Spring Training for the Rest of Us

The time has finally arrived, pitchers and catchers have had a couple of days warm up, and now the first full team practice is today! People, welcome back to Major League Baseball! Now hopefully you took my advice I handed out last fall to help the winter pass by, but now, you need to start getting in "game shape", just like the players do.

I understand that spring is still a month away, and not everyone will be able to attend the Brewers spring training in Arizona, but there is nothing wrong with some cold weather training. So, in order to get yourself ready for the April 5th home opener, here are some tips:

Break Out Smokey Joe (Unless Your Name is Lange & Someone Stole it)

If you listened to my winter tips, you should have perfected your experiments on a grander grill scale, but what about on your trusted tailgate companion? Are your knees and back in good enough shape to constantly be bending over to flip your feast? Do you remember just how much charcoal is needed to get the perfect temperature for your grill? The answer to both of these questions is, NO! You can do all the leg exercises you want, but that doesn't get you in game shape. Warm up by dusting off your lawn/tailgate chair, planting your ass in it, then just simply reach over. Slowly work your way to a full standing position, and bending your knees and back. You'll be thankful for this advice come April 6 when you don't feel like you just collided with Prince Fielder ala Todd Greene.

Drink, Drink, Drink

I understand what you are thinking. "Dustin, I'm a Sconnie, I don't need to practice drinking!" Well, if you think that, well, as Charlie from It's Always Sunny would say, "Then you're so stupid!" You've been drinking indoors, in perfect conditions, and have you really been pushing yourself? Also, are you able to handle yourself around families and kids? Here are a few steps to get you ready for tailgating at Miller Park.

Step 1: Shotgun, shotgun, beer bong, shotgun. Rapid consumption is a staple in the parking lots, you don't want to pass out before game time because you couldn't handle 5 beers...even if it was consumed in 3.2 seconds.

Step 2: Weather training, April weather in WI is bipolar, it could be 70 and sunny, it could be 30 and snowy, it could be 50 and raining. Get yourself ready for all situations. Cold = wear flip flops, shorts, and your favorite brewers jersey (might be a good time to give a personal farewell to those Hardy jerseys), head outside while it is still February. Drink until you obtain a body temperature of 94 degrees...repeat as necessary. You should build a tolerance eventually (disclaimer, I base that on nothing, and in fact I recommend that you don't do that. It doesn't really sound too healthy). Heat = find a sauna, drink (remember to hydrate). Cold rain = Grab your favorite Miller product, turn your shower on as cold as possible and drink until you look like an 85 year old prune (for any 85 year old readers...drink until you look 125).

Step 3: No one wants to be the person who ruined a family's trip to the ballpark. We all have those memorable childhood moments of being a the ballgame and everything was just perfect, peanuts, soda, no one spilling beer or yelling profanities the whole time. Don't be the jerk that ruins those moments for kids nowadays. Sure, there is the Kohl's Family Section, but let's be realistic. You'll need to start getting buzzed and going to public places where all types of people exist (ex. shopping mall). Remember, voice down, profanity to minimum, and walk without ramming into 23 people. As with any training, start your BAC low and build it up. Congrats, you are a now a sociably functioning drunk!

Train your Bladder

Nothing worse than getting a bad parking spot nowhere near the front where there is easy access to the Sausage Haus, Halfaer Field, or the hill and river. You are now forced to a tailgate near the port-a-johns. This is a true test of endurance, don't be the one pissing yourself because you couldn't hold it for an extra 5 minutes due to a slow moving line. Starting immediately, when you have to go...hold it for as long as possible. Not sure if there are health risks here, but if your bladder bursts on the inside, at least it isn't as embarrassing as it would be if it were on your outside. You'll also want to prepare for emergencies. So, guys AND GALS, from time to time from now until April, practice finding safe, yet still public, spots. This is a last ditch effort, we'd all prefer if you kept that private and not where others can step. (We here at the Tap, don't actually condone illegal activity)

Play Catch With No Glove

Ballhawking, thanks to d-bags like the Happy Youngster, is heavily frowned upon in modern society. While, there is nothing wrong with wanting to catch a foul ball or even better, a home run, if you are 18 or older with a glove in tow, then you might give off the wrong impression. So, ditch the glove (you'll need both hands free for two fisted slopping anyways), and start snagging fly balls barehanded. Once you get used to using two hands, take one away (by holding a beer) and catching them one handed. Come game time, if you snag a ball one handed, not only will you not spill your beer, you'll get a roar from the crowd guaranteed to be louder than any roar Jeff Suppan will get this season. If you want bonus points and cheers, hand the ball off to a kid (I personally will not be doing this until I at least catch my first ball).

