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The Milwaukee Brewers are just two years removed from an appearance in the NLCS, so things couldn’t be so bad that they go from amongst the top four teams in the league to the bottom four teams in the league, right?
Sadly, that’s exactly what has happened to the Brewers. That 2011 Brewers team had Zach Grienke and Prince Fielder on it, along with a not-suspended Ryan Braun, a healthy Corey Hart, and effective versions of Ricky Weeks, Yovanni Gallardo, Shaun Marcum, and John Axford. The biggest pieces left in free agency, while the rest aren’t what they used to be, and neither are the Brewers.
This is the first off season the Brewers will face the cold, harsh reality that they are not contenders in the NL Central like they have been since Ryan Braun was called to the majors. This team, as it seemingly always has been, is looking for pitching and needs to reinvigorate their offense. Unlike many teams in the basement, the Brewers don’t have the farm system ready to bring them back to relevance.
The Brewers traded away two veteran relievers who haven’t been as good over the last two years than they were at their peak. They managed to get some value in those trades while saving some money, so at least they have that. I would have liked to see them make some more trades, but the trade deadline has been much quieter lately, so I can’t criticize the Brewers for holding out. Corey Hart is the team’s biggest loss, but he missed last season entirely due to injury. Betancourt and Gonzalez are washed up infielders who probably won’t see much more than a spring training invitee in March, and Mike Gonzalez is nothing special out of the pen and should be easily replaced. Overall, not a lot going on here.
Here is the problem with the Brewers in one graphic. Look at all of those one year deals. Aoki, Ramirez, Gallardo, and Weeks all have one year left (although Ramirez does have an option year) and Lohse has only two years left. This team is going to fall apart at the seams very quickly, and the Brewers need to maximize their return now and start to retool the organization for the future. If the Brewers could move Aoki, Lohse, and Gallardo before the start of the season, they’d save $35.5 million and drop their guaranteed money to just about $50 million, which would be much more manageable for this small market team. And then if they could move Weeks and Ramirez before the trade deadline next season, they’d save even more money while starting to build the farm system again.
This is actually a good line up, but it doesn’t have much a shelf life. Weeks has an option for next year that will almost certainly be declined thanks to his poor defense and meager offensive performance during the last two seasons. There’s always hope, but I wouldn’t count on him. Ramirez will turn 36 in the middle of next season and has an option for next year that will also probably be declined, and Aoki will hit free agency next year as well. Corey Hart has said he is willing to take a discounted offer from the Brewers to return next season, so he’d be a nice addition to the team, but doesn’t change things in a meaningful way. That leaves the Brewers with Segura, Gomez, Braun, and Lucroy, which is a nice core, but they have to address their rotation in order to have any measure of success.
The Brewers starting staff actually isn’t that bad. Gorzelanny shouldn’t touch the rotation if the Brewers can help it, but the rest of these guys actually fit fairly well in place. All this team needs is another mid-rotation guy to compete, but they should avoid doing that as their window is closing. Gallardo is a free agent at the end of the year and just had a mediocre season, and Lohse should be dangled this off season for prospects. Estrada is a solid number four starter and the Brewers should just cross their fingers and hope Peralta figures it out. The bullpen has been pretty miserable since Axford lost the job, but Henderson is actually a pretty good closer. The rest of the pen is full of bottom of the bulpen guys like Kintzler and Badenhop, who don’t walk many batters, but they also don’t strike out that many either. Their lack of organizational depth from the farm system shows.
The Brewers didn’t get to pick in the first round last year since they signed Kyle Lohse, but it shouldn’t end up being a huge loss as they could turn Lohse into a decent enough prospect to make up for that. If they sign another free agent tied to compensation again this year it’s a sign of some big problems to come for the Brewers. Peralta spent last season in the majors with very mixed results. He established himself as a fifth starter, but given his stuff, a lot more is expected of him. He could be a mid-rotation guy at least if he figures it out, but we have yet to see such progress. Hellweg and Jungmann have next to no control, posting very high walk rates without striking enough guys out, and Thornburg looks to be moving into the bullpen. Roach was old for Low A but still managed to strike out a ton, so not much will be expected of him. This is a really bad top five.
The Brewers badly need to rebuild their farm system, and getting a nice upside arm in Bird along with a very nice corner bat in Pederson is just what the Brewers could use. Bird’s far enough away that the Dodgers would be fine with parting with him, and the crowded outfield makes Pederson redundant, so the Dodgers shouldn’t have any trouble peddling them away for a starter that will add even more depth to their rotation without a major financial commitment, not that they care.
RHP Jair Jurrjens (1/$2 million)
It’s been a wild couple of years for Jurrjens. After posting a sub-3.00 ERA in 2011, Jurrjens struggled immensely in 2012 and barely whiffed the majors in 2013. But that shouldn’t be enough to make the Brewers shy away from the 28-year-old. That’s right, he’s only 28! He’s a ground ball pitcher, which should play well for the homer-prone Miller Park and can easily fill a rotation spot at minimal risk. If he doesn’t work out, they can just DFA him and move on, but if he pitches well, they should get a third or fourth starter to help their rotation and a possible trade chip in July.
The Brewers can go in quite a few directions. That line up may be a division winning group, but the rotation is such a mess they should easily fall out of contention in a division with three 2013 playoff teams. There’s just too much damage here to think about pushing for the playoffs, so the front office and ownership should be figuring out how to retool this team for the future.
If the Brewers decide to start building for the future instead of the next season, it will be interesting to see who they decide to keep around and who they move. Gomez, Lucroy, and Braun are all pieces most teams should be interested in, although Braun carries a ton of baggage with him. They could decide to move the pending free agents (Aoki and Gallardo) and try and trade Ramirez and Weeks (highly paid veterans) at the deadline. As long as they do something to shake things up and surround their current block of talent with young players, the organization will be moving in the right direction.
Ryan Braun struggles for a month, then goes back to being Ryan Braun.
I can see it already: baseball writers will write article after article on how this scrub Ryan Braun was made entirely by PEDs and how he’s facing his maker now and should be released by the Brewers. But that’s not reality. Braun is still a really good player, but I think he’s going to struggle to adjust to the pouring of boos he is going to get at each visiting stadium and probably his own as well. But he’ll get over it and accept what he did and the consequences that come with it and get back to bashing the bejesus out of baseballs.
Sum it Up with a GIF (from CBS Sports)
Jean Segura steals first base
It’s about the most amazing thing that’s happened on a baseball field that doesn’t have to do with a player’s ability to play baseball. Segura symbolizes what the Brewers are going to have to do in order to win. They have to start over and try and get back in contention by trading away their remaining assets to get younger. They need better pitching, too. They need to focus on the draft and minor league scouting the next couple of years so they can improve their chances of getting back to the playoffs. If they don’t, this team might be in some truly incredible trouble. Just trade them! Do it! The Cubs, Pirates, Cardinals, and Reds are going to be good for the next few years! Be the bad team in the division and get some high picks! Last time they did it they got Braun and Fielder!