily Peralta (Low A)
4. Cody Scarpetta (Low A)
5. Donovan Hand (AA)

As per the usual, we'll start with No. 5, Donovan Hand. A right-handed pitcher who spent all of 2009 with Huntsville, Hand has settled in well as a relief pitcher. While he did make 12 starts with the Brewers double-A affiliate, he excelled as a reliever. In 33 relief innings Hand's ERA was 1.91, in his starts his ERA was nearly two-and-a-half runs higher at 4.39. He's the most veteran of this bunch, he'll be 24 in April, but should be assigned to Nashville to start the year. If he pitches well in 2010, he could earn his way onto the 40-man roster by next spring.

Sitting at No. 4 on our list, is Rockford, Ill. native and another righty Cody Scarpetta. The gap between him and our No. 3 is absolutely paper thin, the years they had with Wisconsin a year ago were nearly identical. Scarpetta is already on the 40-man roster due to contract difficulties so his development clock is ticking. He had good all-around numbers a year ago, a 3.52 ERA, .219 batting average allowed and 117 strikeouts against 56 walks. He's also considered to have the best breaking ball in the Brewer's system. The question with Scarpetta is, can he develop that third pitch to make him a major league starter? The Brewers will give him the chance to.

Wily Peralta looks like a very promising prospect, he throws in the low to mid-90s and has a nice breaking ball. He showed fairly good command with Wisconsin last season, walking 46. Ideally you would like to see that number go down, otherwise you end up with too many five inning starts. He'll need to improve his third pitch if he's going to be a big league starter and that appears to be the path the team intends for him.

Next we have Jake Odirizzi, all indications are that the team intends for him to get a shot as a starting pitcher, but so far he's seen time as both a reliever and starter. He's had good command for a prep pitcher, with 40 strikeouts and only nine walks, but a .296 batting average allowed needs to improve. It's hard to rate a guy with 4.40 ERA as the No. 2 pitcher but he earns that spot on the strength of draft position (he was the 32nd overall pick in 2008). Odirizzi will most likely be assigned to Wisconsin next year, so I'll do my best to get my own scouting report then.

And sitting at No. 1 is none other than Zach Braddock. It's very doubtful that Braddock makes a return to the starting rotation with his injury history, but the team seems unwilling to rule that idea out just yet. He's got a big arm and good command, last season he struckout 62 batters in 40.1 innings and only walked seven. If he stays healthy at Triple-A and has the type of year he's capable of, Braddock will see time with the big club next year. Whether it's when someone gets hurt or during September call-ups, he's going to be knocking on the door very soon.

This is a very good group of pitchers, there is some real talent here. What is most promising is that, with pitchers like Zach Braddock and Donovan Hand, the team finally has some pitching prospects in Triple-A. Add in the immensely high-ceilinged trio of Odirizzi, Peralta and Scarpetta and the formerly dire pitching prospects start to look, well, good.


A Double-D Enhancement

And no, I'm not referring to plastic surgery. The Brewers agreed to terms today with lefty Doug Davis, who pitched for the club for three plus seasons from 2003-2006. The deal is still pending a physical, but all accounts say that it will be for one season with mutual option for 2011. Year one of the deal is worth $4.25 million while year two, if exercised, is worth $6.5 million with a $1 million buyout. So guaranteed money is $5.25 million.

Enough of the numbers, lets get into why this is a good deal.

Find Someone Better

When the offseason began, Doug Melvin said he wanted to sign two starting pitchers. It's clear that the team felt John Lackey wasn't within their price range, so they targeted Randy Wolf. Check. After the calender turned to 2010, indications were that the team was still in the running for another starter.

The choices? Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn and Jon Garland. Washburn had struggled in three of his four years with Seattle and then stunk after a trade to Detroit (To be fair he was hurt). Garland was the youngest option, and statistically bears a remarkable resemblance to Jeff Suppan at that age. And Davis was fresh off a year in which he walked 103 batters.

So why is Davis the best option? He's accustomed to the National League and also has been putting up solid numbers despite pitching in hitter's parks (Miller Park and Chase Field). There's also a comfort level when bringing in a pitcher that has been with the club before.

