Brooks and Done
One of the more interesting Spring Training Stories (and let's be honest, there aren't many) this year was the possibility that swing-man Brooks Kieschnick might actually have made the Milwaukee Brewers team out of camp. Normally, this would not be such a big deal, but this time, when I say 'swing-man' I don't mean reliever/starter, I mean reliever/hitter. Kieschnick was vying to make the team as a right handed relief pitcher and backup OF/1B. Unfortunately, for him and for us, the Brewers finalized their opening day roster on Saturday, and Brooks was not on it. Presumably he'll be in AAA until Billy Beane or Theo Epstein or another GM with a brain calls and offers a couple of cases of Skoal to the Brew Crew for the right to book Brooks, whereupon he will help some other team to a division title. Milwaukee wasn't going to win one anyway.
And therein lies the problem: Having a guy on the roster who can both hit and pitch (Kieschnick apparently is exemplary at neither, but competent at both) saves you a roster spot. That way, you can carry, say, a fourth catcher, if you're Bobby Cox, or another superutility guy, if you're Tony LaRussa, or a fifteenth pitcher, if you're the Rockies' manager, or even an extra infielder who can't hit, if you're Lou Piniella. But if you're the Brewers, then having someone like Kieschnick on the roster might actually help you win games, and that would be bad. Because then you'd have to admit that it's possible to win games being from a small market, and acting-commisioner-for-life Bud Selig would have to do the same, since the team is, for all intents and purposes, his.
I'm not sure what the purpose of making such a big deal about Kieschnick's presence in camp was. It's been a long time since anyone has carried a guy who got significant playing time as both a hitter and a pitcher, as Rob Neyer pointed out some weeks ago. But several of the guys who made the team ahead of Kieschnick could not possibly have made it for any reason other than that they were going to make it no matter what they did. Take a look (I left out the starting pitchers, since they're not really his competition):
Player Age ERA G IP H ER HR HBP BB SO
Vizcaino 28 1.42 6 6.1 10 1 1 0 4 8
DeJean 32 1.64 10 11.0 6 2 0 0 8 9
Nance 25 1.84 10 14.2 13 3 1 0 3 11
Foster 24 3.65 9 12.1 15 5 1 0 6 9
Kieschnick 30 3.95 9 13.2 10 6 0 0 8 9
Leskanic 34 6.94 10 11.2 13 9 3 1 4 8
de los Santos 30 9.35 9 8.2 12 9 2 0 7 5
Ford 21 13.50 6 6.0 16 9 0 1 3 9
Granted, Kieschnick wasn't light-out or anything, but he was reasonably effective. And 'reasonably effective' is better than 'sucks ass'. But we'll get to that later.
Now, Luis Vizcaino, Mike DeJean and Shane Nance all had very good springs, so I can't begrudge them a spot, and the two former were pretty decent last year too, as was de los Santos, despite these numbers, so I have no real problem there. Leskanic is coming off an injury year, and so it seems to me that perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing to start him out in AAA until they're sure he's healthy AND he can get hitters out. John Foster is fairly young, but has progressed through the Brewers' farm system, and was decent in AAA last year, but lost about 3 K's/9 Inings, and his ERA rose more than a run for the second year in a row, so I'd say it's not a foregone conclusion that he's got nothing left to prove in Richmond.
So that leaves one player (here comes that ass-sucking I promised you...): Matt Ford. Ford is only 21 years old, has exactly one year of pro ball under his belt, and it's an impressive one: 9-5 2.37 ERA in 114 innings...at Class A Dunedin in the Florida State League. And as you can see from the above, he did a pretty good impression of a batitng practice pitcher against watered-down competition this spring, allowing 20 baserunners, and nine runs, in only six innings. Ouch. How a 21-year old, with no experience above the FSL and no evidence that he can prevent hitters from teeing off on him makes the team ahead of a 30-year old with decent pitching numbers in AAA last year (2.59 ERA and 30 K's in 31 innings) who can also hit a little, and play the outfield, is beyond me.
Now, what about the Bench?
Player Pos Age AB R H HR RBI SB CS SLG AVG
Kieschnick OF/1B 30 14 4 6 2 7 0 0 .857 .429
Helms 1B 26 68 7 20 1 5 1 0 .412 .294
Podsednik OF 27 70 11 17 1 10 4 2 .343 .243
Vander Wal OF 36 67 12 13 2 13 1 0 .373 .194
Conti OF 28 36 3 7 1 1 0 0 .306 .194
Again, Kieschnick beat the tar out of the ball every time (not that there were many) he came up. C'mon, 2 homers and 7 RBI in 14 lousy pinch hit at-bats? What more do you want him to do? Sell ice-cream?
Podsednik is a speedy guy with no power and decent plate discipline, and is therefore handy, as are Conti and Helms, if they ever do anything (both have a career OPS around .700, which is bad for a shortstop, much less an OF or 1B). The Brewers traded for Conti from the Devil Rays ("you know you're in trouble when..."), sending catcher Javier Valentin, who probably should have beaten out either Kieth Osik or Eddie Perez for the starter's job, had he stayed.
At the time, Brewers' GM Doug Melvin said, "In Jason Conti, we have acquired an outfielder with major league experience that will provide immediate assistance, given the injuries our club has sustained during spring training." Well, in responnse to that, I'd like to quote inspirational self-help guru Matt Foley;
There are piles and piles of experienced major league outfielders who can help you right now, Dean. You don't have to trade a 27-year old catcher who can actually hit a little (NOTE: Perez and Osik can't.) to get one. The injuries to which he refers are Geoff Jenkins and Brady Clark, and probably Jeffrey Hammonds, who if he isn't now, will be injured soon. But they already had several guys with major league experience, all of whom could help now, if you'd let 'em.
John Vander Wal had a terrible spring, but has generally proven himself to be a decent guy to have on the bench, and his numbers for the Yankees last year were right in line with his career averages. But he didn't do anything in the spring, and was only signed to a minor league contract anyway, so they could have cut him loose, instead of paying him something like $750K to ride the pine and spot start until Jenkins comes back. Anyway, most of the bench is a toss-up, but given the relative weakness here, it couldn't hurt to have an extra pinch hitter. Could it?