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Closing Windows

It’s a common refrain now: the Brewers are finished with their rebuild. In terms of shedding MLB contracts for minor league assets, Milwaukee’s front office is basically done wheelin’ and dealin’. As everyone knows, veteran superstar Ryan Braun is the last remaining true trade chip, and the left fielder appears to be in the organization’s long-term plans after what must have been an underwhelming set of trade offers from suitors.

Related Reading:
Rebuilding by Elo Rating
Translating OFP
Cashing Out OFP

There are some contracts remaining like Matt Garza, although I’d hardly call trading Garza and cash for 40-45 OFP prospect “rebuilding” as fans commonly mean it; the same goes for Neftali Feliz. Carlos Torres, Wily Peralta, Scooter Gennett, and Chase Anderson are also getting paid by the Brewers this year, but their status as arbitration assets ensures that they are relatively cost-controlled for the club and extremely cheap to release. There really isn’t a sense that Torres, Peralta, Gennett, or Anderson would drive a “rebuilding” deal, since one also must question whether a club would really surrender a 50+ OFP player for Gennett or Torres (no offense to either player; when the Dodgers needed 2B help, this would be akin to trading Yusniel Diaz for Gennett). The rebuild is done in terms of personnel.

Brewers Contracts Three-Year WAR Contract Depreciated Value Full Value Prospect OFP
Ryan Braun 8.4 4/$72M + $4Mbuyout $33.8M $80.8M 65-75
Scooter Gennett 2.2 $2.525M + Arb2-Arb3 $19.1M $28.3M 50+
Carlos Torres 3.0 $2.175M + Arb3 $17.4M $25.8M 50+
Eric Thames 50 OFP 3/$16M + $1Mbuyout $5.4M $22.0M 50
Wily Peralta 2.0 $4.275M + Arb3 $8.7M $14.3M 45-50
Chase Anderson -0.2 $2.45M + Arb2-Arb4 -$1.5M $1.6M 45
Neftali Feliz 1.1 1/$5.35M + bonuses -$1.8M -$0.1M 40-45
Matt Garza 2.1 1/$10.5M + $2Mdeferred -$3.6M -$0.7M 40-45

Interestingly enough, the rebuild is also closing up in terms of timeframe. If one counts three years from the catalyst of the rebuild (2015’s midseason firesale by President Doug Melvin), July 2017 and next offseason (2017-2018) are the only remaining rebuilding windows (of course, even the lack of personnel to trade away suggest that these windows will be barren of opportunity). Using a more common measurement of assessing a rebuild from the time a new GM is hired (such as the three-year rebuilds under Cubs President Theo Epstein or Astros GM Jeff Luhnow), the Brewers are now halfway finished with their rebuild under GM David Stearns:

Brewers Rebuild Window 1 Window 2
2015 July (closed) Offseason (closed)
2016 July (closed) Offseason (closing)
2017 July (development) Offseason (competition)
2018 July (win-now) Offseason (win-now)

Given the quick moves by both Melvin and Stearns, the severity of the rebuild, and the strong drafts in 2015 and 2016, Milwaukee is approximately two windows away from winning now. One can suspect that 2017 will indeed serve as a development year for the franchise, which will allow players to thrive given the wide open roster and few established MLB jobs. Development will be key for players like Jonathan Villar and Zach Davies, who are currently leading the franchise as Most Valuable Rebuilding assets. Since Davies has already played in the MLB since late 2015, I forgot to include the Gerardo Parra trade in my last post on OFP and trade assessment, so here’s Davies’s value:

Gerardo Parra Trade Day of Trade Sent / Received After Trade Change in Value
G. Parra 0.47 WARP / $1.8M rental -$4.7M -0.5 WARP / free agent -$6.0M
Z. Davies 40-50 OFP +$7.0M 3.9 WARP / $32.0M surplus +$52.3M

