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Insight into the Brewers’ Upcoming Trade Strategy

As a team that does not expect to compete in 2016, the Milwaukee Brewers shouldn’t be tied to any single player who isn’t a sho0-in to be an integral part of the organization’s next playoff team, a category which is basically limited to youngish superstars and high-quality prospects. The Brewers are light on superstars, but — for the first time in a while — not on prospects. So, while players in these categories are not untouchable, they do not need to be actively shopped. The same is not true for players that are more fungible; guys on short-term contracts with more present than future value should be traded (if possible) for players with longer-term value.

This process is especially applicable to the Brewers because the new front office won’t have any special connection with most of the team’s current players. Often, this phenomenon is described as teams being irrationally high on their own players, but it is actually much subtler than that. The reality is that the team that ends up with a player necessarily thinks more of him than other teams do in the first place. Thus, it is not simply that teams are loathe to trade players they have; instead, it is the fact that they thought highly enough of these players to acquire them in the first place that makes finding trade partners unlikely.

But with David Stearns now in place of Doug Melvin, the Brewers front office isn’t likely to fall victim to that. Where Melvin may have thought more highly of players such as Matt Garza and Francisco Rodriguez than did the rest of the industry, Stearns has no such compunction. He may be irrationally high on other players — as evidenced by the acquisition of his former player, Jonathan Villar — but those people are unlikely to have been with the Brewers before Stearns’ hiring.

The end result of this is that most of the veterans on this team are fair game to be traded, and some will almost certainly be dealt before spring training. Adam Lind, for example, is under contract for only this upcoming season and is therefore a virtual certainty to be traded soon. Ideally, the Brewers would probably prefer to trade him before Opening Day, as at that point he will still be eligible for the qualifying offer with his new team and thus (hopefully) have more trade value.

Milwaukee has three obvious veterans other than Lind, and each is in a different position. Matt Garza is a candidate to be traded at the deadline to a playoff team looking for starting pitching depth, but such a trade is heavily contingent on Garza pitching well enough in the first half of 2015 to have any value at all. After being a competent big leaguer in 2013 and 2014 (1.7 and 2.0 WARP, respectively), his disastrous 2015 that was highlighted by a 5.36 DRA destroyed any possibility of a preseason trade. The Brewers simply would not get enough back for him to make a deal worth their while.

Jonathan Lucroy, though, does have significant trade value. By any WAR metric, he has been one of the best catchers in baseball over the past few years, and he is on an extremely affordable contract: $4 million in 2016 and a $5.25 million team option in 2017. Those numbers would be a bargain for an average starting catcher, but Lucroy is significantly better than that. The problem with trading him, though, is that the Brewers will likely hope to begin competing again in 2017 — and such a hope is not ridiculous given the age of many of their top prospects — and Lucroy can still be on that future team. Additionally, his defensive skills are well-documented, and the Brewers may want him to help develop their young pitching. When that fact is combined with his contract, the team should hold onto him unless they are absolutely blown away by a trade offer.

Ryan Braun is the final veteran to be discussed here, and he is probably the most irrelevant as he is probably mostly untradeable. The 2011 Vernon Wells trade proves that no contract is unmoveable, but it is difficult to imagine finding a team that will want to pay a fading outfielder with no defensive value nearly $100 million for the next five years.

Of the team’s younger players, Jean Segura is undoubtedly the most interesting. Players such as Khris Davis or Scooter Gennett are mostly spare parts and could very well be moved but are unlikely to bring back huge returns (although it should be noted that Davis is more valuable than Gennett). Segura, though, is an average Major League shortstop who is not a free agent until 2019, which makes him valuable. Cost-controlled shortstops are attractive to most teams, not just contending ones, but the presence of Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Villar makes Segura expendable. If the Brewers can get the big offer for him that they undoubtedly expect, a trade makes perfect sense.

The final piece of the Brewers’ offseason trade plan is actually several different players: the bullpen. They do actually have a few good relief pitchers, and those are exactly the players they should look to trade. Relievers are volatile, and it is difficult to predict which will be good more than one year out. Therefore, given the fact that they do not expect to compete this year, they should listen to calls on everyone. Michael Blazek had a promising 2015, and Jeremy Jeffress may very well close in 2016. Will Smith, though, is the key piece. The lefty hasn’t posted a cFIP above 80 (where 100 is league average and lower is better) since 2012, and his 69 cFIP in 2015 was good enough for 17th in all of baseball among pitchers with at least 50 innings. The Brewers may be able to get a truly valuable prospect for such a talented pitcher, although they may have to wait until July.

Overall, this article is attempting to suggest that the Brewers should not be tied to many of the players on their current 25-man roster, and they are in fact unlikely to be very connected. The cornerstones of the next good Brewers team probably spent 2015 in Double-A, so unless the members of the current roster can be of value to those young players (like Lucroy), the Brewers should attempt to move them.

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