Relief pitcher David Riske signed a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers in December of 2007. It was a three-year deal worth at least $13 million with incentives that could push the three-year value of the contract to $20 million. Also included in the contract was an option for a fourth year valued at $4.75 million.
Let's just say that to see that particular $4.75 million will take much more than a wink and a smile.
After an average 2008 season, one which saw Riske's number inflate after a rough finish to the season (his ERA ballooned from 3.98 after pitching a perfect inning on Aug. 26th to 5.31 in four more outings before shutting it down for the year), Riske knew something was wrong with his throwing arm. He rested after the season and began his usual off-season program with discomfort still present.
Spring Training 2009 came and went and Riske began the season where he left off at the end of the previous one, in the Brewers bullpen. One appearance into the 2009 season, however, and Riske was headed directly to the disabled list.
Riske would remain there throughout the 2009 season and stands a good chance of beginning 2010 there as well. At the very least, a stint in extended spring training in Arizona seems likely so that Riske can build up arm strength and stamina.
Let's speak optimistically for a minute though. Say that over the six weeks or so of spring training that Riske proves he's ready to pitch on Opening Day. As you may recall from a previous article of mine, I believe there to be one spot available in the bullpen right now. If Riske is healthy and performs well enough, that spot is his by virtue of his contract if for no other reason.
If this was last season, David Riske might be slotted at the back end of the bullpen, setting up Trevor Hoffman. It's 2010 though. LaTroy Hawkins and Todd Coffey have that job handled. Should Riske regain a place in the bullpen, the open job is the one that was filled last season by the likes of Chris Smith and Seth McClung.
Riske would fill the gap between starter and setup man, occasionally throwing multiple innings, and basically just trying to keep the game where it is when he inherits it. You know, a middle reliever.
The bottom line for Riske is that this is something of a contract year for him. Pitch well, stay healthy and the Brewers will consider picking up the option. Pitch poorly, miss games, or prove unworthy of making nearly $5 million in the bullpen and the option could be passed on very quickly.
Ultimately, Riske will make over $4 million in 2010 whether he throws a big league pitch or not. The competitor in him no doubt wants to get back on the bump but will his arm hold up?
My prediction for Riske is as follows. He will pitch this spring a handful of time or more and prove that his arm is close. I believe he will start the year on the disabled list and continue to rehab. He will spend some time in extended spring training and a decision will be made by the end of April as to whether or not he's ready to contribute.
Hopefully that leads to positive results in Milwaukee both for his and the team's sake. If he's pitching well, then Milwaukee reaps the immediate benefits and Riske positions himself well for 2011 and (hopefully for Riske) beyond.
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