Building and Rebuilding: Winning Now! or Win Now Again! | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

After sitting through years of awful rebuilding teams, the Mark Attanasio administration is a breath of fresh air for Milwaukee baseball fans. While I love nothing more than cheering for a bunch of ragamuffin battlers, determining whether Victor Santos threw a splitter or a change up, wondering whether Keith Ginter will ever put together a 20/20 season, or whether anyone tumble-throws the ball as effectively as Brady Clark, I much prefer the frustration of watching talented players underperform. Why? Because, when talented players underperform and your team reserves their rights for another year, there’s a good chance that next year brings a better ballclub.

It took me years to get this attitude right (and watching the greatest Brewers team in franchise history didn’t hurt). I remember years ago, Attanasio’s and general manager Doug Melvin‘s approach toward winning seemed suspicious. It seemed that after years of building up a strong farm system, the organization suddenly turned toward winning-now, accumulating a set of ever-shorter term goals each and every year. After watching years of poor baseball with the promise of greater things — thanks to a strong minor league system — the idea of relying on a Major League club full of Major Leaguers seemed strange.

Winning Now Forever
One of the benefits of the Brewers’ approach to building a baseball club is that once they found their core, they aggressively signed that core. Ultimately, this seems like the logical endpoint of building a great farm system — the goal shouldn’t be simply to accumulate prospects, but also to keep those prospects for as long as possible once they become serviceable big leaguers. Even if some of us were (or are) skeptical along the way of Jeff Suppan, Randy Wolf, or even Aramis Ramirez-type signings, we cannot ignore the prudence of buyout deals handed to Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, and Yovani Gallardo.

The outcome of these buyout deals was staggered windows of competition. The first of those windows corresponded with Prince Fielder‘s final year in Milwaukee; on Friday, the second of those windows officially closed, as the Brewers dealt away Zack Greinke. The suspense of the Greinke deal seemed to balance on whether or not the Brewers looked for longer or shorter term solutions to their MLB roster, or simply built depth into the minor leagues with strong prospects (or any combination of those outcomes). As the Brewers acquired Jean Segura, John Hellweg, and Ariel Pena, it became clear that the Brewers dealt to fill a true roster hole (MLB shortstop) while bolstering their minor league system with a couple of fresh arms.

The benefit of the Greinke trade is that the Brewers can continue to compete as their next windows close. Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks have contracts expiring within the next two years, as do Yovani Gallardo and Aramis Ramirez. Segura will give the Brewers a controllable shortstop option that spans those competitive windows with longer-term contracts (such as Jonathan Lucroy and Braun). Hellweg and Pena allow the Brewers to maintain depth in their minor league system as the organization learns which of their pitching prospects will swim at the Major League Level.

So long as Ryan Braun remains under contract in Milwaukee, the Brewers have a great excuse to win-now each and every year. The Brewers boast one of MLB’s greatest players on their roster, which gives them a strong head start in building a competitive ballclub. Certainly it takes more than one star to compete in the MLB, but role players and positional players can be acquired or moved around a superstar; it’s much easier to work that way than to find a superstar to anchor a batting order. If the unfortunate part of this equation is that sometimes we’ll have to endure disappointing seasons, the bright spot is that a winning season will never be far away.

Constructing Competitive Rosters
In 2011, the Milwaukee Brewers had almost everything go right. Their most important offensive players simultaneously had some of their very best seasons. Their pitching rotation was consistent from spots one-through-five, and they hardly needed to use sixth starter / swingman extraordinaire Marco Estrada to replace their regular pitchers. Their bullpen and situational baseball approaches resulted in a phenomenal record in one-run games.

In the divisional series, the Brewers faced off against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team that reached the same endpoint (a division championship) with a completely different combination of elements. Their main starting rotation consisted of four pitchers that reached at least 100 IP, along with seven other pitchers that contributed starts to fill out their schedule. Thanks to an excellent season by Justin Upton, as well as strong supporting campaigns from Miguel Montero and Gerardo Parra, the Diamondbacks’ offense outscored the National League average (and Chase Field). Not unlike the Brewers, an exceptional record in one-run games helped Arizona to outplay their run differential by approximately 6 wins.

If you’re looking at the 2012 Brewers and wondering how the club can compete going forward, the 2011 Diamondbacks are a great example of how a club can win without everything going right. Furthermore, their organizational progression from their 2007 Division Championship to their 2011 return to the playoffs helps to show just how close a competitive club can be to a losing squad.

The 2007 Diamondbacks should be one of the most infamous contenders of the 21st century. Despite allowing more runs than they scored, the Diamondbacks captured the 2007 NL West with 90 wins. Although the Diamondbacks’ offense was significantly below average for the robust Chase Field environment, their exceptional pitching and bullpen allowed the Diamondbacks to win an astounding number of close games — 43 of the Diamondbacks’ victories occurred in 1-run or 2-run ballgames.

Few remnants of the 2007 ballclub remained on the Diamondbacks’ 2011 roster. However, the team’s ’07 core remained in place throughout the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons, with players changing roles or cycled off the roster gradually.

