It’s good to be back, folks. It’s been a while. After taking some time to transition to a new job and work feverishly on Ph.D. applications over the past two months, I am pleased to climb back into the saddle with the Winter Meetings on the horizon.
Let’s preview the week for the Brewers.
THE SEARCH FOR A #2 PITCHER
The organization has been vocal regarding their desire to acquire a number two starter this winter. Whether that pitcher comes via free agency or the trade market remains unclear, but do not be surprised if Doug Melvin and the Brewers leave Nashville this week with a new starter to slide in behind Yovani Gallardo atop the rotation.
While the Brewers would love to sign right-hander Zack Greinke, his expected salary range lies well beyond the organization’s means, so expect Melvin to target the second-tier starters this week. Milwaukee has already been connected to Ryan Dempster, and names such as Edwin Jackson, Anibal Sanchez, and Brandon McCarthy have been bandied about on the blogosphere over the past month.
The unknown variable in the Brewers’ search for a starting pitcher is the price tag. New television deals have flooded Major League Baseball landscape, and we appear to be entering a new era of free agent contracts. Many previously thought Greinke would net a Matt Cain type contract. Recently, though, it’s been posited by baseball executives that Greinke could sign a record contract north of $150M.
If the rest of the free agent market for starting pitching follows that lead, Milwaukee may find themselves in a bidding war they cannot win. Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opined earlier this offseason that the Brewers will lower their payroll for 2013. He believes the Brewers actually ended the season in the red due to a $100M+ payroll last year. That could spell trouble for Doug Melvin and the organization if the free agent continues to balloon.
REBUILD THE BULLPEN
Doug Melvin dismantled the team’s bullpen over the course of the last month — parting ways with Kameron Loe, Jose Veras, and Manny Parra (along with others) — but the quest to revamp one of the league’s worst relief corps began over the weekend with the Brewers acquiring right-hander Burke Badenhop from the Tampa Bay Rays for minor league outfielder Raul Mondesi Jr.
Although Badenhop marks the beginning of a new Brewers’ bullpen, the vast majority of the groundwork will be laid this week in Nashville. The Brewers are reportedly searching for veteran arms to fill out the rest of the relief crew. One of those will likely be a back-end arm that can slide into the setup role — though Milwaukee could opt for middle relief and bequeath that role upon Jim Henderson based upon his second-half performance last season. And with Parra recently non-tendered, the Brewers currently lack a left-handed specialist, so that could be another item on the Christmas List this December.
The real question surrounding the bullpen’s construction centers on what Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke plan to do with the handful of young starting pitchers who currently sit on the precipice of a big league roster spot. Does Tyler Thornburg start the year in the big league bullpen or in Triple-A Nashville? How about Wily Peralta? Mark Rogers?
The list of potential starting pitchers without a true home in Triple-A or the big-league rotation is surprisingly deep for Milwaukee. It presents the organization with an opportunity to fill out the remainder of the bullpen with internal, cheap options — though it would leave the Brewers with a myriad of question marks heading into the season. And in a season where the front office eyes postseason contention, leaving the bullpen on such unsteady ground seems unlikely, especially after the bullpen almost single-handedly shot down the Brewers’ postseason chances in 2012.
Doug Melvin could allow the relief market to settle a bit before playing his hand, but expect to hear the Brewers connected to a handful of relievers this week.
MAKE A DECISION AT SHORTSTOP
Despite hitting .309/.378/.407 in September last season, Jean Segura may not be the Brewers’ starting shortstop on Opening Day next year. The organization discussed in October bringing back Alex Gonzalez, who impressed before succumbing to a season-ending knee injury last year. Gonzalez would bring certainty to the postion for the Brewers during a season full of postseason aspirations, and it would also allow Segura to get more seasoning in Triple-A.
All this talk of not starting Segura at shortstop seems to have faded by the wayside in recent weeks, especially since the 22-year-old currently leads the Dominican Winter League in hitting with a .358/.421/.468 slash line. His defense also exceeded expectations after coming over from the Angels in a mid-season trade. The organization could still bring back Alex Gonzalez under the expressed understanding that he will begin the season as a key reserve off the bench, but whether it’s Gonzalez or not, expect Doug Melvin to sign a capable reserve shortstop this winter.
He’s not about to get stuck in a situation where a Cesar Izturis type player is getting 150-200 plate appearances again. You can count on that. We all, collectively, learned how sour that tasted last year.
SHORE UP BENCH
It’s generally one of the more fungible pieces of a 25-man roster, but the Brewers will look to upgrade their bench at the Winter Meetings. Power and defensive flexibility remain the attributes on the Brewers’ wish list. 27-year-old Mat Gamel should provide some power in late-game situations, as would Alex Gonzalez if the organization is able to sign him as a reserve infielder. Martin Maldonado and Logan Schafer appear to be locks for the Opening Day roster, too.
Realistically, that leaves one or two bench spots open. Look for the Brewers to acquire a middle infielder who can handle the shortstop position — with Alex Gonzalez being the leader in the clubhouse — and another corner outfield bat with primarily pinch-hitting responsibilities.
POTENTIAL TRADING CHIPS
Mat Gamel: Gamel has gone from first baseman of the future to potential trade bait in a single season due to his season-ending ACL tear after just 21 games last year and Corey Hart’s move to first base. It’s difficult to ascertain his trade value, but I have heard some speculation from national writers that Gamel could be a prime chip to acquire another relief arm for the Brewers.
Carlos Gomez: In some ways, this feels wrong to include in this section because you had a better chance of winning the PowerBall this past week than this unlikely scenario coming to fruition, but Gomez could be shopped if the Brewers somehow pull off the “Josh Hamilton to Milwaukee” narrative that has been so popular over the last couple month. Hamilton would conceivably leave Gomez without a starting job, and he could then be shopped to upgrade the Brewers’ starting rotation.
Again, I haven’t seen any indication that the Brewers can legitimately afford Hamilton — as even on a three or four year deal, he could require $25M per year — but considering the prevalence of talk surrounding the potential signing, it needed to be included as a possibility.
Starter Prospects: Milwaukee does not have much to offer on the trade market in terms of elite, blue-chip prospects, but the farm system teems with mid-to-back rotation starters. Outside of the pitchers who made their big league debuts last season, the Brewers also have guys like Jimmy Nelson, Taylor Jungmann, Nick Bucci, and Hiram Burgos who could somehow be packaged to acquire an established big leaguer. The problem, however, is that none of the Brewers’ prospects carry enough value to headline a trade package that could bring someone like a James Shields. If the Brewers desire that type of impact player, they’re going to have to get incredibly creative and trade a current major league player or two.