The non-waiver trade deadline came and went on Friday afternoon, and when the dust had settled it was clear that the team has decided to go in a somewhat different direction than the path they have been on since Mark Attanasio took over as owner a decade ago.
All told, general-manager-for-now Doug Melvin had traded away five bonafide major league players and acquired in their place seven prospects, only one of whom has any experience in The Show. This isn’t the first time that the team has “sold” at the deadline under Melvin/Attanasio, but it is the most comprehensive set of sell moves in their tenure running the club.
Especially telling of the current mindset is the fact that the biggest move, the one that sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston in exchange for four prospects, involved two Brewers with more than this season remaining under club control. Gomez is locked into a very reasonable contract for 2016, while Fiers will be under club control through 2019 and not eligible for arbitration until after next season. It couldn’t have been an easy decision to part with these relative bargains, but the club did just that while also moving 3 players whose contracts expire at the end of the season in Aramis Ramirez, Jonathan Broxton and Gerardo Parra.
While the club was certainly looking forward well down the road with these moves, they surely didn’t “clear the decks” as some had hoped. Neal Cotts contract is up at the end of the year and he should be a candidate to move in August before the postseason addition deadline at the end of the month. Both Adam Lind and Francisco Rodriguez are having outstanding seasons and seemed candidates for the auction block, but neither ended up going anywhere. Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy will remain in Milwaukee as centerpieces of the team’s marketing effort and anchors of the lineup for the foreseeable future.
All in all, though, this was a significant step forward from the “must try to contend every year” organizational philosophy that has ruled the day since 2005. While making an attempt to at least appear competitive for 2016 isn’t out of the question, trading away Gomez and Fiers certainly means that the team won’t be taking it’s best possible shot at winning next year. Considering that the core of the team was largely moving past their prime years, the farm system was middle of the pack with most of the upside located lower down and the central division figures to be very difficult to contend in the next few years, moving forward in this way makes a lot of sense.
Young, But Not That Young
Just how far forward the Brewers are looking into the future right now for possible contention is an open question. From a business perspective, they would probably like to at least try and appear marginally competitive for the purpose of selling tickets and keeping TV ratings respectable while going through the process of getting younger. To that end, it’s telling that of the seven player received in return at the deadline, only one (Malik Collymore who came back in the Broxton trade with the Cardinals) will start their tenure with the Brewers below AA-Biloxi.
Though it’s somewhat reductive to just lump players together and throw broad labels on them, it can be helpful when looking at the big picture. Setting aside Brett Phillips, who most analysts agree has a pretty good chance of becoming something between a solid regular and an all-star, most of the players that came back in these four trades figure to be more role players than stars. That may not sound exciting, but it’s also easy to underrate players in this category.
Teams need to fill out their rosters with competent big leaguers, and when they’re young and under team control, they don’t cost much. That leaves room for teams to spend more money on a smaller group of higher caliber players when they do try and contend. There is also the possibility of players in this category exceeding expectations and becoming all stars, like Lucroy and Corey Hart did in recent memory. The more of them a team collects, the better the chance someone breaks out, at least in theory.
Having a bunch of these guys around is never a bad thing, and in a lot of cases is preferable to having a “high ceiling” 19 year-old who has a much better chance of completely busting. It’s also worth noting that the Brewers have spent a good portion of the last two MLB drafts and international signing periods bringing in high-ceiling upside players to stock their lower minors, so “upside to dream on” wasn’t a huge organizational need. Finally, though it’s not pleasant to talk about, it’s worth noting that these trades will hurt the 2015 Brewers ability to win games, which should ensure a relatively high draft pick in next year’s draft. That likely further adds to the upside in the system next June.
It is hard to remember (or even imagine) a time when the Milwaukee Brewers had good, cost controlled starting pitching depth on an organizational level, but it’s hard to argue they have anything less than that now. At the big league level, they currently have three homegrown starters who have yet to even reach salary arbitration in Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, and Taylor Jungmann. There is a chance that the Brewers could turn to one of their relievers to start at some point in the future, particularly Tyler Thornburg, Will Smith, and Michael Blazek.
In AAA, the team has multiple potential starters now with the addition of Zach Davies from the Orioles in the Parra trade in addition to Tyler Cravy, who has continued his slow and steady rise up the Brewers depth chart with an impressive season at altitude this year. Moving down a level to AA Biloxi, there are now no fewer than four legitimate potential major league league impact pitchers in their rotation. Both Tyler Wagner and Jorge Lopez have had successful runs all year with the Shuckers, with Lopez qualifying as perhaps a breakout performer. Added to that for the playoff run were lefty Josh Hader and righty Adrian Houser, who came over in the big deal with Houston. All are real candidates to start at some point for the Brewers over the next couple of years.
Moving down to A-ball, the players get further away from the majors but the ceilings also get a bit higher. Class A Wisconsin, particularly, is loaded with guys who you don’t have to squint very hard to imagine as a number two or three starter on a playoff team, while still being fairly far away. Devin Williams, Kodi Medeiros, and Cody Ponce should shortly be joined by College World Series hero Nathan Kirby and all fit the mid-rotaiton upside. Lower down, Marcos Diplan, Nash Walters, and Miguel Diaz all present interesting upside that could see them to a big league rotation some day. That doesn’t even exhaust the full list, but the point should be clear: they have more pitching than at any time in recent memory.