Just three years into the job, General Manager David Stearns has already left a considerable stamp on Brewers franchise history. Thanks in no small part to a series of shrewd trades and waiver wire pickups, Milwaukee is back in the postseason for the first time since 2011, has posted back-to-back years of winning records after the world’s shortest rebuild, and National League Central Champions after a thrilling Game 163 against the Cubs.
At the time that he was hired, it seemed like as though the Brewers were many years away from consistent contention. Even the optimistic fan would have pointed to 2019 or so as the year in which the Brewers may start to make some noise. Stearns has exceeded expectations by any measure.
But because baseball is a sport perfect for speculative thought exercises, I asked the following question: What if he didn’t?
What would have happened if Stearns settled into his desk on the morning of September 20, 2015, took stock of the team and its farm system, and said, “You know what? Let’s just ride it out and see what happens.”
In the alternate universe you are about to enter, every Stearns trade is gone. He just never even picks up the phone. The free agent signings and waiver claims, for the sake of this exercise, remain. (In the Bizarro universe, his nickname is Waivin’ Dave.)
We’ll also assume that the performances of all players involved in the Bizarro universe would be comparable to their real-world counterparts, aside from some minor park adjustments, perhaps. Why this particular set of rules? ‘Cuz.
The first order of business: Undoing every trade the Brewers made after handing the franchise reins to David Stearns.
November 18, 2015 – Traded RHP Francisco Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers for MiLB IF Javier Betancourt and C Manny Piña
November 19, 2015 – Traded MiLB RHP Cy Sneed to the Astros for 2B Jonathan Villar
November 20, 2015 – Traded IF Luis Sardiñas to the Mariners for OF/1B Ramon Flores
December 9, 2015 – Traded IB Adam Lind to the Mariners for MiLB RHPs Carlos Herrera, Daniel Missaki, and Freddy Peralta
December 17, 2015 – Traded 1B Jason Rogers to the Pirates for MiLB RHP Trey Supak and OF Keon Broxton
January 30, 2016 – Traded 2B/SS Jean Segura and MiLB RHP Tyler Wagner to the Diamondbacks for MiLB 2B/SS Isan Diaz, RHP Chase Anderson, and IF Aaron Hill
February 12, 2016 – Traded OF/DH Khris Davis to the Athletics for MiLB RHP Bubba Derby and MiLB C Jacob Nottingham
July 7, 2016 – Traded IF Aaron Hill to the Red Sox for MiLB IF Wendell Rijo and MiLB RHP Aaron Wilkerson
August 1, 2016 – Traded RHP Jeremy Jeffress and C Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers for MiLBers Lewis Brinson (OF), Luis Ortiz (RHP), and Ryan Cordell (OF)
August 1, 2016 – Traded LHP Will Smith to the Giants for C Andrew Susac and MiLB RHP Phil Bickford
December 6, 2016 – Traded RHP Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox for 3B Travis Shaw, MiLB SS/2B Mauricio Dubon, MiLB RHP Josh Pennington, MiLB SS Yeison Coca
December 13, 2016 – Traded C Martin Maldonado and MiLB RHP Drew Gagnon to the Angels for C Jett Bandy
April 13, 2017 – Traded RHP Damien Magnifico to the Orioles for RHP Oliver Drake
June 30, 2017 – Traded IF/OF Nick Franklin to the Angels for cash
July 13, 2017 – Traded 1B Garrett Cooper to the Yankees for LHP Tyler Webb
