Welcome to Saturday Scorecard, where we promise not to play Christmas music until December.
Heating up: It wasn't too long ago that the Brewers' "hot stove" was actually a dented sterno can. The off-season talk centered on which second or third-tier free agent they'd sign (Sean Berry, Jose Hernandez, Matt Stairs, Jeffrey Hammonds) and who they were eyeing in the Rule 5 draft.
Times have changed.
In the wake of their first playoff berth in 26 years, the Brewers have a new manager (Ken Macha), a shuffled coaching staff (more on that later), two gaping holes at the top of the starting rotation, a promising shortstop prospect who may be ready for prime time, some money to spend in free agency and a handful of minor-league standouts who could bring solid players in the trade market.
In other words, this isn't going to be a quiet winter.
One of the first decent debates bubbled up this week, when the Brewers exercised veteran centerfielder Mike Cameron's $10 million contract option. When reports surfaced that the Yankees were interested in Cameron, and were dangling a trade package that included young outfielder Melky Cabrera and pitcher Ian Kennedy, many Brewers fans screamed for general manager Doug Melvin to pull the trigger on the trade. A significant subset of that group screamed for the Brewers to give Tony Gywnn, Jr., a shot at the starting job in center field and the leadoff spot.
Right now, it appears that Cameron is staying put. Here are three reasons that is a good thing:
* Theoretically, the Brewers are still involved in the CC Sabathia sweepstakes. Cameron befriended the big lefty last season and is lobbying Sabathia to turn down more lucrative offers to stay in Milwaukee. It's worth a shot. The market for free-agent centerfielders is slim, so the Yankees offer probably won't go evaporate anytime soon.
* Because Cameron hit just .243 last season and had a penchant for striking out (a team-high 142 in 444 at-bats), many fans overlook his other attributes. After missing the first 25 games because he took a banned stimulant while playing for San Diego, Cameron hit 25 homers, drove in 70 runs, walked 54 times, stole 20 bases, played above-average defense (one error in 119 games) and had a positive impact on younger players like Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks and Bill Hall.
Cameron is prone to streaks and slumps. He hit .360 with nine homers in August, then followed that with a .176 mark and one homer in September. The fact that he didn't catch a key line drive over his head in a playoff game in Philadelphia hurts him in some corners, too, though I think that's a pretty ridiculous fan fixation; it's like saying Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder can't hit because they once struck out with the bases loaded.
Money is always an issue, too. The sticker shock of a $10 million deal (a figure poisoned by Eric Gagne), has turned some fans against Cameron. But the Brewers look at the contract and consider they are paying Cameron an average of $7.5 million over two years. That's not shabby, considering their statistical analysis pegged Cameron as the sixth-best offensive centerfielder in baseball last season.
Cameron, who turns 36 in January, is no doubt on the downslide of his career and has been for a couple seasons. The Brewers certainly would not offer him a three or four-year deal. But, they can reasonably expect him to hit roughly 25 homers and drive in about 80 runs. That has value. If they "take that off the board," they'll need to replace it.
In two decades of covering athletes from the high school level to the pros, he just might be the most polite, pleasant guy I've come across. He handles himself with a humility and grace that is refreshing. He dealt with his numerous promotions and demotions last year as well as any athlete could. If it was possible for a bitter, jaded sports hack to cheer for any athlete, I would cheer for Tony Gwynn, Jr.
But, I think handing him the starting / leadoff jobs outright right now would be a mistake.
In parts of six seasons in the minor leagues, Gwynn has collected 2,227 at-bats and compiled a .273 batting average, .346 on-base percentage and .342 slugging percentage. (Power never has been his calling card; he hit one homer in three seasons at San Diego State.)
Pitching in the major leagues is considerably better than it is in Class AAA, where Gywnn's OBP was .328 last season (and has gone down in each of the past three seasons since leaving Class AA Huntsville). Allowing for a dropoff of being demoralized and having nothing to prove in Class AAA, if you project Gwynn's minor-league numbers into the major leagues, the results do not scream "Here is a starting player."
The counter-argument from many corners is obvious: He's never gotten a chance at the big-league level. Why were the Brewers patient with Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy, but not with Gwynn? Isn't that unfair, or at least inconsistent?
It may seem that way, but baseball is seldom fair. It's a meritocracy. As much as fans like Tony Gwynn and as much as they'd love to see him as the centerfielder and leadoff batter, the Brewers can't hand him the jobs just because he looks like he fits the suit. Part of it isn't even Gwynn's fault. If Weeks could produce the 25 homers expected of him and the third base spot hadn't been a sink hole, the Brewers could better afford to take a chance on a spray-hitting centerfielder with no power.
For now, however, the Brewers are better off having Cameron as the starter and Gwynn in a backup role.
Quick hits: New Brewers manager Ken Macha did the right thing by promoting Bill Castro to the role of pitching coach. Though Castro has paid his dues for 17 years and deserves the opportunity, it would have been easy for Macha to bypass him for a more familiar choice. Castro is universally liked and respected by the pitchers he has worked with in the past.... Even in defeat, the Bucks look interesting so far this season... What happened to the UW hockey team?... Look for the Packers to beat the Vikings Sunday at the Metrodome. Why? Because Mike McCarthy is a much better coach than Brad Childress... Congratulations to the UW-Milwaukee women's soccer team, which beat Wright State in the Horizon League semifinals Friday night. The Panthers, ranked 19th in the country, face host Loyola for the championship Sunday at 1 p.m. in Chicago.
Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at OnMilwaukee.com. Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.