For the first time this year, Brewers baseball featured more wins than losses in a week. Craig Counsell posted a 4-3 record in his first two series ever as a manager. While there was no shortage of story lines to dive into over this past week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t dive deep into the decision to part ways with Ron Roenicke and what it means moving forward for this organization.
Approximately 45 seconds after posting last week’s Sunday Cycle, my Sunday night’s work was quickly cast into irrelevancy as my phone lit up with the news of Ron Roenicke’s firing. It was a move that many suspected as imminent, but not after the Brewers were finally showing some signs of life, fresh off their first series victory of the season. The initial public reaction echoed that of the recently unemployed skipper himself: why now?
Upon receiving the news, Ron Roenicke told General Manager Doug Melvin, “I wish you would have fired me a week ago,” saying the timing was “terrible”. To his credit, Roenicke had a point. The Brewers had won three of four games. Carlos Gomez had just returned to the lineup from the 15-day DL, and the Brewers were 4-6 in games with Gomez in the lineup, 3-12 without him. Scooter Gennett was due back any day, and Jonathan Lucroy was progressing nicely with his broken toe. Despite all of the outrage from Brewers fans amidst the worst start in franchise history, the Brewers were just 5.5 games out of the wild card (albeit, with every team in the NL ahead of them, but I digress…). Things were finally starting to click in the Brewers locker room, so “why now”?
It’s the right question to ask, but the wrong way to ask it. Baseball is a business – and there’s no crying allowed either. Like it or not, Roenicke’s fate was likely sealed before the Brewers ever took to Wrigley field for game one against the Cubs; to change course after a two game winning streak would have been foolish. The “why now?” question I am posing is not referencing the early May timing of the move, but rather where the move falls in the rebuilding process that Mark Attanasio finally seems to be embracing.
The way I see it, there were two scenarios where the firing of Ron Roenicke would have made more sense. The first is the most obvious: after the 2014 collapse. By fielding an opening day lineup nearly identical to that of last year, it is evident that Doug Melvin and company truly believed this team had enough pieces to put together a playoff run. When a team believes they are close, but not quite a serious contender, they chase a big name, pricey free agent (see Matt Garza, circa 2014). On the flip side, teams that are still a couple years removed become sellers before the year even begins. The Brewers flirted with both options in some capacity, bringing in Adam Lind to fill the gap at first base, and sending away Yovanni Gallardo to replenish the farm system. Neither move was a “big move” by any means. The strategy jelled with what the front office continued to preach: this team was in first place for 150 days last year; they’re good enough to compete.
If you’re going to double down on the players, then something major needed to change from a coaching standpoint – you can’t just shrug off one of the worst collapses in major league history. Something bigger was going on in the clubhouse. The players looked defeated day in and out for a two month span. It brought back memories of 2013, when the Brewers went into PR mode after a major league scout was quoted saying, “There’s a lot of quit on that team”. If Craig Counsel was being groomed to replace Roenicke all along, then there was no better time to make that move than last October, giving him a full offseason to prepare for his role, and giving the Brewers a fresh face for the 2015 campaign. But they didn’t go with this route. So be it.
The second scenario of firing Roenicke, which makes more sense to me, would have been to fire Doug Melvin first. If Roenicke’s firing is truly the front office throwing up their metaphorical white flag and beginning the rebuilding process, wouldn’t the first logical move be to relieve Doug Melvin of his duties as general manager? This is a hot topic among sports fans in Milwaukee. Many believe Melvin is ultimately responsible for a farm system that has been depleted for quite some time, and a major league roster that lacks the depth necessary to win games when key players hit the DL. If Melvin is no longer capable of getting the job done as General Manager, is he really the guy you want wheeling and dealing the Brewers key trade chips come July?
If the Brewers lose more than 100 games this season, which they are currently on pace to do, there are going to be a number of trades made before the July deadline comes and goes. In my opinion, there are very few scenarios in baseball that test a general manager’s ability to scout, identify talent, and negotiate deals more than bad teams becoming sellers near the deadline. It takes a ton of skill to dismantle your team and put together a strategic vision for the future when the future is still a couple of years away. This July is going to be so critically important for this organization: it will set the foundation for a rebuilding effort that will likely span the next three to four seasons. If Doug Melvin is not the man for the job, why is Mark Attanasio allowing him to stick around and put his guys in place? Wouldn’t it be better to let a new General Manager put his plan into action instead of inheriting Melvin’s? If other managers around the league know Melvin is in the hot seat, will there be some attempt to take advantage of this at the negotiating table? Why was Ron Roenicke the first to go? Was this really his fault?
While you can disagree with me regarding Melvin’s merits as a GM (and many do), my point is that firing Roenicke when they did made little sense. They waited until the Brewers had basically played themselves out of contention, which is very hard to do in just one month. It should have happened sooner, but because it didn’t, they look even more foolish now because their team is playing decent baseball. After a miserable start to the season, firing Roenicke before Melvin sends the message that the Brewers had all of the pieces in place to contend, they just lacked the clubhouse presence necessary to motivate and lead the team on game day. That’s not the right message to send. This team is certainly better than 11-21, but they are by no means good enough to make a pennant run.
The Brewers have won seven of their last eleven and are starting to resemble a real baseball team. The more games they continue to win, the worse the front office will look when the dust settles at the end of this season. Why did it take so long to realize that Ron Roenicke wasn’t the guy to manage this group of ball players? This was Doug Melvin’s mistake, and it was a big one. Is he really the man we want in charge as the Brewers start to navigate the trade waters and right the course? It’s a very delicate and difficult situation, but the next three months are going to pave the way for the Brewers organization for the next half decade. If Mark Attanasio has already decided that Doug Melvin is not the guy, he needs to be let go now, or the Brewers will risk feeling the effects of his efforts for years to come.