It is July 21st and the Milwaukee Brewers are through eight games of a critical, “do or die” (to quote Francisco Rodriguez), direction-defining nine-game intradivisional stretch.
The Brewers have won four of those games and they have lost four of those games. The Brewers sit 9.5 games behind the National League Central Division-leading Cincinnati Reds, who have just taken a pair of games from the Brewers.
The narrative was stated loud and clear over the All-Star Break: Make some hay over the next nine or it’ll be time to sell. Gain some ground or start answering the phone. Win much more than you lose or prepare to be broken up.
No hay was made. No ground was gained. They simply haven’t won enough.
There are valuable, non-cornerstone pieces on this roster that can be of use to teams with achievable aspirations. It’s time for Doug Melvin to move as many of those pieces as he can while, of course, considering roster construction, salary structure, and the future.
Speaking more high-level though, there are a handful of players on the 2012 Brewers who are simply unlikely to be on the 2013 Brewers. This is mostly a list of players whose contract situations (be they pending free agency or non-tender candidacy) point to that end. If those players have value, they need to be sent to someone for something.
This list includes players such as Francisco Rodriguez, Nyjer Morgan, George Kottaras, Shaun Marcum, Travis Ishikawa, Randy Wolf, and the prize of the group: Zack Greinke.
There is a reported offer on the table from the Milwaukee Brewers to Zack Greinke right now in the ballpark of five years and roughly $110 million. Should Greinke decide to accept that offer, then clearly he won’t be getting traded. As he hasn’t done so yet, we must work under the situation as it currently stands. That being: Greinke is a pending free agent.
I’m not writing tonight to tell you who the Brewers should target or who I think they can get from various farm systems throughout baseball. I can tell you that I’ll begin to look at that information in earnest now.
What I am here to say is that it’s no longer time to stand pat and evaluate. The Brewers play another game in Cincinnati tomorrow and then have a three-game set in Philadelphia before coming home for a four-game series against the Washington Nationals. I don’t expect everyone currently on the roster to be on that flight back to General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.
I originally blogged that the decision would be coming on Monday, July 23rd. The nine-game stretch which I identified before the team publicized its importance would be over and the brass would be able to meet Sunday evening and decide.
As is often the case in the prediction business, I was off. I was off on the date, but I was also off in saying that the decision would be made by Brewers brass after some meetings. The decision was made tonight when the team on the field fell to 4-4 in this stretch.
What is left to decide though is how big of a sale to have.
The players I listed earlier all should be moved. There’s no baseball reason to keep any of them if you can get someone to give you something of value in return. The organization clearly wants to keep Miller Park as the summer-long destination for group outings, parties, and money-spending. You can do that, in a sell situation, by highlighting two things: First that this is a necessary evil to ensure success in the near future and second by providing an opportunity to still win on any given night.
Losing many valuable pieces will feel like there’s no chance of winning but Jonathan Lucroy should be back in the bigs soon (maybe even this Thursday as a target?) and they’ll still have Yovani Gallardo, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez (most likely), Norichika Aoki ,and the feel-good story of Mike Fiers. Baseball is still fun, the experience of going to a game and being in the ballpark is still enjoyable in and of itself regardless of team performance, you can still tailgate just as hard before a loss as before a victory.
But again those are impacts on the business and bottom line (which can feed into baseball decisions if there’s enough of a drop off in attendance) decisions.
From pure baseball considerations, however, how big of a sale should Melvin commit to? Because there are a couple of players who are under contract with the Brewers for (at least) 2013 which could net return for the future as well. The biggest piece in that group, to me, is Corey Hart.
Hart is only under contract for 2013 after this year. He is a capable player at the plate despite extremely streaky tendencies. He has proven himself an improbably capable defender at first base which adds to his versatility. Comparable players to Hart have gotten contracts that are extremely cost-prohibitive to a standard Brewers budget. What’s more, Corey Hart has shown zero propensity toward anything resembling a “hometown discount”. He has held out for every possible dollar throughout his arbitration years and you therefore must operate under the assumption that this trend will continue.
