Brewers Farm Update

Which Roster Crunch?

The Brewers have made a series of moves lately, both in terms of standard (non-waiver) trade deadline impact deals and post-deadline deals, involving players that would be exposed to the 2019 Rule 5 draft (info here). These players include LHP Kodi Medeiros, a probable MLB reliever; RHP Luis Ortiz, a potential mid-rotation starter with more to offer if it all clicks; and RHP Jon Perrin, arguably the best “organizational depth” / “unsung” type of prospect in the system, a depth RHP who could muscle up to an innings-eating role.

The argument is that these players faced an impending roster crunch, so I thought it was time for another big, unwieldy, speculative post on such a crunch. What does the Brewers’ crunch look like? Is there a roster crunch?


Brief Aside on the Rule 5 Draft:
The Rule 5 draft is ostensibly meant to serve as a labor institution that keeps MLB teams from hoarding minor league players without an equal shot at MLB roles with other teams; thus, after certain required time periods (based on when / how a player was acquired), the Brewers must protect minor league players on their 40-man roster or risk their exposure to the Rule 5 draft (which typically takes place at the end of each winter meetings). The gamble is that any team selecting a Rule 5 player must typically keep that player on their MLB roster, meaning that if the Brewers do not necessarily foresee an impact or serviceable MLB role for a minor leaguer, they can leverage that risk by not protecting the player for the Rule 5 draft. Recently, teams like the San Diego Padres have called teams’ bluffs by selecting low-minors players, including the Brewers’ gamble with former Top Ten prospect RHP Miguel Diaz, eschewing the typical Triple-A / advanced minors depth player selected in the draft. The Brewers have multiple players spanning these types of gambles for 2019, ranging from low minors gambles like Carlos Herrera to advanced depth players like Bubba Derby or Quintin Torres-Costa.

Let’s start with a look at some of the best Rule 5 prospects available from the Brewers system. This list of eligible players is available thanks to the indispensable The order is mine, based on how I might grade out the risk and potential future roles of these players:

Interesting Rule 5 Role
RHP Trey Supak Depth RHP / Impact RHP (#Brewers SP role)
OF Troy Stokes Jr. Functional 4th OF
1B Jake Gatewood The Elusive Corner Utility (1B / 3B / LF / RF)
RHP Cody Ponce Depth RHP / Mid-Low Rotation
RHP Carlos Herrera The Miguel Diaz for 2019
OF Joantgel Segovia Depth OF
LHP Quintin Torres-Costa Depth LHP / Reliever
RHP Bubba Derby Depth RHP / Reliever
C Max McDowell Depth C
LHP Nate Kirby ????
RHP Devin Williams ????
RHP Wuilder Rodriguez Surprise!

First and foremost, if it matters, I would have slotted RHP Luis Ortiz first on this list, and he is also the most certain player of this group to appear on a 2019 Top 10 list due to one of the clearest potential impact roles of the bunch (even given his risk); LHP Kodi Medeiros would have slotted around Cody Ponce and Jake Gatewood; RHP Jon Perrin would have slotted around Herrera / Segovia / Torres-Costa. (For what it’s worth, among this group I would consider protecting Supak, Stokes, Gatewood, and Ponce).

This is a long way of saying that the Brewers arguably already traded away their best possible roles available in the Rule 5 draft for 2019, which is certainly one way to rid an organization of a potential roster crunch. As you can see looking at these prospects, there are fewer potential impact roles available, and notably fewer tough decisions for GM David Stearns. It is not clear who on this list is a player that would derail the organization if left unprotected. I’d love to sing the praises of Nathan Kirby or Devin Williams, but their respective injury histories and subsequent development raises significant questions to the point that I’m not sure how to form MLB roles; I’d place both in the Taylor Williams “it would be great if they came back and could be serviceable MLB relievers” role.

I am certain that other fans have potential Rule 5 picks that they like more than the prospects I listed, and I’m certain other folks would list these prospects in different orders. That is fine. What I want to stress is that if one actually lays out the potential roles of these players, it’s tough to see some crush of must-protect-impact-players that would cause a roster crunch worthy of trading away the (most likely) best roles from the group. Right now, it seems like Trey Supak, Quintin Torres-Costa, and Bubba Derby are players who could “play up” in Milwaukee’s current pitching system. But should all three be protected on the 40-man roster?

Thanks to recent moves, the Brewers also have a group of players with contract options for 2019, which is a good thing because the club has less than $70 million in agreements guaranteed thus far. In short: this is a team that could pick up some options and spend some cash at the MLB level, especially given the financial success of the rebuild.

