The Onion headline reads: "Orioles' Top Prospect Wins World Series In First Major League At Bat". It's a good laugh for baseball fans because of the outgrown expectations for the abysmal franchise's latest "savior."
Catcher Matt Wieters already has a Chuck Norris-type website dedicated to his prowess, despite hitting only .229 since being called up on May 30. Wieters could still end up winning Rookie-of-the-year, AL MVPs, Gold Gloves and the title of "Greatest Human Being Who Ever Played Ever" when it's all said and done. But as of now, the hype surrounding him overshadows his current value to his team.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a perennial contender, like the Yankees or the Red Sox or a basement-dwelling franchise like the Pirates or the Nationals, every team has a few prospects that they deem as future all-stars and hall-of-famers. Sometimes, they pan out immediately, like Ryan Braun or Evan Longoria.
Others take years to realize, like Zack Grienke or Rickie Weeks during his frustratingly-short season. But many come up and never meet the hype surrounding them or are so one-dimensional in their abilities, that their impact on the team’s fortunes is minimal at best.
Yet we are still sucked into believing that this one player will make the team better with his bat. Such
Although Mat Gamel has only been up with the Brewers for a month, perhaps we’ve seen enough of him to know how he’ll project as a pro: that he’ll bring power to the lineup, but will be a defensive liability outside of first base.
And while that’s acceptable for certain teams desperate for power in their lineup, Milwaukee is one of the exceptions in the NL. They rank fifth in the NL for total runs and are third (only behind Philadelphia and Colorado) in homers.
However, if there was anything that CC Sabathia taught us, it’s the fact that when bats are silent, pitching will win out the day. And when it comes to pitching and defense, the Crew’s ERA of 4.12 and fielding percentage of .985 are not terrible, but they’re not going to help Milwaukee separate from Chicago and St. Louis either.
A lack of pitching depth (see Julio, Jorge) combined with a mediocre defense will lead to a tumultuous summer and fall for the Brewers unless they do something to rely on more than their bats.
Which leads me to this question: are we too beholden to Mat Gamel’s potential as opposed to the reality of what Gamel brings to this season’s team? Like Matt LaPorta last year, Gamel is a potentially excellent hitter with below-average defensive skills (as evidenced by the last game between the Brewers and Rockies.
While many teams value the bat over the glove, the Brewers aren’t hungry for another bat, even if Bill Hall can’t hit anybody with a right arm. They need gloves and arms for the race.
Typically, an NL team puts their defensive liabilities at first base or right field. Which brings me to my second suggestion: Why not pay Prince Fielder his money?
Perhaps Doug Melvin didn’t appreciate how Fielder complained about his salary last year, but Fielder is a perfect offensive foil for Braun and has steadily improved his defense, currently on pace to have the lowest amount of errors since his first full season in 2006.
True, it’ll cost Mark Attanasio a pretty penny, but Fielder is proven to be a leader, both on the field and in the clubhouse (just ask Manny Parra). And he’s only getting better. Gamel might seem more manageable payroll-wise, but maintaining continuity with Braun and Fielder would go a long way in establishing the team’s offensive identity for years to come.
Trading Corey Hart is also a possibility, but while Hart’s bat has been up and down, no one denies his defensive prowess.
Now the idea for trading Gamel doesn’t ring true for every prospect. Alcides Escobar and Taylor Green have the potential to solidify the left side of the infield by 2010. But while both are excellent hitters like Gamel, they both seem to be solid defensive replacements (or in Green’s case, an upgrade).
Gamel’s bat could entice teams in need of a DH or 3B (think of our current series opponent, the Chicago White Sox or the Minnesota Twins), and provide the Brewers with an arm or glove desperately needed for the playoff push in a couple months).
It’s easy to blame the Brewers’ woes on silent bats. But bats during a 162-game season ebb and flow like the tides. The trick is to have the arms to back them up. I’m not giving up on Gamel, I just don’t think the team has to be held hostage by his potential when they are deficient in other areas.