clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Having their ice cream and eating it too: The Brewers' compete rebuild

New, 79 comments

No, that's not a typo. I mean "compete" rebuild as opposed to "complete" rebuild. Confused? Read on. P.S. Who gets ice cream but doesn't eat it? Silly old sayings.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Some people want(ed) the Brewers to trade Jimmy Nelson and whatever else to get a player like David Price. Some people want(ed) the Brewers to trade Yovani Gallardo/Kyle Lohse/Aramis Ramirez/etc for prospects.

One side critiques the Brewers for their unwillingness to go "all-in" when it was appropriate. The other side critiques the Brewers for unwillingness to recognize the need to rebuild the farm system. The one thing these two mutually exclusive parties agree on is that the Brewers don't have a plan.

There aren't a whole lot of people who are pleased the Brewers have taken a sort of middle road. I'm one of those people. The reason I'm pleased, is because I actually think it is part of their plan. I think the Brewers are attempting to thread the needle between competing and rebuilding. To put it succinctly I think they're trying to accomplish both goals concurrently.

They continue adding talent to and spending money on the major league roster. That's them trying to compete. It's obvious and self explanatory. But the other part of their plan is less obvious and I'd say overlooked. They have also stopped trading their top prospects.

Not since the Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum trades have the Brewers shipped a truly significant minor leaguer out of town. To compliment that they've continued bringing in talent to the farm system through trades (and other means). Here's a list of all the departures and acquisitions via trade since January 2011:

Acquisitions: Nyjer Morgan, Jerry Hairston, Francisco Rodriguez-1, Jose Veras, Fautino De Los Santos, Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena, Yorvit Torrealba, Burke Badenhop-1, Juan Francisco, Nick Delmonico, Michael Blazek, Luis Ortega, Will Smith, Gerardo Parra, Jonathan Broxton, Adam Lind, Kyle Wren, Matt Long, Jarret Martin

Departures: Cutter Dykstra, Sergio Mitre, Erik Komatsu,  Wil Nieves, Daniel Herrera, Adrian Rosario, Casey McGehee, George Kottaras, Zack Greinke, Raul Mondesi Jr, Jairo Asencio, Thomas Keeling, Francisco Rodriguez-2, John Axford, Burke Badenhop-2, Nori Aoki, Brad Mills, Anthony Banda, Mitch Haniger, Barrett Astin, Kevin Shackelford, Marco Estrada, Zach Quintana, Shawn Zarraga

Okay, I know what you're thinking. That's a ton of names. Also, who is Adrian Rosario? Don't worry about it. Let's clean it up a bit by filtering out the players that won't or or wouldn't have had a chance to contribute to the Brewers in 2015 and beyond. In other words, here's a list of players acquired that might be able to contribute to the Brewers in 2015 and beyond along side departures of players that would have still been under team control and potentially able to contribute to the Brewers in 2015 and beyond:

Acquisitions: Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg, Ariel Pena, Nick Delmonico, Michael Blazek, Will Smith, Gerardo Parra, Jonathan Broxton, Adam Lind, Kyle Wren, Jarret Martin

Departures: Anthony Banda, Mitch Haniger, Barrett Astin, Marco Estrada, Zach Quintana, Shawn Zarraga

If I'm being honest, it's probably more accurate to list only Mitch Haniger and Marco Estrada under the departures. The others are borderline non-prospects/org filler. But then at the same time it's probably also being generous to include Jarret Martin, Ariel Pena, and Nick Delmonico at this point in their careers.

Still, I think it's hard to argue that the Brewers haven't added a solid amount of talent while not giving up much in return. More to the point the most notable prospect the Brewers traded away was Mitch Haniger, a potential 4th outfielder.

I haven't even mentioned the other ways in which the Brewers have added talent to franchise. Not every team participates in the Rule 5 draft or the international prospects market. But it's through these avenues in recent years the Brewers have added Miguel Diaz, Nicolas Pierre, Franley Mallen, Gilbert Lara, and Wei-Chung Wang. These prospects range from negligible to potential impact talents.

It rarely results in major talent changing hands, but the Brewers have been active in waiver claims over recent years as well. Hector Gomez, Elian Herrera, Luis Jimenez, and Shane Peterson could all contribute this year and beyond. These guys are almost certainly destined to warm a bench for most of their careers, but at least they're young enough that that could change.

All the while they've been adding this talent to the franchise (major and minor leagues) they've also been trying to compete. Since 2011, in addition to any trade that has brought in MLB level talent, the Brewers have (most notably) added Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza through free agency.

It hasn't worked out every year, but that doesn't mean the process is bad. I think one could argue they've fielded an approximately 85 win team almost every year since 2011. (Note: I'm talking about on paper. A 90 win team "on paper" can still falter and only win 81 for example) Sometimes their actual record has been better, sometimes it's been worse.

One major obstacle they've faced is not being able to bolster the major league roster with a lot of quality minor league call-ups.

Think about it. The only thing the Brewers are lacking right now is a strong farm system. If they had that strong farm system they would be applauded for adding MLB talent and competing, while also adding minor league talent but not trading their top prospects.

If you look at the Baseball Prospectus' Top 10 list for the Brewers, every single one of those guys (with the exception of Orlando Arcia) was added in 2011 or later. On MLB.com's Top 20 list every single of those guys (with the exception of Arcia and Hunter Morris) was added in 2011 or later.

Look at how much better the system is now than it was at the start of 2011 when it had been recently depleted. It was at a low point but has since been strengthened somewhat moderately. The cynic will now point out that the Brewers overall farm system is still rated among the lowest in baseball. Yes, that's true but now it has potential impact talent such as Gilbert Lara, Monte Harrison, and Devin Williams.

Now imagine if they continue improving the farm system in a similar fashion to what they've been doing for the last 3-4 years. The starting point is higher now than in 2011 so it stands to reason the end result (strength of the farm system) will be higher too.

Undeniably this is a slower way to build a farm system. But I think it could be effective nonetheless. The Brewers are trading the ability to draft in the Top 10 by going this route. That's the one major drawback. However I think they mitigate that somewhat by not trading their top prospects and by adding players through trades like the Segura, Smith, Wren, etc trades. And also they're giving themselves the chance to make the postseason every year.

At a certain point, the farm system should be strong enough to provide competent mid-season replacements(or opening day regulars depending on the time frame). If the Brewers are able to successfully continue fielding competitive teams in the meantime, then by adding those prospects they'll be bolstering an already 85-87 win team.

It's basically just the reverse of the standard approach of building up a roster core of prospects and then adding major league talent around that. I think the end result could be the same though. And that's what I think the goal of their plan is. Of course I could be completely wrong and they could trade 3 of their top prospects tomorrow.