Despite signing the oft-underrated Randy Wolf to replace Braden Looper (who by the way did his very best to provide yet another example that a W-L record is a bad way to judge a pitcher) the rotation still has two replacement-level starters in Jeff Suppan and Manny Parra.
Suppan especially has become a thorn in their side (yes, even Prince Fielder’s gut can feel that thorn). The 35-year old Soup was signed to a ridiculous $42M/4 deal in December of 2006 and has followed that up with one decent season (2007) and two gross ones. Assuming that the Brewers hold steady at a roughly $80M payroll in 2010, Jeff Suppan’s salary is going to take up 15.6% of that alone in 2010. And with the track record of 35-year old pitchers turning it around after a 3-year decline, no one should assume that Suppan will be much of an asset.
But there’s just that weird sentiment that seems to pervade the minds of baseball team owners that salary should dictate playing time, which never made much sense to me. And assuming that Suppan is untradeable, he’s going to stay in that rotation. So if any improvement’s going to come, it’s at the expense of Manny Parra, who’s no ace himself and constantly underperforms his FIP.
So who will it be? There seems to be talk of Jarrod Washburn, Doug Davis, or Jon Garland but unless they sign a deal for far less than what I imagine it would cost to get them (which has been happening this year), I’d say no thanks. Instead, I’d argue for trading Corey Hart, who I believe is overvalued among fans and very possibly some front offices. If Hart can be dealt (he’s a former All Star!) for a decent arm, moving Casey McGehee to right (assuming he can handle it, of course) and signing Miguel Tejada on the cheap to play third would improve the team without sacrificing much offense.
Even without such a move, the team’s defense could very well have improved despite the departures of Mike Cameron and J.J. Hardy. Cam’s replacement will be Carlos Gomez, among the best defensive CFers in the game. It’s clear that Gomez is a worse hitter than some pitchers, but his range in center should help make up for a lot of that. Another addition is prospect Alcides Escobar. He probably won’t be winning any Silver Sluggers anytime soon but his defense at short has been very highly regarded. While Ryan Braun in left and Casey McGehee at third will still piss pitchers off every now and then, at least they can rely on the guys in center and short to help them out.
The NL Central is winnable although the Cards remain the favorites at this point. The ideal situation would be to somehow get Suppan out of the rotation but I don’t expect that to happen. But finding a cost-effective alternative to Manny Parra should help alleviate that issue some. The Brewers can live with Suppan or Parra as the fifth starter. But they won’t survive if they count on them both.