MLB: Milwaukee Brewers-Workouts

Counterbuilding: Trading & Drafting

Unfortunately, the Brewers can compete as early as next season, and contend as early as 2018. I write “unfortunately” because the Milwaukee faithful are clearly spinning in the cycles of rebuilding press promulgated by the club, and therefore being coaxed with subtle hints that it might be acceptable to watch losing baseball for several seasons. The most prominent (and perhaps logical) argument in favor of fielding a bad baseball team is landing the draft bonus money that accompanies a high pick; in an era where draft spending is tightly controlled by predetermined slots, landing a Top Three pick gives a club clear financial benefits from losing.

Yet, for all its logic (if you’re not going to contend, you might as well lose and sign a lot of talent in the next draft), this rebuilding argument paints over the relative lack of productivity teams gain through the draft. It also glosses over the extent to which most drafted talent does not make the MLB with their original club, and the extent to which many of the drafted, developed “organizational players” that do reach the MLB and stay with their original club are typically replacement players (rather than stars). For every Clayton Kershaw or Evan Longoria, there are throngs of Chris Marrero, Ryan Adams, Alex Sanabia, Chris Petit, Nick Buss, Tobi Stoner, Brett Sinkbeil: the “September call-up” is a more common “organizational draft outcome” than the superstar. If this seems self-explanatory (because, duh, there are very few superstars), it deserves investigation as clubs embark on purposefully noncompetitive seasons to ostensibly gain the benefits of the draft. My survey in this post focuses on one draft (2006), and serves as one addition to a set of recent BPMilwaukee features on the draft and rebuilding.

Related Content:
The Draft is Only a Tool in the Rebuilding Process
The Lessons of the Astros’ 2016 Backslide
The Macro Draft

Brewers fans are especially vulnerable to this type of logic after the much-maligned drafting record produced by Jack Zduriencik and Bruce Seid from approximately 2006-2010. While some of those drafts have highlights like Seid’s unbelievable 2009 depth (saving that draft entirely), or Zduriencik’s pieces to the CC Sabathia, Shaun Marcum, and Zack Greinke trades, they are largely void of contending organizational depth. As a result, the Brewers arguably had less ease in reaching for stopgaps, bench players, and other useful fill-ins during their serious contending attempts from 2011-2015. A common refrain among the fans is that the bigtime trades ruined the Brewers’ farm systems, but the simple fact is that the Sabathia / Greinke / Marcum moves were great transactions that lacked significant MLB impact from a series of drafts.

2006-2010 Brewers MLB Talent Year / Round / Pick Note
Jonathan Lucroy 2007 / 3 / 101 MLB roster core key player
Jimmy Nelson 2010 / 2 / 64 MLB roster core key player
Jeremy Jeffress 2006 / 1 / 16 included in Greinke trade / returned to MIL (2014) / key future bullpen core?
Scooter Gennett 2009 / 16 / 496 ’13-present Brewers (347 G)
Khris Davis 2009 / 7 / 226 ’13-’15 Brewers (321 G) / included in Athletics prospects trade
Logan Schafer 2008 / 3 / 94 ’11-’15 Brewers (292 G) / lost to free agency
Tyler Thornburg 2010 / 3 / 96 ’12-present Brewers (96 G) / key future bullpen core?
Jason Rogers 2010 / 32 / 969 ’14-’15 Brewers (94 G) / included in Pirates prospects trade
Mike Fiers 2009 / 22/ 676 ’11-’15 Brewers (71 G) / included in Astros prospects trade
Rob Wooten 2008 / 13 / 398 ’13-’15 Brewers (71 G) / lost to free agency
Caleb Gindl 2007 / 5 / 161 ’13-’14 Brewers (65 G) / lost to free agency
Sean Halton 2009 / 13 / 406 ’13 Brewers (42 G) / lost to 2014 Rule 5 draft
Mike McClendon 2006 / 10 / 302 ’10-’12 Brewers (35 G)
Donovan Hand 2007 / 14 / 431 ’13 Brewers (31 G) / lost to free agency
Yadiel Rivera 2010 / 9 / 279 ’15-present Brewers (24 G)
Tyler Cravy 2009 / 17 / 526 ’15-present Brewers (20 G)
Eric Farris 2007 / 4 / 131 ’11-’12 Brewers (14 G) / lost to 2012 Rule 5 draft
Josh Prince 2009 / 3 / 105 ’13 Brewers (8 G) / lost to 2014 release
Hiram Burgos 2009 / 6 / 196 ’13 Brewers (6 G) / released & resigned by Brewers
Cole Gillespie 2006 / 3 / 92 Included in Felipe Lopez trade
Matt LaPorta 2007 / 1 / 7 included in CC Sabathia trade
Brett Lawrie 2008 / 1 / 16 included in Shaun Marcum trade
Jake Odorizzi 2008 / 1s / 32 included in Zack Greinke trade
Eric Komatsu 2008 / 8 / 248 included in Jerry Hairston trade
Eric Fryer 2007 / 10 / 311 included in Chase Wright trade
Zelous Wheeler 2007 / 19 / 581 lost to waivers in 2012
Lucas Luetge 2008 / 21 / 638 unsigned ’08 draft pick
Austin Adams 2008 / 27 / 818 unsigned ’08 draft pick
Steven Okert 2010 / 43 / 1299 unsigned ’10 draft pick
Sean Nolin 2008 / 50 / 1492 unsigned ’08 draft pick / returned to MIL (2016)
Caleb Thielbar 2009 / 18 / 556 lost to 2010 release

