We've been running a loose series recently about free agents the Brewers may potentially target. So far we've discussed Byung-ho Park, David Freese, Brandon Beachy, Juan Uribe, and Austin Jackson. As was expected there have been a wide array of responses and varying opinions. None of which are necessarily wrong or right. These pieces have been mostly just thought experiments and there isn't a right or wrong answer.
I have been seeing some opinions bandied about that I think might be supporting certain misconceptions about what teams should be doing during a rebuild and I thought it would be a good topic to discuss. The goal of which is not to point out wrong opinions but to discuss what exactly a rebuild is. I think the best way to do that is to address the two main misconceptions I've been seeing.
Rebuilding teams shouldn't spend money
Typically when you see a team rebuild it sheds contracts via trades and then doesn't go big in free agency. The goal here isn't necessarily to dump money. It's to trade assets for prospects. The goal of that is to improve a future team. But some fans just see these teams not spending money and that's as deep an observation as they make: Rebuilding teams are cheap teams.
Yes that rebuilding team isn't going to dig deep into their coffers. But that doesn't mean rebuilding teams don't spend money. Of course a rebuilding team--depending on proximity to their next window of contention--isn't going to go out and sign one of the top free agents. In this respect the Brewers should not try to sign Jason Heyward or David Price.
But there is no reason for them to abstain completely from bringing in talent via free agency. Think about it. If they did that the only way for them to bring in prospects and future talent would be through the draft and international signings. Both of which are limited in resources. They can trade their current major league assets but that well runs dry quickly.
Signing and trade is a way to keep that well at least partially full. It's a tactic many rebuilding teams utilize. I've used the Cubs and Scott Feldman example in previous articles. They signed Feldman to a one year $6 million dollar contract. He was pretty decent for them--91.0 IP with a 3.43 ERA--and they were able to package him with back-up catcher Steve Clevenger for pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Now obviously this is the perfect dream and we can't expect all trades to go this way. But it's just one example.
The Cubs also signed Jason Hammel and eventually packaged him with Jeff Samardzija for Addison Russel and Billy McKinney. The Athletics signed Scott Kazmir to a two year deal. It wasn't necessarily with the intention to trade him but that's what ended up happening and they got a pretty good catching prospect in Jacob Nottingham as the return.
The point is that just because a rebuilding team doesn't plan on spending as much money as they can doesn't mean they should spend any at all. The Brewers as is are projected to have a payroll of approximately $70 million. That's approximately $30M less than what they likely are able to spend. That's before we consider the possibility of trading players like Francisco Rodriguez--$7.5M plus a $2M buyout--and Adam Lind--$8M. Depending on those trades the Brewers should be able to spend as much as $20M and could still have cut the payroll by close to $30M.
I understand if the idea of Juan Uribe is unappealing. But his salary would be inconsequential. Still I've seen people make the argument that he's worth X dollars and it's okay to sign him for that amount but not any more than that. I would argue that--within reason--it doesn't matter how much he makes. But to put a number on it I doubt he gets more than $6M on a one year deal.
Even if one considers it an overpay it's not really. Unless we're talking about insane amounts of money for a player like that it's really only an overpay if it stops the club from doing other things. Since the Brewers don't need to do anything, as long as they don't give a guy like Uribe $15M it can't truly be an overpay or a waste of funds.
It's not like the Brewers are going to take the money they don't spend in 2016-2017 and turn around and add it to the payroll in 2018-2019. Their ability to spend probably extends to around $105-115M in a single season. Unless they get more revenue from somewhere they're never going to spend more than that in a year. Because they spend $30M less in 2016 does not mean they can spend $135-145M in 2018 or any other year.
In summation, the Brewers shouldn't and aren't going to sign guys like Jason Heyward or even a Matt Garza type this winter. But they should still use their money to make a wise investment with an eye towards get some prospects back at the trade deadline.
Rebuilding teams should only play young players
This ties closely in with what I was discussing above. The Brewers rotation is the perfect example. Assume Jimmy Nelson, Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, and Matt Garza have guaranteed spots. That leaves one spot open. The leading in-house candidate is Zach Davies. I really like Zach Davies. I want to see Zach Davies pitch. I would still prefer if the Brewers went and got a Scott Feldman/Scott Kazmir/Jason Hammel/Brandon Beachy type instead.
Davies won't be hurt by pitching half a season longer in AAA. Besides that the Brewers aren't going to compete in 2017 so they'll have that whole season to let some of their younger players continue to develop at the major league level. The upside is the ability to trade this hypothetical pitcher at some point in the future. If the Brewers can't trade him then they can put him in the bullpen and give his spot to Davies by mid-season. No harm no foul. They're only out a meager amount of money--relatively speaking--which doesn't matter.
In summation, it's good to give young players time to develop. But the Brewers have years to do this. In the meantime they shouldn't let that stop them from attempting to buy and then flip some assets for prospects down the road. This is a key element in rebuilding.
Rebuilding is about getting better for the future. It's not about saving money. And it's not only about developing your younger players. If a team can go into free agency, come back with some major league assets, and then flip them for prospects that could help them during their next window of contention then they should. Because rebuilding is about getting better for the future.