Bust Out Tailgate Games

Practice is the key, we all know that. So, get a head start on your opponents by setting up all your tailgate games. Bags, Ladder Golf/Testicle Toss/Dirty Balls, and Washers are the three most prevalent. You can take care of two things at once by practicing while developing a tolerance drinking in the cold weather.

Now, I expect to see you in prime shape come April 5th.


Central Roundup: St. Louis

If you look closely, you'll notice that I released the Central previews in the reverse order of how I expect the Brewers competition to finish in the division, with the Pirates being undoubtedly the worst, followed by Houston, Cincinnati, Chicago and finally the St. Louis Cardinals. The wildcard in all this would have to be where will the Milwaukee Brewers finish?

St. Louis Cardinals

But we aren't talking about the Brewers (yet), we're talking about the Cardinals and the offseason that they had. And oh what an offseason it was, the Cards brought in a staggering one player to bolster their hopes in 2010. Complacency be damned, St. Louis must be doing something right otherwise last year would have been fluke and that's not possible... right?

Those guys are good

Four players are the St. Louis Cardinals. Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. A bad injury to any of these four would greatly effect any postseason hopes. Pujols is the most important, without him this offense is mediocre at best. Carpenter and Wainwright missing time would be absolutely devastating. Of those four guys Holliday would be the easiest to cover for, but the Cards would still be hard pressed to replace him.

There's nothing new to be said about this bunch of players, but more than ever their health will be a determining factor for the Cardinals success in 2010.

That's a problem

One huge concern for St. Louis has to be depth, everywhere. Let's start with the pitching staff, where, after the previously mentioned Carpenter and Wainwright, the Cardinals are set to feature free agent signee Brad Penny and Kyle Lohse. After those four it's a crap shoot, but I can't imagine Tony LaRussa is seriously considering going to a four man rotation. With the injury history of Penny, Carpenter and Wainwright that would be asking for trouble.

Lohse had a good first season with St. Louis before a return to form of sorts last year. He put up a career year year in 2008 (15-6, 3.78 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) but 2009 saw him settle closer to his career averages. Lohse has a career ERA of 4.68 and a career WHIP of 1.41. People love Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, but 2008 was a fluke and Lohse's numbers will be more 2009 (4.74 ERA, 1.37 WHIP) than 2008.

As far as Penny goes, he is a notoriously poor finisher. It'll be up to Duncan to change a trend that Penny has had his entire career. Also, at some point during the season, he will get hurt and miss time. It's what he does. Penny has pitched more than 200 innings only two times in his ten-year career. How an already thin rotation deals with that will be something to watch.

That's it. If there is an injury the Cardinals will be forced to tap into the plethora of inexperienced and under-talented minor leaguers that make up one of baseball's worst farm system. The Cardinals don't really have any bright spots on the farm after trading away Brett Wallace last year.

Pitching depth isn't the only problem this team faces, they're set to open the season with 26-year-old rookie David Freese starting at third base. In four minor league seasons Freese hit .306 with a .384 OBP and 68 home runs. Solid numbers all-around, but a rookie is a rookie. Even if Freese does well an injury could cause major problems. Julio Lugo will be their chief bench option but he's not a good defender and he's 34, could be worse but it could also be much better.

Can lightning strike twice?

In nine major league seasons Ryan Franklin never had an ERA lower than three. Than, out of nowhere, he becomes closer of the Cards and puts up an ERA of 1.92 while giving up less home runs than any other full season and converting 38 saves. All at the age of 36. The year he had in 2009 is absolutely out of nowhere and will be hard to repeat for anyone, let alone a player that will be 37 in March.

The Cardinals have to be hoping for a repeat performance though, because their other options at closer leave a lot to be desired. Jason Motte would likely be the number one backup and he struggled mightily with his control at times last year.

Speaking of lightning strikes

Another player that will be under the spotlight will be starting shortstop Brendan Ryan. It took Ryan seven seasons to get out of the Minor Leagues and when he did get called up it was mostly by necessity. He took the opportunity and ran with it but he'll need to have a few good seasons before he can be considered a sure thing.

I'm not saying Ryan won't be successful, his defense alone was outstanding a year ago and there's no reason to think that will suffer. But I'm not willing to pencil him in for a .290 average over 150 games just yet.

