The Beginnings Of A Rebuild

The All-Star game is over; teams are therefore gearing up for one of the most exiting and stressful events in all of baseball: the trade deadline. MLBTrade Rumors is in full force, Ken Rosenthal is talking to everyone, and Jon Heyman is tweeting every second; yes, the winds of trades are swirling around the baseball sphere.

One of the most prominent teams mentioned in these rumors are the Brewers. This is rather obvious; the Brewers playoff percentage stands at 0.42 percent and while their expected win percentage is actually better than their actual win percentage, it’s nothing to brag about and wouldn’t put them in a position to make the playoffs. They’re also not a very young team, their farm system while definitely improving, is not typically referred to as one of the best in baseball, and their competition is fierce. The Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs are all young, talented, and smart organizations that seem prime to be contenders for a while. The Brewers therefore have become a prime candidate for the next big rebuild. At least that’s one of the popular narratives. On top of that, they have many desirable pieces, so it’s no surprise the Brewers have been in the middle of many rumors.

Even with all the talk, it’s still unclear where the organization will go. As it’s been noted on this website,  whether the Brewers will undergo a full-blown rebuild or will simply trim the fat remains an unknown. The trade deadline will definitely serve as a good barometer as to which direction the team is headed, but we won’t get the full picture. I personally am skeptical that the team will undergo a full-blown rebuild. Mark Attanasio once said in an interview that, “…we all love this sport, and what’s great about this sport is there’s hope and there’s nothing funner than spending a summer’s day at Miller Park, but if you know that there’s no chance that you’re going to win, or worse that you’re going to continue to see bad baseball, that is not ok with me.” Attanasio said this in a SABR interview right before the 2014 season started. His thoughts on the issue might have changed, but if they hold true, this would prevent the Brewers from exercising a big rebuild. The obvious factor being that if the Brewers truly want to blow it up then they will have to undergo several bad seasons. Now, Attanasio’s comments were right before the start of a brand new baseball season and they might have been for PR value, which is one of many reasons why this trade deadline will be so interesting.

Rebuilding, though, is a process and will not happen overnight. A team like the Houston Astros, who look poised to be at the very least relevant come September, took some time.  In 2010 they traded Roy Oswalt, in 2011 they traded Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, and in 2013 they traded, what seemed like their final trade chip, Bud Norris to the Orioles. This isn’t to suggest that the Brewers should take the Astros approach, but rather to show that if Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, and Jean Seguera aren’t traded at the trade deadline, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be traded in the future. All of these players are controllable beyond this year and have significant value. While Gomez has been linked to several teams, including the Astros, his value might not be as high as it normally would be due to his early season injury. I say ‘might’ because I don’t know; it all depends on whether the Brewers receive an adequate offer. Gomez after all, has been one of the best players in baseball over the past couple of years. In 2013 he ranked 15th with a WARP of 6 (among all position players) and in 2014 he ranked 20th with a 5.3 WARP. This season, though, hasn’t been as good due to the aforementioned injury. The Brewers therefore might be better off waiting for the offseason to trade Gomez. It would also allow for a potentially bigger market to develop for him. That being said, as I’ve mentioned before, if the Orioles or the Astros make an acceptable offer, the Brewers would be foolish not to take it.

Position Players:

Now, let’s move on to the real fun part: the players who I think should and will be traded. Among position players there’s three: Aramis Ramirez, Gerardo Parra, and Adam Lind. If the Brewers are truly serious about rebuilding, all three of these players should be moved at the trade deadline. Ramirez mentioned that this will be his last season. For a team that has no chance of making the playoffs, there appears to be little to no use to carry an old third baseman that will retire at season’s end on their roster. With Ramirez, it’s really one of those situations where you shop him around and take the best available offer, no matter what.

Even though Parra is having one of his best seasons—at least offensively—he’s also got to go. His contract will expire at the end of the season and he’s got real value. As MLBTrade Rumors has noted, the Astros are open to adding a bat at the trade deadline, and if the price for Gomez is too steep, Parra would fit in nicely as a lefty-platoon bat. He would also be tied for the highest wOBA among Astros outfielders and would be a valuable piece off the bench when George Springer comes back from his injury.

