Friends, family, coworkers, h8ers (do I have those yet?), and most importantly: friends of the Curd- welcome to season three of the Sunday Cycle! After some drawn out contract negotiating over the winter, I’m excited to be back writing for the curd. I’m even more excited to be cruising around Milwaukee with my brand new vanity plate- after the past two seasons of writing about Brewers baseball, I felt I deserved it.
To those who have read the Sunday Cycle in the past, I appreciate you coming back and look forward to incrementally seeing your viewership decline as the season goes by. All jokes aside, I appreciate every one of you who clicks through to my article week after week. I especially like when you come up to me at bars and introduce yourself. There may only be 40-50 of you, but you make me feel like a rock star.
To those unfamiliar with the Sunday Cycle, I’m excited to have some new eyes on my random musings as we grind through the 2016 MLB regular season together. My weekly comments about the Milwaukee Brewers tend to be less about what the numbers are saying, and more about what I’m seeing, thinking, and feeling about our local baseball team. Instead of pretending to have a full grasp of the ins and outs of Brewers organization, I’m more interested in sharing the millennial-minded thoughts of someone who’s too obsessed with the game of baseball to realize that a lifetime of devotion to the Milwaukee Brewers will almost certainly bring more sorrow than joy.
In order to get a proper sense for my thoughts on the current state of affairs with the Brewers, I’d encourage everyone to read the off-season post I drew up back in January (and I don’t just say that to boost my numbers). To summarize: the Brewers are bad, and are getting worse, but it’s really the only way forward that makes sense at this point.
It’s no secret that the Brewers are in full on rebuilding mode. I’ve really appreciated the job that David Stearns has done in his first offseason as general manager. I firmly believe that the best thing the Brewers can do as an organization is just to be honest with the fan base about what’s going on at Miller Park. This team cannot compete for a playoff spot this year- it’s as close to a statistical guarantee as one can get in professional sports. The Brewers will likely be battling all year to stay out of last place in the Major Leagues, and I’m fine with that, so long as I don’t have an owner, GM, and skipper telling me that this team was trying to compete for a championship.
If you haven’t been able to keep up with moves the Brewers have made over the offseason, I can’t blame you. “Dealing Dave” Stearns completed NINE trades, acquiring 16 players in those transactions and offloading a TON of cash from the Brewers current payroll, which ranks dead last in the Majors at $62.5 mm. To put that into perspective, that is less money than the Yankees, Dodgers, Nationals, Cubs, Tigers, Red Sox, and Giants are spending on their pitching staffs alone. Stearns has been able to acquire quite a bit of young talent in these transactions, but it’s talent that won’t be ready for the major league level for some time. The response from writers who get paid to talk baseball has been overwhelmingly positive- the Brewers are now unanimously ranked in the top 5-10 farm systems in all of baseball. Fangraphs KATOH system (no idea) ranked the Brewers farm system as the best in baseball, and it wasn’t even close. That number one ranking comes just one year after ranking the Brewers 28th using the same data and analytical approach.
So while the future (in theory) has never been brighter for the Brewers, we must now address the elephant in the room: tomorrow is Opening Day, and the Brewers are going to be out of the playoff race by late April. I’m no pessimist, and there is quite literally nothing in the world I would enjoy more than people throwing these comments in my face in October as we drink Miller Lite and watch a Brewers World Series run, but I just don’t see it happening this year. All that aside, tomorrow is still the start of the baseball season, one of my favorite days of the year, and I just wouldn’t feel right filling the minds of my readers with all this negativity before the first pitch has even been thrown. So in the spirit of season three, here are the top three things I’m looking forward to this season:
Watching Jonathan Lucroy try to play his way out of Milwaukee in April
This one has a bit of a back story brewing. Jonathan Lucroy has been quite vocal about his desire to play for a contender, even going so far as to sell his family’s home this offseason in preparation for the move. And yet, Opening Day is upon us and the 29-year-old is still very much a Milwaukee Brewer.
Regardless of how disgruntled Lucroy may be about being in Milwaukee, I’m pretty sure every MLB club has heard the same message from David Stearns when they’ve called to inquire about Lucroy: be prepared to pay up. Lucroy is Milwaukee’s biggest remaining asset as far as player talent is concerned. He’s still relatively young, he’s cheap (at least for the remainder of this year), and his .282 career batting average would be an upgrade at the catching position for most clubs, not to mention he is one of the best defensive catchers in the league.
Make no mistake, David Stearns is demanding a king’s ransom for Lucroy. He has reportedly already turned down several offers from various clubs for the catcher, and is banking on Lucroy’s ability to play at a high level right out of the gates. Stearns is hoping that while Lucroy is playing well in Milwaukee, other clubs will need to fill a void in the catcher position in order to make a playoff run, whether due to lack of talent, or because of an unexpected injury.
