Bauman: Brewers make right call on Suppan
Highly paid hurler not sharp enough to start for contender
MILWAUKEE -- This goes into the better-late-than-never category, but the Brewers are to be applauded for removing Jeff Suppan from their starting rotation.
This is essentially a mistake that the Crew has now stopped making. They're still going to be paying Suppan entirely too much -- $12.5 million this year -- but now, at least, they might not be pitching him too much.
Manager Ken Macha said Sunday that Suppan was being removed from the rotation and would be replaced in his scheduled start on Wednesday by lefty Chris Narveson.
There is no guarantee that Narveson will be the definitive answer in Milwaukee's fifth-starter spot. But he will have the virtue of not being Jeff Suppan. Since the middle of last season, continuing into this season, Suppan's starts had increasingly become the baseball equivalents of concession speeches.
In Suppan's past 18 starts, the Brewers were 5-13. They could not continue down this path while considering themselves to be a legitimate contender.
Look at all the momentum the Brewers had generated with their sweep in Pittsburgh, winning three games by a cumulative score of 36-1, administering a 20-0 drubbing of historical proportions on Thursday. All of that evaporated in minutes on Friday night when the Cubs pounced on Suppan from the jump.
"He's had two starts [this season], and neither one of them were quality," Macha said.
In those two starts Suppan had allowed nine runs on 16 hits in 9 1/3 innings.
It's all unfortunate, in part because Suppan has always been a fine and decent fellow. And he still is.
"He was extremely professional," Macha said of Suppan's reaction to the demotion to the bullpen. "He said he would help the club in any way he could."
"Baseball is a humbling game, and you can't have too big of an ego because anything can happen," Suppan said. "I've always tried to be a humble guy. That's always been the way I've lived my life. Whatever way I can help the team ... I just want to contribute to wins. If it's out of the bullpen or in the rotation, whatever."
That is a solid response to a difficult development, and it is to Suppan's credit that he can retain this perspective.
But from a pitching rather than a personal perspective, the Suppan situation in Milwaukee has been a mistake for three-plus seasons. And this year, it showed no signs of morphing into a solution. There haven't been many mistakes made by the current Brewers baseball administration, but the Suppan saga is definitely on the deficit side of the ledger.
The Brewers signed Suppan to a four-year, $42-million contract after the two most significant months of his career, September and October of 2006. Suppan was a major factor as the St. Louis Cardinals recovered from a slump and went on to win the World Series. He had a 2.15 ERA in six September starts. Then he was the MVP of the National League Championship victory over the New York Mets, giving up just one run in 15 innings.
The problem was that those two months were not representative of Suppan's career. With Milwaukee, he was what he had typically been -- a .500 pitcher with an ERA closer to 5.00 than to 4.00. And as he moved into his mid-30s, he became worse than that, compiling a 5.29 ERA in 2009.
It is not Jeff Suppan's fault that he was overpaid by the Milwaukee Brewers. It is also not his fault that above and beyond the $42 million, the Brewers will have to chip in another $2 million for a buyout at the end of the contract. He was paid more than Ben Sheets, and when you think about the relative talents of these two pitchers, that doesn't make sense. Over the four years of their respective contracts, Suppan was healthier than Sheets, thus available a larger percentage of the time. That turned out to be a mixed blessing, but the guy could not be accused of taking the money and then taking a chair.
Now, it's Narveson's turn in the rotation. He gets this shot over Manny Parra, Macha indicated, because of a strong performance last September and a strong performance in Spring Training. Narveson did not allow a run in 13 innings in Spring Training, when he, Suppan and Parra were all candidates for the final spot in the rotation. Based on the Spring Training performances, Narveson should have been the fifth starter. He would have come to the assignment on a roll. Unfortunately, Narveson has not subsequently pitched with much distinction in relief, putting up a 7.20 ERA in nine appearances.
Parra, meanwhile, has been pitching very well in relief, recording seven scoreless appearances. His 2009 numbers were even worse than Suppan's, but he clearly has the greatest potential among the trio.
"If this doesn't work out, he's liable to get the shot next," Macha said of Parra. "We're hoping that Chris goes out there and does something good. If he doesn't, we'll have to do something again."
Now that the Brewers have recovered the knack for reshaping their rotation, you imagine they will make the next move with relative rapidity. For the moment, they have done the necessary thing, made the necessary connection: Just because they have paid Jeff Suppan a lot of money -- and still owe him much more -- does not mean they have to start him every fifth game.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.