Way back in November, I wrote a little story talking about how the depressed mood at the time was pretty unjustified when baseball teams can overperform and fluke their way into a good record, and listed a few ways the Brewers could overcome the losses of about 9 wins from Sheets and Sabathia. I also wrote about how and why the offense was underrated. By the end of the offseason, I projected a win range of 84-88.
One of the circumstances I acknowledged then about getting into the playoffs was overperforming or getting lucky in the first half of the season and then going out and finding a mercenary for the second half of the season, improving the team for the second half and making it better for a playoff matchup.
To some extent, that has happened. The offense as a unit has performed about to expectations so far-- the overachievers (Braun, Fielder, Cameron, and the second basemen) balance out the underachievers (Hall, Hart, Hardy, and Kendall). The bullpen has been better than we expected, and that is backed up by strong peripherals, suggesting that the bullpen was constructed well and will continue to be good in the second half. The starting pitching is the most interesting unit. All of these numbers are ERA, FIP, tERA:
Gallardo: 2.93, 3.96, 3.83
Bush: 5.31, 5.81, 5.33
Suppan: 4.48, 5.46, 5.20
Looper: 4.62, 5.15, 5.35
Parra: 7.52, 5.14, 4.57
So as a quick summary, we'd say Gallardo, Suppan, and Looper overperformed their skills, Bush was about where we'd expect him to be now after his cold stretch, and Parra underperformed his skills by an absurd 2.5-3 runs.
So as a group, the rotation has gotten us to the point where the team is leading the division and a definite contender at the trade deadline. But actual performance so far suggests that 3 pitchers could become less effective than their current level of production as the year goes on, unless they start pitching better.
So basically, I come back to the main point-- if the Brewers could manage to get into contention at the deadline, there was the possibility of adding someone. The Brewers have managed to get into contention, and we're entering trade season. There's indication that the front office will be aggressive again, and I fully condone making a big splash.
So let's evaluate some of the options. But the first place I'm going to look is not where you'd expect-- second base. ZiPS in-season projections expect McGehee and Counsell to hit at about a .310 wOBA the rest of the way. We'll give them a bonus up to about .325 assuming they take full advantage of the platoon effect, and overall they're just below league average considering defense.
How much of an upgrade would Mark DeRosa be? He'd be an upgrade of at least 10 runs on offense above a platoon, but his defense is somewhat sketchy-- he'd likely rate at about -3 in half of a year. You could plan on him to add about 1 win to 1.5 wins. He'd be a very good pickup, but I'd be very careful about overpaying. I wouldn't give up any of our main top prospects.
Assuming he's healthy and his cost is about the same as DeRosa's, Erik Bedard would be a bit more effective pickup because he would be replacing a pitcher who is below league average, not an average-ish platoon. His rest-of-season projection calls for about a 3.50 ERA. Over 90 innings, replacing a 5 ERA (Parra's rest-of-season projection) with a 3.5 ERA is about an upgrade of about 1.5 wins. After a bonus for moving another pitcher into the bullpen and the fatigue factor, I think you can look at adding a healthy pitcher like Bedard as a 2-win upgrade, plus having a better team available for the playoffs. Of course I wouldn't give up a Gamel or Escobar for a half season of Bedard (or any player for that matter), but I'd be willing to pay quite a bit for him.
Other pitchers like Bedard will also be available, and we can assume that the top tier of starters is going to be about a 1.5-2 win upgrade depending on when they are acquired.
I'd be on board with an acquisition like Doug Davis or Jarrod Washburn, but each pitcher shouldn't be counted on for more than a 4.5 ERA the rest of the way. That's an upgrade, but only of about .5-maybe 1 win if things break right.
As always, I'd prefer an aggressive move, especially considering the circumstances of overperforming and being in the division lead. I'm cool with any upgrade, but if the front office wants to go get someone, they should be sure to look at who the player will be replacing and they should look at more than a half-season of ERA when looking at pitchers like Davis and Washburn. I feel confident that an upgrade will be made, and this team will take advantage of the opportunity they have been presented with to make a push. It's what good organizations do.