The Milwaukee Brewers are currently in a bit of an odd state as a franchise. They’re not obvious contenders for the 2013 postseason, though if a few things break right they could find themselves in the playoffs. They’re also most definitely not “rebuilding” in that they’re holding on to their players in an attempt to make a run this year. At the same time, are planning on running out an extremely unproven rotation and basically passed all off season on making moves that would keep them from seeing what they’ve got in some of these younger pitchers.
Over these next couple of posts, we’re going to look at some things the Brewers have going for them at the moment, and then at some challenges they face as a franchise going forward. Today, we’ll start with the good stuff:
They have stars locked into reasonable contracts:
First and foremost, the Brewers have Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo. It’s easy to overlook this, but it’s still true. The Brewers have two star players in the primes of their careers, and neither is free to leave for a few more years. The Brewers control Braun through the 2020 season at least, and have him locked into a contract that is fairly reasonable compared to many of the players with whom he currently shares leader boards. Gallardo isn’t locked up nearly as long, only guaranteed through 2014 with an option for 2015 that can, but probably won’t be able to be voided, but that is still 2-3 more seasons at very reasonable prices.
He’s not on the same tier as these two players, but the Brewers also have Jonathan Lucroy locked into an extremely reasonable contract through 2016 or 17. Though Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez are both being paid much closer to their true value, both are locked in at least until 2015 and Gomez through 2016. Also, thanks to Adam McCalvy at MLB.com, we now know that the Brewers do indeed control Norichicka Aoki for 5 more seasons, though the last 3 of those are subject to the arbitration process. Jean Segura is still 6 years away from being able to declare free agency. That is a solid core, at least of hitters, to plan around.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Brewers don’t have a lot of obviously bad money locked up. Braun may some day become an albatross contract wise, but that date is probably still well down the line. Aramis Ramirez‘s outstanding 2012 campaign should assuage most fears that a true collapse is likely to happen before his contract ends in 2014. The team seems to have little interest in Corey Hart long term, and he probably represents the greatest risk for a long term deal among the “core” players given the frequency of his injuries over the past few years and a few smallish signs of slowing down. None of the starters or relievers is currently locked up past 2014, though the Brewers do control many of those players for years to come. That’s an enviable position to be in, at least financially.
They have one of the more powerful lineups in baseball:
In 2012, the Brewers bashed their way to the top of the National League in both home runs (202) and slugging percentage (.437) and finished 4th and 3rd, respectively, in those categories in all of MLB. If you want to lead in one of the traditional “triple slash” rates, one would be best advised to pick on base percentage. Still, slugging isn’t that far behind and the Brewers were 5th in the senior circuit at getting on base anyway, so it’s not like they struggled.
Individually, the Brewers got double digit home runs from every returning starter other than Segura, and he figures to provide solid enough pop as he matures. Yes, the team does play in one of the best hitters parks in MLB, especially when it comes to hitting home runs, but they still hit 83 road home runs last year, or better than one per road game, so this isn’t just a Miller Park Mirage. Though some regression should probably be expected, this team is going to slug.
The pitchers can strike people out:
If you weren’t a Brewers fan paying pretty close attention to things at the end of 2012, you might have missed that the Brewers made a run at the all time National League strikeout record, finishing with 1402, just 2 behind the 2003 Chicago Cubs. Of course, strikeouts were way up in MLB generally last year and the Phillies only finished 17 K’s behind the Brewers for second, but still they did rack up a ton of strikeouts. Yes, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum are gone, and they helped compile those numbers, but they actually weren’t the driving force. Of the 6 starters who threw 100 innings for the Crew last year, Greinke and Marcum finished 4th and 5th, respectively, in K:9 IP, behind Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Gallardo who all struck out better than a batter per inning. Mark Rogers was also up over the batter-an-inning mark and both Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg have the stuff and do miss bats.
They don’t just miss bats, though. They also do a solidly above average job avoiding free passes. Particularly Fiers and Estrada, who posted below average walk rates. Gallardo isn’t as good at that, but he strikes out enough batters that his K:BB ratio is still above average. Both Rogers and Peralta have experienced walk issues, especially in the minor leagues and also this spring, but when they’re right they’ll also miss bats. Yes, this staff is going to get hit around some, both inside and outside of the park. Ultimately, though, if a pitching staff is able to strike out a good number of batters without walking too many, they’re off to a pretty good start in terms of preventing runs.
The farm system is deep, but also has upside:
It has become cliche to say of the Brewers current farm system that it has quite a few players who should one day play a role in MLB, though it is light on star power. Well, just because it’s cliche doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of substance to the claim. If you look at our current Brewers top 30, one of the first things that should jump out is the large number of players at AA/AAA who figure to have major league careers. Tyler Thornburg, Jimmy Nelson, Scooter Gennett, Hunter Morris, Logan Schafer, Hiram Burgos, and Caleb Gindl all fit that description pretty well.
One thing that is too often overlooked about the current farm system is that, while they don’t have obvious stars, they do have some guys with star upside. Between the 2011-2012 draft, the Brewers drafted 5 players in the top 50 picks, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, Clint Coulter, Victor Roache and Mitch Haniger. Add in the second rounders, Jorge Lopez and Tyrone Taylor, and young Orlando Arcia, and you actually do have quite a bit to dream on. The main problem is that so many of these guys have had their professional careers start with injury. Bradley, Roache, Haniger, Taylor and Arcia all missed time due to injury in 2012. It’s hard to have a farm system “break out” in terms of star potential when so many guys are missing developmental time to injury, but that doesn’t mean the star potential is gone. It just hasn’t been realized in minor league performance to this point. At this time next year, it will be very interesting to see who is where in terms of the farm system rankings.
It’s pretty clear that there are some very real things to like about where the Brewers are as a franchise. They have stars and some other players locked into decent contracts. They have a powerful lineup and pitchers who can strike people out. Finally, they have a farm system that possesses quite a few likely big leaguers and an underrated group of players with breakout potential. All in all, that’s not bad. Later this week, we will take a look at some of the challenges facing the Milwaukee Brewers organization going forward.