The 2013 season has spiraled out of control for the Milwaukee Brewers. A team that was likely to win 80 games when the season began is going to struggle to win 70 due to a combination of injuries and underperformance. Baseball Prospectus currently has the Brewers’ playoff odds at 0.6%, tied with the Cubs and behind the Mets. Yes, they trail the Mets by almost a half percent because the NL Central is stacked with the best teams in the NL.
This makes it difficult to root for the Brewers at the moment. The games are sloppy and meaningless already, and we haven’t even made it to the 4th of July. It’s been awhile since the Brewers have had a season like this.
So what do we really have to cheer for right now? It’s difficult to say, but maybe it’s time to embrace losing. We’ve discussed the need to rebuild before and maybe this is an opportunity for Doug Melvin to expedite the project by receiving high draft picks.
Ryan, are you prepared to cheer for the Brewers to lose a lot of games for the rest of the season?
I guess the most accurate answer to that question is “sort of.”
I understand the position they’re in as a franchise. They’re losing this year because the roster is imbalanced, without enough starting pitching to keep them in games. They need some time to finish developing and break in young potential starters like Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, Johnny Hellweg, Taylor Jungmann, Tyler Thornburg and Ariel Pena. They could also really use more guys than just those brought into the mix to improve their odds at one day having a competent or better, mostly homegrown, rotation. There is also a need for a young power bat or two to supplement Ryan Braun, Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy in the lineup in the coming years.
Fortunately, the team does have pieces to trade to add to this group of players. Guys like Aramis Ramirez, Nori Aoki, Rickie Weeks, Kyle Lohse, basically anyone in the bullpen and even Yovani Gallardo could all end up being moved for the right return over the next five weeks. The word “fire sale” gets thrown around much too loosely, but it is something they’re likely to be accused of if they trade off too many big names. It’s a little easier to sell that sort of move as necessary when a team is 20 games under .500 than if they’re 10 under, and I would like to see them at least being open to that sort of mass movement if teams are offering the right returns for players.
So given the team’s place in the standings and how I view their immediate needs and future, you would think that it would be easy to root for failure right now, but I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. When I’m watching a game, I’m still finding that I don’t actually want them to lose. When good things happen, I’m happy. When bad things happen, it is still frustrating, or at least mildly annoying. What’s more, I still find that I want to watch the games, even though I know this season is largely lost at this point.
I have been maybe somewhat more willing to write off a bad game, poor play etc. as at least serving a greater purpose at this point. Losses obviously don’t sting like they do in the heat of a pennant race. Even though I wasn’t watching it live, I did catch the replay and I found it really hard to get angry about any of the shenanigans late in Wednesday’s game, because ultimately it seems like losses just don’t matter that much now.
What about you?
I still cheer for them to win when watching a live game. In the heat of the moment, I want to beat the Cubs and Cardinals and Reds and Pirates, etc. To embrace losing, I have to take the long view. Looking back at the schedule, I’m fine with seeing extended losing stretches and can see that it will benefit the team in the future.
The roster has pieces that we’d all like to see get moved. Lohse wasn’t a popular signing and this is Melvin’s chance to shed his salary (even if the draft pick is gone forever). Ramirez had a great season in 2012, but his age and risk of injury always looked like a sunk cost by 2014. A large haul of prospects is unlikely, so salary relief the primary goal.
Aoki and Gallardo are more difficult to part with. They’re fan favorites and have decent price tags that teams may not be willing to pay. We’ll get a better sense of how committed to rebuilding the Brewers are when we see the fate of those guys around the trade deadline. Without those pieces, Milwaukee is going to run out a pretty poor line-up.
Should we wait until the trade deadline before we assume that winning isn’t the primary concern for the rest of the season?
Honestly, the way that the team has handled first base and some of the starting pitching assignments, I think it’s a fair question to ask if winning really is the top priority for the organization right now, or if they’ve already gone into more of a long term asset management mode. If the top priority right now isn’t winning ballgames, then it gets really hard to accurately assess their decision making process.
They seem sort of stuck in the middle at times, doing some things aimed at winning now and others more focused on the future, which I guess is to be expected when you have a number of decision makers all with differing priorities. While it might be settling to just hear them come out and clearly state what they’re trying to do, any clear statement of purpose that involves anything other than trying to win now is going to have significant downside. In the end, we’re just left to sit and try and guess at what they’re thinking based on the totality of their moves. Hopefully the moves made around the deadline will make their intentions for the next couple seasons more clear.
Anyway, before signing off here, I feel like it should also be pointed out that losing has another major benefit for the future: picking higher in the draft and receiving a larger signing bonus pool, both in the draft and in the international market. The draft isn’t a sure thing, and you do have to wait some time for talent to move it’s way through the system. Still, it’s still critical for the long term outlook of the franchise that they add as much amatuer talent as possible, and baseball is trying to reward the teams with the worst records with the best amatuer talent more than ever these days. It may not help them win more games in 2015 or 2016 to pick 3rd instead of 9th in next year’s draft, but if you plan on being a fan of the Brewers for the long haul, it’s always nice to add premium talent when and where you can.
And it’s been a few years since they’ve received a top-10 draft pick. Let’s be honest, the best chance to add impact in the draft is picking at the top.
Anyway, I’ve tightened my seatbelt for a bumpy ride the rest of this season. The roster we’re currently watching may be very different a month, and while it could brighten the long-term outlook, they’ll be tough to watch. Still, when the game is happening live, the fan takes over and I want to see the team win.