Lohse deal sets Brewers up for a fall

By signing Kyle Lohse, the Brewers made a bad farm system even worse. Elsa/Getty Images

The Miami Marlins are doing a Buy One Get One Free thing with their Opening Day tickets, like a grocery store selling pickles. The Houston Astros are prepared to open the year with a $20 million payroll (plus $5 million in Wandy Rodriguez salary) and a team that could match Casey Stengel's Mets for consecutive 106-loss seasons.

Within that context, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio deserves this: No owner in baseball can say he has made a more concerted effort to win within the confines of his market than Attanasio has over the past six seasons.

It was Attanasio who greenlighted the trade for CC Sabathia in 2008, who fired manager Ned Yost with a week to go in a push to make the playoffs. It was Attanasio who made a serious offer in an attempt to keep Sabathia, and then did the same with Prince Fielder -- deals that would've really stretched the Milwaukee budget. It was Attanasio who gave the go-ahead for the deals for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, and for the free-agent signings of Randy Wolf and Aramis Ramirez. Attanasio greenlighted the winter offer to Ryan Dempster a few months ago, and is the reason Ryan Braun is locked up through 2020.

Attanasio is like the Juan Pierre of owners: Somewhat limited in how much production he can generate, but you cannot ever fault the effort.

To the great credit of the Brewers' fan base, it has responded, strongly supporting the team; Milwaukee had a payroll of $96 million last year, and the team finished sixth among 16 NL teams in attendance.

But there is a price to be paid for all of that aggressiveness, and that credit card bill is going to land in the mail sometime soon. Which is why I don't think the signing of Kyle Lohse made sense for them.

Look, Lohse is a good pitcher, and I agree with what GM Doug Melvin said Monday: The Brewers are a better team with him. Their rotation was very thin, which is why they tried to sign Dempster in the offseason, and now they can run out Lohse and Yovani Gallardo, with improved chances to make the playoffs.

Maybe this will be enough to push them into the postseason again. And they get Lohse on really nice terms. Because of the deferred money in the deal -- Lohse will make $4 million in salary in 2013, with $7 million deferred to 2016-2018, along with salaries of $11 million in 2014 and 2015 -- officials estimated the present-day value of Lohse's contract to be something in the range of $9.5 million annually. This for a pitcher who finished eighth in the majors in ERA in 2012. That's only about two-thirds of what Dempster is making annually, and not a whole lot more than Joe Blanton.

But through the years, the Brewers' farm system has been gradually eroded by trades, and back in February, Keith Law ranked the Brewers' player development strength at 29th among 30 teams.

Now, in signing Lohse, the Brewers sacrifice their first-round pick, which was 17th overall. A rival general manager mused about this possibility last week, noting that history is filled with examples of players picked at 17th or earlier who never made a dent in the big leagues.

"But then you have the case of someone like [Mike] Trout," the GM continued, noting that Trout was picked 25th overall by the Angels. "You have Shelby Miller [picked 19th in 2009]. You lose the opportunity to get talent -- relatively cheap talent. When you give up the picks, you lose the access to the talent."

The Brewers' first pick won't come until No. 54 overall; in fact, they will be the last team to make a selection.

That's especially important for a mid-market team such as the Brewers, who are surrounded by teams with a macro view in the NL Central. The Cardinals' payroll is a little higher than Milwaukee's, and their farm system is generally regarded as the deepest in the majors. The Reds' organization has a ton of talent. The Pirates are viewed as a team with very good player development right now, starting with pitcher Gerrit Cole. The Cubs are rebuilding their farm system.

Meanwhile, the Brewers have pushed to win every year, and meanwhile, they are drifting into more talent debt. They have Braun to build around, but their major league roster is thin in high-end players, and in depth.

This is what happened with the Minnesota Twins over the past decade, and now the Twins are faced with a massive rebuilding, especially in their organizational pitching -- and it could be a long road back for Minnesota.

None of that will seem to matter in the great moments this summer, if the Brewers challenge the Reds and Cardinals, and if they make the playoffs. But to me, the signing of Lohse feels like a tipping point, when Milwaukee pushed forward at a time when it really needed to take a step back.

Phillies lineup construction

The Phillies have to decide what to do with their leadoff spot. It's an odd lineup to construct, given all of the various elements -- most notably, how heavy it is in left-handed hitters.

A. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, both left-handed hitters, will hit third and fourth.

B. Jimmy Rollins is a switch-hitter and can run, but isn't really a high on-base percentage guy (.296, .320, .338 and .316 in OBP from 2009 to 2012). In addition, Rollins doesn't hit that well as a right-handed hitter -- .218 last year.

C. Domonic Brown has had a great spring and the Phillies are excited about him, but he's left-handed, like Utley and Howard, and Charlie Manuel won't want to put too much on him at the outset.

D. When Michael Young is swinging the bat well, he can hit anywhere from second to sixth in a lineup. And he's having a decent spring.