Lucroy will be traded this year, it’s almost a guarantee. The question is how big will the haul be that the Brewers get in return for him? The better Lucroy plays, the quicker the trade will happen and the bigger the win will be for Milwaukee. If he has a disappointing April, or God forbid gets hurt, Stearns will likely regret his decision to hold on for so long. As I stated before, Lucroy is the biggest chip the Brewers have, so I’m all in for watching them take a gamble here.
Watching young players get a chance to shine
Whether you’re at the ball park tomorrow, or you have to wait until Tuesday evening to watch from home, I will promise you this: you’re probably not going to have any idea who most of these players are. The Brewers return a total of three starters from last year, and will fill the lineup card with aging veteran players and rookies that are probably not quite ready for the big leagues. There are a total of seven players on the Brewers 25-man roster making their Opening Day debuts, two of whom are in the starting lineup (Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana).
Throughout the offseason, I’ve read a couple articles about how managers will often operate differently during rebuilding years than they would with a veteran team chasing a pennant. The theory is that if the Brewers are destined to lose 90 games anyways, then they might as well lost 95 while forcing younger players into high pressure situations to get them used to playing in the big leaugues when the game is on the line. This means younger pitchers stretching their pitch counts to throw deeper in close games. It means not pinch hitting for a young player who is struggling at the plate, even if there are runners in scoring position in the bottom of the ninth of a one-run game. I agree with the logic- if the Brewers really are going to lose 90 games, what’s another five games if could pay dividends in future seasons.
What I’m genuinely looking forward to are those rare moments of greatness when the young players actually come through. It’s not always going to happen, but when it does, you’re going to see some fired up Brewers in the dugout pulling for their young teammates. Finding a way to get some emotional victories while still losing ball games will be Craig Counsell’s biggest challenge as a manager of a team in the middle of a rebuild. Nobody likes losing, especially not professional athletes, but if you can rally the young guys during moments of success that hopefully become more frequent as the season wears on, you may see a core of talented young Brewers start to develop towards the end of the year. Hopefully with that core of talent comes some personalities that start to take root in the heart of Brewers fans, giving us a vision for what could be before we head into the second winter of the rebuilding process.
Seeing just how good the Brewers marketing and ticket departments really are
The Brewers PR department was forced to work harder than expected this offseason as “Hank-gate” rattled Brewers Nation and garnered national attention for all the wrong reasons. While many are still not convinced, the Brewers seem to have moved on from the scandal-that-never-was and will now face their biggest business battle in quite some time: selling tickets to the worst show in the major leagues.
The Brewers will play 81 games at Miller Park this season and will likely be more than 5 games out of first place for more than 70 of them. While there will be those token moments of greatness I spoke about in my previous point, they are still going to be few and far between. Bad teams don’t get to 90 losses by dropping nail biters in the ninth inning; most of these games are going to be decided by four or more runs, and many of them will be decided early. Not even baseball purists can tell me they get enjoyment watching their teams grind out a 6-0 loss over the course of three hours.
Losing baseball sucks. It’s boring, it’s long, it’s drawn out, and it’s impossible not to notice the expressions of the players out on the field who are thinking the same thing the fans are: “oh no, not again”. But baseball is a business, and the show must go on, so look for the Brewers to go to the offensive to put butts in the seats as the summer drags on.
Mark Attanasio has shown in the past that he is not afraid to go to the extreme to get fans to Miller Park. Remember two years ago when everyone was given a $10 gift certificate the second they walked through the ticket gates? That was awesome. Something as simple as a free beer boosted ticket sales that August by tens of thousands of people. Look for similar promotions this year. Could this mean the return of dollar beer night to Miller Park? It doesn’t hurt to dream, does it? I’m looking forward to seeing just how creative the Brewers marketing departments can get, and benefiting from discounted tickets and concessions to the games I would have attended regardless of the Brewers record.
As we dive into this season together, I hope many of my readers, both old and new, will turn to the Sunday Cycle for their weekly dose of Brewers rambling from an overemotional millennial Brewers fan who just wants to feel like he felt during the 2011 playoff run again. For what it’s worth, the baseball Gods could be laughing at my pessimistic tone as they prepare to tell the story of the unlikely success of the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers. After all, that’s the beauty of Opening Day- everyone is on equal terms, and everyone is in 1st place (except for the Cubs and Cardinals who are currently 0-1 lol). So raise your vintage can of Miller Lite to the sky, and let’s toast to the success of the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers- it’s finally baseball season!!
*Note- due to international travel restrictions, you’re stuck with my crazy unedited sense of grammar and punctuation until our Editor in Chief Katie returns to the US! Deal with it.