|The Brewers took out an insurance policy against the continued struggles Rickie Weeks in the form of second baseman Ray Durham, whom they acquired from the Giants for lefthander Steve Hammond and outfielder Darren Ford.|
|The Big Leaguer|
|Durham hit bottom in 2007 when he batted .218/.295/.343 in 464 at-bats as the Giants’ regular second baseman. And at age 35 his days as a useful offensive player seemed over. San Francisco, though, was on the hook for the second year of a two-year, $14.5 million deal, so Durham retained his starting status. He has rebounded this season to hit a productive .293/.385/.414 as the team’s primary second baseman—though Eugenio Velez has pushed him for playing time at various points this season. A two-time all-star and in his prime a dynamic leadoff batter, Durham ranks 15th among active players with 271 career stolen bases and 17th with 1,228 runs scored. The 36-year-old switch-hitter has batted .277/.352/.435 with 189 home runs in 7,301 career at-bats, and he’s one of the more balanced switch-hitters around. Durham hits for a bit more power as a righthanded batter (.445 to .432 slugging), but shows a better batting eye as a lefty swinger (.354 to .344 on-base percentage).|
|Ford has already been valuable to the Brewers. It was in scouting him at Chipola (Fla.) JC that they came across Mat Gamel, eventually drafting the third baseman in the fourth round of the 2005 draft while signing Ford that same year as a draft-and-follow (18th round, 2004). The 22-year-old Ford has a pair of exceptional tools and plenty of question marks. He’s one of the fastest players in the game, as he has 80 speed on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. He can go from home to first base in a blazing 3.8 seconds from the right side and is a constant threat to steal if he can get on base. Ford’s speed also carries over to center field, where he’s a plus defender, though his arm is below average.
But Ford’s bat is standing between him and a ceiling as anything more than a backup outfielder. The righthanded batter has struck out in 26 percent of his at-bats during his career, and this season he’s batting just .230/.322/.303 for high Class A Brevard County. Ford has been very productive against lefties—he’s hitting .320 (58-for-181) against them over the past two seasons, but he’s been unable to do anything against righthanders, hitting .217 (110-for-508) in two stints with the Manatees. Ford’s speed means that he will get plenty of chances, and his ability to draw walks means he still has a chance to develop into a leadoff hitter, but his ceiling is more likely as a backup outfielder.
Just two years ago, Hammond, 26, ranked as the Brewers’ No. 7 prospect. Though he didn’t have overpowering stuff, Hammond’s guile and ability to spot his fastball to all quadrants of the strike zone had worked well—he had a 2.58 ERA in his first two pro seasons, culminating in a successful stint in Double-A. But Hammond, a bargain as a $30,000 senior sign as a sixth-round pick out of Long Beach State in 2005, gained bulk in 2007 through a workout program that didn’t add any velocity, but did take away from his previously above-average command. Hammond’s below-average slider and changeup were not good enough to make up for the loss of fastball command. And his fastball now sits between 86-88 mph, where it once sat between 88-92 mph.
Hammond finally earned a ticket out of Double-A Huntsville this year, but he has struggled with Triple-A Nashville (0-4, 7.41), as he’s made it out of the fourth inning in only one of his four starts. After doing a good job of keeping the ball in the park in Double-A, Hammond has allowed six home runs in 17 innings for the Sounds, and on the year he’s a cumulative 7-8, 4.09 with 98 strikeouts and 38 walks in 106 innings. Even at his best though, Hammond lacks a plus pitch, which explains why his likely big league role if he makes it is as a reliever. That and he’s much more effective versus lefthanded batters—the Southern League version managed to hit just .185/.216/.217 in 92 at-bats.
|One can’t blame the Brewers for hedging against a Weeks turnaround at this point. In batting .216/.326/.365 this season, his bat just hasn’t shown any signs of life. Last season, a demotion to Nashville got Weeks going (he hit .273/.442/.553 in 150 at-bats from Aug. 10 through the end of the season); perhaps the presence of Durham will have a similar effect this year. If it doesn’t, Durham figures to get most of the starts at second base. And though his range at the keystone has atrophied with time, Durham would not represent much of a downgrade compared with the defensively-challenged Weeks.
In acquiring C.C. Sabathia and now Durham, the Brewers not only have improved their playoff chances this season, but they’ve also brought on two impending free agents who may yield compensation draft picks if they sign elsewhere—much like the defections of Scott Linebrink and Francisco Cordero after 2007 netted Milwaukee four extra picks in 2008. Sabathia certainly will garner Type A status, and Durham has an outside shot at Type B status—though his poor 2007 might eliminate that possibility. That, as well as salary relief, had to factor into San Francisco’s decision to trade Durham for two players who project as, at best, complementary major leaguers.