This general point should not be construed as an argument that each Brewers draft during this five year stretch was bad; the verdict remains “out” on the 2010 draft, and the exceptional depth of the 2009 draft class produced median value for the Brewers. It’s simply an acknowledgment that the timing of trades and organizational development from these drafts did not produce a regular contender; sometimes players need to develop with a different organization (see Lawrie & Odorizzi, for example); and, even roster core stars at key positions (like Lucroy) are not always enough to contend regularly.

Fans that are yearning for a better draft return from that era can begin with the 2006 draft, which is conveniently a decade past and (also conveniently) a fascinating demonstration of the MLB draft’s strengths and weaknesses. The 2006 draft produced Kershaw and Longoria, two elite players that epitomize the dreams of organizational anchors and stars produced from that amateur talent pool. However, those superstars overshadow the fact that of the approximately 220 players that made the MLB in that draft pool, nearly 170 left their original organization in some way, shape, or form; the teams’ margins for error were further reduced due to the fact that approximately 20 percent of those MLB players were not even signed from the 2006 draft. This chart highlights the basic draft outcomes by including:

  • Players that remained with their original club through free agency or their final MLB game.
  • Players that were traded at any point by their original club (here a trade as a prospect is equal to a midseason trade from an MLB roster, for classification purposes).
  • Players that were lost through many means (unsigned from the draft, lost via waivers, rule 5 draft, MiLB free agency, release, etc.)
  • General player value produced by those that remained with their original club (or produced prior to leaving via trade. I did not include waived / released, etc., players here, because those players had negligible value stats as a rule).
  • All stats compiled Thursday and Friday, May 19-20.

2006 Draft Total MLBers Stayed w/ team Traded Lost Organizational bWAR (Best Player(s))
Rays 9 3 1 5 65.4 (Longoria & Jennings)
Dodgers 7 2 1 4 48.3 (Kershaw & Buss)
Yankees 11 5 5 1 25.2 (Robertson & Betances / Chamberlain)
Giants 7 4 3 20.3 (Lincecum & Pill)
Rangers 6 1 4 1 16.6 (D. Holland & C. Gentry)
Cardinals 12 2 6 4 16.2 (Jay & Craig)
Mets 8 2 2 4 15.7 (Murphy & Smith)
Athletics 3 2 1 15.0 (Cahill & Bailey)
Royals 7 2 5 13.0 (Dyson & Hochevar)
Reds 9 2 4 3 10.4 (Stubbs & Heisey)
Braves 5 1 2 2 9.4 (Medlen)
Red Sox 13 3 5 5 8.8 (Bard & Masterson)
Indians 9 1 4 4 6.3 (Pestano & Tomlin)
Orioles 6 3 2 6.3 (Britton & B. Davis)
Padres 8 1 3 3 4.6 (Latos & LeBlanc)
Cubs 5 1 3 1 4.6 (Samardzija & Parker)
White Sox 5 1 2 2 4.4 (Santiago)
Mariners 7 4 3 4.6 (Fister)
Pirates 8 1 4 3 4.2 (Hughes & Presley)
Astros 3 2 1 3.8 (Norris & Johnson)
Angels 7 1 2 4 3.7 (Walden & Conger)
Blue Jays 5 2 3 2.4 (Snider)
Diamondbacks 10 1 5 3 2.2 (Scherzer & Zavada)
Brewers 3 1 2 0.4 (Jeffress [original stint] & McClendon)
Rockies 7 2 5 0.3 (McKenry)
Tigers 7 2 5 -0.5 (Miller)
Phillies 8 1 3 4 -0.7 (Brown)
Marlins 9 4 2 3 -1.1 (Sanabia & Sinkbeil)
Twins 10 6 1 3 -1.2 (Valencia & Parmalee)
Nationals 6 2 2 2 -2.0 (Peacock & Kimball)
Total 220 51 82 87

