Monday, March 29, 2010

Jeff Suppan Could Be Out

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Brewers beat writer Tom Haudricourt has been around the block a few times. This isn't to say the veteran scribe is old or anything, but instead meant to point out that things don't often get by him.

He has a pretty good idea when something is amiss, and he seems to smell a rat at Brewers spring training.

The Brewers signed free-agent pitcher Jeff Suppan in December 2006 after a strong playoff performance with the National League Central rival St. Louis Cardinals. He'd never been a hard thrower or a staff ace, but general manager Doug Melvin paid him like one, giving him $42 million over four years.

What's happened since is nothing short of disastrous for the smallest-market franchise in the sport. Suppan is 29-34 with the Brewers in three years, carrying an ERA of 4.93. He has one complete game in 95 starts. In 546 innings, he has allowed 650 hits, 329 runs, 73 home runs, and has just 284 strikeouts to 209 walks, a terrible K/BB ratio. Opponents are OPSing a hideous .839 against him ... over a three-year aggregate.

For Suppan, it isn't just one rough year hurting his overall digits. He's just a bad pitcher, and the Brewers probably can't wait to get rid of him.

In fact, the Brewers could be so anxious to cut the cord that they're willing to pay $12.5 million to make it happen. That's the amount owed Suppan in the final year of his contract, plus an additional buyout of $2 million on the team option for next year, one that probably wouldn't be picked up at this point unless Suppan wins 20 games this year.

It's a huge expense for a small-market team, but one Haudricourt senses could be on the verge of reality. Here is his latest update on the Brewers' rotation, as manager Ken Macha announced Yovani Gallardo will start Opening Day at the Keg April 5 against Colorado.

Macha said he probably wouldn't name a fifth starter before the end of camp, because he doesn't need one right away. Right-hander Jeff Suppan and lefties Manny Parra and Chris Narveson have been battling for the final spot in the rotation.

Macha said Parra and Narveson will split the Brewers' exhibition game Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels. But, when asked what Suppan would be doing that day, Macha said, "Hopefully, I'll be able to answer that tomorrow. That's my best answer."

That cryptic response made reporters wonder if something is going on with Suppan, if perhaps the Brewers are thinking about not keeping him despite his $12.5 million salary in 2010. An official from another club said he had not seen Suppan's name on the release waiver wire, so that process apparently had not begun.

Maybe it's nothing more than having to wait until Tuesday to hear that Suppan is pitching in a minor league game to get his work in. But usually a pitcher, especially a veteran pitcher, knows what his assignment is the day before he's scheduled to pitch.

Let's just say some red flags went up with Macha's response to that question.

Great pickup by Haudricourt. Keep in mind, this might not mean anything. It might just be Macha playing coy with the media. But it's a strange thing to do with something as largely meaningless as "fifth starter," even on a team like Milwaukee that's expected to at least contend for a spot in the playoffs.

If the Brewers are indeed at least considering dumping Suppan and eating his remaining contract, it could be cause for celebration. No one should celebrate someone losing his job, but Suppan will be handsomely paid to go away, and given how much torture he's caused baseball fans in Wisconsin, they have every right to do a little fist pump if the team cuts the cord.

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