Considering the preseason expectations that the Brewers could have an outside shot at a playoff berth, the 2013 season has proven to be disastrous. Milwaukee currently sits 16 games under .500 and has major contributors wasting away on the disabled list. Furthermore, the starting rotation continues to handcuff the team, as it owns an NL-worst 5.12 ERA in 443 innings.
Not to overstate the point, but the season has largely been the epitome of “what could go wrong will go wrong.” Star players are injured, prime trade chips are underperforming, the pitching staff hasn’t seen any of their young starters take a legitimate step forward. Breakouts from Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez have slightly dulled the pain, but ultimately, fans have been slowly sipping a cocktail of disappointment for the last three months.
And while Mark Attanasio has brought deep pockets and enthusiasm for baseball back to Milwaukee, he’s also proven that he’s not one to exhibit extreme patience while his team flounders. It has been rumored he was the driving force behind firing Ned Yost back in 2008 during the final month of a postseason race. Some have also wondered if Attanasio largely authored the controversial Kyle Lohse deal this spring in a last-ditch effort to upgrade the rotation.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, if Attanasio unexpectedly makes another bold move this year and removes Doug Melvin from the general manager role. Something that seemed unthinkable only three months ago may not be as far-fetched as many of us may have assumed. Jonah Keri of Grantland wrote a wonderful piece on the Milwaukee Brewers today, and at the end of the article, he dropped this little bombshell:
But behind the scenes, there’s anxiety, especially at the lower levels. A source close to the situation said some baseball ops people below the GM and assistant GM level have started preparing résumés, with the Cubs confirming they’ve received one such résumé for a job posting they put out. The Brewers have called on a tech-savvy friend of Attanasio’s son to help build a new database, with rumors that the new system might be designed to be used by a new regime and a more quantitatively inclined general manager. Melvin is the sixth-longest-tenured GM in the majors, a smart and respected baseball man who’s quick to give others such as Zduriencik credit for Milwaukee’s recent turnaround, but who deserves his own fair share of credit, too. Many of his top lieutenants are also industry veterans who’ve been with the team for a while, through bad times, then good, and now bad again.
Still, nothing lasts forever. The Brewers are losing, and with losing often comes change. Stay tuned.
That certainly suggests people in the organization are preparing for a regime change. The Brewers could potentially be on the cusp of transitioning to a more new-age front office, like many franchises have done in the past half decade. The Red Sox, Cubs, Astros and Blue Jays have all recently moved to organizational models that rely more heavily on sabermetric theory and attempt to blend traditional scouting with in-depth analytics.
Melvin receives plenty of criticism for his inability to develop starting pitching, but there’s legitimate evidence that Melvin is one of the more underrated GMs in the game. For the most part, he has adroitly locked up useful homegrown players over the past half decade. The Brewers do not currently have any terrible contracts on the books — aside from perhaps the Aramis Ramirez deal due to its backloaded nature — and players such as Jonathan Lucroy , Carlos Gomez, Ryan Braun (the first time), and Yovani Gallardo were signed to incredibly team-friendly deals. Melvin and his executives have been proactive in signing young talent. Aside from the Bill Hall deal, the contract extensions have largely proven wise, and none of the deals are currently weighing down the payroll and preventing the organization from adding talent.
Additionally, one of Melvin’s strongest skills in recent years has been adding talent on the margins. Whether it be Norichika Aoki, Scott Podsednik, Kameron Loe, Casey McGehee, Marco Estrada, Alfredo Figaro, Brady Clark, or Derrick Turnbow, the Brewers’ general manager has done a very nice job acquiring useful major-league talent for pennies on the dollar. Most of the gems listed above were claimed on the waiver wire, but some of them, such as Aoki and Figaro, have also come from playing in Japan. Small-market organizations need inexpensive, useful talent to fill out a roster. Melvin has historically found talent on the margins of Major League Baseball throughout his tenure in Milwaukee.
And although some of the swaps can justifiably be criticized as win-now moves, Melvin has a strong track record of executing strong trades for the Brewers. Think of some of the major trades in recent years.
|2008||CC Sabathia||Matt LaPorta + Michael Brantley + Rob Bryson + Zach Johnson||Win|
|2009||Carlos Gomez||J.J. Hardy||Win|
|2010||Shaun Marcum||Brett Lawrie||Neutral|
|2010||Zack Greinke||Alcides Escobar + Lorenzo Cain + Jeremy Jeffress + Jake Odorizzi||Win|
|2011||Nyjer Morgan||Cutter Dykstra||Win|
|2011||Francisco Rodriguez||Adrian Rosario + Danny Herrera||Win|
|2011||Jerry Hairston||Erik Komatsu||Win|
|2012||Jean Segura + Johnny Hellweg + Ariel Pena||Zack Greinke||Win|
Doug Melvin doesn’t have any major blemishes on his recent trade record, unless you want to include the Scott Linebrink trade as a negative — though I’d argue that wasn’t a win for either side. The trades listed above helped the Brewers reach the postseason in 2008 and 2011. That’s twice in four years for a franchise that hadn’t played October baseball for 26 years. That matters. We could peel back the onion and argue the Brewers could have enjoyed a better run had they not needed to acquire pitching from the outside, but they needed to. And they did so successfully.
Recent success in the MLB Draft has been a significant problem in recent years under Melvin’s watch. As mentioned earlier, developing starting pitching has also been unproductive for years. It’s not as if Melvin’s tenure in Milwaukee has been pristine, but he does possess many positive attributes for a big-league general manager. One could easily argue he’s done very well with the resources available in Milwaukee over the last decade.
This article is not meaning to suggest Doug Melvin is on his way out the door. Keri’s article quoted above, though, makes it seem the wheels are beginning to be put in motion, and losing in professional sports does naturally bring about change. Even if the change is not always warranted.
Ultimately, it will be interesting to see if Melvin retains his job if the Brewers are not able to show a semblance of improvement over the next couple months. It will likely say a lot about whether the organization is willing to embark on a rebuilding mission or if Attanasio will continue to insist on trying to win and compete every season, no matter the long-term cost.
Because that’s really the crux of the Brewers’ current situation.