TheSundayCycle 414pxIn the midst of the worst start in team history, the Brewers showed some minor signs of improvement this week, winning their first series of the season against the Cubs at Wrigley field. While they are currently riding their first two-game winning streak of the year, there have been some encouraging signs that seemed to hint at the Crew starting to figure some things out.

Let’s start with the pitching staff. After posting a 6.21 ERA through the first 14 games, the pitching staff has nearly cut that figure in half the past eleven games with an ERA of 3.28. While a 5-16 record for the starting rotation isn’t pretty, they’re riding a nice streak of four consecutive quality starts. Mike Fiers struck out twelve Saturday and got his first win of the year – showing what a nasty pitcher he can be when his command is on. Wily Peralta pitched an absolute gem Friday night against the Cubs in a 1-0 loss.

Even the bullpen has started to recover from their early season woes. Jeremy Jeffress, who struggled with his command in April, walked just one batter in his past six appearances en route to a 2.84 ERA. Francisco Rodriguez pitched a couple of scoreless frames this week, one of which earned him a save in this afternoon’s win against the Cubs.

Another key piece to the Brewers moderate success was the home run ball. The Crew launched eight home runs in six games this past week, including four from everyone’s favorite former MVP, Ryan Braun. Braun’s success at the plate is absolutely critical for this team, but not necessarily because it will help them win games this year.

Because the Brewers have dug themselves such an incredibly deep hole so early in the season, a 3-3 week does not change the fact that the 2015 playoffs are likely out of reach for this team. Last week, I outlined my opinion that the organization needs to cut their losses, strip the team, become sellers, and start the lengthy and painful process of trying to grow an organization into a playoff contender. Doug Melvin had some encouraging words for fans of this course of action this week, using the words “retool” and “regroup”, when everyone knew the word he wanted to use, but refused to say: “rebuild”. If the Crew is going to successfully navigate the rebuilding waters, the most important piece of the puzzle is ridding themselves of Ryan Braun’s contract.

Braun is due $100 million dollars over the next five years, which is just an absurd amount of money for someone who hit .266 in his first year back to baseball after his suspension for PEDs. If you think the Brewers will simply be able to trade Braun away to someone for minor league prospects, you are gravely mistaken. Even if Braun hit above .300 this year, the PR nightmare combined with Braun’s injury history is going to make it very difficult for the Brewers to find a willing buyer for their former MVP.

The one option the Brewers do have with Braun is to cut their losses and eat up a significant chunk of his contract in order to ship him out of town – a write off, of sorts. I’d estimate that with five years remaining in his deal, it would take about $50 million dollars in order to do this. How does one pull $50 million dollars out of thin air? By sending away expensive veterans, calling up minor leaguers who aren’t big league ready, and letting the Brewers suck for the next two years. The Astros did it, and now they’re riding a 10 game winning streak that has them seven games up in the AL West; these are the same Houston Astros that had three consecutive 100+ loss seasons from 2011 – 2013. They kept their payroll low, they waited out their prospects, and now they’re in a salary cap position where they can add some tools before the trade deadline and make a run at the postseason.

The combined salaries of Kyle Lohse ($11 million + $7 million in deferred payments from 2016 – 2018), Matt Garza ($12.5 million over the next three years), Gerrardo Parra ($6.4 million), Adam Lind ($7.5 million this year, $8.5 million next year), and *gut check* Carlos Gomez ($8 million this year, $9 million next year) would be enough to soften the blow of eating up some of Braun’s contract. All of these players are veteran players that have enough experience to fill voids left by injuries on playoff bound teams. The better Braun continues to play, the less money the Brewers will potentially have to pay another organization to bite on his contract.

Maybe it’s built up frustration over how the PED saga concluded, or perhaps it’s because I just flat out don’t like the guy, but I don’t think the Brewers can truly begin the rebuilding process until they move on from Ryan Braun.  Rumor has it that the Crew is putting word out that their veterans are available, which should come as no surprise with their 7-18 record. While you would like to get some promising young prospects in return for veterans like Gomez and Garza, the financial benefit of cutting those contracts from the payroll will give the organization the wiggle room necessary to ship Braun out of town once and for all. Until that point, there is no single player on this team whose success is more important to the rebuilding process than Braun’s.

Then again, if the Brewers beat Clayton Kershaw tomorrow and win five of seven next week, I will inevitably change my tone and start crunching the numbers on a potential playoff run. Unfortunately for me, even when times are historically bad, I can’t stop being a delusional fan.

NOTE: Salary information courtesy of Roto World: http://www.rotoworld.com/teams/contracts/mlb/mlw/.