Hart could have a ton of value to certain teams right now. Case in point, for the sake of discussion, are the Texas Rangers. They’re set in the outfield when everyone is healthy but they haven’t exactly had a ton of production at first base. Enter Hart who has played tremendous defense and would probably hit even better inside of the Ballpark at Arlington.
It’s something that the Brewers could consider if they decide to reload toward another run in 2015, for instance. Hart would likely be gone anyway so move him early which increases the return and play for a couple of years down the road. If that’s the decision, then guys like Jose Veras (arbitration eligible in 2013 and 2014) could go and, if they decide to jettison everybody not named Braun, Gallardo, and Lucroy, Rickie Weeks (under contract through 2014) and Aramis Ramirez (signed through 2014) could be moved, though they’d be much more likely to go in the off-season or at the 2013 trade deadline. That’s because Weeks’ value is very low right now due to his incredibly slow start this season and Ramirez has two years left on his deal after this season instead of just one like Hart.
But I digress before I get too deep down the rabbit hole of possibilities tonight. For now, the initial group I listed earlier needs to moved if possible. They won’t be on the 2013 Brewers but at least they could still impact that team in a positive way if they are moved now for something that can help later. There will be time for discussions and blog posts about rumor, innuendo, discussion, scuttlebutt, conjecture, and of course wild prognostication.
Well, no more than 10 days, I suppose.
At the close of play today, Thursday, July 5th, the Milwaukee Brewers sit with a record of 38-44, 8.0 games behind the National League Central Divison-leading Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s a far cry from where the Brewers were a year ago at this time, and at times it feels like this year’s incarnation will never accomplish anything.
While this may prove to be true in the end, at least as far as a playoff participation is concerned, there is still plenty of time left this year to simply enjoy the game of baseball if nothing else.
Then again, there is still a small window of opportunity in front of the Brewers. Between now and Monday, July 23rd is a stretch of 12 regular-season games (along with the MLB All-Star break) which will decide how busy general manager Doug Melvin’s phone will be and whether he’ll be making calls or receiving them.
This stretch is singularly key to the Brewers decision-makers because all 12 games are intradivisional along with the final nine of those games coming against the three teams in front of them in the Division.
The three games prior to the break are in Houston, against an Astros team that traded off one of its only offensive pieces. Those are extremely winnable games, especially given that Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke will be pitching in the series.
The nine games immediately following the break begin with six at Miller Park (a place where the Brewers seriously need to play more consistent baseball) against the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, and then three on the road in Cincinnati against the Reds.
The Brewers trail the Cardinals by 5.5 games, the Reds by 6.5 games and, as I mentioned earlier, the Pirates by 8.0 games. So, while the Brewers would be hard-pressed to overtake any of the teams during this stretch, even should they somehow go 12-0, one can see the importance here.
Should the Brewers continue to falter and lose, the front office will be left with little choice but to sell off valuable pieces to the highest bidders. As we discussed on the podcast recorded Thursday morning (which hopefully will be posted soon), those pieces should include Shaun Marcum, George Kottaras, Nyjer Morgan, Francisco Rodriguez, Cesar Izturis, and even Zack Greinke (assuming the team is as far away on a contract offer as it appears that they are). Furthermore, should a team approach the Brewers with an acceptable offer for any expendable member of the Brewers roster, that deal should be made.
Nobody in the locker room wants the team to sell. They enjoy this group and want to maintain it, if at all possible. That just simply can’t happen if they have no chance of winning though.
Now, some may say that after the injuries to Chris Narveson, Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzalez that the team never had a chance, but that’s beside the point.
The point being: if the team can gain some significant ground on the teams ahead of them in the Division, and they do so by showing some consistent play in all facets of the game, the front office would likely try to add to the roster and make a push.
Nobody is saying that this scenario doesn’t seem like a tremendous long shot, but as of today at least its a shot that’s available to take.
Bottom line: Pay attention, Brewer Nation. A decision will be made by Monday, July 23rd as to whether this team buys or sells before the July 31st non-waiver trading deadline. Trust me, either way there will be plenty of time to make one or more deals, regardless of the direction of the roster.
Also, either way, it’ll be an exciting time to pay attention to the team. Just make sure you haven’t checked out by then.