The Brewers recently filled their 40-man roster with a trio of MLB-level options. Catcher Josmil Pinto and first-baseman Andy Wilkins both have “true corners” (1B / 3B / LF / RF) minor league positional profiles, while having previously cracked the MLB at one specific fielding position (catcher and first base, respectively). Outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis becomes the “true” veteran centerfield option on the club, with more MLB experience at the position than the optionless Ramon Flores and Shane Peterson. Although others have noted the roster crunch created by these players, it should also be stated that each of these players give the Brewers flexible options. Wilkins and Pinto could be platooned at first base if the primary catching job is not open (via a Jonathan Lucroy trade). The outfield is admittedly way more packed, but in some combination Jonathan Villar, Pinto, and Wilkins give the Brewers options behind Nieuwenhuis, Flores, and Peterson.
|C||Jonathan Lucroy (trade?)||Martin Maldonado||Josmil Pinto|
|1B||Andy Wilkins||Josmil Pinto||Martin Maldonado|
|2B||Scooter Gennett (trade?)||Colin Walsh||Jonathan Villar|
|3B||Jonathan Villar||Colin Walsh||Yadiel Rivera [option?]|
|SS||Jean Segura (trade?)||Jonathan Villar||Yadiel Rivera|
|LF||Khris Davis (trade?)||Shane Peterson||Ramon Flores|
|CF||Kirk Nieuwenhuis||Shane Peterson||Ramon Flores|
|RF||Ryan Braun (trade?)||Shane Peterson||Ramon Flores|
Most importantly, Nieuwenhuis, Pinto, and Wilkins give the Brewers their “skeleton roster” for 2016. I am going to write something that sounds mean, but is not meant to be mean spirited: each of these players can start at their primary MLB position, or work at another position (1B for Pinto, 3B or corner outfield for Wilkins, LF or RF for Nieuwenhuis), while the Brewers exercise the options on each of their most prominent young roster members. Not only can Garin Cecchini head to AAA Colorado Springs, but so too can Keon Broxton, Michael Reed, Orlando Arcia, and even Domingo Santana.
|SP||Taylor Jungmann||Jimmy Nelson|
|SP||Matt Garza||Wily Peralta|
|Swing||Tyler Thornburg||Ariel Pena|
|Swing||Tyler Cravy||Junior Guerra|
|CL||Jeremy Jeffress||Will Smith|
|RP||Zack Jones||David Goforth|
The same can be said for the arms in this case. Milwaukee can work with their depth players to define their roles, while the best prospects earn regular polishing work at AAA.
This roster immediately raises the question about whether the Brewers should “tank”: Nieuwenhuis, Wilkins, and Pinto can use considerable MLB time to redefine their careers, seize a job, or even define themselves as serviceable depth options for the coming days when Milwaukee is more competitive. This may sound ridiculous, but it’s arguably crucial for both the Brewers and the players. In this case, the very best Brewers prospects and future starting options can all play together at AAA (which should not be underrated), and a group of once-prospects and MLB-waiver-fighters can earn their chance to stick in the MLB. It’s impossible to say how many games such a skeleton club might win; however, even if one recognizes that the prospects are the best possible options at each position, it is also unclear that such a team would immediately win. Instead, the prospects can work together and compete at AAA Colorado Springs, the front office can sort through more talent at the MLB level, and the best possible future can come into focus.
|Colorado Springs Example||1||2|
|C||Adam Weisenburger||Parker Berberet / Rene Garcia|
|1B||Nick Ramirez||Garrett Cooper|
|2B||[Yadiel Rivera]||Nick Shaw|
|3B||Garin Cecchini||Brandon Macias|
|SS||Orlando Arcia||Macias / Shaw|
|LF||Domingo Santana||Kyle Wren|
|CF||Brett Phillips||Keon Broxton|
|RF||Michael Reed||Ben Guez|
|SP||Jorge Lopez||Zach Davies|
|SP||Adrian Houser||Josh Hader|
|SP||Tyler Wagner||Hiram Burgos|
|CL||Yhonathan Barrios||Jim Miller|
|CL||Damien Magnifico||Jacob Barnes|
|RP||Michael Blazek||Corey Knebel|
|RP||Kender Villegas||Daniel Tillman|
|RP||Brent Suter||Austin Ross|
|RP||Mitch Lambson||Tim Dillard|
In this sense, it is clear that “tanking” need not be anti-competitive. The best Brewers prospects can benefit from more seasoning in most cases (the only case where this arguably does not make sense is with Santana, who really does not have anything left to prove in the minors), and the organization can benefit by finding the best possible supporting cast for when the prospects are ready. Whether that cast includes Colin Walsh, Flores, Nieuwenhuis, Peterson, Pinto, Villar, or Wilkins is up to each of those players.