Options Amount Role
Mike Moustakas $15.0M (mutual) Average 3B / Quality 3B
Joakim Soria $10.0M (mutual) Closer / Veteran High Leverage Relief Ace
Jordan Lyles $3.5M (club) Depth RHP

Among this group, only Jordan Lyles would be a “roster crunch”-causing player. The Brewers could decline Lyles’s option in order to protect an additional player from the Rule 5 draft, or (obviously) make some other type of acquisition to bolster the club. For what it is worth, I would renew both Moustakas and Soria. Both are valuable veteran types who would help to boost a club that is now clearly within a contending window.

As I have covered throughout the year with the Daily Pythagorean record posting on @BPMilwaukee Twitter, the Brewers are averaging approximately 85-win outcomes throughout 2018 (based on their park-and-league-adjusted Runs Scored / Runs Allowed). Milwaukee is a team that is succeeding due to the uneven distribution of their bullpen and fielding success, meaning that elite relievers and extremely efficient fielding are bringing-up other aspects of the club. Additionally, there are park factor discrepancies between Baseball Prospectus and Baseball Reference such that if one follows Baseball Prospectus, the offense is much better than most fans and analysts observe (in terms of underlying elements). It’s simply the case that those underlying elements (prior to the trade deadline) still resulted in frightening frequent low-scoring games.

One benefit of the Brewers #TeamDepth attitude is that the roster is built with numerous cost-controlled players who seemingly look replaceable on paper. And thus, considering Milwaukee’s potential arbitration-eligible players and free agents is the most interesting area of the so-called roster crunch. Here I’ve attempted to rank players roughly by role:

Arbitration Eligible & Free Agent Brewers 2018 WARP (through August 7) Role
3B Travis Shaw 3.1 Batting Order Anchor
LHP Wade Miley 0.1 2018 Hero
UTIL Hernan Perez 1.0 Singular Positional Flexibility (.273 TAv!)
RHP Junior Guerra 0.6 Runs Prevented Ace
RHP Jimmy Nelson - Recovering Ace
RHP Zach Davies -0.2 Recovering Mid-Rotation SP
RHP Corey Knebel 0.5 Recovering Closer
LHP Dan Jennings 0.2 Unsung bullpen hero
C Manny Pina 0.3 Starting C
2B Jonathan Schoop -0.4 Starting 2B
OF Domingo Santana 0.1 Starting RF
C Erik Kratz 0.6 Defensive C
OF Keon Broxton 0.9 (!!!) Depth OF
IF Tyler Saladino 0.6 The Secret Travis Shaw II
C Stephen Vogt - Injury?
UTIL Nick Franklin 0.0 Poor Man’s Hernan Perez
Total 7.4 ~26% of team WARP / ~31% of Roster Roles

Looking at these players, it is first and foremost clear that there is a discrepancy between Wins Above Replacement Player statistics (based on underlying stats) and the distributional strengths of the club in terms of Runs Scored and Runs Allowed. Thus, seemingly replaceable players like Junior Guerra, Wade Miley, Hernan Perez, and Dan Jennings thrive in Milwaukee’s system. This is a good thing, and perhaps some of the reason for this current roster-crunch talk is that the Brewers are loaded with a group of players that are not great but certainly cannot be discarded.

Yet, even with this caveat, nearly half of these players could be replaced in 2019. Some of these difficult decisions could follow injuries (such as Stephen Vogt), or an “end-of-the-line” in terms of MLB role in Milwaukee (see Nick Franklin, Keon Broxton, or Tyler Saladino). One could conceivably slice this group of pending transactions in numerous ways.

Coupled with yet another group of players ranging from Marcos Diplan to Matt Albers and Ariel Hernandez, Alec Asher and Aaron Wilkerson, there appears to be significant wiggle room on the 40-man roster. Thus, one ought to return to the deadline trades and reassess the acquisition cost and trade strategy used by Stearns; this is not to say that the trades were bad across the board, but rather that the allocation of resources to pick up these players is worth questioning. It is not clear that a pending Rule 5 roster crunch was so severe to necessitate steep costs where those costs involved Rule 5 players. Given this, one can turn back to the MLB acquisitions returned in the trades, and assess those roles for the contending stretch.

It is fun to be in a position to assess a club’s moves solely on a contending basis, but when the long-term picture is also invoked, it must be invoked carefully: in the case of the 2019 Brewers, the roster crunch storyline does not appear to add up. Stearns had, and continues to have, far too many 2019 options for clearing roster space to have traded Ortiz, Medeiros, and Perrin solely for those reasons. Thus, it is more interesting to suggest that Stearns was flipping potential long-term assets for controllable MLB players (in the case of Schoop, Soria, and Moustakas), or potentially clearing roster space for additional acquisitions during the 2018-2019 offseason. With (easily) more than $60 million to spend and a once in a lifetime free agency class, that latter point serves as an even more interesting roster motivation for clearing away Rule 5 protections.

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