I hate that man

If I'm writing about the Cardinals, I have to work in some reference to how much I dislike Tony LaRussa. I hate his old man sunglasses, I hate his mullet haircut, I hate the way he manages his pitching staff, I hate his arrogance, I hate how he thinks everyone is out to get his players and I hate how he tries to irritate the hell out of opposing players. I cannot stand him and his approach. Period. For a more expansive look at the Cardinals, look back to this piece I wrote during last years playoffs.

Almost forgot

About Mark McGwire. There's not much I can say about the McGwire as hitting coach thing that hasn't really been said, so I'll sum it up with a brief, vehement, statement. Mark McGwire is a cheater, a liar and a black spot on the game. He doesn't belong in the hall of fame and he shouldn't be allowed around the game.

When it all hits the fan

I'd love to rip the Cardinals apart and I've done my best to highlight their weaknesses and question spots but this is a good team. As is the case with good teams the only thing that can really hurt their chances at a division title would be injury or just a complete disaster of a season from the Cards top players. The division seems to be theirs to win, which so often ends up as a reason to lose.


Central Roundup: Chicago

The bottom half of the National League's Central Division has been sufficiently previewed, which brings us to the Brewers chief competition for a division title. Today the Chicago Cubs, tomorrow the St. Louis Cardinals. I rarely have anything positive to say about the Cubbies and the moves General Manager Jim Hendry makes and it's doubtful that will change today.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubbies have had a fairly quiet offseason, as has been their motif since the spent freely on Alfonso Soriano, Ted Lilly and Mark DeRosa a few years ago. They brought in some spare parts and one player they expect to produce but we'll see how that works out for them. Smart money is on not well, they are the Cubs after all.

That's new

The biggest signing the Cubs made would have to be veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd. This signing just screams of Jim Hendry. A 32-year-old coming off a career year in a hitter's park? Sign him to a three year deal. Byrd hit 20 home runs, 43 doubles and drove in 89 runs, all career highs. He won't be a Milton Bradley type flop but it's unlikely he'll repeat those numbers.

The only other signing the Cubs made was corner outfielder Xavier Nady. This is a risk-reward move, it will be interesting to see how he does in spring training considering he had Tommy John surgery after just seven games a season ago. The team hopes that Nady can platoon with Kosuke Fukodome in right field, but it's hard to predict how a hitter will respond to major elbow surgery.

Addition by subtraction... and addition

The best move the Cubs made this offseason was getting rid of Milton Bradley. Bradley was a cancer and everyone knew that move was going to blow up in Chicago's face. In return for Bradley the Cubs got back an awful, awful pitcher, Carlos Silva, who also has two years left on his contract. Silva will likely waste a roster spot for the Cubs and he will also be owed $3 million more over the course of his contract than Bradley would have.

In the end, no Bradley is the best Bradley for the Cubs. But Carlos Silva is not a good player by any margin.

It's a toss-up

The Cubs pitching staff is a complete enigma, but I think 2009 shed some realistic light on a couple of their pitchers. Ryan Dempster the starter has had many different incarnations and 2009 is probably much more indicative of what he is than 2008. Dempster saw his ERA rise from 2.96 to 3.65 last year. He will likely have an ERA just under four and put up very solid peripheral numbers.

Carlos Zambrano is what he is, a mostly good pitcher with terrific stuff who is prone to mental and in-game blow-ups. That's been the book on him his entire career and it's not likely to change anytime soon. Ted Lilly is a good pitcher, but he's not getting any younger. He's 34 and you have to wonder if his numbers will start to show age.

Next up is Randy Wells, who quietly was one of baseball's best rookies in 2009. For a guy that never had an ERA under 4.00 in two-plus seasons at Triple-A, the year he put up last year was very surprising. He's always had good command but it will be interesting to see how he deals with hitters as they adjust to him in his second season.

The fifth spot is one where there has to be massive amounts of concerns. As it stands now, The aforementioned Carlos Silva will be competing with the underachieving Jeff Samardzija and former Pirate Tom Gorzelany. The early leader might be Gorzelany who had the best ERA at 5.55 and best WHIP at 1.31. So it's either the horse shit, cow shit, or dog shit, good luck with that.

A fan's favorite word.

Ah yes, the platoon. That looks to be where the Cubbies are headed at second base in 2010. Mike Fontenot was given a chance to be the everyday starter a year ago but he failed to distinguish himself, hitting just .239 and .212 against lefties.

