It’s hard to believe that we’re already 20% of the way through the 2017 MLB Regular Season. The Brewers went 3-3 during a rainy road trip to St. Louis and Pittsburgh and remain right in the thick of the NL Central race, where all five teams are within three games of the 1st place Cincinnati Reds (seriously?).
Before we know it, the All-Star break and the trade deadline are going to be right around the corner, and if the winning ways continue through May and into June, the Brewer’s front office is going to have some major decisions to make regarding the timeline of this rebuild and direction of this organization. It’s unlikely that the Brewers simply sit and do nothing- there’s too much talent on this team on club-friendly contracts. As such, they’re either going to be major sellers, similar to last year’s deadline moves that earned GM David Stearns the nickname of “Dealin’ Dave”, or they’re going to abruptly change course and make a run for October. Let’s take a look at both scenarios, what roster changes would potentially occur, and the costs and benefits of both routes. Spoiler Alert: I’m Hungover.
Brewers go all-in on 2017
How we would get there: The Brewers have 18 series between now and the All-Star game. If they win twelve or more of those, and avoid getting swept more than once or twice, they’re going to start to create some separation between them and at least half of the five NL Central teams. For the Brewers to consider making a run, they’d have to have a record better than 40-35 at the break.
What would it mean for 2017: The Brewers have one of the highest ranked farm systems in all of baseball. They also had the lowest Opening Day payroll in the majors at $63,061,300. Using cash and prospects that most people didn’t even know were in the Brewers system, the Brewers would likely try to bring a true ace starting pitcher to Milwaukee, similar to the CC Sabathia and Zach Greinke trades of the past. They would then turn their attention to trading for solid relief pitchers on bad teams, sending mid-level prospects in exchange for relievers like Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith, to put it in Brewers terms. When all is said and done, I’d expect the Brewers to make their playoff push with 3-4 new pitchers before the end of July.
Pros vs. Cons: Obviously, this is the only scenario that results in the Brewers playing playoff baseball in October. If it works, David Stearns looks like an absolute genius, turning a lackluster organization into a playoff contender in less than two full years. It would be unbelievably fun to watch playoff baseball, but at what cost? If the Brewers take this approach, it HAS to work, or we’re going to be sitting around on Opening Day 2018 with the memory of the expensive pitchers we traded for but couldn’t afford to sign long term (Sabathia) while we watch the top ranked prospects we traded away develop into All-Stars over the next five years (Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar). If it doesn’t work, it will cost the Brewers time as they try to replenish the farm system with the prospects they lost, and it will cost GM David Stearns credibility with owner Mark Attanasio and the fans in Milwaukee.
Brewers double down on rebuilding for the future
How we would get there: If the Brewers’ bats cool down (like they did for the majority of this past week), and the pitching doesn’t improve, the Brewers are going to start losing games in bunches. A couple of 3-5 game losing streaks paired with the inability to string together wins, and the Brewers could quickly fall below the .500 mark as they start to fade into the basement of the NL Central. I don’t think the Brewers will stop being competitive, but with a lackluster bullpen and a starting rotation that lacks a star, I do think they’re going to struggle to keep pace with the Cubs. This is the scenario that most predicted would play out this season.
What would it mean for 2017: David Stearns is going to have a very busy couple of months. Similar to the 2015-2016 trade deadlines, expect the Brewers to make multiple trades leading up to the August 1st non-waiver deadline. Who’s on the block? Anyone over the age of 28, anyone not under team control for longer than three years, and anyone who is playing better in Milwaukee than they were before they arrived here. Some notable names that come to mind: Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Jett Bandy, Manny Piña. As for after the deadline? Lots of playing time for the youngsters on this team, and lots and LOTS of losing.
Pros vs. Cons: Because the Brewers have remained surprisingly competitive, it’s depressing to think about them wheeling and dealing all of the players responsible for this success on the offensive side of the ball. In the short term, there’s very little to get excited about here. With this approach, the Brewers continue to stay the course with the rebuild, waiting for their 18-23 year olds to grow and develop through the ranks of the minor league system. The fans continue to wait for postseason success that is by no means guaranteed, and we’re forced to watch those we once adored don the uniforms of another city’s ball club.
It’s a pretty grim outlook, but there’s a lot of merit to this approach. First, it would add a number of pieces to the Brewer’s already top-ranked farm system, at the expense of players that likely weren’t going to stay in Milwaukee to see the rebuild to completion. Second, it would give Mark Attanasio time to bank more money (which he has to be doing, right?), and it would project a sense of patience and purpose, something the Brewers aren’t exactly known for as an organization. It’s not a sexy approach, by any means, but I feel it’s the right move. If we ever want long-term sustainable success in Milwaukee, the Brewers need to continue to think long-term and keep a level head, even when they’re experiencing unexpected success in the short term.