When the Padres let Trevor Hoffman leave their organization after the 2008 season, many felt it was the end of the line for one of the game's great closers.
The Dodgers showed mild interest in Hoffman, and it made sense for him to sign with a team so close to his home. Add to that the fact he'd be able to pitch against his former team, and it seemed all but certain he would wear Dodger blue.
However, the Brewers made a late push for the future Hall of Famer. They needed a replacement for Salomon Torres after he suddenly retired following the 2008 season.
The Brewers signed Hoffman to a one-year, $6 million deal in Jan. 2009. Although most were hopeful Hoffman could be effective, no one expected the season he gave Milwaukee.
Hoffman was named to his seventh All-Star team, and had one of the best years of his career with Milwaukee.
The all-time saves leader finished 3-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 37 saves in 55 appearances. He struck out 48 and walked only 14 in 54 innings. He allowed only 11 runs all season and finished with a .907 WHIP, his best mark since 1998.
Many thought he would be ineffective due to the loss of velocity on his fastball. In his prime, he could easily throw in the mid-to-upper 90's. That was no longer the case despite being on the wrong side of 40.
Hoffman simply altered his devastating change-up to give his fastball the appearance of being faster than it was. His fastball stayed between 86-88 all season long, while his change-up came across the plate at 74-77. To hitters, the drastic difference in pitch speed still gave Hoffman the same advantage he always enjoyed.
Thanks to his great year, the Brewers rewarded Hoffman with a substantial raise this past winter. They signed him to a one-year, $8 million contract with a mutual option for 2012.
Giving the 42-year-old Hoffman that kind of contract is risky. However, Hoffman is as fit of a player in the game, regardless of age. He takes tremendous care of his body, and his workouts throughout the season keep him in peak physical shape.
So what could possibly keep a player that's done it all motivated this late in his career?
For starters, he's only nine saves short of 600 for his career. He'll be the first player in the history of the game to reach the milestone, and barring injury, he should reach the record in early May.
Add that personal goal to the team goal of wanting to win a World Series, and the Brewers will have a very focused and determined Hoffman to close out games for them in 2010.
The Brewers have significantly upgraded their starting rotation and bullpen to slot in front of Hoffman.
Starters Randy Wolf and Doug Davis will get much deeper into games than many of the pitchers the Brewers sent out to the mound last year.
Mitch Stetter, LaTroy Hawkins, and Todd Coffey are all durable enough to pitch multiple innings if needed, and they should hand the ball to Hoffman with many leads over the course of the season.
It was very difficult for many fans to see Trevor Hoffman in a new uniform last season. He had become synonymous with the Padres' organization. After the first playing of "Hell's Bells" in Miller Park, Brewer fans quickly warmed to Hoffman as one of their own.
There's no reason to think Hoffman can't duplicate his 2009 season in 2010. While it will be hard to duplicate his stellar ERA, there's no reason another 35-plus save season can't be reached.
Doing so will put the Brewers in prime position to compete for the playoffs in September.
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