Like the Villar trade, Davies turned an already successful day-of-trade return into excellent on the field value in 2016. Due to deals like those involving Davies and Villar, the latter of which was not even a true rebuilding deal, Milwaukee’s rebuild is speedily producing on field value. In fact, due to the swift development of Davies and Villar, the Brewers’ value received from the 2015 deadline doubled, and the 2016 offseason value is steadily increasing:

Rebuild Window Assets Traded Assets Received Initial Return Post-Trade Changes (Total Return) MVP
July 2015 $36.4M $64.5M 77% +$70.2M ($134.7M) Z. Davies
Offseason 2015-2016 $115.6M $131.7M 14% +$51.8M ($183.5M) J. Villar
July 2016 $109.7M $111.0M 1% +13.6M ($124.6M) L. Brinson
Offseason 2016-2017 $13.0M $32.7M 152% n/a T. Shaw

It should be noted that the sharp shift in assets traded between 2015-2016 offseasons / deadlines and the 2016-2017 offseason also shows just how far the Brewers rebuild has come. This offseason, there simply were not many contracts to trade away, whatsoever. Since the front office actions from the previous deadlines were so extreme, relatively few moves were necessary to continue rebuilding prior to 2017. Given this fact, it is worth further scrutinizing Khris Davis, Martin Maldonado, and Will Smith trades, as the organization acted outside of necessity to move MLB assets for parts that are either extremely risky, much less valuable, or some combination of the two. By being so thoroughly swept into rebuilding mode, it is questionable as to whether the Brewers lost focus of simply building the best possible baseball team with both current and future assets.

In their Top Ten for 2017, Baseball Prospectus mentioned that Milwaukee’s system is volatile, and the remaining value to be cashed out from the rebuild reflects that risk. After all this effort, the most valuable assets remain at the MLB level (Davies, Villar), and there remain some significant question marks about the very best OFP in the minor league system.

Latent Value Surplus / OFP What Next?
K. Broxton $10.6M Will he sustain starting CF production?
A. Susac $8.9M Chance to win 2017 starting C job
D. Santana $7.4M MLB RF / Will he realize ceiling?
L. Brinson 55-70 Potential 2017 MLB arrival
I. Diaz 60 The real deal middle infield prospect!
L. Ortiz 60 Building MiLB innings base
J. Hader 55-60 Elite reliever?
B. Phillips 45-55 Will Phillips be a platoon / glove depth OF?
J. Nottingham 45-55 Second chance at AA / Will stick behind plate?
M. Dubon 45-50 Not your average utilityman?
T. Supak / B. Derby / F. Peralta / C. Herrera Mid minors RHP breakout candidates

Of course, some of these question marks will be valuable even if the best possible ceiling is not reached. For example, imagine that Lewis Brinson hits the Leonys Martin comp from the Top Ten list; Martin has produced nearly 9.0 WARP, although much of that value is on the strength of 40.2 Fielding Runs Above Average as opposed to a .245 Total Average at the plate. Entering arbitration for the 2016 season, Martin boasted a $33.8 million depreciated surplus for the Mariners; entering 2017 arbitration, that figure was $15.4 million for two seasons of arbitration reserve. Those surplus figures are significantly below the value of a 55-70 OFP prospect, but the overall career production of $60.9 million in value is almost exactly in line with the historical value of a 60-65 OFP prospect. So, even if Brinson does not become the monster all-around CF that many fans hope, he can still make good on the Lucroy/Jeffress trade with a Leonys Martin career.

This last chart should show just how much of the Brewers’ build now stands latent in the minor league system. The rebuild now requires development, rather than trades, which is a large shift for the Brewers front office. Thus far, David Stearns has proven adroit at creating value in most trades, with just a few misses to his name. But, more than anything, the GM has proven to be extremely aggressive, which perhaps explains some of the question marks (like the Khrush, Maldonado, or Will Smith deals). Building the franchise will now require patience, as well as an intuitive sense of when to seize a contending moment with trades; in this regard, Stearns’s aggression could become one of the most interesting factors should the club choose to turnaround the rebuild into contending trades in record time.

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