Welcome to Rounding the Bases, the weekly column where Ryan Topp and Steve Garczynski discuss the big questiosn facing the Brewers this week. You can continue the discussion on Twitter by Following @RyanTopp and @Steve Garczynski.
It finally happened. Judgement Day. Ryan Braun has been suspended for 65 games, an arbitrary number agreed upon by Braun and Major League Baseball because it lasts the rest of the 2013 season. Braun apologized for…something vague, though clearly it was at least a PED of some kind provided by the Biogenesis clinic in Miami. Steroids? HGH? We’ll probably never know, and it will be a few months before Braun gets his sit down interview with the Oprah Winfrey of Fox Sports 1 (angling for their first big get) to tell his non-incriminating side of the story.
This has a direct impact on the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers who, up to the point of the suspension, were doing their best to avoid the word “rebuilding.” There’s no point in playing coy anymore with a suspended Braun, Corey Hart finished for the season with a knee injury and a severely hobbled Aramis Ramirez.
Besides the Braun news, Francisco Rodriguez was the first real domino to fall in the great rebuild of 2013, and Doug Melvin and Co. did a real nice job netting Baltimore Orioles prospect Nicky Delmonico. KRod was a $2MM non-guaranteed free agent that the Brewers turned into a top-5 prospect from another farm system. Chances are that Delmonico doesn’t amount to much more than a fringe-average major league bat, but in a system in dire need of hitting, he’s a nice piece to get.
Ryan, do you think the Braun news was a bucket of cold water for the front office, or is it just convenient cover for a plan they were going to implement anyway?
I’m not so sure it’s either of those things. Going back and looking at our last discussion, it seems like neither one of us really expected them to deal much more than the guys with expiring contracts (K-Rod and Michael Gonzalez) and perhaps try and get some salary relief by moving a John Axford or Rickie Weeks. So I guess it’s fair to say that I was always somewhat skeptical that they would go and deal productive players on contracts that last past this year. I was hopeful, but didn’t really expect it.
I’ll admit that my initial reaction to this news was something along the lines of “well, now they can open the floodgates,” but upon further reflection I’m really not so sure that’s true. Clearly this is a lost season of epic proportions right now, and they won’t have any trouble moving guys that don’t figure to be here next year. However, going by the comments of the owner on how much bad luck, mostly in the form of injuries, has played a role in this lost season, it doesn’t seem like he is all set to just give up on 2014 at this point.
The fact is that owner Mark Attanasio now knows that, barring something completely off-the-wall, he’s going to have his star back for the entire 2014 season. If he had thought there was a good chance that Braun’s suspension was going to impact 2014, he may have been more willing to allow Melvin the freedom to make trades that would have subtracted from next year’s roster.
He also probably figures that one of the best ways to make everything (or at least more things) right between his customers and his franchise player would be to allow him to come back and win right away. It’s something of a sickness in our sporting culture, but winning does tend to mend a lot of fences. The sooner the Brewers can win with Braun as a part of the lineup, the sooner a lot of the negativity surrounding him, at least locally, will diminish.
So I guess I have to say that my initial reaction was probably wrong, and that it’s now going to be somewhat tougher than it would have been before the Braun news to start dismantling the 2014 roster. Is that wrong?
Yes, you’re wrong, but mostly because your argument reinforces that the Braun suspension probably didn’t change the course that front office was going to take. The season was already lost with or without Braun, and they were going to move forward on the assumption that he’d be in the line-up in 2014. This suspension hurts Ryan Braun’s pocket book and lets his team off the hook. As a fan, it’s about the best possible suspension you could hope for. He’s served his time and as long as he keeps his nose (and urine) clean, he keeps playing for the Brewers through 2020.
We both expected short contract relievers to move before the deadline. That’s an easy assumption to make since that’s a commodity teams in a pennant race are willing to pay for, and teams looking to rebuild or reload are willing to give up. They’re fungible. Doug Melvin was probably walking through the stands in Camden Yards holding up a picture of KRod yelling “Get him while he’s hot!”
The real litmus test is coming with Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, Nori Aoki and Kyle Lohse, and looking back at what we wrote last week, our trade projection of 50% was probably a little high for Weeks. I doubt their view on his value has changed with the Braun news. All four of those players will be around in 2014 if the Brewers expect to be competitive. Of course we’re still finding out the real trade value of these players, as many fans were surprised by the return that KRod netted the Brewers and now Matt Garza brought back a nice haul for the Cubs. How much talent in return would it take for the Brewers to punt 2014, and could they actually get it in this trade market?
I think you’ve hit on probably the best thing going for the “rebuild now” crowd of Brewers fans in the fact that this does seem to be a pretty awesome sellers market at this point. Matt Garza is a fairly fragile, often underwhelming starting pitcher and the Rangers were willing to give up three pretty nice trade pieces to get him.
If the trade market really is shaping up to be good one for sellers, this might turn out to be a very telling quote from Melvin:
“This isn’t where we’re selling. I’m not a believer in buyers and sellers; I’m a believer in making a good deal,”
It does seem clear that the Brewers aren’t going to start cutting salary left and right, truly conducting an “everything must go” sort of fire-sale. But if Melvin is truly keeping his options open, it does seem that there is at least a decent chance that one or two of the players from that group you mentioned, as well as perhaps some of the relievers locked up past 2013, will end up getting moved by the deadline.
We can debate whether or not the Brewers should rebuild or not, and I’m sure that’ll happen in the comments shortly. In the end, though, a team in this position doesn’t need to come out and scream, “I declare rebuilding,” Michael Scott-style, on the local sports talk radio station. What they need to do is be willing to listen, truly listen, on any player that is at least questionable to be part of the franchise’s next contending club. If someone is willing to trade real value for him, then it’s wise to move him. If someone isn’t going to give up decent value for a player, there really isn’t much of a point in moving him anyway.
I think we both agree that the best case scenario for the long term health of the franchise is that a few teams get it in their heads that they just have to have some of these players and they make offers that a responsible general manager (and owner) just can’t turn down. Only time will tell if that’s going to happen, but I think everyone can agree that they much prefer this sort of baseball drama than the sort that has been hanging over this franchise for the last 20-odd months.