E. Carlos Ruiz will open the season with a 25-game suspension, meaning that Erik Kratz will catch.

F. Ben Revere is fast and doesn't hit for power.

So if you're in Manuel's shoes, you probably start with this: Utley, Howard and Brown are going to hit third, fourth and sixth, respectively.

Then you look for the right-handed hitter who follows Howard, in the No. 5 spot, someone who can do some damage against lefties, and Young is probably that guy. If Manuel hits Rollins fifth, then he'll essentially create a string of four consecutive hitters who are more vulnerable against lefties, from Utley to Brown. You could hit John Mayberry Jr. fifth against lefties, with Young batting second, Rollins in the leadoff spot and Revere eighth.

Then you decide the best spot for Revere -- and he is a higher OBP guy than Rollins right now, and more likely to run. I'd hit him leadoff, with Rollins in the No. 2 spot. That means Mayberry probably would hit seventh when he starts against lefties, with Laynce Nix platooning against righties and Kratz eighth.

Here's the bottom line: It's a lineup that will be better against right-handers than lefties, no matter how Manuel draws it up, and it'll be important for Utley and Howard to get back to doing damage against lefties. Howard, who hit .173 against lefties last season, has come into spring training refocused on hitting the ball to left field, and that will help him against southpaws.

For the readers: How would you construct the Phillies' lineup?

More on Puig

Wrote here yesterday about how Yasiel Puig had a higher batting average than on-base percentage in spring training -- because he had no walks, and a sacrifice fly -- and so in preparing for Monday's podcast about Puig, Jayson Stark looked up the history of players accomplishing that rare feat in the regular season and discovered this: Billy Beane, the lord of Moneyball and advocate of on-base percentage, is one of the few. In 1989, he batted .241, with a .238 OBP.

"I am reformed," Beane said Monday, laughing. "Do as I say, not as I do."

Ticket dirt

From Chris Matcovich of TiqIQ.com, some interesting ticket data points regarding the secondary ticket market for this upcoming season (all numbers are as of Monday morning).

• The two teams who broke from the StubHub deal, the Yankees and Angels, have seen 11.06 percent and 34.23 percent increases respectively.

• Although Red Sox tickets are down 21.43 percent from last season at this time, Fenway Park hosts six of the top 10 highest-priced games currently.

• The highest premium for an Opening Day game is 216.48 percent for the Giants compared with their season average ticket price

• The American League has the highest average ticket price at $84.44; the AL East is the highest priced division at $94.22, while the NL Central is the cheapest division at $73.56

• Year-over-year MLB ticket prices are up 5.87 percent ($75.08 vs. $79.49).

Teams with top five average price

1. Red Sox: $118.72

2. Tigers: $111.72

3. Blue Jays: $100.99

4. Yankees: $100.19

5. Cubs: $98.58

Teams with lowest average price

1. Brewers: $57.74

2. Rockies: $59.00

3. Braves: $60.90

4. Marlins: $62.48

5. Royals: $63.47

Highest priced Opening Day tickets

1. Giants: $254.04

2. Orioles: $237.24

3. Red Sox: $230.69

4. Yankees: $216.88

5. Tigers: $202.84

Largest percent increase from 2012

1. Tigers: 69.68

2. Dodgers: 45.04

3. Astros: 42.95

4. Pirates: 40.83

5. Padres: 36.51

Largest percent decrease from 2012

1. A's: 29.38

2. Red Sox: 21.43

3. Marlins: 18.56

4. Braves: 17.27

5. Phillies: 16.08

Five most expensive games

1. Sept. 26, Rays at Yankees: $411.56

2. April 5, Cardinals at Giants: $254.04

3. Aug. 17, Yankees at Red Sox: $248.93

4. July 19, Yankees at Red Sox: $244.35

5. Aug. 16, Yankees at Red Sox: $241

Hicks and service time

Aaron Hicks won the Twins' center field job. From Mike Berardino's story:

By starting Hicks' service time "clock" now, the Twins could cost themselves additional millions through salary arbitration as soon as 2016 and could allow Hicks to reach free agency one year sooner (after 2018) than he otherwise might.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan seemed to take offense Monday, March 25, at this notion.

"The guy has earned it," Ryan said of the former 14th overall draft pick in 2008. "I find it almost humorous that people are talking about service time, starting the clock. We didn't trade (Denard) Span and (Ben) Revere to stall the next guy.

"I don't know in the last 20 years or however long Bill (Smith) and I have been in the general manager's job that we have put a guy back because of service time. Who have we done that to? I don't recall it."

In my opinion: The question of when to start service time is just part of the business. If Hicks has a down year in 2016, he won't think it's wrong to take a raise through arbitration. No, he would make what the parameters of the business, shaped by the collective bargaining agreement, allow him to make.

When the Rays hold a prospect down in the minor leagues to ensure the timing of his service-time clock maximizes his value, that's not personal; that's a company doing what it believes to give itself the best chance for success.

