Last place: the spot currently occupied by the 4-15 Brewers in the NL Central…and all of Major League baseball. It has been an unfortunate, unforgiving, and unlucky beginning to the lengthiest season in professional sports. For the many casual fans in Milwaukee, it will be nothing more than an afterthought during the coming months while the state gears up for Packers football. However, for those of us who are emotionally tied to this team, the next couple of months are shaping up to be a frustration-filled example of how quickly a club can fall from grace. So what can we do? We can’t seem to look away from this team, but what are we looking for? What is the right move for this organization?
Nobody likes talking about losing. It’s come as no shock to me that the Sunday Cycle is experiencing it’s lowest readership numbers of all time. I get it, guys- losing sucks. So instead of recapping a week of five losses and two wins, I’m going to dive into the three ways the Brewers organization can choose to move forward and share some commentary on what I feel is the best course of action.
Option 1- Stay the Course:
Brewer’s owner Mark Attanasio flew into Milwaukee to address the team and media this week. While he didn’t hide from the disappointment of the season thus far, Attanasio gave the impression that he believed his team was in the midst of a statistical fluke. “We did a huge amount of analysis. We’ve got 25 players, virtually every one of them is an established major leaguer, and by my count all but five are below their career norms… That is not what you would expect, because the sport is so analyzable and predictable.”
To some degree, he has a point: baseball is a game of numbers. To have that many players performing poorly and so many things going wrong at once is abnormal, to say the least. You also can’t blame anyone for the injuries keeping two of last year’s All Star players out of the lineup (Lucroy and Gomez), as well as the starting 2nd baseman (Gennett).
The play has been better this week – but still not great. Prior to today, Brewers starters had accumulated four consecutive quality starts, and the bullpen carried them to a nice win this afternoon vs the Cardinals. The home runs have started to come back, with the Crew hitting six this week after going yard just three times in the first two weeks of the season. The news on Carlos Gomez has been positive and he seems to be on track to return to the team soon. Could this team dig themselves out of this hole?
Those favoring this course of action would like to see the Brewers organization stay the course. Wait for those on the DL to return to the lineup, hope for the numbers to swing in Milwaukee’s favor, and double down on the preseason promise that this team was built for a playoff run. While nine games is a substantial amount of ground to make up in a difficult division, we are just barely 10% of the way through the season, and anything can happen when a team gets hot at the right time.
Option 2- Play for “Next Year”
From all of the angry callers I’ve listened to on sports talk radio, and most of the twitter tough guys that post on social media, I get the sense that this is the most popular route the Brewers could take. In my eyes, this strategy would involve two major moves completed at different times throughout the year.
Move number one is to ship away the pending free agents. Unfortunately for the Brewers, they only have 5 players in the final years of their contracts: Kyle Lohse, Aramis Ramirez, Gerardo Parra, Neal Cotts, and Jim Henderson. Lohse can carry some real value for a team that finds themselves in need of another solid starting arm to carry them through to the playoffs. Ramirez is also a seasoned veteran that would be a valuable presence in a playoff locker room. The Brewers would have to dish them both in favor of some AAA position players with the ability to get on base. If the goal is to be competitive next year, these are the only players that would make sense to ship out of town, as they hold value elsewhere in the league.
Move number two involves Uncle Mark (Attanasio) opening up his pocketbooks big time this off-season. The Brewers need a playmaker on both sides of the ball. They haven’t had a true Ace since Grienke, and they don’t have an offensive weapon that can consistently plate runners in scoring position. To be competitive, they need both- which comes at a massive price. Of the 2016 starting pitchers that will hit the free agent market, Jordan Zimmerman, Johnny Cueto, and David Price are the names that pop out at me. As far as bats, Jason Heyward (impossible), Ian Desmond, and Alex Gordon will be at the top of everyone’s list in what is an unusual down year for free agent position players.
This course of action is founded on the premise that the Brewers are a team built for the postseason but they are just missing a couple of key pieces that will push them over the edge. If they can write off this year, sell the players they have at their disposal before July, and make a splash in free agency this off season, then in theory they should return in 2016 with a team that can make a run.
Option 3- Blow it all up.
When I say blow it all up, I’m talking about an all-in commitment to rebuilding this organization from the ground up. It’s the type of rebuilding process that tests the loyalty of a fan base, and in my opinion, it’s the approach the Brewers need to take.
In 46 years as a franchise, the Brewers have been to the playoffs just FOUR times. They have just one division crown since 1982, the only year they have ever been to the World Series. It’s borderline absurd that this franchise, which has had so little success in nearly a half a century, was ranked 8th overall for attendance last year.
They need to blow it up and build an organization that will be able to return to the playoffs year after year, not just once every decade. To do that, though, takes time. It takes patience, it takes a long term vision, it takes balls. It means shipping away home town favorites like Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy in return for 18-20 year olds who are still developing. It also means recognizing that now is not the time, and young talents such as Jimmy Nelson, Khris Davis, and possibly even Jean Segura (should he keep his current form) are no longer the face of the future for our franchise, but rather valuable pieces to another team’s puzzle. It may even mean taking a massive financial hit just to rid the team of Ryan Braun’s contract.
It’s not easy to do, and it’s definitely not pretty. The Chicago cubs averaged 91 losses over the past four seasons as they went through the same gut wrenching process, but look at them now. They field the youngest team in the league and have a farm system ripe with big league talent that should be able to keep them in contention for the next half decade.
It would require new management, new coaching, possibly even new organizational leadership, but it must be done. Anything short of a complete commitment to rebuilding from the ground up will result in more one year runs to the postseason followed by sub .500 seasons. The farm system needs to be replenished, the coaching needs to be shaken up, and the Brewers need to cut their losses and start over. The fans will come back when the Brewers start winning games. Until then, my friends, it’s going to be a long couple months until football season.