Sharing time with him at second will be one-time Colorado Rockie Jeff Baker. He hit .305 in 69 games for the Cubs after a trade last year. Baker may not be an all-star, but some combination of he and Fontenot should be an acceptable improvement from last year. That is, unless someone gets hurt and both players have to play an extended amount, in which case the Cubs are screwed because they have zero infield depth.

Moley Moley Moley

I'm not saying Kevin Gregg was a better choice but Carlos Marmol needs to be better than he was in 2009. Yes, a 3.41 ERA is fine and yes, he converted 15 of 19 save opportunities but he allowed way too many baserunners. He had a WHIP of 1.46 and walked 65 batters in 74 innings, closers shouldn't play with fire like that.

Yea, that's worked out.

Eight years and $136 million for Alfonso Soriano is looks just plain stupid. And for the next five years of his deal he'll make $18 million per! That's for a player that his seen his seen the following numbers go down every year since he signed: Home Runs, Runs, Hits, Total Bases, Batting Average, Slugging Percentage and OPS. He's 34-years-old and has five more years on his contract. Way to go Cubs, way to go.

Keep an eye on

Geovany Soto. The 2008 rookie of the year, after testing positive for marijuana in the World Baseball Classic, was terrible last season. He hit .218 and saw his home runs drop from 23 to 11. Just not very good in any way. Whether it's the pot, the work ethic or just a good old-fashioned sophomore slump, keep your eyes on him as spring roles around.

Not Getting any Younger

I wonder if Chicago's locker room smells like Bengay and tears. Take a look: Soriano - 34, Lilly - 34, Dempster - 33 in May, Derrek Lee - 35 in September, Fukudome - 33 in April, Aramis Ramirez - 32 in June, Byrd - 33 in August. Do you hear that? It's the sound of the Cubs window closing.

It's the Cubs

At the end of the day, you can throw out statistics and player moves. Projections are pointless because the Cubs will do what they've done for the last 101 years. They'll blow it. Sure they could push for the division but it's far more likely that they will just choke away a good (on paper) team and they won't win squat. After all, it's the Cubs.


Central Roundup: Cincinnati

Day three brings us to a team that seems to be nearing a breakthrough, but still has a ton of major questions that need to be answered in their favor for them to make a run at the playoffs. Last year the Reds finished fourth in the National League Central, will this year be any different?

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds won 78 games last season with a ton of injuries. Could they be just a healthy season away from making the playoffs? At a glance this team looks like it could be good, a solid dark horse candidate to win the wild card. They're like that chick you meet at the dimly lit bar, she's a nine when you're drunk but when you sober up and look closer you realize she's really more of a five, with some real problems.

Meet the new guy!

Orlando Cabrera. Is that it really? The only real addition that the Reds made is a 35-year-old shortstop? Alright then. I won't knock this signing, Cabrera has been a solid player for his entire career. He is a good defender and hasn't hit lower than .280 in the last four seasons. If you are looking for any holes he really doesn't walk much, his career OBP is just .322.

Oh, I'm being told the Reds also signed Aaron Miles. That should be... something.

He's still playing?

Apparently, the Reds are content to open the season with Scott Rolen as their every day third baseman. It'll be interesting to see how he holds up over the full season. Rolen has had trouble staying on the field for the last several years and his power has completely left him (11 Home Runs in each of the last two seasons). He can still play some defense and hit for a decent average but he's running out of gas. As long as Cincy isn't banking on him having a big year it shouldn't matter much though.

Those guys can play

The right side of the Reds infield is terrific. Brandon Phillips is one of the best second baseman in baseball and Joey Votto is a very quickly rising star. If there is a knock on Phillips it's that he tends to be a very streaky hitter, but there aren't many second baseman you'd rather have in Major League Baseball.

There might be some health concerns in regards to the first baseman, Joey Votto, but he still managed to put up career highs in runs, doubles, home runs and batting average despite playing in 20 less games than his rookie season. He's the real deal.

Maybe he's not the next big thing after all.

Let's call it the Jay Bruce story. Everyone told us how great of a player Bruce was going to be, how he was true hitter and not Adam Dunn. He was the next great hitter coming out of the minor leagues. Not yet, not by a long shot.

Before breaking his wrist Bruce had power, but not much else. In 101 games he hit 22 home runs but struggled to a .223 batting average. Bruce will be one storyline to watch through spring and the early part of the season. Is he hitting for contact or just power? 2010 will be an important year for him.

