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February 17th is fast approaching

Brewers players, Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers

That's when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training!

I mean, this football thing is very nice (notwithstanding the fact that the Packers got key-rushed last weekend in the NFC Championship game).  But baseball is, well, baseball.

The Brewers made some key moves this winter, adding a real centerfielder (Mike Cameron) and vastly upgrading third base (Bill Hall).  The "Catcher of the Year" Club has a new member (Jason Kendall), and the bullpen has been almost completely revamped (Solomon Torres, David Riske, Guillermo Mota, and Eric Gagne).

About the only thing the Brewers haven't done, yet, is rerack the starting rotation.  As I mentioned last summer, now is the time to trade Ben Sheets.  He is a free agent after this season, and hasn't earned his money over the last two or three seasons.  When healthy (a significant qualifier) he can be a shut-down pitcher.  But leaving 3 games early due to injury (13% of his 2007 starts) and missing another 9 starts does not equate to a pitcher that can be counted on, much less one worthy of a significant raise in free agency after this season.  His trade value is highest right now, when most of the top-shelf free agents have been signed and teams are hungry for making a splash heading into the new season.  Trade him now, before he blows out an abdominal muscle in PFP (pitchers fielding practice) on February 19th.

As for the rest of the rotation, keep in mind that a worn out bullpen was the general excuse given for the summer collapse from the 9-game division lead.  Keep in mind that the apologists for the now-jettisoned bullpen have said that it was because the starting pitching was getting hurt (Sheets) or not getting far enough into ballgames (Jeff Suppan, Chris Capuano, Dave Bush, Claudio Vargas, Yovanni Gallardo and Manny Parra).  So now after moving Carlos Villanueva to the rotation, who else is in the rotation?  Right... Sheets, Suppan, Capuano, Bush, Vargas, Gallardo and Parra.  In other words, the struggling bullpen was overhauled, but the rotation that caused the bullpen collapse is still intact.  Gallardo, Villanueva and Parra are young, and can be considered as having enough upside to hang on to.  But Sheets (as described in the last paragraph), as well as Suppan, Capuano, Bush and Vargas are what they are.  Decent pitchers that have reached the top of their game. 

What makes Doug Melvin (or anybody else) think that just because the calendar turned and everybody got older makes them better than the shipwreck that was last year?  Suppan is an innings-eater (and making about $33 million for the next three years), so I can understand why he isn't going anywhere.  Capuano is a lefty (a plus, which will keep him bouncing around the big leagues until 2042), but he struggled with more than four innings.  He couldn't shut down rallies (or keep the game close) when it mattered.  Bush is Bill Wegman all over again.  A lifetime .500 pitcher that will amaze you for periods at a time.  But then comes that game that is close in the 7th inning, he gives up four runs, the Brewers lose 4-2, and then everybody whines about him not getting any run support.  Bush's problem is that many times, his critical inning is the first inning, then once down 5-0 he cruises through seven innings then the quotes say "Except for that first inning...".  Claudo Vargas is the luckiest pitcher around... he set an MLB record for getting out of 274 bases-loaded-no-out jams in 2007.  He can't go more than five innings because he can't pitch less than 20 pitches per inning. 

You can't put Capuano, Bush and Vargas in the bullpen because there is no room for all of them, and also because they aren't really good.  Just trading or releasing those three guys, however, doesn't solve the problem that the Brewers pitchers in 2007 couldn't work deep into games, and there is nothing to make anyone think that bringing back the same crew in 2008 will solve that problem.

I look for a big year from the Brewers, but if the starting pitching isn't seriously addressed before (or early in) the season, look for that August/September collapse again.

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