As the Brewers sit at home, watching the Royals jump and rejoice. They surely realize the tall task that befalls the organization in the upcoming months and years.
Rebuilding is hard and, now that the season is over, all eyes will be trained on the Brewers front office in hawk-like fashion. Those eyes will be anticipating what clever scheme this new and youthful front office will unveil to acquire the next breakout players and potential stars.
Of course, rebuilds come in very different shapes and sizes. They are not one-size-fits-all endeavors. Rebuilds are often long, they are always demanding, and they are trying — not just on the players and front office members, but also for the fans.
Yes, rebuilding sucks, but it is a necessary path to achieving greatness, especially for small-market teams. The Royals are a perfect example of this. The team was awful for such a long time that I, at the tender age of 22, could not remember a time when they were good before a year ago. And then came the 2015 season. The Royals players started performing and went on a run. I don’t need to remind you of what happened next; we’ve heard it often enough throughout this postseason.
The Royals young studs mainly dominated the narrative. For so many years, all anyone in Kansas City wanted to talk about was their immaculate farm system. The system was so good that every public site had it touted as one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. That’s why when the prospects started coming up, the failure for the Royals to field a competitive team was that much more surprising. But, as we’ve discussed, not every rebuild is the same and some take longer than usual. The Royals prospects took a while to hit their stride, but now they have, and now they’re the World Series champions.
But, if the Royals only depended on the players that came from their farm system, they wouldn’t be the team they are today. They wouldn’t have found Kendrys Morales, who after years of injury-riddled seasons re-discovered his health and became a key member of the Royals lineup. They wouldn’t have found Edinson Volquez, who after a breakout year in Pittsburgh backed it up with another solid year for the Royals. And they wouldn’t have found the cyborg himself, Wade Davis, who after years of mediocrity as a starter became the best reliever in all of baseball.
The tale of success for the Royals and many rebuilding teams does not simply lie in their youth. It does not simply lie with their highly-touted prospects and stars; the path to success is often times so much more complicated. Just take a look at the Houston Astros.
While everyone loves to talk about the Astros young players, such as George Springer and Carlos Correa, many of the staples in their rotation and lineup were not highly-touted prospects. Just take Collin McHugh as an example. For most of his career, McHugh was a failed starter. In fact before 2014, he’d never had an ERA under 7.00 (yikes!). But, the Astros analytics department noticed that McHugh had a “world-class” curveball, “Most curves spin at about 1,500 times per minute; McHugh’s spins 2,000 times.” As we know, spin is good, especially good for movement. McHugh then started using his curveball more often, and voila, the trick was accomplished. The Astros turned a 26-year-old starting pitcher who could barely cut it in Triple-A into an above average starting pitcher. I’m a being a little facetious. It’s obviously not that simple, but you get the point. The Astros found talent and helped that player realize that talent.
The amazing part about the Astros season is that their findings do not stop there. The Astros roster is filled with the likes of Chris Carter, Luis Valbuena, Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, and more. These players, while not stars, were shrewdly acquired either through free agent signings or trades and played an important part in their 2015 campaign.
The Brewers will also have to find these types of players.
Many have noted how the Brewers farm system has been revitalized. Orlando Arcia and Brett Phillips are considered by all to be top-ranked prospects. Trent Clark and Gilbert Lara are long ways away but represent potential impact talent. Domingo Santana and Zach Davies have already made their big league debut, as well, after being acquired this trade deadline.
With that being said, while most focus on the Brewers farm system, baseball always likes to remind us that not every prospect will pan out. It’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. Not every prospect will follow the traditional aging curve, some player’s breakout early, some player’s breakout late. The key for many rebuilding teams is finding these players, the ones that no one wanted amidst an ocean of talent. Sometimes, some athletes just need to find motivation; other times, athletes simply need to make an adjustment. The Astros seem to have a knack for finding these players. The Brewers will need to acquire that knack.
Players are sometimes found through analytics and numbers. Other times talent is found by good old scouting. The key is finding them, unearthing that diamond in the rough, that talent that no one else has found. It’s obviously not easy, but the Brewers find themselves in a good position to do so. Mainly, as the Brewers look to rebuild, they will have the chance to give more players the opportunity to play.
If David Stearns is anything like his former boss, a lot of current Brewers will be traded faster than you and I can comprehend. It’ll be like waking after a long night of drinking, we’ll wake up at some point in the offseason wondering where and how we got here, confused as to what events transpired and how the entire roster looks different.
This, of course, is just speculation. Stearns has not stated his intention to trade every player. But the point is that many players will be on the move this offseason. The Brewers, therefore, should have a lot of open spots and could give players, such as Jason Rogers a chance. Players who no one thought highly of but who could become significant contributors in the years to come. The players can come from inside the roster, through trades, through free agency and any other clever way Stearns can devise.
Mainly in the weeks and months to come, we’ll get a clearer image as to what shrewd plan this new Ivy League GM has up his sleeve, as well as how he and the front office plan on allocating their brains and resources to accumulate talent that no one else has found.