A good reason they won't win.

When your manager is Dusty Baker there is always cause for concern. Everyone calls him a "players" manager. It's good that his players like him because nobody else does. Baker is simply not a very good manager, say what you will about Ken Macha I would still take him over Dusty every day of the week. Fortunately for Reds fans, he is in the last year of his contract so they shouldn't have to worry about him next season.

I just don't see it

The Reds can trump up their pitching all they want, but this staff might not be all it's cracked up to be. Let's start with Aaron Harang. In the last two seasons Harang has lost 17 and 14 games. He's seen his innings pitched drop in each of the last three seasons. Also, his WHIP has gone up in each of the last two seasons and his strikeouts have gone down. He's just not as effective as he has been in the past.

Next we have Edinson Volquez, who is coming off ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. Volquez is anything but a sure thing, not everyone returns to form in the season after Tommy John (see Francisco Liriano). Also, he really wasn't that good in the second half of 2008 and before his injury in 2009. Hitters had seemed to figure him out and that doesn't bode well for him this season.

Next up is Bronson Arroyo, many who pick the Reds to finish higher than fourth have to be banking on Arroyo repeating last year's success, but there is no reason to expect that to happen. Arroyo's never had a sub 4.00 ERA in back to back seasons, his strikeouts were at a four year low and he tied his career high for gopher balls given up. Arroyo might be solid, but he probably won't be as good as last year.

Finally you have a spot that could end up with either Aroldis Chapman or Homer Bailey. Chapman is a complete wild card, as easily as he could be a $25 million waste of a roster space, he could be rookie of the year. All eyes will be on him come spring training. As for Bailey, the question will be whether he's actually figured it out or not. Even if he repeats last year, his batting average allowed was .266 and his WHIP was 1.47, so take it or leave it.

The bottom line

When it all comes down to it, there are just too many questions that have to be answered favorably for the Reds to have a good season. One or two variables can be managed but their are a lot more than one or two variables on this team. Two of three outfielders are majorly inexperienced, the pitching staff is loaded with question marks. On top of all that, the team is set to go into 2010 with a catching tandem of Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.

It's just not going to happen.


Central Roundup: Houston

On day one of looking around the National League's Central Division, we took a look at a bottom-feeder who is, by many accounts, moving in the right direction. Today we'll take a look at a consistently average team who will only be getting older and has one of baseball's worst farm systems and if that doesn't tell you my opinion of them the rest of this preview will.

Houston Astros

Some season in the near future, the Astros will lose nearly 100 games and Ed Wade will finally be fired. Still, Houston will probably win just enough games for him to stay employed. They didn't make any splashy moves this offseason, just plugged some holes with more veterans and got even older.

There's this guy

I won't lie, I don't know a ton about Brad Mills. He's coming over from the American League, where he served as bench coach for Terry Francona in Boston. When the hiring occurred Wade said Mills was his first choice... even though he fired Mills (along with Francona) from the Phillies when he was GM there.

There will be the inevitable questions about his adjustments from the AL to the NL, but at the end of the day he'll have to manage one of baseball's oldest teams to what will be overly high expectations. We'll see what his team thinks of him as spring training roles around.

He's better, but not good

You know an Ed Wade move when you hear one and Pedro Feliz fits that mold far too well. Feliz might be an upgrade power-wise from last year's third baseman Geoff Blum, but expectations can't be high for a player that will be 35 in April. Feliz is a career .254 hitter with an OBP under .300, pardon me if this move doesn't strike fear in to my heart as a Brewer fan.

Good luck with that

For those that question guaranteeing Doug Davis $5.25 million look no further than the contract Houston gave to Brett Myers as an example of questionable decision-making. Myers was guaranteed $5.1 million for his one year deal, not bad for a guy who only pitched 70.2 innings last year.

Could Myers have a huge bounce back year? Get back to his 2006 form where he was one of baseball's best pitchers? He could, but he won't.

I think they forgot

About shortstop. Maybe Tommy Manzella will be a star in the big show, but probably not. He had a breakthrough year at Triple-A last year in which he set career highs in nearly every offensive category. He's been considered the best infield arm and best defender in the Astros system, but he doesn't have the blazing speed of an Alcides Escobar. Think Adam Everett with a bit more offense (they hope).