July 26, 2017 – Traded OF Ryan Cordell to the White Sox for RHP Anthony Swarzak
July 31, 2017 – Traded RHP Tayler Scott to the Rangers for RHP Jeremy Jeffress
August 12, 2017 – Traded RHP Eric Hanhold to the Mets for 2B Neil Walker
January 25, 2018 – Traded OF Lewis Brinson and MiLBers Isan Diaz (SS/2B), Monte Harrison (OF), and Jordan Yamamoto (RHP) to the Marlins for OF Christian Yelich
February 2, 2018 – Traded C Andrew Susac to the Orioles for cash
May 25, 2018 – Traded MiLB IF Wendell Rijo to the Yankees for C Erik Kratz
June 10, 2018 – Traded 1B/OF Ji-Man Choi to the Rays for IF Brad Miller and cash
July 26, 2018 – Traded MiLB LHP Kodi Medeiros and MiLB RHP Wilber Perez to the White Sox for RHP Joakim Soria and cash
July 27, 2018 – Traded RHP Jorge López and OF Brett Phillips to the Royals for 3B Mike Moustakas
July 31, 2018 – Traded 2B Jonathan Villar, MiLB RHP Luis Ortiz, and MiLB IF Jean Carmona to the Orioles for 2B Jonathan Schoop
August 31, 2018 – Traded MiLB RHP Johan Dominguez and MiLB IF/OF Bryan Connell to the White Sox for LHP Xavier Cedeño
August 31, 2018 – Traded MiLB C/1B KJ Harrison and MiLB IF Gilbert Lara to the Nationals for LHP Gio González and international bonus slot money
August 31, 2018 – Traded MiLB OF Demi Orimoloye to the Blue Jays for OF Curtis Granderson
Total Players Retained: Francisco Rodriguez (Controlled through 2017 with a club option), Cy Sneed (minors), Luis Sardiñas (Batted .111 for Baltimore in 8 2018 games), Adam Lind (Free Agent after 2016), Jason Rogers (Has spent time in NPB and indie ball), Jean Segura (FA 2019), Tyler Wagner (minors), Khris Davis (48 HR, FA 2020), Aaron Hill (FA after season), Jeremy Jeffress, Jonathan Lucroy (FA 2018), Will Smith (FA 2020), Tyler Thornburg (FA 2020), Martin Maldonado (FA 2019), Drew Gagnon (5.25 ERA in 12 IP for the Mets in 2018), Damien Magnifico (minors), Nick Franklin (re-signed), Garrett Cooper (60-Day DL for Marlins), Tayler Scott (minors), Eric Hanhold (7.71 ERA in 3 games with Mets), Monte Harrison (minors), Jordan Yamamoto (minors), Ji-Man Choi (10 HR in 221 PA), Kodi Medeiros (minors), Wilber Perez (minors), Jorge López (combined 5.03 ERA), Brett Phillips (great defense, 41.7 K%), Jean Carmona (minors), Johan Dominguez (minors), Bryan Connell (minors), KJ Harrison (minors), Gilbert Lara (minors), Demi Orimoloye (minors)
Total Players Never Acquired: Javier Betancourt, Manny Piña, Jonathan Villar, Ramon Flores, Carlos Herrera, Daniel Missaki, Freddy Peralta, Trey Supak, Keon Broxton, Isan Diaz, Chase Anderson, Aaron Hill, Bubba Derby, Jacob Nottingham, Wendell Rijo, Aaron Wilkerson, Lewis Brinson, Ryan Cordell, Luis Ortiz, Andrew Susac, Phil Bickford, Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon, Josh Pennington, Yeison Coca, Jett Bandy, Oliver Drake, Tyler Webb, Anthony Swarzak, Neil Walker, Christian Yelich, Erik Kratz, Brad Miller, Joakim Soria, Mike Moustakas, Jonathan Schoop, Xavier Cedeño, Gio González, Curtis Granderson
The first thing that stands out in all of this is the sheer volume of major transactions occurring for the Brewers in a relatively short period of time. Stearns has acquired more major league contributors than he’s given up, a further testament to the rapidity of his rebuild, but both lists are startlingly long. The man’s been busy.