Over a three year period Davis' ERA was 4.25 - 4.32 - 4.12; Washburn's numbers are 4.32 - 4.69 - 3.78, if that's the best he can muster while pitching in the cavernous Safeco Field it's scary to think about what his numbers would be in Miller Park. Garland's numbers were 4.23 - 4.90 - 4.01, that third season bolstered heavily by six games he pitched for the Dodgers at the end of the year. Nothing like a pitcher who puts up good numbers in a contract year, huh.

Relative Improvement

What's most important is not who the team didn't sign, but who they did. The question that you have to ask to compare players is did they improve? Clearly they did. Davis' 2009 was a better year than 4/5 of the the Crew's rotation.

He pitched more innings than any returning starter (Randy Wolf had more) and only Yovanni Gallardo struck out more batters and had a lower ERA (Wolf had a better ERA as well). This is a very substantial upgrade from the teams awful starting rotation in 2009. Combined with the signing of Wolf the Brewers have made huge strides in their Starting Pitching.

Odd Man Out

Addition by subtraction. Signing Doug Davis to the club means the team will have six starters for five spots. Gallardo, Wolf and Davis will be in the rotation, there's no doubt about that. I would be surprised if Manny Parra didn't start as well, which leaves Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush competing for the last spot in the rotation.

Just the fact that one of these two pitchers won't be in the starting rotation means the team has gotten better. It also bodes well for depth, one of the main problems last season was that when Bush and Suppan went down with injuries, the team had no viable replacements. They ended up giving starts to Carlos Villanueva, Seth McClung, Mike Burns and Chris Narvesen. Villanueva and McClung were at their best in the bullpen while Burns looked overmatched. Narvesen had his moments but September stats are as trustworthy as spring stats, basically useless.

Narvesen will still be around in 2010, and will likely be one of the chief options when injuries do occur. Starting pitching depth was a foreign concept a year ago, but it may be a strength in 2010.

Nobody's Perfect

Look, Doug Davis will not be the staff ace, he's not even a No. 2 starter. It's a stretch to even call him a No. 3 pitcher, but he's better than who the Brewers trotted out there a season ago. Yea, he'll walk too many batters and he'll be frustrating at times. But it's only a one-year commitment. If it doesn't go well the team doesn't have to bring him back for another season.

What does build confidence is that Doug Melvin was able to attract the two free agents to his squad that he targeted. Milwaukee might never be a premiere free agent destination, but give Melvin his due, he attracted the guys he wanted without a Suppan-esque trainwreck of a contract.

The Brewers are better, and at the end of the day that's all that matters.


The Farm Report: Relief Pitchers

Ranking position players has been finished for some time now and with the Packers season over it's time to begin the gradual build towards full-fledged excitement for the Brewers 2010 season. That brings us to our subject for the first Farm Report of 2010, pitching.

Pitching will be done in three parts, first is relief pitchers, those pitchers that have clearly been defined at this point as relievers. The second will be pitchers, these are guys that have seen time as both starters and relievers and its not clear yet what role they will play if they ever make it to the majors. Last will be Starting Pitchers, guys who have set their roles as rotation members (at least for the time being).

Let me also say that I hate rating pitchers. Unlike hitters, where home runs tell power, there is no stat that says how hard a pitcher throws. So I can't speculate on how hard a guy throws or what pitches they throw if I haven't seen them, which means that my rankings rely heavily on what statistics are available and what scouting reports I can find. This will end up hurting the ranking for guys like Eric Arnett who haven't really pitched much.

Let's get to it.

1. Robert Wooten (AA)
2. John Axford (AAA)
3. Casey Baron (AA)
4. Michael Fiers (High A)
5. Omar Aguilar (High A)

We'll start with Omar Aguilar, who made a splash in spring training a year ago. He saw his stock fall so far in 2009 that he was dropped from the 40-man roster. He throws hard, but he lost his control after being injured to start the season. For Huntsville he had an ERA of 7.71, but he seemed to find himself after a demotion to Brevard County where he struckout 37 while walking just nine and posting an ERA of 2.12. He'll get another shot at Double A and could climb the ladder quickly with a big season.

