Who's expendable?

The comments in this thread got me thinking.  In all of the various interviews I've done about the Brewers this season, I'm regularly asked what the Crew might try to acquire before the deadline.  My answer is always the same: there aren't any glaring needs, and there aren't any big-ticket trading chips we're about to part with.  I've occasionally added that I wouldn't be surprised to see Melvin pick up a reliever (maybe get in on the Octavio Dotel sweepstakes?), but that'd be about it.  After all, is there really a weak spot among the starters?

The other recurring discussion in play here is this: Of the several young stars on this team, who's going to stay?  As they hit arbitration and then free agency, there's no way we're going to be able to keep Fielder, Weeks, Hardy, Braun, Hart, and Hall.  (And I'm not even talking about pitchers right now!)  Hall is locked up for a while, and Braun and Hart are a ways off from getting expensive, so that leaves us with Hardy, Fielder, and Weeks.

Many things can change before these decisions have to be made, but given what we can expect to pay them, and what we've gotten from them so far, who would you keep if you could only keep one of those?  Only two?  Seems to me like the no-brainer of the three is Prince Fielder.  He keeps getting better, he could anchor the lineup for the next decade, and he's a fan favorite already.  He'll be expensive, but great players are expensive.

That leaves Hardy and Weeks.  Before Hardy's hot start, I would've thought he'd come cheap, but now I'm not so sure.  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Doug try to lock up JJ after the season; if not then, definitely after the following season.  A Bill Hall-like deal, in length and dollar value, seems about right to me.  

So what about Rickie?  There are all sorts of unknowns at play here: to what extent will his wrist injury recur?  When will he start to develop the long-awaited power?  (That's related to the first question, of course.)  Is he a long-term solution at second base, or would he need to move?    If we were to shop Rickie, I'd imagine that other teams would have a huge range of responses.  Some would view him as a flyer, in the vein of B.J. Upton right now, while others would still think of him as a superstar waiting to break out.  If one of the GMs in the "superstar" category was sufficiently interested, I can see a deal getting done.

Another thing to consider is the internal replacements available.  It's possible that a deal involving Rickie or JJ would bring back a middle infielder, but perhaps not.  Callix Crabbe is at Nashville, though he probably isn't a future starter.  Hernan Iribarren and Alcides Escobar are now the double-play combo at Huntsville, and while both have been highly touted at some point or other, both carry serious question marks and are probably not any kind of solution until 2009.  Anybody further off than that doesn't really deserve to be in the conversation.  

I don't think this topic is going to matter much in the short term, but I think it's important (for the team's decision-makers, anyway) to have thought this stuff through.  If, say, Sheets gets hurt in his next start and we lose him for the rest of the season, we might get a whole lot more serious about Mark Buehrle.  Maybe we could get Buehrle and a good prospect (I don't know, Gio Gonzalez?) for Weeks.  Would you do it?  If not, what would it take?  

As nice as it must be for a player to be considered "untouchable," almost no one should be.  It's always a matter of price, even if that price may never be met.

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