The second thing is that, hey, a few good players around the league were Brewers in the not-too-distant past. A few of those players would still be under team control. Which brings us to…
2018 Bizarro Brewers Starting Lineup & Depth Chart
- Lorenzo Cain (CF)
- Jean Segura (2B)
- Ryan Braun (RF)
- Khris Davis (LF)
- Jesus Aguilar (3B)
- Eric Thames (1B)
- Martin Maldonado (C)
- Orlando Arcia (SS)
Left Field: Khris Davis, Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Ji-Man Choi
Center Field: Lorenzo Cain, Brett Phillips
Right Field: Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips
First Base: Eric Thames, Ji-Man Choi, Garrett Cooper
Second Base: Jean Segura, Hernán Pérez
Shortstop: Orlando Arcia, Jean Segura, Hernán Pérez
Third Base: Jesus Aguilar, Hernán Pérez, Garrett Cooper
Catcher: Martin Maldonado, Christian Bethancourt
Starting Rotation: Jhoulys Chacín, Zach Davies, Wade Miley, Junior Guerra, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Jorge López, Adrian Houser, Tyler Wagner
Bullpen: Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Will Smith, Dan Jennings, Jacob Barnes, Tyler Thornburg, Taylor Williams, Matt Albers, Jordan Lyles, Quintin Torres-Costa, Nick Ramirez
DL: Jimmy Nelson, Stephen Vogt
What emerges is a surprisingly decent group, albeit one that would lose several key players to free agency following both the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Onto the head-to-head.
The absence of Chase Anderson and Freddy Peralta thins the crop of starting pitchers, but would also pave the way for Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes to pick up some meaningful starts. Meanwhile, the bullpen still looks strong. Real Brewers pitchers combined for approximately 18 Pitcher Wins Above Replacement Player (PWARP) in 2018, placing them right in the middle of the league. The Bizarro Brewers pretty much measure up. Overall, the Brewers shed a total of 1.1 PWARP, mostly thanks to Gio González and Joakim Soria, but add that 1.1 back through Will Smith. It’s difficult to say how the Bizarro rotation would have fared, with inexperienced arms like Woodruff and Burnes assuming more important roles. But the pitching, on its face, seems to be more or less a wash.
Behind those pitchers, the defense would be a bit of a mess. Despite a strong presence up the middle (Maldonado, Arcia, Segura, and Cain), the corners look leaky, with third base threatening to approach 2007-Ryan-Braun levels of futility, and Khris Davis battling The Creature in left. Ryan Braun in right wouldn’t be too pretty, either. So while manager Craig Counsell could count on those big bats to create a lead, he’d likely yank them out of the game in the seventh or eighth inning in favor of Hernán Pérez, Brett Phillips, and Domingo Santana. Not the most comfortable system, but one that could work.
Advantage: Real Brewers
Real Brewers hitters had a terrific year, and come out on top of the Bizarro Brewers pretty handily. Christian Yelich and Travis Shaw combined for approximately 12.0 Batter Wins Above Replacement Player (BWARP) in 2018, handily beating the 7.3 BWARP compiled by Jean Segura and Khris Davis. Bizarro catcher Martin Maldonado contributes less than one BWARP-win behind the plate against Many Piña’s 1.5, and Christian Bethancourt isn’t a likely bet to replace the 1.4 BWARP accumulated by Erik Kratz. Jesus Aguilar’s value would be diminished at third base, and it’s tough to say how Thames and Choi would have responded to increased playing time.
Advantage: Real Brewers
It’s close, but assuming they all get a full season of playing time, I’ll take the combined output of Davis-Aguilar-Thames-Braun over Yelich-Aguilar-Shaw-Braun. Playing in Miller Park, Khrush could have eclipsed Prince Fielder’s team record of 50 home runs in 2007.
Advantage: Bizarro Brewers
2018 is probably the best chance for the Bizarro Brewers to make the playoffs, as they stand to lose Martin Maldonado and Jean Segura (who never signed that extension in the Bizarro universe) to free agency after the season. They could always shell out for Daniel Murphy or DJ LeMahieu and patch their catching situation with Kurt Suzuki or Wilson Ramos, but that’s not exactly the Brewers’ style, plus they’ll lose Khris Davis, Will Smith, Jhoulys Chacín, and Tyler Thornburg the next year (with Braun and Thames not far behind).
Squint a little bit (and imagine a few lucky breaks going their way), and it’s not impossible to think that the Bizarro squad could have pushed for a Wild Card spot this season. But it’s also not hard to see that the Real Brewers are a stronger team right now, and will be a stronger team for years to come.
Which reminds me: Postseason baseball is here. Go Crew!