Michael Fiers is an interesting prospect, he really put himself on the map after being drafted in the 22nd round this year. He pitched at three levels -Rookie, Low-A and High A - and showed off impressive command, in 40.2 innings he struck out 59 batters and walked only five. I would expect him to start the season with High A, but he could end the season at Double A or Triple A if he pitches well.

Next on the list we have Casey Baron, a lefty who spent most of the year with Double A Huntsville. He very quietly put up good numbers in 2009, sporting a 2.42 ERA over 52 innings. Baron also showed off good command, striking out 50 against 15 walks. Triple A should be his destination in 2010, it will be interesting to see how he progresses.

Moving on, we have John Axford, a hard throwing righty who flew up the minor league ladder a season ago. Axford pitched so well in the three minor league stops he made that he earned a big league call-up and has managed to stay on the 40-man roster through the winter. He'll have a (very) slim chance at the roster next year.

And last but not least is Robert Wooten, a 13th round pick in 2008. In 53 games between Double-A and High-A he had an ERA of 2.67 and struck out 78 batters while walking only 22. He also served as the closer for both teams. Wooten also pitched in the Arizona Fall League, while he posted a sub-par ERA (5.00) he didn't lose his command; he only walked one batter in eight appearances.

Most of the time relievers are failed starters, but the increased use of relief pitchers in college has changed that in recent years. While it's true, many relievers are converted starters, Wooten, for example, was drafted out of the University of North Carolina where he was a closer.

This group has some live arms and many seem to project Wooten as a future closer, although most accounts say he doesn't throw that hard. With all bullpen spots basically spoken for 2010, guys like Axford or Wooten might be seen this year when the inevitable injury occurs.


Beyond Awful

I looked back on my post about Packers that shouldn't be back in 2010 and found that I made one massive oversight. And no it's not Mason Crosby, despite some shakiness at times this season I'm a believer that Crosby is fine (more importantly there isn't a better choice available). But it is a special teamer, Jeremy Kapinos.

How did this player fall into my blind-spot? Well, it helps that he only punted the ball once in the Packers season ending loss to Arizona. But let's be blunt, Kapinos was the worst punter in the NFL this season and there are a bevy of stats to support this conclusion.

1. His net average (34.7 yards) was 32nd in the NFL, mere decimal points ahead of No. 33, Chris Hansen of New England, who also finished at 34.7. Even teams with mid-season injuries to their starter were able to find replacements who were better than Kapinos.
2. Did it seem like he pinned opponents deep? Because he didn't. Just 15 times were Kapinos' punts downed inside the 20. The only regulars with worse numbers were Mitch Berger, who had 13 but only played in 10 games, and Sam Paulescu, who played in just six contest (but still managed eight inside the 20).
3. Kapinos also put the ball in the endzone 10 times for touchbacks. That number by itself isn't so damning, but in concert with his other horrendous statistics it's a bad sign. Only one player in the league had more touchbacks but it was Shane Lechler (with 12), who punted 33 more times and also led the league in average and net average.
4. It did seem, at times, that Kapinos had a big leg. His long punt for the year though was 58 yards, which sounds good until you compare it to the other 31 players who punted the ball further. So yea, that's just about everyone.
5. On punt returns, Kapinos gave up 10.1 yards per, good enough for 8th worst. Blame the coverage if you want, but a big part of controlling the return game is punting the ball high enough that your coverage team can get down the field to make the play. If you watched Kapinos this year it was obvious his kicks didn't have much hang time.
The long and the short of this is that Jeremy Kapinos stinks. There is no redeeming statistic that makes you say "Hey, at least there's this." He was absolutely, unequivocally an atrocious punter.

Green Bay should stick with Mason Crosby because there isn't a better option available, but you can find punters as good as Kapinos on nearly every Division One college team and most Division Two and Division Three teams as well. Kapinos is a crappy punter, and easily replaceable. "Shocked" wouldn't adequately describe my reaction if Green Bay stuck with him for a third season.

Why did the Packers release Jon Ryan again?


Wisconsin vs Wisconsin St.

When it comes to college football, Wisconsin loves their Badgers, but who else do we Sconnies have to cheer for in collegiate football? Exactly! Didn't Teddy Roosevelt fight against monopolies such as this?