Milwaukee’s draft exemplifies the difficulties of returning a shallow talent pool, but the club also represents one of the best trades produced from the 2006 draft. Incidentally, the Greinke trade lineage continues in Milwaukee, first through Jean Segura’s time in the organization, and now through Aaron Hill and Chase Anderson (and eventually, potentially, Isan Diaz). It’s obviously difficult to fully categorize the value of many trades for the reason that some trades “keep going” by beginning a string of transactions and multifaceted acquisitions (such as the MLB-established Anderson and Hill, alongside the highly touted prospect Diaz). However, considering the outcome of the Greinke trade should at least be evidence enough that measuring on-the-field, organizational value from the 2006 Brewers draft is difficult and incomplete.

Notably, the teams that produced the most valuable on-the-field, organizational production from the 2006 draft show that there is no correct way to maximize draft value. My favorite illustrations: the Yankees established a substantial back-end bullpen; the Rays produced members of a positional core; the Dodgers landed one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history; the Cardinals employed members of a Championship core before shrewdly trading them away; and, the Athletics traded two pitchers at the (arguable) peak of their value. Each of these teams supplies lessons for the Brewers: assess and keep the very best talent from a draft class, but don’t rule out trading a player while they’re valuable, and don’t necessarily rule out relievers as a source of value (among other lessons).

The list of organizational players supports arguments in trading draftees, rather than relying solely on developing MLB mainstays. More than 40 percent of these organizational players served only one or two years with a club, and nearly 60 precent never reached 100 games played with their original organization, which shows that over several seasons, these players were largely relegated to depth roles:

Stayed w/Team Years Games
TBR Evan Longoria ’08-present 1157
NYM Daniel Murphy ’08-’09; ’11-’15 903
TBR Desmond Jennings ’10-present 532
PHI Dominic Brown ’10-’15 493
KCR Jarrod Dyson ’10-present 466
NYY David Robertson ’08-’14 402
MIA Chris Coghlan ’09-’13 393
SFG Emmanuel Burriss ’08-’12 282
MIN Chris Parmelee ’11-’14 273
SFG Tim Lincecum ’07-’15 272
NYY Joba Chamberlain ’07-’13 260
LAD Clayton Kershaw ’08-present 257
KCR Luke Hochevar ’07-’13; ’15-’16 257
PIT Jared Hughes ’11-present 255
BOS Daniel Bard ’09-’13 211
BAL Zach Britton ’11-present 200
NYY Dellin Betances ’11; ’13-present 172
TEX Derek Holland ’09-present 165
CHW Jake Petricka ’13-present 154
ATL Kris Medlen ’09-’13 152
SFG Brett Pill ’11-’13 111
CLE Josh Tomlin ’10-present 102
BOS Ryan Kalish ’10; ’12 89
TBR Alex Cobb ’11-’14 81
CHC Blake Parker ’12-’14 74
STL Tommy Pham ’14-present 59
CIN Jordan Smith ’10-’11 54
ARI Clay Zavada ’09 49
STL Mark Hamilton ’10-’11 47
SFG Ryan Rohlinger ’08-’11 46
MIN Tyler Robertson ’12-’13 42
MIN Jeff Manship ’09-’12 41
WAS Chris Marrero ’11; ’13 39
MIL Mike McClendon ’10-’12 35
CIN Chris Valaika ’10-’11 33
NYY Colin Curtis ’10 31
NYY Kevin Russo ’10 31
BAL Ryan Adams ’11 29
MIA Alex Sanabia ’10-’11; ’13 28
BAL Blake Davis ’11 25
MIN Brian Dinkelman ’11 23
MIN Joe Benson ’11 21
SDP Matt Antonelli ’08 21
WAS Cole Kimball ’11 12
LAA Chris Petit ’09; ’11 11
LAD Nick Buss ’13 8
MIN Anthony Slama ’10-’11 7
NYM Tobi Stoner ’09-’10 5
BOS Aaron Bates ’09 5
MIA Graham Taylor ’09 3
MIA Brett Sinkbeil ’10 3

