To say the Milwaukee Brewers are slumping would be an understatement. On its surface, a 4-5 road trip that took them to San Diego, Los Angeles, and Houston isn't terrible. However, the club's pitching has failed them drastically throughout the last two months.
In the case of shortstop J.J. Hardy and third baseman/outfielder Bill Hall, the failures have been season-long.
Wednesday, general manager Doug Melvin either 1) decided he's had enough of watching his team mercilessly suck in front of him, or 2) finally pushed the panic button because the other ones weren't working.
The club fired pitching coach Bill Castro, demoted Hardy to Triple-A Nashville, and designated Hall for assignment.
The Brewers have ten days to get Hall to accept a minor-league assignment, release him outright, or trade him (good luck with that contract). Hardy doesn't get this luxury, as he doesn't have enough major-league service time to reject a trip to the minors.
In Hardy's place will come prospect shortstop Alcides Escobar, who likely takes over as the Brewers' starter immediately.
And why not? Nothing else was working.
Melvin tried to shore up the bullpen with guys like Jesus Colome and David Weathers, but neither were going to help a rotation that can't get out of its own way.
Yovani Gallardo has slumped lately, but has generally been ace-quality, and had a legitimate argument for All-Star selection. It's been "pray for rain!" after that for some time. Dave Bush is on the shelf, as is Jeff Suppan, but it's not like Suppan is any good when he's available. Braden Looper was signed cheap as a fifth starter, and he's pitched like one for much of the season. Manny Parra looked like a potential young stud, but he's been awful, to the point that he got sent to the minors and has only improved a bit since returning. Guys like Mike Burns and Carlos Villanueva were asked to shore up the bottom of the rotation because of injuries, and they have largely failed.
Someone had to pay for all of this, and since Melvin is the one pulling this trigger, he sure as hell wasn't going to be the guy. Frankly, he probably shouldn't be, as his positives still outweigh his negatives.
As for Hall and Hardy, good riddance.
Hardy has been given too many chances to be an absolute failure like this. He's had some rotten luck, and now seems to have no confidence, along with still having rotten luck. To make matters worse, his defense hasn't been as good, leading some to think he has started taking crappy at-bats into the field.
He needs to find himself again in the minors, or he'll end up never playing another game with the Brewers. When it was predicted in this space that Hardy would hit .300 in the second half of the season, it didn't even seem possible that he would fall off the map like this.
As for Hall, this is the right move. He's been given more than his fair share of opportunities, even getting called back up to the majors a few days after voluntarily accepting a minor-league assignment. When Corey Hart had an appendectomy, the Brewers brought Hall back instead of going with a younger player.
Hall is owed some $8 million next season, plus a club option for 2011, and the team is eating money to make this move.
The sad thing is that Hall could never play baseball again, and still get that serious coin. He showed up for one season, got his big contract, and basically disappeared. It's a message to general managers everywhere to be very, very careful about the players you decide to lock up long-term.
Castro's firing is nothing but a rearrangement of the proverbial deck chairs. Triple-A pitching coach and former Brewer Chris Bosio isn't going to solve anything, and guys like Looper and Suppan (if he ever comes back) won't just start pitching consistently well because they have a different voice talking to them now.
It's a sad day for a once-promising first-place Brewer team, one that is now going to need some real good luck to just finish .500.