Obviously, we here at The Tap are big time fans of Bucky, but when I watch other in-state rivalries. I feel like we are missing out on something fun/another reason to get drunker than normal. Wisconsin is no doubt a football state, and if a state like Iowa can have a big time rivalry, why can't Wisconsin? We have it in college basketball, and it can get downright brutal sometimes...like a rivalry should! It creates an amazing atmosphere!

Lange and I have actually had this discussion not that long ago. We both went to school at UW-Whitewater, which always seemed to have rumors that perhaps it would turn into a D-1 school. The rumors make sense, the school has an enrollment over 10,000, is heavily investing in new buildings, and has had a dominant athletic program as of late. Rumors are rumors, and I don't think either of us took any sort of stock in them, but for fun lets pretend.

Let's just say Whitewater was to become a D-1 school, who would even cheer for them? Would I even cheer for my Alma Mater over Bucky when it has been ingrained in my head to bleed cardinal red? What conference would they play in? How long before they could be successful in D-1, if at all?

The obvious starting point, is to know that a university like Whitewater, from now on we'll call it Wisconsin State, could never make a direct jump to the Football Bowl,Subdi..vi.....ahem, Division 1A. Finding a conference home and the ability to be successful out of the gate would be damn near impossible in my opinion. No, Wisconsin State would seemingly have to be a Football..Champi...., screw it, Division 1AA. Of course, the goal would be to eventually try and get to a Division 1A team, but that would take years, and of course, proven success for a prolonged period. That' s no fun. Plus most of the state would always cheer for the Badgers to win that game, but cheer for Wisconsin St. for the rest of the season, there is no real competitiveness.

So. Let's make this thought fun (and highly improbable). Whitewater becomes Wisconsin St. and become a D1-A team right away. The fan base they would instantly have are a) current students b) some alumni c)local residents d)Marquette basketball fans who hate the Badgers in every possible way. Between these segments, you have yourself a decent crowd to start off with. Many will still cheer for both WI teams, save the day of competition, but as time goes on, the seeds of hatred will begin to grow (as long as it is a competitive rivalry) and it would become a bitter rivalry. Of course to truly get fans and teams to hate one another come game day, it helps to be in the same conference, so, in my fantasy land let's say Wisconsin St. become the 12th member of the Big Ten (The Big Ten would be crazier than NBC is for potentially letting Conan O'Brien go). As long as it was competitive, things would get pretty intense, pretty quick. Splitting the state quicker than the pants of a fat kid doing squats. The wild trash talking, followed up by good camaraderie beers and the rejoining of forces to get ready for the next day's Packers game. I like this idea.

Who would I cheer for, having graduated from Whitewater but also having been a life long Badger fan? Easy, Bucky, it is in my blood, but I don't think I could truly "hate" a Wisconsin St. Thus, making me a hypocrite after my rant about Marquette fans.

It obviously won't happen, just a little fun thought for the weekend. DRINK UP!



It's over. The long, agonizing, roller-coaster ride that was the 2009 season has come to a close for the Green Bay Packers. I could rant and rave about how terrible the pass defense was and how (of course) Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson should be fired/shot, but that's just not the case. Well, the pass defense was absolutely horrifying but that's not the point.

Instead, I offer up this list. Here are a handful of Packers that we've seen a little bit too much. Or, if you'd rather, a list of players we've seen enough of - enough to move on to another option. Without further ado, let's jump right into that defensive secondary.

Atari Bigby - A while back I made an Atari Bigby/Darren Sharper comparison. Obviously Bigby isn't the ball hawk that Sharper was but rather than playing for interceptions he plays for the world rocking hit. It may be a stretch but the main point is that Bigby is not good in coverage and aside from his big hits he can't tackle. At least Sharper would force some turnovers to help the defense, Bigby just makes mistakes.

Yes, he had four interceptions this year, but three of those turnovers came in garbage time of blowouts over Seattle and Arizona at the end of the season. He forced no fumbles and his atrocious tackling was on display against the Cardinals in that playoff track meet. Struggling in the postseason is one sure way to draw the ire of the fans.

