When the Brewers organization decided to part ways with Ron Roenicke last April, they introduced first-year manager Craig Counsell as the new face of an organization that was going to hold its players, coaches, and staff accountable. It was a message straight out of the “franchise in distress” playbook, and Counsell was tasked with creating an environment where players were held to high standards, with consequences when they failed to meet them. Like anything in life, accountability is a practice that is much easier said than done, especially when you’re dealing with eight figure contracts, and major league egos.
Two weeks after his introductory press conference, Counsell made good on his word by sending Scooter Gennett down to the minor leagues. Gennett was batting .154 with a .203 OBP at the time, and although he had been publicly introduced as the Brewers’ every day second baseman, he was sent to Colorado Springs with a simple message: earn your way back. Scooter did just that. Through the ups and downs of the Brewers disappointing season, Gennett has batted .303 since being recalled from Triple A, and ranks second among all NL second baseman in batting average during that time period.
As the season dragged on, the trade deadline came and passed, and the Brewers continued to lose. Kyle Lohse became the next victim of Counsell’s accountability campaign. Lohse didn’t exactly have a case to make against the move; he ranked dead last among major league starting pitchers in ERA and home runs allowed. With one small press release, the Brewers moved their veteran starter and his 11 million dollar contract out to the left field bullpen, and the accountability train rolled on. Both Gennett and Lohse accepted the moves without a ton of public fanfare. Each move made numerical sense, and nobody was surprised when they were announced.
While nobody in the organization wanted to lose, this season was a lost cause so early in the year that establishing accountability needed to take precedence over the wins and losses. Almost all of Brewers starters are under contract through next year, so if they were out of the playoff hunt, it stands to reason that the organization would at least use the time to try to change the tone of the locker room.
Things got a little, erm, messier this weekend as the Brewers informed Matt Garza that they were shutting him down. Garza stands to be the highest paid member of the Brewers next year as he’s set to earn $12.5 million dollars. He’s also not one to hide his words, and he was quite vocal about his thoughts on the situation. While he accepted responsibility for the worst season in his career, he also made it clear he didn’t think he deserved to be shut down. He declined an offer to pitch in the bullpen, and cryptically expressed his current thoughts towards the Brewers organization saying “They do things differently here, I don’t know. But I’ll be here for the next two-three years, so it is what it is.”
That doesn’t sound like the words of a seasoned veteran who understands that part of the reason his team finds themselves in last place is because he has failed to put them into a position to win ball games. To me, it sounds like a spoiled teenager whose pissed off that his parents grounded him for drinking after the prom. I understand that these guys are some of the most competitive people on earth, and that Garza is obviously frustrated with his removal from the starting rotation. What I’m struggling to understand, however, is how a player can be so publicly unaccountable for their personal performance.
Credit the Brewers for making the moves and sticking to their guns. Accountability isn’t always as simple as moving a player batting .124 down to the minors for three weeks. Sometimes it takes something like removing Matt Garza from the rotation to send a message to every player in the organization that poor performance isn’t going to cut it in this town any longer. Now that the Brewers are finally starting to replenish their farm system, there are a growing number of high performing prospects that deserve a chance to do what Garza has been unable to do for much of this year: win ball games. With less than a month remaining in the season and the Brewers playing decent baseball for the first time all year, it was nice to see the Brewers continue to practice what they preach to try to salvage some sense of momentum going into the off season.
I don’t know what kind of guy Matt Garza is, or what his work ethic is like off the field. What I do know is that he is a major league ball player that has had a tremendous amount of success over his career. While he’s upset now, time heals all wounds, and I believe that this may be exactly the type of motivation a player like Garza needs to work tirelessly during the off season to return to form. The Brewers have made it quite clear that Garza will be a pivotal part of their 2016 starting rotation; how he responds to this setback is yet to be seen. As Craig Counsell is starting to see, holding players accountable can get uncomfortable at times, but it’s the type of message that this franchise needs to get through to its players if they ever want to bring a World Series back to Milwaukee.