Along the same lines: Tim Britton writes that sending Jackie Bradley Jr. to the minors at the start of the season is a smart move. I agree completely.

With Bradley in limbo, Ryan Sweeney is in a tough spot.

Chavez on Mo

From Charlie Moynihan, producer at ESPN: "I interviewed Eric Chavez at Diamondbacks camp. As a former teammate of Mariano Rivera and someone who faced him many times when he was with Oakland, Chavez knows the Yankees' reliever very well. Below is a phenomenal quote Chavez gave me on camera, and I thought your blog readers might appreciate it. Chavez said:

"'Being able to throw one pitch [cutter] his whole career and dominate the league is a feat we will probably never see in the game again. To me, it is the single greatest accomplishment in sports. What he did over a period of time with just one pitch is pretty amazing.'"

The fight for jobs

1. As expected, Scott Kazmir was named the No. 5 starter with the Indians. He had been throwing great all spring.

2. Shelby Miller is the No. 5 starter for the Cardinals.

3. Edinson Volquez will be the Opening Day starter for the Padres.

4. The Angels have a few decisions remaining.

5. Brandon Maurer has had a great spring, and appears to have won a job in the Seattle rotation.

6. Steve Clevenger is going all out to make the Cubs.

7. The Twins cut Drew Butera.

8. The Rockies sent Drew Pomeranz to the minors.

9. Evan Gattis appears to be the backup catcher for the Braves.

10. Jeff Baker made the Rangers' roster.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Chris Young opted out of his deal with the Nationals. Which makes sense, because he's nearing the end of his career and he wants to pitch in the big leagues.

2. The Rockies may trade catcher Ramon Hernandez soon, Troy Renck writes within these notes.

3. Within these Derrick Goold notes, there is word that Matt Adams will start the year in the big leagues and that Michael Wacha is being assigned to Triple-A.

4. The Tigers traded catcher Curt Casali to the Rays to keep a pitcher they like.

5. The Royals cut two veterans.

6. Laynce Nix is in the outfield mix for the Phillies, but Charlie Manuel described what he's really looking for: Someone who gets hot.

7. Chien-Ming Wang is back with the Yankees and happy about it, writes Erik Boland.

8. The Orioles traded for another pitcher, writes Roch Kubatko.

9. Placido Polanco is doing something for the first time: Batting cleanup.

10. The Marlins are signing Matt Diaz, as Juan Rodriguez writes.

11. Hiroyuki Nakajima may start the year in the minors, writes John Shea.

12. Scouts watched Chris Capuano throw.

Dings and dents

1. David Freese got an injection in his sore back.

2. Brett Lawrie is going to miss the start of the season.

3. Wilson Betemit appeared to suffer a significant knee injury.

4. Henry Rodriguez was cleared to pitch.

5. Jesse Crain is facing some final exams.

6. Bronson Arroyo escaped injury, and his manager called it a miracle.

7. Derek Jeter is being reevaluated today.

8. Alex Rodriguez is on the mend, Page Six reports.

9. The Diamondbacks will soon have to decide what to do with Cody Ross, writes Steve Gilbert.

10. Shaun Marcum is hurt again, as Andy Martino writes.

Monday's games

1. Homer Bailey was hit hard.

2. Brett Myers was hit hard again.

3. Mike Minor had a bad day.

4. Matt Moore's command continues to be an issue.

NL East

• A scout on the swing of Bryce Harper, who has been wrecking baseballs this spring: "Controlled violence."

• I've heard Pedro Feliciano is throwing at 82-83 mph, so little wonder the Mets want him to work on his velocity in the minors.

NL Central

Alfonso Soriano might be indispensable to the Cubs, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

• The Pirates won't have good weather at the start of the season, it appears.

• Baseball is fun again for Pedro Alvarez.

NL West

Wilin Rosario has evolved into a big-time power hitter.

• Colorado is a place that makes a riddle out of pitching, writes Tyler Kepner.

• Zack Greinke struggled in his return to the mound, but appeared healthy.

• Yasiel Puig's stay with the Dodgers won't be long, writes Dylan Hernandez.

AL East

J.P. Arencibia has convinced his manager he can catch the knuckleball.

Brandon Gomes has a future in the Rays' bullpen.

• Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos spoke with Richard Griffin.

• For Mike Napoli, it's all systems go, writes Scott Lauber.

AL Central

Billy Butler offers a constant for the Royals, writes Bob Dutton: He can hit.

AL West

• The return of Derek Holland's changeup could be big for the Rangers.

Aaron Hill gives back.

• The Astros are getting close to settling their roster.

Other stuff

• Nolan Ryan sounds very much like a man saying his goodbyes, writes Kirk Bohls.

Bo Porter remains upbeat this spring, writes Amanda Comak.

• Read this story about a Lenny Dykstra-related book at your own peril.

• If you need to recover from that Dykstra story, read this, about a couple of Dunstons.

And today will be better than yesterday.