There is a good chance that the Packers draft a player to compete with Bigby, mostly because they are not deep at the safety spots. That said, the defensive staff seems content with him as their starter for some reason. He's been a starting safety for three seasons now and he has yet to show much improvement. Bigby is a liability in coverage and a poor tackler, he's run his course in the green and gold.

Chad Clifton - Oh yea, I'm going there. Clifton will be entering his 11th season in 2010-11 and he'll be 34 in June. He's old and it was pretty clear to anyone that watched him this year that he has lost a step. Mark Tauscher might have been a stabilizing force for the offensive line this season but the two tackles are not getting any younger.

It wouldn't be surprising if Clifton has more surgery in the offseason, but you really have to wonder how much more his body can take. He has trouble staying healthy, as was evidenced in sunday's playoff game, and will almost assuredly miss some time next season.

Tackle is a position the Packers must get younger at and soon. The in-house options, T.J. Lang and Allen Barbre, are not overly appealing so look for Ted Thompson and Company to add some bodies through the draft. Let's just hope they get someone that can actually help now.

Aaron Kampman - This is no knock on Kampman, but his time with the Packers needs to be over. Coming into the year it was clear that he was not a good fit for the 3-4 scheme and that showed. Not until after his season-ending knee injury did the pass rush really take off and it allowed for the emergence of seventh round pick Brad Jones.

Jones is a linebacker and fits what the Packers are doing, he even finished the season with more sacks than Kampman. While there have been some rumblings that the team re-sign the pending free agent, it would be an incredibly foolish decision to make. As long as Kampman stays out of the NFC North Packer fans will wish him the best.

Jarrett Bush - Coaches will say Bush was put in a tough position, he's a special teams player who was forced into more pass coverage than he's used to. But when it comes down to it he's a professional football player who doesn't play his position well. Unlike fellow corner Tramon Williams, he hasn't shown flashes of being a great or even good player.

Corner depth is also a position of some concern for Green Bay going into next season and Bush is a replaceable member of the defensive secondary. Brandon Underwood will be going into his second year and the Packers seem to like him so he'll likely be back. Williams has shown some flashes so he'll be back.

But Bush has long been one of the most frustrating players on the Packers defense. It's time to close the book on him.

Donald Lee - Dropped passes have become a huge problem for Lee, who has lost a ton of playing time to budding star Jermichael Finley, and his play has regressed since 2007 when he caught 48 passes for 575 yards. What he'll be best remembered for this year will be the dropped touchdowns, most notably against the Vikings and Cardinals.

Lee has been a bridge while Finley has developed over last year and this year and now that he has become one of the most dangerous players on the field the team can move on without Lee. I would hope for the front office to draft a good receiving tight end to fill that role for 2010. Someone like Garrett Graham from Wisconsin might be a good fit.

A.J. Hawk - This won't happen, but the honeymoon is over for the former fifth overall pick. What Hawk brings to the table is remarkably similar to what fellow linebacker Brandon Chillar brings. Both are above-average tacklers, struggle in pass coverage and don't make a lot of big plays.

But A.J. Hawk is a fifth overall pick and, aside from a very good rookie year, has not been an impact player. Too many missed tackles in big situations has caused many to question Hawk this year, but don't expect management to make a change just yet.

What happens with Hawk will depend on two major factors; first, how good is Desmond Bishop? If Green Bay thinks he can be a be an impact player or at least as good as Hawk than he needs to get a chance to play and soon. The second aspect is who they are able to add through the draft. While you don't want to see the Packers get younger necessarily, you do want to see them get better.

So there you have it, a handful of players that I, for one, have had enough of. While I realistically don't expect all of these players to not be a part of the Packers in 2010-11, these are spots that changes will have to happen, sooner than later.



If you're looking for a reason to get excited for hockey look no further than the Wisconsin Badgers and their impact on the international game. You may not have heard much about Bucky over the last couple weeks, mostly because college hockey slows down around the holidays. Still, the Badgers are ranked No. 4 in the country.

But we're here to talk about the international tournaments. The winter Olympics are just around the corner and the World Junior Championships have just concluded. The juniors finished with a bang, the United States knocked off Canada in overtime to take the gold.

