As the Brewers continue to show their strengths with a relatively healthy roster core and pitching staff, it is worth further investigating and pushing on the rebuilding narrative. Of course, by now I have been working on a series of “Smartbuilding” posts that showcase strategies for roster-building that expand the potential range of rebuilding; the Brewers can rebuild by redesigning their front office or working through one “extreme austerity” year, as much as they can rebuild by tearing down the whole roster. What I now wonder is, can the Brewers rebuild and win? Or, even better, is rebuilding the best way to win in 2016?
The (Bloated?) Roster Core (?)
Currently, the Brewers claim eight 2016 veteran contracts that were procured through free agency or extensions. This core accounts for at least $64 million of the Milwaukee payroll, and I pose the question of whether it is a bloated core for the following reasons:
- At least $34 million will go to a couple of past-prime players (and a buyout fee).
- Adam Lind at $8 million is a solid-if-average first base option.
- Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy boast exceptional contractual rates for their elite 2013 and 2014 performances, but less so for their 2015 stature.
|Brewers 2016 Core||At least $89M|
|Adam Lind||$8M (option)|
|Jonathan Broxton||$2M (buyout)|
|Arbitration Controlled Fielders||2-3|
|Arbitration Controlled Pitchers||2-4|
|Reserve Controlled Fielders||11+|
|Reserve Controlled Pitchers||10+|
Where the roster gets really interesting is the controllable players. First and foremost, outside of Wily Peralta, Jean Segura, and Will Smith, I gather that the potential arbitration players on the Brewers might either run into service issues that delay arbitration (like Tyler Thornburg and Matt Dominguez) or serve as non-tender candidates (compare Logan Schafer with Kyle Wren, or Brandon Kintzler and even (arguably) Thornburg against the organization’s vast right-handed pitching depth). On the other hand, the reserve control players feature strong depth and flexibility players like Luis Sardinas, Yadiel Rivera, and even Shane Peterson, as well as some of the strongest members of the 2015 roster (like Taylor Jungmann, Fastballer Mike Fiers, or even Khris Davis).
From this set of players, one can draw several conclusions about the roster:
- The Brewers have exceptional SS, 2B, and RHP depth. Bullpen depth is also fantastic.
- Milwaukee will need a 3B under any circumstance.
- Starting options at 2B, 3B, and arguably even SS, LF, and RF can be scrutinized for value & production.
- Depth needs to increase for the corner infield, full OF, and LHP.
- Approximately 15% of the payroll will be allocated to “dead money.”
Banging On the Door
One of the best aspects of the 2015 Brewers season is the fact that several players on the farm have taken key steps forward. Cot’s Contracts included Yadiel Rivera, Johnny Hellweg, Tyler Wagner, and Luis Sardinas in their list of controllable players, which I already included in the chart above. So, beyond intriguing options like Sardinas and Rivera, the high minors includes a number of players making strides toward the MLB.
|Arriving Mid 2016?|
|Orlando Arcia||SS (AA)|
|Michael Reed||RF (AA)|
|Tyrone Taylor||CF (AA)|
|Kyle Wren||OF (AA-AAA)|
|Victor Roache||LF (AA)|
|Jorge Lopez||RHP (AA)|
|Damien Magnifico||RHP (AA)|
|Ariel Pena||RHP (AAA)|
|Michael Strong||LHP (AA)|
|Jed Bradley||LHP (AA-AAA)|
Granted, each of these players may not make the MLB in 2016. After his bat cooled slightly in 2015, for example, Tyrone Taylor might get a longer look at AAA Colorado Springs. Jorge Lopez might be treated differently as a starter, while potential bullpen depth arms like Michael Strong and Jed Bradley could be fast-tracked if necessary. Players like Orlando Arcia and Michael Reed could prove to develop so quickly that they necessitate a big league call-up, although it is worth noting that organizational roadblocks at SS and the corner outfield could easily block both players under certain circumstances.
Cross-Sections for the Future
The logjams in the outfield and middle infield, as well as the spots where the Brewers expect their best, and fastest, rise to the MLB team can help define the team’s needs for the trade deadline and 2015-2016 offseason. Here, trading specific players can help the Brewers build the best possible short-term and long-term teams.
- Trading Lucroy and Gomez at some point still offers the best possible return for impact prospects.
- Orchestrating a Braun trade (most likely in the offseason due to cash involved) would allow the club to open corner outfield spots to give players like Peterson and Wren a shot, while also preparing a flexible roster should Reed rocket to the big leagues.
- Trading Parra also immediately helps the Brewers find value in their outfield depth, giving Peterson more reps (as does trading Lind, since Peterson has some history at 1B, too).
- If the Brewers do not trade Braun, trading Lind could help the Brewers move Braun to 1B, effectively clearing the outfield jam with a different strategy.
- Moving Braun, Lind, and Gomez knocks at least $37 million in expected payroll off the books for 2016.
- Trading from depth in the middle infield could also give the Brewers a chance to acquire low-cost, controllable talent and potentially clear space for Arcia.
- While many fans already criticize the idea of one of the Brewers’ existing middle infielders shifting to third, moving some of the middle infield depth to that side of the infield could allow each prospect to get time at the plate while clearing space for Arcia.
Once these spots are cleared, the Brewers can use their roster space for flexible, short-term free agency signings, trades, and waiver claims. By creating the space to check out organizational depth, make room for fast-rising impact prospects, and work with buy-low, low-risk signings, the Brewers can scrutinize specific traits, actively scout approaches and tools, in order to design a club that might not be as recognizable by name, but could begin to compete and bridge the gap to the next cost-controlled roster core.
|A Midseason 2016 Model|
|C||Trade / FA / Waiver|
|2B||Gennett / Segura|
|3B||Segura / Dominguez|
|CF||Trade / FA / Waiver|
|SP / RP||Garza|
|SP / RP||Cravy|
|SP / RP||Wagner|
|SP / RP||Lopez|