After this upcoming Thursday’s game against the Reds, the Milwaukee Brewers will officially cross the halfway point of the grueling 162-game MLB regular season. As it stands today, the Brewers have been in 1st place of the NL Central for exactly a month.
Take a moment to let that settle in.
Really, I mean it. Actually take a minute to consider just how unlikely the Brewers’ run atop the NL Central has been. Vegas had the odds of a Brew Crew World Series win at 300:1 before Opening Day. ESPN had the Brewers ranked 25th in their pre-season power rankings, with their “Best Case Scenario” involving their young prospects “generating excitement for the future”. Heck, the team’s owner all but threw the towel in on 2017 before spring training, claiming he’s “probably the least concerned about wins right now” before noting that there would eventually come a time when he would be “very concerned about wins” again (phew!). It’s been one of the most improbable Cinderella stories in all of baseball thus far, and it’s been an absolute blast to watch it all play out. But as the Brewers enter the final week of June with a growing amount of attention being paid to their team, one thing is for certain…
It’s decision making time for David Stearns.
I’ve been asked by a number of friends and family members what I think the Brewers should do, and honestly my answer varies by the day. To this point, the only thing I’ve been able to confidently take a stance on is my belief that they shouldn’t do nothing. They can’t just let July pass without making at least a couple of transactions at the deadline; they have to make a choice. Are the Brewers going to be buyers or sellers this July?
I spend far too much mental bandwidth debating this topic internally. So in an effort to finally get my thoughts on paper, I’m going to outline what I believe are the three most important things that the Brewers organization needs to take into consideration before deciding how to approach their decision making this July, and whether those considerations skew in favor of going for it in 2017, or building for the future.
Help is on the way.
The Brewers haven’t exactly played stellar baseball as of late, going 9-8 over their past five series, but they’ve been able to “stop the bleeding” quickly when they’ve lost consecutive games, as evidenced by their 7-0 blowout of the Braves this afternoon. But give Craig Counsell and the Brewers some credit, they’ve been without two key players and had a couple more that needed single days off for various bumps and bruises sustained on the diamond. This week, they’ll get Jonathan Villar and Ryan Braun back, after both completed successful (and entertaining) rehab assignments for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. The Brewers also made a somewhat surprising move this afternoon that I loved, claiming veteran catcher Stephen Vogt off waivers and optioning the struggling Jett Bandy to triple A. I like Bandy, but he was struggling mightily, going 2 for his last 43 at the plate. This move, like many others the Brewers have made this year, reaffirms a culture of accountability in the clubhouse.
The Brewers haven’t really gone on a big run yet, and with reinforcements on the way and nine straight games against opponents below .500 coming up, this could be their chance to try to create some distance between themselves and the Cubs before the All Star Break. This should give Stearns every reason to believe the Brewers could remain in 1st place through the mid-summer classic.
They might not need as much outside help as we originally thought.
I don’t think the Brewers need to “mortgage the future” in an all or nothing type July. First, they’re likely going to need two or three more serviceable relievers, but they can almost certainly turn to their 1st place AAA affiliates in Colorado Springs for one or two of them. The Josh Hader experiment, thus far, has been an incredible success. He’s got a 0.00 ERA in five appearances, pitching in four games before he even allowed a hit. He’s given up six walks, but has had the composure to pitch out of some high stress situations without yielding a run. Remember Wei-Chung Wang, the rule five pick that may have cost the Brewers a chance at the playoffs in 2014 (by no fault of his own)? He’s got a 2.12 ERA in 28 games with 25 strikeouts. It would be foolish to make any sort of move for a reliever before giving Wang a chance to return to the big leagues.
The Brewers are also going to need another starting pitcher, and it’s going to take a couple of top 10 prospects to get someone good at the deadline. The Brewers have more talent at the AAA level than they have spots on their MLB roster, particularly outfielders. This isn’t an all or nothing proposition. If the Brewers traded, for example, the recently drafted Corey Ray (ranked 2nd in the Brewers system), they’ve still got Lewis Brinson (1), Trent Clark (6), and Brett Phillips (10) in their top 10. Two of those three are in AAA- where are you going to put them if the Brewers’ current outfield is producing?
The point is, the Brewers system is so stacked right now with real talent knocking on the MLB door that I don’t think they’d have to “go all in” to make a run at the postseason. It might only take two transactions involving 1-2 prospects a piece to get them what they need to make a push for the playoffs.
We deserve this.
Similar to what I tell myself before ordering that Triple Chocolate Meltdown at Applebee’s after a really long day at work, we deserve this. We’ve suffered long enough. We are one of eight teams in the MLB without a World Series, with our only appearance 35 years ago. In my lifetime, the Brewers have made the playoffs just twice. TWICE!
If the Brewers have a legitimate chance to make a run at the Postseason, and they don’t have to give up the farm to get there, then they should have a go at it. Can you imagine the reaction from fans if the Brewers traded Eric Sogard or Travis Shaw while they were in first place? There would be outrage, and for good reason!
Instead of comparing this rebuild to that of the Chicago Cubs, look at it from the perspective of David Stearn’s former employer: the Houston Astros. The Astros ended a ten year postseason drought in 2015 after years of losing baseball. They made a couple of moves to try to contend in 2015, but leveraged their stacked minor league system to stay relevant after a down year in 2016. The result? They’re by far the best team in baseball in 2017 at 52-25.
David Stearns preaches that his goal is to build an organization that can contend on an annual basis. Perhaps we don’t need to be miserable for years and years to make that happen. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve lost all sense of patience and am officially all-in emotionally on the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers. Am I setting myself for heartbreak? Probably. But would I have it any other way? No. I’m not going to sit here and pretend I want this team to take a step back after working hard to stay atop the division for this long. I can’t do it, and I won’t.
Go Brewers… bring on the October baseball.