That squad was led by none other than Wisconsin sophomore Derek Stepan (above), who had 14 points (4 goals and 10 assists) in seven games. Those 14 points also led all scorers for the tournament. But he wasn't the lone member of the cardinal and white who also donned the blue. Joining him were standout defensemen John Ramage, a freshman, and Jake Gardiner, a smooth skating sophomore. The two combined for just six assists but also for an impressive +14 rating, bolstered by Gardiner's +9 which was tied for tops on the team.

All three players are vastly important when they lace up their skates in the Kohl Center, Stepan is the second leading scorer on a team laden with talented upper-classmen. This is a team that could make a deep run come NCAA tournament time and will contend for years to come because of the talent they bring to the table year after year.

Still haven't caught your attention? Fine. Let's move on to Olympic hockey, something everyone can get behind. The rosters were released after last week's Winter Classic at Fenway Park and wouldn't you know it? There's a distinctly Badger presence on that team as well.

A pair of blue-liners and a center who once wore the Wisconsin sweater will all be skating for Team USA when the Olympics get underway. Leading the charge is veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski, who some might remember playing at the Dane County Coliseum over a decade ago. Rafalski is one of only three players with Olympic experience on a young American team and the only defenseman who has been there before. Joining him will be Ryan Suter, a Madison, Wis. native who comes from a long lineage of hockey success and spent a year with Bucky in the early 2000's before signing with Nashville.

The other Badger skating for the stars and stripes is forward Joe Pavelski, who won a national title with Wisconsin back in 2006. Pavelski, from Plover, was the star of that team and has emerged as a steady force for the San Jose Sharks.

Olympic hockey is truly one of the great tournaments in all sports, so when you cheer for the Americans in Vancouver this year don't forget: You can't have Team USA with just the blue, you need the red and white too.


Winter Musings

Now that 2009 is behind us and spring training is just months away, it's time to attempt another look at what the Milwaukee Brewers 2010 roster will be. There aren't too many roster spots up for grabs, a few bench roles and maybe a bullpen spot, so we have a pretty good idea what the team will look like this season.

Position Players - Starting

Catcher - Gregg Zaun - Yet another old catcher who has never had a major impact on any of the clubs he's ever played. Don't worry though, he's only played over a hundred games four times in 15 seasons and once in the last five. He'll get hurt, or replaced by a prospect, by August.

First Base - Prince Fielder - No explanation needed. Look for contract talks to heat up at some point in the next three or four months. Ownership knows how important Prince is and they will try hard to lock him up.

Second Base - Rickie Weeks - Is this the year? Probably not. The Brew Crew would be lucky just to have Weeks stay healthy. He showed what he's capable of doing in the first month and a half of 2009, the question is whether or not a second wrist surgery will hamper that.

Third Base - Casey McGehee - Clamor for Mat Gamel all you want, but McGehee will be the opening day starter. It remains to be seen whether or not McGehee was a fluke and until we know the answer to that question he plays third base.

Shortstop - Alcides Escobar -
Fresh off winning the Venezuelan Winter League batting title, Escobar is slated to be the starting shortstop for Milwaukee in 2010. He won't walk enough, but as long as he puts the ball in play his speed will put pressure on the defense.

Left Field - Ryan Braun - Duh.

Center Field - Carlos Gomez - Much like Escobar, only he's been striking out far too much. He's got a bit more pop than Alcides as well. Ideally, he'll thrive now that he's back in an everyday role.

Right Field - Corey Hart -
Who else? I guess not everybody can live up to their potential. Hart had a below-average season for a corner outfielder and missed a big chunk of time after having appendicitis in late August. Hart has been a disappointment the last two season but he'll get another chance in 2010.

Position Players - Bench

Catcher - George Kottaras - Kottaras seems like the logical choice for backup. Ken Macha doesn't like to play rookies and it would probably be best for the development of both Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy to spend next year in Triple-A rather than sit on the bench in Milwaukee.

Infield - Craig Counsell - The bench seems like it won't be veteran heavy, so Counsell will play a very important role yet again. Considering he had one of his best career years last year that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Anyone else consider him a future Manager?

