Over the past two seasons, the most important day of the MLB season for the Milwaukee Brewers has been July 31st. The non-waiver trade deadline presented the Brewers with an opportunity to trade the high performing players on their poorly performing roster to teams that were looking to make playoff runs. Taking advantage of the simple laws of supply and demand, and leveraging the urgency created by the July 31st cut off, the Brewers fared very well over the past two years, adding a ton of young talent to their now top ranked minor league system.
July 31st has been a very important day for the Brewers the past two years, but it also served as a depressing reminder that their teams were so far out of contention that they were willing to throw in the towel with more than two months left in the regular season. It was an indication of an organization in the midst of a rebuild- a process that is typically associated with years of losing before fans would see their misery pay dividends in the wins column.
July 31st, 2017 was supposed to be no different. The Brewers organization, in just their third year of a process that many thought would take anywhere from five to seven years, were going to take their top performers that weren’t going to be under team control for much longer and flip them for more prospects. This team, that many (myself included) expected to lose 90-100 games, was going to be left with two different types of players on their roster: developing young players that were still adjusting to the speed of the major league game, or underwhelming veterans who weren’t able to play their way out of Milwaukee. As fans, we were asked to remain patient, and were told that this year wasn’t about wins and losses, but rather the progress and development of our young prospects.
Of course, there was only one problem with all of this: the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers don’t want to rebuild; they want to win. Now.
The Brewers have remained in first place in the NL Central for the majority of the past month and a half. They’ve got a lineup that ranks among the best in the major leagues in every major hitting category despite having their former MVP and highest paid player (Ryan Braun) and last year’s team MVP (Jonathan Villar) on the DL. They’ve got a starting rotation anchored by Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson, two of the most improved starting pitchers in the game that are starting to get national attention for their sustained success this season. They’ve got an electric closer in Corey Knebel who is now just one appearance away from tying Aroldis Chapman for the most consecutive appearances in relief with a strikeout. They’re a bit streaky, which is a symptom of their youth, but they’ve proven incredibly resilient, winning games on the days following the majority of their extra inning losses. They’re young, they’re fun, and they’ve sustained their success for long enough that it can no longer be called a fluke.
There’s no denying it anymore; the Brewers are a good baseball team. Which means David Stearns has some big decisions to make over the next couple of weeks.
The Brewers desperately need bullpen help. Bullpen help is incredibly expensive at this point in the year. Just ask the Giants, who traded two of the Top 100 prospects in the MLB to acquire Will Smith from the Brewers last year. Relief pitching is also ridiculously streaky, it’s next to impossible for relievers to achieve sustained success over a long period of time. Remember Tyler Thornburg? The Brewers traded him to the Red Sox for FOUR players, including arguably their current team MVP, Travis Shaw. Thornburg was just placed on the season ending DL- he didn’t throw a pitch for the Red Sox this entire season.
If the Brewers want help, they’re going to have to pay for it. They can try to rely on their AAA talent to put the pressure on their under-performing pitchers like Oliver Drake, Carlos Torres, Jacob Barnes, Wily Peralta, etc. But that might not be enough. In fact, it’s probably more likely to fail than simply sticking with what they’ve got.
The Brewers are a good team, but if they want to be a great team that wins a division and competes for a pennant THIS YEAR, they’re going to need to part ways with some of the highly ranked prospects that they were so thrilled to acquire on July 31st over the past couple of years. That’s a tough enough pill to swallow as it is, but the stakes are even higher in my opinion. If the Brewers decide to go for it this year, think of what they’re giving up in the form of the players they won’t be trading at the end of July this year.
Eric Sogard isn’t a prospect- he’s 31 years old and batting 96 points above his .246 career average. Chase Anderson isn’t a prospect- he’s 29 with a career 4.03 ERA that’s currently 5-2 with a 2.92 ERA. Eric Thames isn’t a prospect- he’s 30, and he’s an absolute monster who likely has the attention of every team with a .500 record or better. Hernan Perez, Travis Shaw, Junior Guerra: all three are playing at the highest level they’ve performed in their careers, and all three would garner a king’s ransom in return. If the Brewers wanted to sell out, and clean house of some of the aforementioned names, they would likely be rewarded with some of the highest ranked prospects in all of baseball in return, setting themselves up for years of success if they were willing to wait a couple more years.
What David Stearns will ultimately decide to do is anyone’s guess, but I can guarantee two things. First, David Stearns going to have to decide soon. The July 31st trades are the results of long and drawn out conversations and negotiations that take place throughout the month of July. Second, and more importantly, the Brewers are not going to sit still. They’re either going to go out and try to buy bullpen help, signaling to everyone in Milwaukee that they believe they’re a playoff team in 2017, or they’re going to take some of their high performers and try to sell high to further bolster their minor league system. Sitting still with a team that’s performed this well, but has such a glaring weakness in their bullpen, would be a disaster. The worst possible move would be to keep this team, as is, and watch them fade from contention in late August because their bullpen continues to blow games. They have to do something.
This wasn’t the plan, Brewers fans, but that’s what makes this process so fun. Rest assured, every day that goes by with the Brewers in first place raises the stakes of the next six weeks for GM David Stearns. What do I think he should do?
Ask me again in a week… 🙂