A source close to ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider link) has informed him that the Brewers have pulled Prince Fielder and Corey Hart off the trade market.
They have decided they’re close enough to contention that they’re not selling, so Hart and Fielder are off the market,” Law said, citing an executive from a rival club that was interested in a Brewers player.
There are a couple things here that need addressing.
First of all, the Brewers are not in contention. The Brewers are 9 games back of Cincinnati and 8.5 games back of St. Louis. Coolstandings gives the Brewers a 0.3% chance to reach the postseason; Baseball Prospectus is much more optimistic, at 0.45%.
This year, wins are no longer at a premium. Does it matter if the Brewers finish with 75 wins or 79? Possibly a little, as far as next year’s attendance goes, but that could easily be offset by the higher draft pick netted by a lower win total. Realistically, wins will only start mattering to Milwaukee if the Reds and Cardinals team buses crash into each other on the way to a game, or if, as people have been saying for two months now, they can rattle off a ten game winning streak. Both are unlikely.
I have a hard time believing that the front office doesn’t recognize this. If they don’t, nothing that I ever write will mean anything, because I assume that the people in our front office are rational actors. It’s possible that this is an edict from Mark Attanasio at the very top, and that would be very disheartening, as a meddling owner can absolutely kill a team. Drayton McLane in Houston meddled his way to bringing in a 5th starter and two mediocre prospects for one of the best pitchers in the league.
What do I think it really means? Possibly that Attanasio, as he’s said on multiple occasions while visiting the broadcast booth, believes that the Brewers are too close to contention next year to deal these important pieces.
Now, he might be right – as soon as the Brewers got rid of the toxic Jeff Suppan and removed Trevor Hoffman from the closer’s role, the team has vastly improved. When Suppan was released on June 7th, the Brewers were 23-34. Their current record of 48-55 isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but it means that in the interim they have a 25-21 record, good for a .543 winning percentage, and that’s the best record in the division over that time frame by a half game over Cincinnati and a full game over St. Louis.
There’s a good reason to believe that the Brewers can sustain this kind of performance. Ryan Braun is in a down year, and should perform better over the rest of this year and next year. Prince Fielder, despite his poor first half, is still showing monster power. Rickie Weeks is becoming one of the preeminent second basemen in the league, and despite his most recent start, Yovani Gallardo is a legitimate ace. Hart has shown fantastic power, although there’s still no guarantee that he’s this good. The list goes on; the team’s weakness is starting pitching, but everything else is set, essentially.
However, this idea of contention in 2011 would preclude the possibility of a Fielder or Hart trade in the offseason. I still think the Brewers would be willing to trade either player in order to pick up a MLB ready starting pitcher – say, Ricky Nolasco, or something to that effect – but not to pick up minor league talent.
There’s also the possibility that this is simply Melvin’s response to an unfavorable market. Dan Haren and Roy Oswalt (plus $11 million!) brought in terribly unfavorable packages, and Melvin might just think that the market isn’t ready for him to deal. That way, if a market develops in the offseason, he could get good value for Hart and Fielder, and if not, then they try to contend in 2011.
I also think that Hart’s hand injury has a large part in this, as that likely killed his market value. You could make the argument that Melvin should have acted earlier here, but again, it didn’t seem like a favorable market was there, and I’d rather keep Hart than trade him for an underwhelming package like the Diamondbacks and Astros have received recently.
Ideally, I still would’ve liked to see the Brewers play the market over the last hours of the trading deadline, and it’s possible that we see a lesser piece like Jim Edmonds, Todd Coffey, or Carlos Villanueva go. I really doubt, however, that this decision really changes anything. The market just didn’t seem to exist right now, and so the Brewers will have to try again either in the offseason or at next year’s deadline.