Year by Year Roster (Top 11 Positional Players, Top 6 starting pitchers, Top 3 relievers):
2008: 60% of 2007 top 20
2009: 60% of 2008 top 20 (40% of 2007 Top 20)
2010: 35% of 2009 top 20 (25% of 2007 Top 20)
2011: 40% of 2010 top 20 (15% of 2007 Top 20)

The greatest percentage of roster turnover occurred in the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff. Brandon Webb‘s injury, as well as trades involving Jose Valverde, Dan Haren, and Edwin Jackson were perhaps the greatest catalysts for the Diamondbacks’ pitching changeover. The Haren and Jackson moves were significant in constructing the 2011 Diamondbacks’ pitching rotation, as Joe Saunders and Daniel Hudson comprised half of the Diamondbacks’ top four.

Conclusion
This type of roster changeover and pitching staff building is not unlike the shifts the Milwaukee Brewers made to rebuild their club from 2008 through 2011. Although the majority of the club’s batting core remained in tact from 2009-2011, the Brewers worked out a combination of veteran stopgaps and low rotation arms to solidify their starting staff. Finally, Melvin traded prospects to obtain Greinke and Shaun Marcum.

Year by Year Roster (Top 11 Positional Players, Top 6 starting pitchers, Top 3 relievers):
2009: 60% of 2008 Top 20
2010: 35% of 2009 Top 20 (35% of 2008 Top 20)
2011: 65% of 2010 Top 20 (25% of 2008 Top 20)
2012: 70% of 2011 Top 20 (15% of 2008 Top 20)

Ultimately, there is good reason to expect baseball franchises to maintain core rosters from competitive seasons. This is especially the case with the Brewers, a franchise that correctly used arbitration buyout deals to maintain the rights to their best prospects as they emerged into serviceable (or better) MLB players.

We should take these types of practices to heart when we think about how the Brewers build their club for 2013. Despite the shortcomings of the 2012 team, the Brewers maintain a set of talented players that remain under their control. Given this rolling core, the Brewers have another opportunity to patch up their pitching rotation, utilize their top pitching prospects, as well as their newest acquisitions from the 2012 Greinke trade. This might not feel like committing to rebuilding or competing one way or the other, but I gather that this is essentially what happens to clubs that have a competitive foundation and a brief window of opportunity: with Jean Segura on board within the coming years, the Brewers will have year another opportunity to revitalize their core while mainstays such as Braun and Lucroy complete their contracts.

In other words, get ready to “Win Now” for quite some time!

IMAGES:
AP Photo: David J. Phillip (http://blog.pennlive.com/patriotnewssports/2011/10/nyjer_morgans_10th-inning_walk.html)
Los Angeles Times: Lawrence K. Ho (IMAGES:
AP Photo: David J. Phillip (http://blog.pennlive.com/patriotnewssports/2011/10/nyjer_morgans_10th-inning_walk.html)
AP Photo: Paul Connors (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/nl/diamondbacks/story/2012-05-25/diamondbacks-give-montero-new-contract/55212632/1)

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Matt Tracy says: July 31, 2012

    This isn’t exactly related to your article, but with Marcum probably walking at the end of the year, will the Brewers see any compensation from that (in the form of draft picks)? Or will he probably be retained with the new “standard offer” that all free agents will get?

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 31, 2012

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and sorry for the delayed response.

      I believe Marcum can yield Brewers compensation if they offer him a one-year contract for at least $12.5 million (for salary arbitration). Teams now have to match a certain level of money, and players have to yield certain contracts (I think) to become compensatory picks.

      Given Marcum’s production when healthy, a $12.5 million/one-year commitment could be a great gamble.

  2. Luke says: July 31, 2012

    Once again, fantastic writing. I’m definitely excited to see the development of new pitchers Pena and Hellweg along with the continuing progress of starting pitchers like Peralta, Thornburg, Fiers, Rogers, Burgos, Nelson, Gagnon, Bucci, Bradley, Jungmann, Lopez. Can’t forget about Ross and Scarpetta either. And even the position players at the high levels of the minors who might surprise everyone too. Segura, Khris Davis, Gennett, Schafer, Josh Prince, Hunter Morris refusing to be dismissed as 30th prospect in the system. You guys should revise that list at some point after the call ups.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: July 31, 2012

      Thanks for the kind words! It will be interesting to see how the system evolves with the new prospects. I’m not sure if the pitching prospects will turn out to be MLB starters, but given some rough years by current Brewers prospects, the new arms could make some waves in the system.

      I am excited to see what comes of some of the prospects. Hopefully they seize the jobs available, like Fiers (and Estrada, to a lesser extent).

  3. Bob Dole says: August 1, 2012

    What’s with the lack of minor league box scores and prospect updates, gotta get my fix, and regarding Marcum I think he is definitely worth a qualifying offer to net a draft pick or even a 3 year deal at say 9 mil per year, only thing is he is always injured…

    • Nicholas Zettel says: August 1, 2012

      It’s vacation/moving week here at DofU. Things’ll be back in order in no time!

      I agree on Marcum, the injury history is a risk. But, he seems to work a lot in the meantime, and has two full seasons under his belt from 2010-2011. Tough call…

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