Days of Future Present

The Brewers’ July trade of Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers signaled a clear indication that the organization knew it needed to retool. They shipped out an excellent player on a reasonable contract who will be a free agent after next season, and they also got rid of a cost-controlled pitcher who is already 30. Neither player was likely to be a member of the next good baseball team in Milwaukee.

Gomez is one of the best center fielders in baseball, and he was due to be paid just $9 million in 2016 — but that was the only year he had remaining on his contract. For a team looking to contend this season and next, he is an extremely valuable commodity. Thus, the Brewers’ decision to trade him signals their understanding that they are not likely to compete next year.

Fiers is more interesting. He cannot be a free agent until after the 2019 season, but he is 30 years old and, therefore, probably nearing his decline phase. Pitchers’ aging curves are not as simple as hitters, and Fiers’s late development suggests he has indeed “figured something out,” but it would be extraordinary if Fiers were still good by the time he is 33 or 34. Some people—including Tom Haudricourt of the Milwuakee Journal-Sentinel—theorized that the Brewers would be wise to keep Fiers because of his favorable contract. However, his age and presumptive decline made trading him the correct decision.

Ultimately, the Gomez and Fiers trade signaled that the Brewers knew they weren’t planning on challenging the Cardinals, Pirates, and Cubs in 2016. Both players would have contributed to an attempt at the playoffs, so—as I mentioned above—trading them is a concession to reality. This does, though, raise a question: which members of this version of the 2015 Brewers will be on the next winning team?

Obviously, the answer to this question is contingent on when exactly the next good Brewers team develops. I would assume it will be within three or four years. The Gomez and Fiers trade brought back prospects who are in the high minors or big leagues, and Gerardo Parra brought back Zach Davies, who just recently made his debut. That timeline jives with the development of the Brewers’ top prospect as well. Orlando Arcia spent the year tearing up Double-A.

This farm system is not Kansas City in 2010 or last year’s Cubs, but it’s now deep and talented enough for it to reasonably begin producing average regulars. As those players hit their mid-20s, Milwaukee will be able to add pitching and veteran depth to create a competitive team. Where exactly the depth will be needed, though, is the question.

Essentially, this article will explore which Brewers are likely trade or extension candidates in the coming seasons. I will obviously not consider players such as Kyle Lohse, who is 36, terrible, and in the last year of his contract. Instead, I will focus on players who are either locked up or young enough that the Brewers might be interested in keeping them around.

The clear place to begin is Ryan Braun. His is a complicated past, but at this point the present and future seem straightforward. He has been a 2-3 win player over the past two seasons, combining a good but no-longer-otherworldly bat with roughly average defense. At 31 years old, he is into his decline phase, but he is still good. He is also signed through 2020 (plus a mutual option in 2021), which means he will be around until then, unless the Brewers decide he has more value as a trade chip.

His steroid-riddled past adds an additional layer of complexity. Generally, I would expect a player such as Braun to hold additional value for the team and city with which he grew into an MVP, but his 2013 suspension clearly altered his relationship with the city. The fanbase appears to be back behind him, but they don’t love him unconditionally the way the Mariners supported Ken Griffey, Jr., for instance. Thus, it seems fair to wonder about Braun’s reception as he declines further.
Ultimately, though, I do expect Braun to stay around. He battled injuries in 2013 and 2014 but has still put up a TAv of at least .280 in every year of his career, and his presence in the corner outfield means that it is unlikely his defense truly hurts the club.

Jonathan Lucroy is another player I expect to remain a Brewer for the foreseeable future. Even if last year appears to be a fluke offensively, he is still important because of his ability to handle the pitching staff and frame pitches. That is a skill that I expect the Brewers’ front office to value as the team tries to develop its young pitchers. Additionally, he is not a free agent until after 2017, so enough time will have passed for his exceptional 2014 season to not incorrectly inflate his value.

The trio of young pitchers should also be kept, if only because they are still young enough that improvement is possible. Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, and Jimmy Nelson have each shown flashes in their young careers, even if Peralta has settled into more of a back-end starter than was initially hoped for. Unlike Fiers, they will still be at the tail end of their prime when they approach free agency, so hoping that they will be good pitchers when the Brewers are good again is not unreasonable.

It is there, though, that the roster tails off. Both Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura have proven themselves to be big leaguers, but they are not franchise-defining. Gennett has seen his TAv decrease every year he’s been in the majors, and so even though he is only 25, he is trending in the wrong direction. He has proven basically incompetent against lefties (career line of .121/.145/.150), so he has to be platooned. This makes it likely that at some point in the next few years, someone—probably from outside the organization—gets the opportunity to seize the job from Gennett.

Segura is even more likely to be gone. The previously-mentioned Orlando Arcia will probably get a shot to win the job at some point in 2016, but Segura has been so terrible at the plate that the Brewers must be considering replacements. His excellent 2013 (and it was really only the first half of 2013) boosted his reputation, but his career .242 TAv puts the lie to that idea. He has gotten much more of his value with his glove than his bat, and we know that defense peaks early and declines as players lose their athleticism.

There were rumors that Segura might be available as early as this year’s trade deadline. Much of that was due to excitement over Arcia, but I would not be optimistic about Segura’s future with the team even if he didn’t have a ready-made replacement. His bat is simply trending too far in the wrong direction.

The final young-ish player on this team is Khris Davis. He, though, is a 27-year-old corner outfielder who can cover the short side of a platoon. Plenty of words have been written at this website about the merits of trading Davis versus keeping him, so I will not rehash them here except to summarize and say that while he has proven he belongs in the big leagues, he is more valuable to a true contender. He can play a role — a bench bat who can start two or three times a week. He does not, however, warrant being built around.

I have obviously not covered every member of the active roster here. Relief pitchers are fungible and have short shelf lives, and the back of the rotation is basically empty. What we can—and should—take from this analysis is that most of the players on the next good Brewers team have not yet arrived. Domingo Santana just made his Brewers debut, and Arcia, Brett Phillips, and Tyrone Taylor ended the season in Double-A. While the future does not appear to look much like the present, it does look bright.

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