There is no need to mince words here, the Brewers have gotten off to a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad start. It seems as though the walls are caving in from all directions all at once. Even though it isn’t strictly true that the season is over, at 2-12, they’re about as close to done as a team that was projected for around a .500 record preseason can get on April 22nd.
Mike Petriello summed it all up here pretty well on Fangraphs on Tuesday. Perhaps most telling:
To get to .500, the Brewers have to play at a .530 clip the rest of the way. Last year, they had a .506 winning percentage. The year before, .457. Before that, .512. They won’t stay at the current .154 — that’s a 25-137 season, in case you were wondering — but we’re projecting them at .472 from here on out, which again I’m writing before updating for Lucroy.
Rather than wallowing in despair, though, let’s take a look at some things that the team can do to turn things around for the future. While much of the big work that needs to be done is going to happen several months down the line, there are a few things that the team can do in the short term to help improve the outlook.
1) Focus on defense
Consider this preventative measures in asset protection. One of the things the Brewers have going for them right now is that they do have some young pitching to work with in Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson and Mike Fiers. They may not be future aces, but teams need surplus pitching and they could use a protective and nurturing touch to make sure they’re healthy and productive long enough to help one way or another. Giving them a defensive boost could help cut down on high stress situation pitches and generally allow them to eat innings more effectively.
This is also something that can be done right now: the Brewers can favor defense at a number of positions, especially when the young guys pitch. Most notably, third baseman Aramis Ramirez is struggling early at the plate and in the field and could probably use time off. Luis Jimeniez is a good defender at third and could especially help ground-ball pitchers like Nelson and Peralta to convert all those worm burners into outs.
Elsewhere, Martin Maldonado is already (unfortunately) in line to get quite a few starts and Elian Herrera and Hector Gomez both offer defensive upside. Logan Schafer is a suspect bat, but carries a good glove and could help out a fly ball pitcher like Fiers here and there.
2) Release The Scouts!
Let’s face it, the Brewers are looking like definite sellers come the trade deadline this year. Who they sell (#TeamTradeLucroy) is something that can be debated down in the comment section. Barring the miraculous, “sell” moves are coming, so it’s time for the organization to get prepared.
Modern MLB teams employ a number of different types of scouts and analysts to help them sort through the massive number of potential players and assess who has what in terms of MLB skills. This is done at the amateur level, the minor league level and the major league level through both traditional scouting and advanced analysis.
Setting aside the amateur side for a moment (don’t worry, we’ll come back to them later), it’s going to be especially important for the Brewers to focus on identifying young players at both the major and minor league levels that can help in the future. Every talent evaluator in the organization should be told in the coming days that their #1 mission for the next three-plus months is to identify two types of talent:
– Players that are young and talented enough to be part of the next great Brewers’ team.
– Players that are currently undervalued whose performance is likely to improve and can then be turned around and flipped for more young talent.
The more good information the higher up decision makers have when it comes trade time, the better.
3) Reshape the budget
The Brewers came into 2015 with a record $104.2 million payroll. On one hand, that’s quite a large obligation to meet in a season where the club probably isn’t going to hit attendance goals. On the other, one of the side benefits of trading off veterans for younger players is younger players almost always cost a lot less. They can probably achieve quite a bit of relief for this year and beyond by simply trading away some of these contracts and utilizing cheaper players.
Some of this savings will undoubtedly be needed to offset downturns in projected attendance, but left over money should be sharply focused on adding as much young talent as possible. While the new rules governing the draft and international amateur markets limit the amount of spending teams can do, the team should definitely maximize its commitments to those areas. No cap dollar should be left unspent.
They should also continue to shoot for players on the international market that aren’t governed by the amateur spending rules. The Brewers did go after Jose Abreu before the 2014 season, and those sorts of efforts should become even more common and hopefully successful while the team is trying to build. Every few months some new Cuban defector seems to hit the open market. For example just yesterday:
Source: Top Cuban pitching prospect Yasiel Sierra, 23, has left the island & is seeking residency outside of Cuba. Believed to be in the DR.
— Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) April 21, 2015
The Brewers don’t have to turn into the Red Sox or the Dodgers and sign everyone of these guys they can get their hands on, but if the right situation does come along, it would be best if they were in a position to act on it and make a real run at a player like this.
4) Sign Doug Melvin to a contract extension
Still hanging in there? Good, now it’s time to really go out on a limb.
Doug Melvin obviously isn’t the most popular guy in Milwaukee right now. No one who assembled a team that started off 2-12 could be. While it’s far from crazy to suggest the Brewers could benefit from new ideas at the top of the organization, it’s also probably not necessary to risk a massive turnover in the front office right at the time when big, long-term decisions are going to be made.
New scouting director Ray Montgomery is well thought of and deserves a real chance to see what he can do. The international team, led by Eduardo Brizuela and Manny Batista has made major strides in recent years and there is absolutely no reason to change things there.
Perhaps most importantly, Melvin’s chops as a trader are strong, with many more successes to his name than failures. He did an very good job in the 2002-2005 era in terms of building up assets for the eventual playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. While it’s possible someone else could come in and do better than him, it’s also possible that someone could come in and really screw it all up.
It would also probably be a good idea if the team could put in place some sort of plan for succession if they haven’t already. Melvin has been the team president already for years now, and giving up the grueling day-to-day running of the baseball operations department would make sense in the relatively near future for a man who is months away from his 63rd birthday. It all comes down to whether or not owner Mark Attansio is game for keeping him around. Given Melvin was offered an extension of a length of his choosing not even a month ago, it probably won’t be long before an extension is done.