It took Manzella a season plus to figure out Triple-A pitching, his first stint he hit just .219. If he struggles in the spring the only clear fallback will be utilityman Jeff Keppinger, who's a fine bench player but a very unappealing starter.

At least there's that

Offensively the outfield should be very good if they stay healthy. Michael Bourn broke through a year ago, if he can maintain his level of play he should have another big year. His defense was game changing a year ago and he's a pain on the basepaths.

With Hunter Pence in right field and Carlos Lee in left the offensive production from the outfield might be one of the strengths of the club. That is, as long as nobody gets hurt because depth is a problem.

Also, Wandy Rodriguez had a fantastic season in 2009. He's becoming the ace of the staff with the steady decline of Roy Oswalt. It'll be very important that he continue to have success if they are to have any hope next season.

You have to wonder

We know that Houston wants to hold on to their stars and win with them, but Lance Berkman has experienced a steady drop off in each of the past three seasons. He's seen his home run totals decrease every year since 2006 and last year he had his lowest batting average since his rookie year.

As Carlos Lee's range in left field continues to decrease and Berkman's production continues to dip the Astros will have to make a change.

About that

Houston's pitching rotation has all the makings of a disaster waiting to happen. Brett Myers has struggled with injuries recently, Roy Oswalt seems to be aging rapidly and two other candidates for the rotation, Felipe Paulino and Brian Moehler, had ERA's over five last season. If youngster Bud Norris struggles you could be talking about one good pitcher in the whole bunch (Wandy Rodriguez).

Too many things have to happen for this rotation to even be average.

In the end

While the future of the Astros is bleak, the present looks to be average at best. At some point in the season the team will play well enough to be mentioned in the wild card hunt but will then fall off. The Astros will do just well enough to convince them that they can put off the inevitable rebuilding process.

Apparently mediocrity is all Houston aspires for and until they tear down this house of cards that's all they'll get.


Central Roundup: Pittsburgh

That magical day that signifies the new baseball season has officially taken flight is just days away, is there a sweeter sound then "pitchers and catchers report?" Maybe opening day, but nothing else. As we near the start of spring training we all know what the Brewers have done to make themselves (hopefully) better, but it's easy to lose track of the Crew's competition in the National League Central.

So, every day this week we'll take a look at what the other teams did and what questions they face going into spring training, starting with one of baseball's worst teams - the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Whether you think it's for good or bad, the pirates made major changes to the core of their team last year. I for one think they made the right moves, players like Adam LaRoche, Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez are role players at best and not the type you can build around. If you're going to lose, which the Pirates are going to do, you might as well lose with young players. At least then you give your fan base hope for the future.

Meet the new guys!

Most of the Pirates overhaul came during last season, mostly via trade. That made for a pretty uninteresting winter. The most notable acquisition would have to be second baseman Akinori Iwamura. A career .281 hitter, Iwamura is a solid pickup for a young team like this. He became expendable in Tampa Bay after Ben Zobrist's breakout year. He strikes out a bit much for a contact hitter and has struggled with injuries at times, but he isn't a downgrade from Sanchez.

Along with Iwamura, the Pirates have brought in a handful of veteran roleplayers that will see plenty of playing time in 2010. In the outfield the team has added Ryan Church, who will mostly play against right-handed pitchers. They also added the underachieving Bobby Crosby, who could end up being their starting shortstop.

In the bullpen the Bucs brought in a trio of veteran relievers, Octavio Dotel, Javier Lopez and Brendan Donnelly. It's likely the club hopes Dotel will close out games for them in 2010. So no big moves, but no albatross contracts either.


Ronny Cedeno just can't hit. He's a career .240 hitter with a .280 OBP, he hasn't figured it out yet and it's doubtful we'll see a different Cedeno in 2010. But the lack of a better option leaves Cedeno competing with Crosby for the starting spot. Crosby struggles to stay healthy and is a career .238 hitter, so regardless of who wins the starting spot it will likely be an offensive black hole for the Pirates.

Don't hold your breath...

Maybe Garrett Jones wasn't a fluke last year, but if he were on my team I'd be worried. Jones exploded on to the scene last season by hitting 21 home runs in just 83 games. Pitchers never really had the chance to adjust to Jones since he was only around for half the season. The Pirates are clearly banking on him to repeat his success and if he doesn't this lineup will be completely powerless.

First base also is a concern, but it's only a matter of time before top prospect Pedro Alvarez makes the big leagues and that spot will likely be his. Alvarez has been playing third base in the minors but there are more than a few people that view him as a first baseman.