While not all of the trades resulting from 2006 draftees were productive, many of the ’06 class served as foundational or supplemental parts of some of the recent MLB blockbusters. Along with Greinke, the 2006 draft class was involved in trades for Jake Arrieta (Steve Clevenger), Manny Ramirez (Bryan Morris), Wandy Rodriguez (Rudy Owens), and a substantial percentage of the contending Phillies rotation (Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Joe Blanton, thanks in part to Jason Donald, Kyle Drabek, and Adrian Cardenas). Other trades involving the 2006 draft class netted Felipe Lopez to the Brewers, Dee Gordon to the Marlins, Johan Santana to the Mets, Josh Hamilton and Geovany Soto to the Rangers, and Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady to the Yankees (among others still). Teams should not shy away from using drafted talent to acquire valuable big leaguers or supplant contending aspirations.

Incidentally, the players lost by their parent organizations serve some crucial lessons about marginal roster value, as well. While many of these players may be regarded as “replacements” at best, there are several players that produced depth value after their parent club exposed them to waivers, released them, or allowed them to walk via Minor League free agency:

Other Transactions (’06 draft team) Method 10.1 bWAR (Years)
STL Adam Ottavino ’12 waivers 4.7 (’10; ’12-’15)
COL Will Harris ’13 waivers 3.7 (’12-’16)
DET Casey Fien ’10 waivers 2.2 (’09-’10; ’12-present)
STL Shane Robinson ’12 released 1.1 (’09-present)
KCR Everett Teaford ’14 released 1.0 (’11-’13; ’15)
KCR Blake Wood ’12 waivers 0.8 (’10-’11; ’13-’14; ’16)
PHI Quintin Berry ’10 waivers 0.9 (’12-’15)
KCR Derrick Robinson MiLB free agent 0.7 (’13)
SFG Matt Downs ’10 waivers 0.5 (’09-’12)
ARI Tony Barnette ’10 released 0.5 (’16)
LAA David Herndon ’09 MiLB draft 0.5 (’10-’12)
SEA Nathan Adcock ’10 Rule 5 draft 0.5 (’11-’12; ’14-’15)
DET Brennan Boesch ’13 released 0.4 (’10-’15)
TBR Shawn O’Malley ’13 MiLB free agency 0.3 (’14-present)
TBR Ryan Reid ’12 MiLB free agency 0.2 (’13)
CIN Eddy Rodriguez ’09 released 0.2 (’12)
NYM John Holdzkom ’11 released 0.5 (’14)
SDP Matt Buschmann ’10 Rule 5 draft 0.5 (’16)
DET Angel Castro ’08 released 0.1 (’15)
CHC Marcus Hatley ’14 MiLB free agency 0.1 (’15)
NYM Josh Stinson ’12 waivers 0.0 (’11-’14)
DET Duane Below ’13 waivers 0.0 (’11-’13)
STL Jon Edwards ’10 MiLB released -0.0 (’14-’15)
MIA John Raynor ’09 Rule 5 draft -0.0 (’10)
SDP Chad Huffman ’10 waivers 0.0 (’10)
BAL Jason Berken ’12 waivers 0.0 (’09-’12)
BOS Kris Johnson ’11 released 0.0 (’13-’14)
LAA Barret Browning ’11 Rule 5 Draft -0.1 (’12)
SFG Tyler Graham ’12 released -0.1 (’12)
CLE Josh Rodriguez ’11 purchased 0.1 (’11)
TBR Nevin Ashley ’12 MiLB free agency -0.2 (’15)
CIN Josh Ravin ’11 waivers -0.2 (’15)
CIN Danny Dorn ’12 released -0.3 (’15)
TOR Jonathan Diaz ’12 MiLB free agency -0.3 (’13-’15)
ATL Deunte Heath ’10 released -0.3 (’12-’13)
MIA Jay Buente ’11 waivers -0.3 (’10-’11)
ARI Daniel Stange ’12 released -0.4 (’10; ’13)
SEA Adam Moore ’11 waivers -0.4 (’09-’15)
MIA Scott Cousins ’12 waivers -0.5 (’10-’12)
SDP Cedric Hunter ’11 waivers -0.6 (’11; ’16)
PHI Drew Carpenter ’11 waivers -0.8 (’08-’12)
SFG Brian Bocock ’10 waivers -0.9 (’08; ’10)
BAL Pedro Beato ’10 waivers -1.0 (’11-’14)
CLE David Huff ’13 waivers -1.3 (’09-’15)
ARI Hector Ambriz ’09 Rule 5 Draft -1.4 (’10; ’12-’14)

