I still remember Jeff Suppan‘s incredible run in the 2006 playoffs for the St. Louis Cardinals. As he put the finishing touches on an incredible NLCS against the New York Mets, I remember thinking to myself, “Man, someone is going to give him way too much money for this.” I was hoping it wouldn’t be the Brewers. As it turned out, it was.
I was against the signing from the start, but I understood why it was done. The Brewers’ pitching collapsed in 2006 due to a plethora of injuries, and they were looking for guys they knew they could absolutely pencil in for 200 innings. Mark Attanasio was looking to make his first big ticket free agent signing as the new owner, and with Suppan’s stock as high as it ever was following the Cardinals’ World Series win, there weren’t many targets bigger than him at the time.
That’s fine. I can understand that. But it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to give a 32-year old coming off the biggest hot streak of his career 4 years and $42 million (read more below).
To his credit, Suppan was as good as you probably could’ve hoped in his first season with the Brewers. He threw 206 innings, saw his ERA increase from 4.12 the year before to 4.62 (probably not all that bad when you consider how bad the Brewers’ defense was), and he kept the ball in the park with a HR/9 of 0.8. Worth the salary? Not really. But he was still a decent enough mid-to-bottom of the rotation guy.
The Brewers made the playoffs the next year, and as much crap as Suppan gets from Brewers fans, it’s important to remember that the Brewers don’t make the playoffs if Suppan wasn’t as good as he was in August of that year. CC Sabathia was amazing, but with Ben Sheets‘ elbow barking for the last two months of the season, the team needed other starters to step up, and Suppan (and Dave Bush) did. Of course, the wonderful August was forgotten as soon as the Brewers made the ill-fated decision to start Suppan in Game 4 of the NLDS against Philadelphia, and he was promptly shelled. It was an odd decision to make, and one that I’m sure people will think was ordered by Attanasio for years to come. After all, the Brewers signed Suppan partially because they wanted a starter who had previous postseason experience and success.
After 2008, things went downhill in a hurry. Injuries sucked whatever effectiveness was left out of him in 2009, as his ERA ballooned to 5.29 (his ERA+ dropped to a career-low 76), his walk rate jump over 4 per 9 innings, and he was only able to pitch in 161.2 innings despite making 30 starts.
That’s why it was so infuriating when he apparently won the Spring Training competition for the 5th starter spot this year, despite being the guy who clearly performed the worst. He clearly didn’t have it anymore, the team was making stupid excuses to explain his poor play (like he didn’t have a good pillow in the spring), Ken Macha and Doug Melvin kept explaining their decision to hold onto to him by talking about his success 5 years ago, and towards the end it even looked like the shoulders of his teammates sulked when he was brought into the game. Fans knew the game was over when he was brought in, but that didn’t stop them from booing him worse than they ever booed Eric Gagne or Derrick Turnbow.
Loyalty goes a long way in making Milwaukee an organization that players actually want to play for, but the Brewers reamined loyal to a fault with Suppan. He was a great teammate, sure, and no one gave back to the Milwaukee community like he did, but like Doug Melvin said, eventually the results just aren’t there and you have to move on. Thankfully, Suppan handled the news about as well as you could probably expect him to.
Suppan was the source of so many frustrations over the past 3 1/3 seasons, but I’m thankful for what he did provide. He showed it was okay for veterans to sign with the Brewers, and he believed they were a team on the rise — forgetting for a minute how well they played in Milwaukee, do you think this team has a chance in hell of signing Mike Cameron, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Wolf, LaTroy Hawkins, or Jim Edmonds without a well-respected guy like Suppan vouching for the organization? I don’t think so. Before Suppan got to Milwaukee, the Brewers were lucky to get the likes of Jeffrey Hammonds in town. Now? The idea of playing for the Brewers isn’t completely off-limits for players, and the media doesn’t blow off reports of the Brewers pursuing free agents every offseason. That’s huge.
Am I happy this is over? Yes. Am I glad a guy lost his job? No, although he’s certainly being compensated well to not pitch for the Brewers. His career may or may not be over (hey, there are a couple teams worse off in the pitching department than the Brewers), but regardless of what the future holds, Suppan’s name is going to be remembered for a long time by Brewers fans… and so will June 7, 2010.