Then there’s Adam Lind. As Dave Cameron pointed out, he’s probably going to be the best bat on the market, during the deadline (at least one of the best). Lind should also be in high demand, especially considering there’s an $8 million club option next season, so you wouldn’t simply be getting him for the playoff run. What’s even more interesting is that there’s a real market for him in the division. The Cardinals and Pirates are the two best teams in the National League and both have a glaring weakness at first base. The Cardinals have been playing Mark Reynolds ever since Matt Adams went down (though they’ve converted their top prospect, outfielder Stephan Piscotty, to first and recently called him up), and he’s been serviceable at best. The Pirates gave it a go with Pedro Alverez, but at this point it’s obvious that he’s nothing more than a right-handed platoon DH. Lind would provide stability to the position for not only the rest of this season, but also next season. Whichever team got Lind would also be keeping him away from the other, with the next-best options being Jon Singleton, Chris Parmelee, or whatever is left of Mike Napoli, all clear downgrades from Lind. And on top of that, if you really don’t want to trade in the division, there’s the Nationals, who rank 26th in wOBA for first basemen. Just for some context, the Cardinals and Pirates rank 27th and 29th in wOBA at the position.

The Bullpen:

The bullpen for the Brewers is also very interesting. It’s been really good this year and having a good bullpen is a luxury bad teams don’t need. That luxury is typically reserved for contending teams who are looking to add one or two pieces for their final playoff run. Well, if contending teams are looking for bullpen pieces, the Brewers have a boatload. I mean seriously, where does one even start? Francisco Rodriguez has experience closing—if you’re into that sort of thing—and more importantly, he’s sporting a spiffy 1.80 DRA and he’s controllable until 2017. If you’re turned off by his off-field issues, Michael Blazek’s got a 0.91 DRA, he’s making $508, 500 this year, he only hits arbitration in 2018, and he’s controllable until 2021. Will Smith has a 2.25 DRA, he’s a lefty, and he’s controllable until 2020. If a team is only looking for help in the pen over the next few months, Neal Cotts is a free agent at season’s end, and while his 3.57 DRA isn’t as good as the other three, it’s above league average and he’s also another lefty.

In any case, these relievers could bring some prospects in return, or they could be added pieces in a much bigger trade. Whatever happens with the bullpen, it will give us added insight into how serious the Brewers are about rebuilding. They have four, five if you count Jeremy Jeffress, very desirable trade pieces that any contending team should be interested in.

Starting Rotation:

And finally there’s the starting rotation. This is the black mark, the stain on the Brewers season. There have been reports, even very early on, that the Brewers are open to trading Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse. The problem? They’re old, they both have negative pWARP’s and, oh yeah, they’re not cheap. Lohse’s contract does end at the end of this year, so if a team needs a no. 5 starter and is hoping that he bounces back in the second half, there may be a deal there. With Garza, he’s scheduled to make $12.5 million for the next two seasons; then there’s a vesting/club option in 2018, a season for which he’ll be 34 years old.

With Lohse, the philosophy should be to get whatever you can in return. With Garza, I’d hold onto him and pray that he bounces back next yearv so that you can actually get some value for him. In both cases though, it doesn’t look good.

If the Brewers really want to trade a starter, I’d go with Mike Fiers. While he hasn’t been great (4.19 DRA) he’d make a serviceable no. 4 or 5 starter and he’s cheap. On top of that, he only hits arbitration in 2017 and he’s controllable until 2020. He is 30, so he’s not exactly young, but considering how cheap he is, teams could simply send him to the minors or DFA him if he falls apart. In any case, trading some of the starting pitching would only be, what I would call, trimming the fat.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve just described a number of pieces that the Brewers could move at the trade deadline. Parra, Lind, Lohse, Ramirez, and Cotts should all be gone after the trade deadline. All of these players, apart from Lind, are in the final year of their deal, and have a market. The rest is a mystery, but if the Brewers are truly serious about rebuilding, they should trade more than just those five players.

Due to the second wild card, fewer teams than ever are sellers at the trade deadline; the Brewers are one of the few. They’re also one of the few teams that have desirable bats. The big names on the marked are Johnny Cueto, Scott Kazmir, and Cole Hamels and they’re all starting pitchers. The Brewers could then take advantage of their position as one of the only teams who are selling and are selling bats on the market. They’re also in a good position when it comes to trading Gomez or Segura, in that if a good offer isn’t out there, they could just keep them and try again in the offseason. While I say this, it would be a huge mistake for the Brewers not to shop both players. The good news, though, is that it seems they are.

As I’ve mentioned before, rebuilding is a process, it won’t happen overnight, and not every trade chip will be traded at the trade deadline. If the Brewers do nothing at the trade deadline, yes, press the panic button. The Brewers should be active, but as J.P. Breen has mentioned before, the offseason might be a much better test as to where this team is going. This trade deadline will only give us a glimpse into the team’s future plans and into which direction the team is going.

If the Brewers don’t trade Gomez, Lucroy, or Segura on July 31st, lets just calm down, take a deep breath, and remember that they might not have gotten an adequate offer.

Lead photo courtesy of Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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