Thrifty Brewers, Indians getting it right
Ken Rosenthal / FOXSports.com
Posted: 10 hours ago
It might as well be the Brewers' motto: No black holes.
Not in the lineup. Not on the pitching staff. Not anywhere on the 25-man roster, in general manager Doug Melvin's perfect world.
Depth, Melvin says, is the biggest reason the Brewers are 18-9, the best record in the National League.
Depth also is a major reason why the Indians are 16-8, the best record in the AL.
It might seem incongruous that two low-payroll clubs are deeper in reinforcements than say, the $195 million Yankees.
But in both cases, it's part of the plan.
A plan that should be a blueprint for roster construction in an era when injuries occur so frequently, teams need to anticipate disruptions.
While several high-payroll clubs have struggled with injury-induced black holes — the Cardinals in right field, the Angels at third base, the Yankees in their rotation — the Brewers and Indians are brimming with interchangeable parts.
The early success of both teams underscores the importance of a strong farm system providing quality replacements, when necessary.
It also illustrates the importance of payroll flexibility, so that money can be spread throughout the roster, and not simply allotted to stars.
The Brewers, ranked 18th in payroll, and the Indians, ranked 23rd, each have only one player earning more than $8 million.
"We never have the monster, the Derrek Lee or Albert Pujols," Melvin says. "We have to be average at more positions than most clubs. We may not be above-average at many."
Well, Sheets is a legitimate ace when healthy. Setup man Derrick Turnbow and closer Francisco Cordero have combined for 40 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. First baseman Prince Fielder, in the estimation of one scout, "has .300-40-100 written all over him."
Beyond that, the Brewers are good at most positions, but not great.
The sample sizes are relatively small at this stage of the season, but the Brewers were fourth in the NL in runs entering Thursday's play, seventh in rotation ERA and sixth in bullpen ERA.
Their league rankings in on-base/slugging percentage at each position also reflected a solid (but not spectacular) roster:
First base: 6th
Second base: 8th
Third base: 11th
Right field: 8th
Center field: 5th
Left field: 2nd
Kevin Mench and Geoff Jenkins share left; Melvin kept both rather than trade from surplus. Mench also has started eight games in right, rotating with Corey Hart and Gabe Gross. Tony Gwynn Jr. is backing up Bill Hall in center.
Third base originally was intended for Corey Koskie, who has yet to play due to post-concussive syndrome. For now, veterans Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino are splitting time at the position. Class AAA third baseman Ryan Braun, a top hitting prospect, figures to arrive sooner rather than later.
Some players — Sheets, Turnbow, Cordero — are more indispensable than others. But the Brewers possess alternative solutions at most positions and even in their rotation. Class AAA right-hander Yovani Gollardo is one of the game's top pitching prospects.
The Indians are constructed differently.
They've got a few black holes — their early production at second base and third is among the worst in the majors, and their bullpen remains suspect.
But two transcendent offensive players, center fielder Grady Sizemore and designated hitter Travis Hafner, compensate for other deficiencies.
And in the bullpen, the Indians have enough young talent to adjust as the season progresses — and the payroll flexibility to add more expensive veterans.
"I've felt this way from Day One — our depth everywhere but in the middle infield definitely is a competitive advantage," GM Mark Shapiro says.
The Indians already are getting significant contributions from secondary players such as catcher Kelly Shoppach, first baseman Ryan Garko, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and reliever Tom Mastny.
Casey Blake, who had been playing first base and right field, went to third when Andy Marte strained his left hamstring. Right-hander Fausto Carmona went 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA in four starts filling in for injured left-hander Cliff Lee — and was rewarded with a demotion to Class AAA.
Carmona could return quickly; right-hander Jake Westbrook left Wednesday night's game against the Blue Jays with abdominal tightness. Right-hander Adam Miller, the Indians' seventh starter, is 3-0 with a 2.32 ERA in five starts at Class AAA.
The Yankees, trying to build a core of young pitching, eventually might reach the Indians' level. But depth also is an issue for the Yankees in other areas. Their first-base production is sub-par. Their backup catcher, Wil Nieves, is 0-for-15. Their utility infielder, Miguel Cairo, is barely adequate.
No team can fill every hole, and injuries can foil even the most brilliant general manager's best-laid plans.
The Brewers and Indians, though, have the right idea.
The deeper, the better. Especially when players today are increasingly fragile.