After a soulless 10-1 thumping by the lowly Houston Astros, it feels like the final few nails are being prepped for the metaphorical coffin. The Brewers currently sit 13 games under .500 and need nothing short of a miracle to rejoin the Wild Card race. And despite preseason optimism, the idea of storming back into the postseason hunt seems farfetched at best. Instead, the squad should simply be worried about climbing out of the cellar in the NL Central.
The doom-and-gloom talk is rooted in frustration, but it’s also rooted in precedent. Very few teams in history have fought back from such a deep hole and made the postseason. The 2005 Houston Astros were 15 games under .500 in late May before catching fire in the summer months and sliding into the Wild Card. Only the 2005 Astros and 1914 Braves earned a playoff berth after being 15 games under .500 at one point in the season.
The Brewers were 15 games under .500 on Thursday, June 6th after a series-opening loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Miller Park. History indicates the team will have to string together a special second half to even come close to the postseason, much less earn a berth. Unlike the 2005 Astros, though, the Brewers don’t have Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt in their starting rotation. Instead, they have Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta. Hardly the same caliber of talent.
While the organization doesn’t necessarily need to publicly raise the white flag on the ’13 regular season, they would be wise to turn their attention to the roster construction of future Brewers teams. If they get improbably hot for a prolonged period of time and work their way back into contention, wonderful. Fantastic. The entire state will embrace the late-season charge. But the Brewers’ front office should obviously not plan on that unthinkable turnaround occurring. They need to plan for the future. And that likely means preparing to trade major-league assets for younger talent.
Approximately a month ago, the potential trading chips on the roster were collectively underperforming. It portended a negative trade deadline for the Brewers. Recently, though, some of those tradeable assets have begun trending upward and could be regaining value on the trade market. Below is an overview of the recent trends for some of the Brewers’ tradeable assets.
His stock appeared precariously low in the month of May. He dealt with elbow irritation and got shelled in his return to the rotation by the unimpressive Minnesota Twins. In his last three starts, though, the right-hander has thrown the ball rather well. He’s only surrendered five earned runs in his last 20 innings, including only two walks and 12 strikeouts. His ERA is back under 4.00, and he once again profiles as a reliable mid-rotation starter which is extremely attractive to contending teams looking to solidify their rotation.
It’s unclear whether the Brewers will make Lohse available next month. However, whispers are beginning to swirl that he may be shopped at the deadline. Once again, the question becomes whether teams who were unwilling to part with a first-round pick over the winter to land Lohse will suddenly decide to part with more established prospects this summer. The allure of a postseason berth can cause teams to unexpectedly part with talent, though, so it will be interesting to watch the market develop if the Brewers do decide to make Lohse available.
The organization publicly decided to leave K-Rod in the closer’s role to help him reach 300 saves. More likely, however, the Brewers kept the right-hander at closer in hopes of increasing his trade value this summer. He owns a 0.79 ERA in 11.1 innings this season, and his velocity has begun to pick up in recent outings. Perhaps a team looking for bullpen help will be willing to part with an interesting prospect for Rodriguez.
If the Brewers wish to shop Francisco Rodriguez, though, they should do so immediately. He’s not fundamentally different than the K-Rod who pitched for the team last year. He’s not throwing more pitches in the strike zone, his swinging-strike rate and O-Swing% are almost identical, and his BABIP is an obscene .120. While Major League Baseball teams are certainly not oblivious to these facts, the Brewers need to shop Rodriguez while he’s still experiencing success on the mound. If he blows two or three saves in early July, his (minimal) value will plummet.
I wrote about Gallardo’s improvements earlier this week. His velocity is starting to increase, and he hasn’t surrendered a single earned run in his last two starts. His FIP is back under 4.00 and his ERA isn’t far behind. It’s very unlikely that Doug Melvin shops Gallardo this summer because that type of transaction will be very difficult to sell to the fanbase. However, if he does attempt to move the right-hander, his value is trending in the right direction.
It’s been a wild ride for Axford this season. After collapsing in the closer’s role during the first week of the season, the right-hander has largely been brilliant out of the bullpen for the Brewers. Since April 13, he owns a 2.10 ERA in 25.2 innings — including 28 strikeouts and only 11 walks. He’s rediscovered his slider and is throwing both that and his curveball for strikes, while becoming less reliant on his overly-straight fastball.
Axford will be arbitration eligible for the second time this winter. He will receive a raise from his $5 million salary he’s making this year. If the Brewers do not wish to pay that much money for Axford, they could look to move him this summer. Fortunately, he’s shutting down opposing hitters at the right time. He’s only allowed two hits in his past seven outings, and it’s been a dominant performance from the Brewers’ former closer.
While contending teams may not be willing to part with a top prospect, he should be a desired commodity on the trade market this summer, if made available.
General manager Doug Melvin recently told reporters the Brewers may not get Hart back in the lineup before the All-Star Break in July. That essentially nullifies his trade value. He’s a proven middle-of-the-order hitter with ample power for the first base position, but teams will not offer value for a rental with so many question marks surrounding his health.
At this point, the Brewers are better off keeping Hart on the roster throughout the remainder of the season and extending a qualifying offer after the season. If Hart declines, the Brewers will receive a supplemental-round draft pick in 2014. If he doesn’t decline, the Brewers potentially get 25-30 home runs at first base without any long-term commitment. Neither are undesirable options, but neither seem attractive considering the organization could have acquired an impact prospect or two last summer if they were willing to trade Hart when his value was much higher. Such is the risk of holding onto tradeable assets until the last possible moment.
His six-win season last year seems to have faded into the distant past. A year ago, Ramirez was an impact bat with tangible trade value. Now, he’s an aging veteran with significant knee troubles who is currently mired in a slump at the plate. He’s hitting .222/.314/.267 in the month of June, and there’s real concern that his knee issues are limiting his power. Not only that, but he’s also struggling to play everyday at third base.
That doesn’t seem like the recipe for a blockbuster trade this summer.