That said, the group that will be playing at first base leaves a lot to be desired. Unless someone makes huge strides in spring this could end up being another hole in the Pirates lineup.

At least there's that.

One player that shouldn't be a black hole in the Bucs lineup is Andrew McCutchen. The much ballyhooed prospect delivered on the hype as a rookie, putting up a .365 OBP and hitting 47 extra base hits. McCutchen is one of those players that looks like he could become a star in this league for years to come. The problem for the Pirates is that they may not be able to put a good enough team around him for it to matter one bit.

Need to know:

We've touched on the questions at First base and Shortstop and it's not likely that they'll be solved entirely during spring. Beyond that Pittsburgh isn't set at closer, though Dotel should get a chance.

Starting pitching depth will likely be a concern as well. Kevin Hart is slated to start right now, if he doesn't show some much improved command it will be a major drain on the bullpen.

At the end of the day...

This is not a good team, even the players competing for spots don't have much to offer. The only thing really worth watching for the Pirates this spring is Pedro Alvarez. That's it.


A statue of who??

Answer me this: Can you see yourself finding a statue of Bud Selig and asking a passerby to take your camera and shoot a photo of you standing next to it?

I mean, this guy?

Me neither.

So what gives, Attanasio? Why Selig?

Mark says , "The Brewers and Miller Park are in this city because of the Commissioner's vision and dedicated efforts. Just as importantly, he has remained a prominent and highly philanthropic member of our community while effectively leading Major League Baseball during his tenure as baseball's top executive."

Okay, then say thank you. Give him a plaque. Maybe do a bobble-head day.

But a statue amongst the two greatest men to ever play baseball in Milwaukee?

The decision to put up a statue of Hank Aaron was a no-brainer. He was at the time the Home Run King (and arguably still is), and is probably the most recognizable face of Milwaukee baseball, dating back to his days as a Milwaukee Brave. That he hit his final homer as a Brewer just sealed the deal.

Yount being the other player immortalized in bronze was another fantastic choice. He's a representation of the Brewers' glory days, The Kid, Mr. 3,000 hits, each one made as a Brewer (sorry Molitor). The handlebar mustache in baseball generally elicits thoughts of relief pitchers in most baseball fan's minds, but for the Brewer fan, the first face they see is Robin Yount.

And...Bud Selig.

I'm sorry, him making the trio is incredibly unsatisfying to me. Yes, its true, on paper the move makes sense. Without Selig Milwaukee may have either been moved or contracted. He made it possible for the team to return to the NL, and as MLB Commish he's already solidified himself as one of the most recognizable people to ever be associated with the club. But there are two key flaws that negate all his accomplishments:

1 - He oversaw (and willingly overlooked until his hand was forced) the steroid era.

2 - He's a sour looking man whose visage sparks no positive memories.

If the club really wanted a third statue to complete the ever-satisfying magic number 3, I have a suggestion. Some know him as Harry Doyle, others as Mr. Baseball. Me? I just call him Uke.

Bob Uecker, voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, advocate for Usingers, and the man single handedly responsible for getting Brewers fans throughout Wisconsin through the final 4 innings of many a blowout during the Crew's 12 year reign of error. For many, he is Brewers baseball.

There have been endless discussions on who would go on the Mount Rushmore of Wisconsin sports, and I've always felt Bob would be one of my four. And if he's worthy of that, then he certainly deserves to be the third person immortilized in bronze outside Miller Park.

Mark Attanasio, I want my tourist-photo with bronze-Bob Uecker, not bronze-Bud Selig. You dropped the ball.


The Farm Report: The Big List

With the spring training countdown under 20 days, it's time to unveil the first Wisconsin Sports Tap: Milwaukee Brewers top prospects list. As opposed to our previous lists, which were positional breakdowns, this will be an all-encompassing prospect ranking.

How many? Just 20, we could go epic and rate the top 30 or 40 but there is so much parity when you get further down the list that No. 35 could easily be No. 22 within the first month of the season. By doing the top 20 prospects you get a good look at the more talented and higher ceiling players sitting in the farm system.

Next to each player you have their position and the level that I am projecting them to for the start of 2010.