Second Base - Hernan Iribarren - I'm giving the nod to Iribarren because he's paid his dues in the minors and he's shown enough in spring and brief call-ups to warrant it. Iribarren has hit .277 and .311 in two Triple-A seasons, improving in nearly every offensive category from year one to year two. I'd say he's earned his chance and the front office will have to make a decision on him soon.

Outfield - Jody Gerut - Why Gerut? Because their really aren't any other options. The only other outfielder on the 40-man roster that isn't starting is Lorenzo Cain and after his poor showing (in large part due to a knee injury) he'll need to start the year with Nashville. So unless someone else comes along, Gerut will be the guy.

Utility - Adam Heether - The final position player will likely be Heether because of his versatility and the fact that he had a career year in 2009. He hit .296 with a .396 OBP and 71 RBI's a year ago. He also played all over the diamond, seeing time at all four infield spots as well as the corner outfield positions.

Starting Pitchers

1. Yovanni Gallardo - This one is a no-brainer, Gallardo is the best pitcher on the roster and will be counted on to anchor the starting rotation.

2. Randy Wolf - The newly acquired starting pitcher immediately becomes the second best starter on Milwaukee's roster. What I can't decide is if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

3. Dave Bush - Parra will likely be the better starter for the team this year but it's not best to put the two lefties back-to-back. Bush struggled with injury last year and it wouldn't be surprising to see him bounce back to form.

4. Manny Parra - This is a make or break year for Parra and the Brewers, if he struggles he might find his way into the bullpen and if he thrives he becomes an irreplaceable member of the team. Right now he looks more like a goat then an ace.

5. Jeff Suppan - Even if the Brewers don't sign another pitcher, I'm not sold on Suppan making the rotation. For now he gets the nod but spring training might change that. Suppan has been getting progressively worse and, barring massive improvement, has no business being a major league starter.


Long Relief - Chris Narveson- Narveson impressed with some late starts and barring an awful spring he should be the front runner for long relief in 2010. Jeff Suppan could be an option here as well, but only if the team feels better about Narvesen or they sign another starter.

Middle Relief - Claudio Vargas - As a starting pitcher, Vargas was boring and painfully average. His slow pace was frustrating to watch and he struggled with consistency. That same pace might be what suited him so well as a reliever. After coming to the Brewers mid-season he was one of the best members of the bullpen, posting a 1.78 ERA in 30 innings.

Mitch Stetter - The lefty specialist, Stetter wore down a bit at the end of 2009. He finished the year with good numbers, a 3.60 ERA in 71 games and will be the team's main left-handed option out of the pen.

Carlos Villanueva - I'm not really sure why Villanueva is virtually guaranteed a spot on the roster next year, but that seems to be the case. He has been impressively inconsistent and was more bad than good last year. He'll need to make major strides to stay around.

Chuck Lofgren - A rule 5 pick this offseason, Lofgren must stay on the Crew's active roster all season to stay with the team. If he has a good spring he'll win a spot in the bullpen mostly because I have no faith whatsoever in David Riske's ability to be an effective Major League Pitcher next season. John Axford might be an option here as well.

Setup - LaTroy Hawkins - One of the better setup pitchers in the league for the last ten years, Hawkins is at his best when he isn't closing games. As long as he isn't closing he'll have a fine season.

Todd Coffey - Coffey had a very nice year in 2009, but he pitched a career high 83.2 innings along the way. With Hawkins in the mix, it'll take some of the pressure off of Coffey. Right now the bullpen looks pretty solid. Right now.

Closer - Trevor Hoffman - He may be paid more than some think he's worth, but a good closer is a stabilizing force for the rest of the bullpen. It will be interesting to see how the other NL Central teams adjust to him in year two.


The (regular) season in review

Playoffs! Who saw this coming at midyear? The Packers are as hot as anyone going into January, and you have to like their chances in their third Arizona match-up with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Anquan Boldin no better than questionable for the game. There was some concern about how the Packer secondary would hold up against the formidable Cardinal passing game, but with a gimpy Boldin, Capers should have an easier time hiding the weak cornerback situation.

