The Brewers are off to a putrid start so it isn't surprising to see so many people have given up on the season after 6 games. I don't really blame them. If the Brewers don't turn things around quickly and dramatically it seems likely they will fall out of contention early and that means selling off at the trade deadline (July 31). However I feel pretty certain those of you hoping for a complete tear down of the major league team will be sorely disappointed.
I first broached this topic in my article about what I dubbed the Brewers' "Compete Rebuild" plan. I believe the Brewers are attempting to rebuild their farm system (slowly) while also attempting to build a competitive major league team. The end goal being a time in the future where both the farm system and the major league team are simultaneously strong.
There are several ways in which the Brewers are building towards this future. One is signing modest long term contracts with mid-tier free agents like Aramis Ramirez, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza. The benefit to this is obvious. It improves the major league team. Though as with any endeavor some risk is involved.
A second way is by not trading their top prospects. Obviously this helps build up the farm system by not depleting it like they did in 2008 for CC Sabathia and in 2011 with the trades for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. But it also helps strengthen the major league team when those prospect become MLB-ready.
This can be frustrating for fans who only wish to see the current iteration of the team successful. For example, the Brewers refused to trade Jimmy Nelson last year which cost them the opportunity to acquire an expensive David Price for 1.5 years. The upshot is they get to keep Jimmy Nelson who has frontline potential for at least 6 years.
The third most obvious way the Brewers are putting their plan into action, and the one most relevant to the topic of a fire sale, is by trading MLB talent when appropriate. I wrote the compete-rebuild article in January and a month later my theory was, at least in part, validated when the Brewers traded Yovani Gallardo for a package of 3 prospects. If you don't look closely this seems to suggest the possibility of a future fire sale. But here's the thing, the Brewers have shown they have a different definition of what "when appropriate" means than one hoping for a fire sale will possess.
Let me explain what I mean. In a true fire sale everything goes. That means guys like Matt Garza, Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Adam Lind, and maybe even guys like Khris Davis, Jean Segura, and Wily Peralta would be made available. This has never been what the Brewers have done.
They hold onto their MLB assets for as long as they think it helps them compete at the major league level. They did trade Zack Greinke, but only half way through his final season when it seemed likely the wouldn't make the playoffs. They did trade Yovani Gallardo, but only before the final season of his contract and only because they wanted to open a spot for Jimmy Nelson.
Kyle Lohse, Aramis Ramirez, and Gerardo Parra are in the final season of their contracts and so they clearly fit this trend. Jonathan Broxton seems to fit as well since it seems unlikely the Brewers would exercise his 2016 option. The same perhaps applies to Adam Lind, though it seems less likely. If they could find a buyer for K-Rod he might be available too if they wanted to open spots for some prospects which is part of the trend.
So the question becomes, "Will the Brewers act as though they believe they can contend in 2016?" Because if they believe that, they won't trade Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy, Matt Garza or anyone else under contract they think can help them compete. Take a look at the players under team control next year:
|SP-Matt Garza: $12.5M||RP-Francisco Rodriguez: $5.5M||C-Jonathan Lucroy: $4.35M||BN-Martin Maldonado: $0.85M|
|SP- Wily Peralta: ARB 1||RP-Jonathan Broxton: $9M||1B-Adam Lind: $8M||BN-Who Cares: $0.5M|
|SP-Mike Fiers: ARB 1||RP-Will Smith: $0.5M||2B-Scooter Gennett: $0.5M||BN-Who Cares: $0.5M|
|SP-Jimmy Nelson: $0.5M||RP-Jeremy Jeffress: ARB 1||3B-Luis Jimenez $0.5M||BN-Who Cares: $0.5M|
|SP-Taylor Jungmann: $0.5M||RP-Tyler Thornburg: $0.5M||SS-Jean Segura: ARB 1||BN-Who Cares: $0.5M|
|RP-Corey Knebel: $0.5M||LF-Khris Davis: $0.5M|
|RP-Michael Blazek: $0.5M||CF-Carlos Gomez: $9M|
|Non-Roster- $2M||RF-Ryan Braun: $20M|
|Rotation Total: $13.5M+||Bullpen Total: $16.5M+||Lineup Total: $42.85M +||
Bench Total: $2.85M
|Team Total: $77.7M + (ARB Salaries)
Keep in mind this is not a projection for the 2016 Opening Day roster. Don't flip out in the comments about Luis Jimenez being next year's third baseman. I'm just illustrating the players under team control and the financial commitment for next year. There are two glaring holes: 3B (Luis Jimenez) and SP (Taylor Jungmann). But the financial commitment leaves a good deal of money to spend in free agency.
I'm not sure how much the arb-eligible players will make but I'll estimate $10 million. That would leave the Brewers with around $15-20 million to spend. That's assuming they bring back Adam Lind (seems likely) and Jonathan Broxton (seems unlikely). Cutting Broxton saves $8 million. Cutting Lind would save another $7.5 million but I don't see it happening.
So if they cut Broxton they'd be able to add $23-28 million in payroll. That seems more than enough to get a third baseman and one starting pitcher. Getting a third baseman is easier said than done and they might have to trade for one but there are a plethora of SP options in next year's free agent class.
My goal here is not to convince you this is the makings of a World Series contender. My goal isn't even to convince you it is a Wild Card contender. It doesn't matter if you believe that. It doesn't even matter if it's true. What matters is that it seems likely they could build a team with a chance to compete similar to the team the Brewers fielded in 2014 and 2015. And that's enough to suggest to me the team will not go full fire sale mode.
I know that angers some of you. It probably angers most of you. I get it. I'm not arguing against a full rebuild. I like the idea too. It's just not the Brewers plan and I'm okay with that even though I know most aren't. What they seem to be doing might not be the best way to build up the farm system or build a franchise, but it would ignorant to say the current plan the Brewers have isn't doing what it's intended to do.
The Brewers haven't made the postseason since 2011, but they did put together teams that had a chance. The fact that they missed the playoffs doesn't change that. After all, having a chance doesn't mean having a guarantee.
They were close in 2012 despite trading away Greinke. The 2013 season was a disaster but there were many extenuating circumstances including their top 3 first base options losing the entire season to injury and the Ryan Braun suspension. Last season they were close too and it took an unprecedented collapse to keep them from the playoffs. This season has started horribly and it's hard to see them getting even a Wild Card spot, but there are 156 games left.
The other part of the equation is the farm system. It hit rock bottom in 2011 but I don't think anyone can, or would, argue it hasn't improved since. Anyone that does make that argument is just plain wrong. There are prospects (Orlando Arcia, Tyrone Taylor, Monte Harrison, Gilbert Lara, Kodi Medeiros, Devin Williams, etc) with ceilings the likes of which the Brewers haven't seen since Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, and Yovani Gallardo graduated. Even outside institutions are beginning to acknowledge this growth. There's no reason the farm system can't continue incremental improvements if the Brewers keep doing what they have been.
So whether you like or hate it, I really doubt the Brewers are going to hold a fire sale in July regardless of how poorly they're performing. If they do then it's either because they don't think they can compete next year (which is possible) or they've decided to change course and abandon their compete-rebuild model.
Contract details courtesy of Cot's Contracts