It’s finally over. This afternoon, in front of a crowd made up mostly of Cubs fans, the Milwaukee Brewers put the finishing touches on their worst season since 2004, losing game number 94 to finish fourth in the NL Central. It was a season to forget, to say the least. I’ve covered the little bit of good, and the abundance of bad, so I’ll close out the 2015 Brewers season by turning the page and looking towards the future of this franchise.
Two weeks ago, the Brewers announced the hiring of David Sterns as General Manager, which makes him the youngest active GM in the major leagues. Sterns is a Harvard graduate who has spent his entire professional career in baseball, including front office positions in Pittsburgh and Houston. Tomorrow will mark Sterns’ first day on the job, as Doug Melvin will step aside into an advisory role, and the Brewers will continue to press forward with their rebuilding process.
It’s tough to have an opinion of the Sterns hiring because he hasn’t held a GM job before. He’s definitely saying all the right things, but that’s not very difficult to do, especially for a Political Science major from Harvard. It will be quite a while before Brewers fans will have a real sense of the changes Sterns will be bringing to the Brewers organization, and whether or not they will be successful.
Sterns stated that he is going to change the way the Brewers draft and develop young talent, which will likely involve some personnel changes that will be announced in the coming weeks. The Brewers have promised a fresh start- I expect Sterns to make good on that promise by hiring a new supporting crew for Craig Counsell; this could spell trouble for the likes of Rich Kranitz, Darnell Coles, and possibly even Ed Sedar. It’s going to be a very different dugout come April 4, 2016.
The new Brewers manager Craig Counsell ended his first season as a big league manager with a 61-76 record. I have to admit, I like Counsell as a manager a lot more than I thought I would. As Counsell tries to establish trust with his players, I think it’s a huge benefit that his playing days are still in recent memory.
Counsell had a very telling interview this afternoon as he recapped his first season as a skipper and his plans for next year. He talked about the changes he expects to see with the arrival of David Sterns. He discussed the roster, which he expects will be quite different when Spring Training arrives. He expects there to be a significant amount of competition at Spring Training, as a number of the young players called up in September will try to make their case for a spot on the Opening Day Roster. On the length of the rebuilding process, Counsell noted “I have a feeling that when we’re ready to take the next step, people probably won’t be expecting it.”
At this point in the rebuild, the most important thing Craig Counsell can do is continue to establish accountability in the locker room. The most impressive move he made all year, in my opinion, was shutting down Matt Garza and sticking to the move even after Jimmy Nelson’s season ending injury. The Brewers need to stop being so damn comfortable with being bad; that’s an attitude that comes hand in hand with giving bad players too long of a leash on the playing field. If Garza wants a spot in the starting rotation, he needs to earn it, just like everyone else. I think Counsell has the guts to make difficult decisions in the name of accountability, but the poise to continue to stand up for his players during his public facing interviews.
It’s going to be a while before we get a sense for Counsell’s game management style. Right now, his role as a “psychologist” is more important to the long term success of this franchise than his day-to-day decision making during games. Once (if) the Brewers start winning again, we will finally get to see what he is made of and if he’s got what it takes to manage a championship caliber team. Until that happens, Counsell’s responsibilities are to learn how to motivate his players, aid the strategic rebuilding process by keeping the front office informed about the team, and slowly start to create an environment where winning is the only thing that matters.
The Brewers only have one player on their 25-man roster who is a free agent after this year, and that is Kyle Loshe, who I would assume has pitched his last game as a Milwaukee Brewer. In theory, the Brewers could return nearly every member of the dismal 2015 team and have an Opening Day roster that is almost identical to their roster today. I can almost guarantee you that will not be the case. A number of beat writers close to the Brewers have suggested that they plan to have a very active off season, and I would hope that would be the case, but I do not expect them to go out and make a big name big money acquisition.
Remember- the Brewers are in their first year of what will likely be a multi-year rebuild. The absolute best thing the Brewers can do right now is trade major league talent for minor league prospects, just like they did with Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers this year. The second best thing they can do is find under performing major league players and hope that they play their way out of Milwaukee in the form of a trade deadline move just like Gerardo Parra did. The Brewers aren’t good enough to compete in the best division in baseball next year, and they won’t be able to change that in just one off season. For now, all they can do is continue to improve the Brewers teams of the future, even if it means making the current team worse in the short term.
The Sunday Cycle
Truth be told, loyal followers of the Sunday Cycle, it has been a brutal season. I love the Milwaukee Brewers, and I love baseball, but nobody wants to watch their favorite team take the field every day fully expecting them to lose. The rebuilding process is very lengthy, and there’s just not a lot to write about while that process unfolds in real time. I have gained an incredible amount of appreciation for the Brewers writers that have to put out content daily- that is no simple task.
The Sunday Cycle gives me a platform to rant about my favorite team without having to worry about remaining unbiased as most sports writers are required to do. I can make ridiculous “hunch-based” statements that aren’t even remotely backed by statistical evidence, which is fun to do. I never imagined I’d end up sitting in a post game interview with Craig Counsell, press credentials in hand, even if it was just for one game. That alone made all of the Sunday evening writing sessions worth it.
With regards to next year, I’m undecided. The time commitment to churn these articles out is substantial. When the Brewers lose, nobody cares. When the Brewers win, however, the articles practically write themselves. The enjoyment derived from writing about the Brewers is 100% correlated with their record on the field. So for now, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from writing and away from the Brewers before the long wait for Spring Training starts to sink in. At that point, I’ll make a decision on next year.
Until then, thanks to any and everyone who took the time to read my weekly musings. I truly hope there are bigger and better things in store for the Brewers organization in the future. As always the case in sports: there’s always next year. Until then, Go Pack Go and Fear the Deer!