These moves, taken as a whole, signify the element of timing that lurks behind player development and roster building. Even where draft picks work out (each of these players are MLBers, even if they are marginal value players), an organization may not be able to coax their best value on the field, or translate perceived value into a trade. As a result, one may scrutinize the draft-oriented focus of tanking as a misguided understanding of “getting the time right;” there is no guarantee that an organization will develop the right players from the right rebuilding draft at the right time, just as there is no guarantee that a team looking to contend will get that same development equation correct (cf. 2012-2015 Brewers). While tanking to get a larger draft bonus pool, one must question whether a team is missing other opportunities to acquire talent with the players they have currently developed (even marginal roster depth).

A simple corollary question can summarize this meandering stroll through the 2006 draft: which current Brewers prospects and organizational depth players can Milwaukee trade to maximize their value? Which is to say, if hardly 25 percent of any given draft will stay with the organization, who are the stars that the Brewers absolutely must keep from their 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 drafts? Who are the players that the Brewers can employ and trade at peak value? By addressing these questions, one can engage in counterbuilding, or the act of strategizing roster acquisitions that are apparently contrary to a team’s given aims (such as acquiring MLB talent by trading prospects during a supposed-rebuilding year). The basic point is that an organization should not ever enter into a one-dimensional roster-building phase such as a tank or win-now extreme — or, if they do, they had better tread carefully and get their timing right.

Milwaukee can use 2016 to work with players like Jonathan Villar, Chris Carter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Chase Anderson, and others still, to define and refine the roster depth necessary for contending in the very near future. While they align these players within the organization, they can begin to play some of their best prospects at the MLB level, hastening and emboldening the next step of sifting those talent to keep as contributors, or trade for better MLB players. In an environment where several National League teams are already trending downward into basement-level tanking, such a contrarian roster building strategy could provide the perfect opportunity to contend much faster than anyone currently expects.

The Brewers will have the benefit of a high pick in the 2016 draft, and they should at least draft within the Top 10 of the 2017 draft as well. With these facts in mind, the front office can maximize a contrarian position regarding current draftees and organizational depth: as Milwaukee’s farm system ascends to the top of the league, it is time to use that depth to begin supplanting and improving the MLB roster via trades, alongside the hopeful stars that the organization will decide to keep. This is no small decision, as the Brewers cannot use a large TV revenue wallet to cover-up their mistakes as easily as other MLB clubs. It is also a matter of timing the moves right, which is why the Brewers should not waste time on a multi-season rebuilding campaign. A non-competitive 2017 MLB season is as much of a waste for the Brewers as making a mistaken trade.

Related Articles

1 comment on “Counterbuilding: Trading & Drafting”

Leave a comment

Use your Baseball Prospectus username