It seems to me that the Eric Gagne contract is brought up very often when it comes to poor contracts given to relievers in the Doug Melvin era. Truly, Gagne was awful, posting a 5.44 ERA and 6.13 FIP in his 46.1 IP in 2008, and the Brewers paid him $10 million to produce at a level 1.1 wins below replacement level. However, as that was merely a one-year deal, its impact on the team in 2009 and beyond was limited, if it even existed.
Instead, I would argue that the three year, $13 million contract Doug Melvin handed to David Riske prior to the 2008 season had a far more negative impact on the Milwaukee Brewers franchise than the Eric Gagne contract did. In 2009, the Brewers paid Braden Looper $4.75 million for 195 innings of well below replacement level pitching. A glance at the 2008 list of free agents shows multiple better options who could’ve been had if the money going to Riske were available. Seriously, almost any of these players would have been a better option. Some of the more interesting targets included Brad Penny, John Garland, Randy Johnson, and although he probably still would’ve been too pricy for Milwaukee, Ryan Dempster.
I think the impact of Riske’s deal is larger for the 2010 season, as there were some higher quality starters available. The Brewers gave Doug Davis essentially the same one year contract as Braden Looper, and injuries have made it essentially a worthless deal. The target that I would’ve liked to see in Milwaukee with some extra money to spend is easily Joel Piniero. Although he’s not quite as good as he showed in St. Louis, his extreme ground ball quality and excellent control make him a well above average pitcher. Piniero’s FIP and xFIP are below 4.00 once again with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Piniero received a 2 year, 16 million dollar contract, one that you have to think would be possible with the money paid to Riske off the books. Other options included Brad Penny (again) and Rich Harden, although neither of those two have performed well this year, whether it’s due to injuries or simply poor pitching.
Basically, the Riske deal has hamstrung Brewers management in Free Agency for two straight offseasons. Perhaps, with his deal and various other toxic deals off the books, the Doug Davises and Braden Loopers can turn into Joel Pinieros, and the Brewers could actually have a respectable starting rotation in 2011. Right now, though, we see the impact of poorly spent relief dollars over a long period of time. Nobody will miss David Riske, and although his time in Milwaukee wasn’t terribly visible, it was clearly a poison to this organization.