Oh, the game today? Well, there's really not much to say: Rodgers-Cromartie got hurt, and Arizona yanked Warner. We then saw Matt Leinart play and understood their caution: without Warner, they're toast, and with Warner in his late-30s, they opted to play it safe. And to be perfectly fair, that was probably the best course of action for the boom-or-bust Cardinals, just as playing for the win was the best option for a streaky Green Bay team. Outside of that bit of insight, there wasn't much to take from the game, as it was little more than a preseason game that actually counts.
However, with the regular season now over, let's look back on the 2009 season:

Sacked in good company
: Aaron Rodgers ended up with 50 sacks this season, tying Ben Roethlisburger for most in the league and giving him the all-time Packer record. A quick look at the QBs he overtook:
Most Times Sacked, Season
  • 47, Don Majkowski, 1989
  • 42, Bart Starr, 1964
  • 40, Lynn Dickey, 1981
  • 40, Lynn Dickey, 1983
  • 40, Brett Favre, 1996

Not bad company, right? Brett Favre in an MVP/Super Bowl year, Majik in his best season, Bart Starr in a year he led the league in completion percentage, and the 1983 Lynn Dickey led the league in passing yardage. I scoured the stats hoping to find some indication that sacks ultimately don't make a big difference in the grand scheme of things, but that simply wasn't the case: a disproportionate number of the sacks taken by each player came in their losses, Rodgers included. Perhaps the sacks came against better defensive lines, and were a byproduct of each QB standing firm in the pocket, patiently waiting for the perfect throwing opportunity. Its hard to say, but its interesting that these years were successful seasons for the players in spite of their being on the ground a lot.

Three numbers for you: 30, 10 and 11. The first two are the number of interceptions and fumble recoveries the defense has logged, and the third is the number of giveaways the offense committed. The math? Green Bay led the league with a +29 turnover ratio. If you're wondering how they overcame all those sacks and penalties (which they also led the league in), look no further than the turnovers on both sides of the ball. And while I didn't look at the entire league, a quick glance at Packer history says that in their 12 league championships, they led the league in turnover ratio in 6 of them. Just throwing that out there...

Pick-6x3: Packers play-by-play man Wayne Larrivee tends to get caught up in the moment. A lot. There have been games where so many daggers have been stuck in the Packers' opponent that you start to picture an unfortunate voodoo doll. However, when Wayne called Charles Woodson the Defensive Player of the Year after he took a Leinart pass into the endzone, he was dead on. You can make a case for Darrelle Revis, but he's a shutdown corner, and nothing else. I don't mean to cheapen that quality in any way--he's probably the best cover man in the NFL--but Woodson plays the run as well as he covers a receiver, and I've seen him jump routes on receivers he wasn't even covering. 74 tackles, nine INTs, four fumbles forced, three touchdowns, two sacks, and a partridge in a pear tree. The man is enjoying the finest season of his career, and he deserves it. Good call, Wayne.

Another award: Clay Matthews III should get Defensive Rookie of the Year. Am I biased? Probably. But you have to understand that his sack total is only half of the story. You've been watching the games. Think about how many holding calls he's drawn--including the one in Arizona that resulted in the safety. He disrupts the rhythm of every offense he goes up against, and unfortunately there's really no statistic that can accurately measure that. The award will likely go to Brian Cushing, his former USC teammate now in Houston, but CM3 is equally deserving.

The Tauscher effect: Another player whose value cannot be directly measured with stats: Mark Tauscher. There are a number of ways to explain Rodgers rapid decrease in sacks as the season wore on. Maybe it was the "come to Jesus" meeting, maybe Rodgers is doing a better job of getting rid of the ball today than he was in the beginning of the year, maybe the offensive line just needed to play several games together to really click. But consider this: 20 of the 50 sacks allowed came in the four games before Tauscher was resigned, and in the eight games he started 15 sacks were allowed. This includes the six-sack Tampa game, in which he played sparingly before suffering an injury.

My reading of this? The line sorely needed veteran leadership, something Chad Clifton seems to lack, and Mark Tauscher brought it to the table. And I'm glad he was brought back, for more than just the leadership aspect. It just wouldn't have seemed right for him to play with another team--in a way, it would've been worse than the Favre situation. He's a home grown product from Marshfield who played collegiately at UW-Madison and has played his entire NFL career in Green Bay. He belongs in this state.

Mark Tauscher, you are Wisconsin sports. The Tap salutes you.