Yesterday, reports from Cardinals GM John Mozeliak‘s press conference found the Gm happy with his club’s roster. Mozeliak noted that although the Cardinals have some time to work on other moves, if the season started today, he likes their roster. It was a striking comment, given that I’ve hardly got my Brewers’ offseason wishlist in order (and, the winter meetings haven’t happened). But, the idea that a roster is complete is a powerful one for a ballclub, which lead me to wonder about the questions for the 2014 Brewers.
If there is one difference between a contending club and a competitive one (or, one that might not be competitive at all), that difference might simply place “completeness” against “question marks.” While there is no truly complete roster (for, during the season replacements are almost always necessary), there is a way for a club to construct their team in order to be well-rounded or multifaceted for the season. By contrast, a club with notable question marks is defined not by where their roster stands, but by what their roster could potentially be. In this regard, it appears that the 2014 Brewers could not be a contending club — yet, if we follow the question marks, perhaps we will be pleased with the potential of our Milwaukee Nine.
By my count, the Brewers’ current 40-man roster includes 39 players, featuring 21 pitchers and 18 fielders. In terms of staying put, the Brewers’ starting rotation presents the biggest challenges, but also one of the roster’s strengths. Specifically, the challenge is to determine the quality of top starters Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, and Marco Estrada. To what extent will these pitchers improve, and to what extent will they decline? After that, the Brewers have eight other starters, swingmen, replacements, and emergency starters on their current roster. This is the Brewers’ pitching strength, for if the Brewers acquire another pitcher via trade or the market, these secondary starters get pushed to the bullpen. Depth becomes a strength for the club, not simply due to the volume of the arms, but for the quality of some of these pitchers’ replacement performances in 2013. Ranked by 2013 runs prevented:
Outside of Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler, the Brewers’ other active roster arms are mostly question marks or sheer organizational depth (which shouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).
One of the Brewers’ surprise strengths on their roster is their ability to platoon at several positions. Now, one might counter that platooning really is not a strength — an everyday regular would be preferable to a platoon in most cases, they might argue. However, a deep bench can help the Brewers through another series of replacement woes, and frankly, depth on the roster could make a trade more likely. While one might argue that the trading pieces on the infield that are any good are too good to trade, the Brewers can build an interesting equation between potential depth and potential trading pieces on the infield. By run production in the context of the Brewers’ batting order, C, 3B, and SS are the most valuable to the Brewers.
The Brewers’ outfield offers the best chance for improvement on the club. Ryan Braun should instantly improve the club, if he can stay healthy. Khris Davis could force a realignment of the outfield, and improve the impact offense at the corner outfield positions. Carlos Gomez was the Brewers’ most valuable bat in 2013, and his task will be to repeat that performance (and, the worst case scenario is, the Brewers are stuck with a defensive wizard).
One of the reasons it is worth looking at the Brewers’ roster as it stands is, there are not a lot of areas for impact trades (without losing valuable players for the everyday club). The Brewers have few positions where a youngster is fighting to displace a veteran, or where multiple players will be fighting for a single job. In this case, the best potential for trades comes from the SP and infield, as well as (potentially) Norichika Aoki (if the club goes with Davis). Yet, the potential return for these trades is not necessarily going to impact the big league club. In this regard, the Brewers could be better off letting their organization grow another year, and seeing how their youngsters, platoons, and arms perform at the big league level. Perhaps another year of development will reveal stronger trade potential, or clearer trajectories for positions around the diamond.
Compared to the Cardinals, staying put does not have the same fantastic ring for the Brewers. Yet, if GM Doug Melvin has a quiet offseason, Brewers fans shouldn’t necessarily be upset. Given the Brewers’ resources and their current competitive situation, the club could benefit more from moving forward with this roster. That is not to say that the Brewers shouldn’t be looking to produce trades or acquire players; rather, given the likely return of their most probable trading pieces, seeing the potential on-field benefits could be more valuable to the organization.
Winter Ball Trends
1. Haniger’s Home Run Rate
In case you missed it, Mitch Haniger performed quite well in the Arizona Fall League. The outfield prospect doubled his Advanced A home run rate, while maintaining a solid contact profile. Specifically, Haniger kept his strike out rate below 20% at each level in 2013, which is quite a strong performance given his walk rate and power potential.
2. First Base Batting Average and Slugging
The BABIP-hawks will be quick to point out that Sean Halton and Juan Francisco have extremely inflated BABIP in the Dominican Winter League. Yet, 18 of their 46 hits-in-play have gone for extra bases — a 40% XBH/BIPH clip is not bad at all, and it’s tough to hit terribly many “lucky” doubles. Francisco’s batting profile is what one might expect in terms of strike outs, but his walks have improved (thanks in part to a handful of IBB), and he’s simply smoking extra base hits. The idea of a Francisco / Halton pairing at 1B might sound crazy, but at the very least, their DWL performance gives the organization something more to consider.
3. Arcenio Leon’s Strike Outs
Arcenio Leon might be the definition of organizational depth, but it is never a bad thing to see any organizational arm take a step forward. While Leon walked more batters than he struck out at Huntsville, his performance in Venezuela is quite good (well, except for blown leads). Anyway, the 27-year-old is striking out nearly a batter per inning, which is quite a change from his 2013 performance.
4. Burgos and Figaro: Homerless
While Hiram Burgos and Alfredo Figaro have only pitched 14 innings between the Dominican and Roberto Clemente leagues, neither pitcher has allowed a home run. This is significant because according to their 2013 MLB rates, these two arms should already have allowed three homers. That’s right; these two righties allowed 20 homers in 103.3 MLB IP in 2013. Together, they have allowed three runs in 14 innings in winter ball.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP. 2013.