It’s been awhile, so hopefully the cliche can be forgiven: are the Brewers going to go “all in” and deal away some of their top prospects for immediate impact? If they do so, it really shouldn’t be a surprise, because it would be the third time in the last decade they’ve done so when facing imminent likely losses on the roster.
In 2008, the team was looking at a likely future without staff ace Ben Sheets. That summer, with a decent but hardly overwhelming lead in the wild card race, they traded away their top prospect Matt LaPorta along with Michael Brantley, Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson in order to land CC Sabathia from Cleveland for the stretch run. Sabathia then exceeded even the rosiest of projections and carried the Brewers into the postseason for the first time in over a quarter century.
After a couple of disappointing seasons in 2009 and 2010, where the young hitting core came into their own, the starting pitching was Yovani Gallardo and a bunch of guys. The team was also staring at the near certainty that Prince Fielder would leave after the 2011 season, while both Rickie Weeks was also slated for free agency at the end of the year. With those deadlines looming, general manager Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio struck again.
First, they dealt consensus top 50 prospect Brett Lawrie straight up to the Blue Jays in exchange for the underrated but often injured Shaun Marcum.
The big move came later that December, though, when the team made the splashiest of splashy moves in getting Zack Greinke away from the Royals. They gave up a lot in Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress while also getting back Yuniesky Betancourt, ostensibly to play shortstop but really just to drive everyone crazy for a season.
Those moves unquestionably helped them win the 2011 NL Central crown and advance to the NLCS. They also were able to extract more than just the draft picks they got for Sabathia due to the fact that both players were controlled for two seasons, rather than just one. When the Brewers fell out of contention in the days before the 2012 trade deadline, they were able to swap Greinke for a package that included shortstop Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena.
Taken together, it’s not hard to see a pattern emerge here. When facing the imminent loss of major impact players and a team expected to be better than it was, Melvin and Attansio have routinely used whatever young talent they had on hand in order to acquire “win now” types of players. As it stands now, the Brewers are slated to lose starter Kyle Lohse at the end of 2015. They also have a pair of options looming, for Gallardo ($13 million, $600k buyout) and Aramis Ramirez ($14 million, $4 million buyout).
They are expected to pickup Gallardo’s option and there seems to be ample reason to think Ramirez’s is a real possibility. If they do that, they are looking at losing three pretty key players after the 2015 season, setting up just the sort of “roster cliff” that has sent this management team to the trade market in years past.
Whether or not they will is something that only time will tell on, but it’s important to note that despite the reputation that Brewers’ farm system has earned in recent years, they actually have a number of young players who would generate interest if put out on the market. Tyrone Taylor, Clint Coulter and Orlando Arcia may or may not make top 100 lists this off season, but all three are legitimate prospects now within a couple years of making the big leagues. The team also has a number of talented pitchers who could draw interest, most notably Devin Williams, Tyler Wagner and Taylor Williams. There is also the real possibility that the team could deal from among it’s young major league core of players, with guys like Jimmy Nelson, Khris Davis and perhaps even Scooter Gennett or Wily Peralta a possibility if the team were so inclined.
Would it be a good idea for the Brewers to once again raid their stash of young talent in an effort to win in the here and now? That depends on a couple of factors. Someone who sees a team that is close, but just didn’t quite have enough last year might be inclined to roll the dice and take a shot. On the other hand, those who think the team is further away or those who just prefer not to deal away young prospects for short-term rentals probably would prefer not to make a move like that.
As recent Brewers history has demonstrated, giving up prospects to land name talent can work out and land a team the wins they need to make the playoffs. As history has also shown, doing that can leave a team without the depth of young, cost-controlled talent that can either fill out a roster or be traded for young players with cost-control years themselves. It’s always a risky proposition, but given the way that the Brewers current brain trust operated in situations similar to this, don’t be surprised if they roll the dice once again this off season.