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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

May 21, 2010 at 11:22 AM

Brewers’ Trevor Hoffman dilemma mirrors Griffey’s in Seattle

hoffman.jpg

Here’s how Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel began his blog on Tuesday:

“It’s up to Trevor Hoffman now.

Hoffman has to go into manager Ken Macha’s office Wednesday and tell him to remove the 42-year-old right-hander from his role as the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer. The results demand it.

Otherwise, the pressure will be squarely on Macha to pull the plug on a future Hall of Famer closer or risk more ugly days such as Tuesday.”

Sound familiar? “The Disciples of Uecker,” a Brewers website in the mold of “USS Mariner” and “Lookout Landing,” weighed in with a post on Hoffman’s deficiencies as a pitcher and concluded, “Trevor Hoffman is no longer an asset to the Milwaukee Brewers, and the team would be best served by his retirement.

Subsitute the name Ken Griffey Jr. for Trevor Hoffman, and you have the same agonzing debate going on here about when it’s time for a Hall of Fame-caliber player to hang up his cleats. One is the active home run leader with 630 (fifth all-time), while the other is the career leader in saves with 596.

There are a couple of basic difference in the two situations, the first and most important being that fans in Milwaukee don’t have nearly the emotional investment in Hoffman as Mariners’ fans do in Griffey. Hoffman made his mark in San Diego with the Padres, but left after the 2008 season and signed with the Brewers. Griffey, of course, is the most celebrated, and probably most beloved (in close competitition with Edgar Martinez), player in Seattle franchise history.

However, the Brewers’ financial investment in Hoffman is much higher. Last year, at age 41, Hoffman was sensational for the Brewers — 46 saves in 50 opportunities, a 1.83 ERA, .183 opponents batting average). The Brewers re-signed him to a $7.5 million contract for 2010 with a mutual option for 2011 at $7 million that includes a $500,000 buyout. So they’re into him for $8 million, compared to the $2.35 million plus incentives the M’s are paying Griffey in 2010.

How bad has Hoffman been this season? He has blown five of his 10 save opportunities, most spectacularly on Tuesday, when he gave up three runs in the ninth to the Reds, failing to get a single out after inheriting a 4-2 lead. In 14 appearances, he’s allowed 21 hits plus seven walks over 13 innings, striking out just eight. His ERA is 13.15. Haudricourt writes, “Now, everybody is wondering if he has suddenly reached the end of the line with no prior warning.”

Macha’s decision after Tuesday’s debacle was to give Hoffman two days away from game action to work with pitching coach Rick Peterson. As this story explains, Peterson will try to cure some mechanical flaws the Brewers picked up from the “pitch f/x” scouting tool. Macha hasn’t said whether Hoffman will be back as the closer tonight when the Brewers face the Twins in interleague play. Carlos Villanueva handled the closing duties on Thursday and had a smooth 1-2-3 ninth to preserve a 4-3 win over the Pirates. That victory snapped a nine-game losing streak for the Brewers, whose 16-25 record is as disappointing to their fans as the Mariners’ 15-26 mark is to theirs.

My hunch is that Villanueva will remain as closer and Macha will let Hoffman try to revive himself in a setup role that’s less stressful — and less vital to the team’s success. That mirrors what the Mariners figure to keep doing with Griffey, who had his best moment of the season yesterday when he came off the bench in the ninth to beat the Blue Jays with a pinch-hit single.

I haven’t seen any indication that Griffey, despite his struggles, is going to walk away, and I’m still not sure the Mariners have the stomach to push him out. So, as with Hoffman in Milwaukee, the Mariners will keep searching for the best role to utilize him, for as long as he stays around. I think Thursday provided the optimal blueprint for a Mariner future that includes Griffey.

(Photo by Getty Images shows Hoffman after giving up a game-tying homer to the Reds on Tuesday).

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