Smartbuilding #2: Contending & Prospect Windows | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

One useful tool for analyzing baseball rosters is to look at specific “windows” of contract / reserve control. By looking at when specific contracts expire, or when a club loses its arbitration (or reserve) rights for certain players, one can determine the type of goals that club should have. Glancing at the Brewers’ windows for the last five years, it’s difficult to fault the organization for their continual attempts to compete; after Prince Fielder became the most notable (and probably the best) Brewers player to leave from the original “contending core,” the Brewers front office strung together a series of “auxiliary windows” involving players from Rickie Weeks to Zack Greinke to Yovani Gallardo to (now) Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez. It is notable that, in some cases, these players did not necessarily match their expected level of performance, or were unable (by themselves) to overcome other roster shortcomings.

Contract Windows Player Player Player
2011 P. Fielder
2012 Z. Greinke S. Marcum R. Wolf
2013 C. Hart
2014 R. Weeks (Y. Gallardo) (A. Ramirez)
2015 A. Ramirez K. Lohse G. Parra
2016 C. Gomez A. Lind  (J. Lucroy)
2017 J. Lucroy (M. Garza)
2018 J. Segura W. Peralta M. Garza
2019 K. Davis S. Gennett M. Fiers
2020 (R. Braun)  J. Nelson
2021 R. Braun

Edited on Friday, May 22 for clarity. Each “Player” = potentially final contract year during that particular season. 

By glancing at these windows, one can make a set of observations about the Brewers’ present and future rosters:

  • The club is currently underperforming despite employing a series of players (especially Gomez and Lucroy) suited for competitive clubs.
  • Milwaukee features extended reserve rights for a number of serviceable, but not elite, players.
  • The Brewers’ longest remaining contract is also its expensive (and arguably most burdensome).

This window should help demonstrate why a “quick” retool could be in Milwaukee’s interest. First and foremost, if the club makes the right aggressive trades this season (and in the 2015-2016 offseason), they can reassess their farm system and new acquisitions alongside their remaining cost-controlled players. Right now, Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis, Jean Segura, and Fastballer Mike Fiers remain question marks, as one can certainly call them serviceable MLB players while also questioning their status as “true contending core” players. Nelson and Peralta certainly have the stuff to eventually emerge as solid starters (in terms of run prevention), and Segura could emerge as a solid middle of the diamond player. To raise questions about the eventual roles of these players is not to dismiss them, but only to note the (potentially obvious) fact that these players pose less of a certain “contending core” than the Ryan Braun / Fielder / Weeks / Gallardo group.

Given this observation, the immediate, elite core of Gomez and Lucroy becomes the club’s top trade duo. These middle-diamond mashers are the most valuable players and the most valuable trading chips for Milwaukee, and using their value in the most effective, aggressive way could immediately provide the Brewers with talent to lead their serviceable core players in 2018, 2019, and 2020. What the 2018 and 2019 Brewers lack is the promise of the type of elite performances produced by Gomez and Lucroy. However, one could argue that the Brewers are at an advantage with their knowledge that they already control a serviceable group of young players. Suddenly, the question marks of Nelson, Peralta, and Segura could morph into leadership traits for the next group of elite talent that graduates to Milwaukee (if they draft and trade effectively).

Window #2
By now, you’ve probably been protesting that the Brewers also have another advantage: they control a group of young prospects that have intriguing traits and already sit at AA (or higher). Behind that excellent group of Biloxi Shuckers, the Brewers also have a larger group of boom/bust potential deeper on their farm. With this knowledge, one might use speculative graduation dates to create a second “window of contention.” This is not a “window” of expiring contracts, but a window of “potential graduation” to the big leagues. For AA players, I am using a “moderate” advancement to speculate arrival in the middle of 2016 (or later). Players below AA will have additional years added to showcase their potential risk and distance from the MLB (after all, it would be criminal to simply pencil in the 2014 draft class on the 2019 Brewers roster; minor league development simply does not work that way, as some of the best players from that draft won’t make the majors, while others will advance quickly (and, of course, others slowly) to the MLB).

Minor League Windows Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4 Player 5 Player 6
Immediate (2015-2016) Y. Rivera L. Sardinas T. Jungmann K. Wren D. Magnifico
“First Class” 2016 O. Arcia T. Taylor A. Weisenburger M. Reed M. Strong
“Second Class” (2016-2017) T. Wagner J. Lopez C. Coulter C. McFarland W-C Wang V. Roache
“Third Class” (A / A+ Depth) J. Pena O. Garcia J. Ortega J. Salas S. Matos D. Williams
Next “Elite Class” (Boom/Bust?) M. Harrison J. Gatewood T. Neuhaus T. Williams K. Modeiros V. Diaz
DSL “Elite Depth” (Boom/Bust?) G. Lara F. Mallen M. Diaz M. Diplan N. Pierre J. Segovia

Players in Bold Font are BaseballAmerica Top 20 prospects for the system.

Granted, there are a lot of question marks on this list, but a few of these prospects are coming into their own. The Brewers system has some advanced prospects that could serve as starters or quality depth for the club in the relatively near future. If these windows converge, one can gain a better sense of the types of moves Milwaukee needs to make in a rebuilding effort:

Year Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4 Player 5 Player 6
2016 C. Gomez A. Lind  (J. Lucroy) Y. Rivera O. Arcia T. Taylor
2017 J. Lucroy (M. Garza) T. Wagner J. Lopez C. Coulter V. Roache
2018 J. Segura W. Peralta M. Garza W-C Wang D. Williams C. McFarland

In this table, I picked some of my favorite prospects and potential depth players, and I certainly do not present this list as a definitive projection of when or how these players will make the big leagues. Rather, one can understand the type of talent the Brewers will be graduating to the MLB level (potentially), alongside the veterans in their last contract years, in order to gather the best possible players in trades. Unlike a draft or international amateur signing, where the organization should absolutely go after the best talent regardless of position, the Brewers can use their best trading chips to align talent at their biggest points of need. For example, one can see that the Brewers will not only have absurd depth up the middle, but also some fringe power graduating along some of the corners. The Brewers could use trades to enhance their power, enhance their corner positions, alongside the excellent middle-diamond depth they control. Furthermore, there are many middle rotation arms, so the Brewers can also aim to improve their pitching, perhaps pushing some of their fringe or questionable starters into the bullpen. If the Brewers’ best current arms on the farm stick, while others with some shortcomings head to the bullpen, the Brewers could find themselves fielding a deep, controllable club within two years (i.e., by opening day 2018).

If you’re dreading a rebuilding project, there’s not necessarily any indication that the Brewers simply need to tear down their system and begin anew. On the other hand, these charts do show that if the Brewers do not act immediately or aggressively in the trade market, they will continue to have a serviceable roster of veterans without those impact pieces projected for the longterm. By trading some of their best players now, even if it hurts to lose those fan favorites and elite stars, the Brewers can augment their own organizational depth and reserve-control veterans in order to compete in earnest within a relatively short amount of time.

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