2010 Milwaukee Brewers Prospect Rankings

1. Alcides Escobar - SS - MLB
2. Brett Lawrie - 2B - Low A
3. Mat Gamel - 3B - AAA
4. Zach Braddock - P - AAA
5. Jonathan Lucroy - C - AAA
6. Caleb Gindl - RF - AA
7. Eric Arnett - SP - Low A
8. Logan Schafer - CF - AA
9. Mark Rogers - SP - AA
10. Angel Salome - C - AAA
11. Lorenzo Cain - CF - AAA
12. Amaury Rivas - SP - AA
13. Jake Odirizzi - P - Low A
14. Josh Butler - SP - AAA
15. Robert Wooten - RP - AAA
16. Kentrail Davis - OF - Low A
17. Cody Scarpetta - P - High A
18. Wily Peralta - P - High A
19. Kyle Heckathorn - Low A
20. Taylor Green - 3B - AA

Some general thoughts: A number of prospects are nearing major league ready and the team has done a good job of bringing prospects near the big leagues when there is an opening close. An obvious example is catcher, where AARP member Gregg Zaun is the starter and prospects Angel Salome and Jonathan Lucroy will be competing to replace him this year.

Another good example is Center Field. Carlos Gomez will start there next year, but he's been inconsistent. If he struggles over the next season plus then you can expect Lorenzo Cain and Logan Schaefer to get a chance. They could also get a chance to play Right Field once Corey Hart is (mercifully) gone. Expect Caleb Gindl to get a chance at Hart's position too, although he needs to hit lefties better than he did a year ago (.206).

One guy that could see his stock rise with a good 2010 is Taylor Green. He had wrist surgery before last season and never really found his stroke. Green was the Crew's minor league player of the year in 2007 remember. If he bounces back he could easily put himself in the top ten.

For more on most of these players you can look back at the positional breakdowns, here's a handy list of links back to those:

Starting Pitcher

Relief Pitcher

First Base
Second Base
Third Base

Questions? Thoughts? Disagreements? Post them in the comments and I'll explain my reasons. Enjoy.


The Tap Tabloid: Corey Hart Contract Negotiations Stall Over 'Shine

Milwaukee, WI - It seems quite obvious that the contract talks between Corey Hart and the Milwaukee Brewers have stalled, with a report that the Brewers have pulled their final offer off of the table. Seemingly, it appears both sides will end up in an arbitration hearing, which will be the first of Doug Melvin's tenure with the Brewers' organization.

"Nobody wants to go through these" said Doug Melvin in a classic understatement. In arbitration, the organization has to explain why a player ISN'T worth the money that they are asking for. This often leads to hard feelings towards the club and can have a negative effect on the player's performance and attitude.

Many times if a deal can't be worked out before a hearing is scheduled, it is over millions of dollars. For instance when the Phillies and Ryan Howard went to arbitration, the initial difference was $3 million! Even meeting in the middle, left Howard over $1 million short of what he felt he deserved. The arbitrator sided with Howard and he was given $10 million.

Hart's situation is different, Melvin, who often will try to meet somewhere in the middle to avoid a hearing leaves a minimal difference in salary. The hold up is actually over something else. A distillery to make moonshine.

"I don't think it is fair that the Brewers allow there to be a fridge filled with Miller beers for all the sissy's who can't handle their alcohol, but they won't allow me to distill my own 'shine!" Hart commented, adding that, "I checked, and shine ain't on the list of PEDs, though lord knows it should be with all of its miracle properties."

Doug Melvin declined to talk, citing that negotiations should remain private until an agreement is reached, but his Deputy, Ryan Braun, fresh after discussing Fielder's status with the club, said that, "I told Corey we could get a pretty dope Cristal waterfall-bubbler-thing, but he wasn't having that...he wouldn't even accept a kegerator, even after I promised to fill it with Beast Light (Milwaukee's Best Light)."

Corey's response was, "Doug told me 'shine was illegal, but if that's the case, how come everyone I know in Kentucky is drinking it? How come Hawkeye was always distilling at M*A*S*H 4077? That guy was on his A-game after a few drinks, and that wasn't even shine! There is always a jar in my locker, but it just isn't the same. I shine with my 'shine"

"Is that what (Hart) kept in that mason jar in his locker?" asked a puzzled Casey McGehee "I just thought it was for clearing your sinuses when you had a cold....I couldn't smell anything for a week after taking a whiff!"

Braun has recently stated that, "No way Doug and I are going to let Corey get a distillery to make moonshine....that shit reeks, I can't be going to Decibel after games when I'm near that shit... stinks up my Remetees."

As of now, a hearing seems imminent, but we will keep you posted as the situation progresses.