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Trades will indicate Brewers franchise direction

The Brewers are going to have some tough decisions to make at the trade deadline this year and the players that do get traded will give us a strong indication of which direction the front office decides to move the franchise towards.

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There's been quite a lot of conversation about trades in recent weeks. It's not surprising as the Brewers are off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. I know some still have hope they can compete for a wild card spot but whether they can and if they'll trade players isn't really in the purview of this article. The question I want to address is what it will mean if/when the Brewers trade certain players.

At the trade deadline there will basically be two options the Brewers will find themselves with that are more or less mutually exclusive. They can either choose to compete in 2016 or they can choose to enter a rebuild. There are certain players that will be available no matter what their decision, but at least 2 players will only be available if they decided to rebuild. Some are a little harder to define.

Players available no matter what:
Kyle Lohse
Francisco Rodriguez
Jonathan Broxton
Neal Cotts
Gerardo Parra
Aramis Ramirez

Lohse, Broxton, Cotts, Ramirez, and Parra are on the final year of their contracts. In other words they'll be free agents after this season so trading them doesn't change anything for the Brewers. If they want to bring them back it's not impossible to do that after they trade them. Granted it's uncommon but it's happened with K-Rod before. The only one that's not true for is Aramis Ramirez who is retiring after this year. So basically these guys will be available no matter what because there is nothing to gain by keeping them.

Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Broxton could both be retained next year (and beyond in the case of K-Rod). They're just relievers though and by their nature aren't that hard to replace. Plus, guys like Corey Knebel and David Goforth could prove to be cheap in-house replacements.

In Broxton's case the Brewers would likely be pleased to unload his salary regardless their plans for 2016. So even if they don't get much back it could be worth it for the salary relief.

I'd say it's possible the Brewers want to keep K-Rod because they could have up to 2 more years of control over him, but as I said before he's just a reliever. If he keeps pitching anywhere close to the level he's at right now, teams will be fighting over him at the deadline and I don't think the Brewers will be able to pass that up.

Players only available if they decide to rebuild:
Jonathan Lucroy
Carlos Gomez

The Brewers retain team control over both these players after this year. They also don't have immediate and competent replacements for these players. The Brewers do have a number of outfield prospects but mid-2016 is the earliest anyone of them could be reasonably expected to arrive at the majors. They have basically no one to replace Lucroy. Martin Maldonado is the obvious candidate but his bat could be a liability. Since the immediate replacement players are such a step down in quality trading any one of these players would almost certainly signal a rebuild.

If the Brewers don't trade Gomez, that will almost certainly indicate they are not rebuilding. If they're selling at the deadline obviously it means they know they won't compete this year. Because Gomez is only under contract through 2016 he's going to be worth less in the winter than at the deadline. If they think they can't compete in 2016 they have to trade him at the deadline to maximize the return. Therefore if they don't trade him at the deadline it means they think they can compete in 2016. That's my estimation anyway.

Luroy is different though. The Brewers control him for longer and it's possible they decide to extend him. I'm not making a judgment or an endorsement here. I just think it's at least as likely as trading him. It's also possible they think they can be competitive as soon as 2017 so he'd be around for that even without an extension (again not necessarily saying I think they'll be competitive by then).

Lucroy is a unique talent. One could make a competent argument that he was baseball's best player last year (6.2 fWAR last year, but that's before factoring his pitch framing skills). Production-wise he's incredibly valuable but then you factor in he's only making $4.25 M next year with a $5.25 M option for 2017. Factoring that in his value skyrockets.

In fact, his value is so high I wonder if it's a case where no team would be willing to pay (in terms of a prospect package) for his actual value. Don't misunderstand me. Teams would be falling over themselves to trade for him, but the Brewers could reasonably ask for most teams' Top 3 prospects. While that may be what he's actually worth, I'm not sure how many teams would be willing to raid their farm system to such a degree.

For that reason I don't think his value will notably depreciate by this winter. Basically, his true value will go down, but will only begin to match the upper limit of what other teams will be realistically willing to part with. What I'm trying to say is that we probably shouldn't read too much into it if he's not moved by the deadline. The Brewers could probably still get just as much for him over the winter and could theoretically have more bidders in place. But the original point is that he's only available if they're rebuilding.

Players in-between:

Matt Garza
Adam Lind
Jean Segura
Scooter Gennett
Khris Davis
Ryan Braun

Ryan Braun is a tricky one. He's under team control at least through 2020 but he is not cheap. Two things will be necessary in order to trade him: He's going to need to start performing much better and the Brewers will have to pay some portion of his contract. I think this is going to be sort of a Catch-22. If he starts performing well enough to be traded, he might be too good to be traded.

A talent the caliber Braun once was and could possibly be again is hard to come by. At one point he was among the best players in baseball. It's unlikely he returns to a 7-8 WAR player, but I think it's feasible he could return to being a 3-5 WAR player. Even then the Brewers would probably have to include something like $25 M ($5M AAV) to move him. Even that large amount gets them out of $80 M so maybe that alone makes it a priority to move Braun.

If they do move him though, they can't then try to sign a comparable 3-5 WAR player because they'd have to pay that player $15 M or (very likely) more in addition to the money they included for Braun. In that scenario it's entirely likely they end up paying more for the same level of production than if they had just kept Braun.

Also, since Braun is under team control for so long it's possible he could still theoretically help the next contending team around 2018 or whenever (remember in this scenario he's back to being a 3-5 WAR player at least right now). That being said, he is going to decline with age and be worth less in 2020 than now. Even if we are still talking about a valuable player, the Brewers could be wary of how he'll age which might be incentive enough to move Braun.

If they think they could have a player like that in Clint Coulter that may also spur them move Braun. But it's really hard to be a 3-5 WAR player. And he won't be ready by mid-2016 so in that respect it would be that much harder for the Brewers to compete next year.

So what do they do? Save the money and hope Coulter or someone else is a 3+ WAR player or keep Braun and hope he continues being productive? Does saving the money matter more than all of that? I don't know the answer and so I don't know what moving Ryan Braun would mean.

I think Khris Davis is very similar to Evan Gattis, Yoenis Cespedes, and Mark Trumbo. All those players were traded over the last 3 years for a respectable package of prospects. If Davis can put together a solid year I think he could have similar trade value.

The Brewers have him under team control for 4 years after this season so he could be part of the next contending team playing the role of veteran. On the other hand it's also possible the Brewers feel they could plop a guy like Shane Peterson in left field, find a RHH platoon partner (Michael Reed?) for him and get the same 2-3 win value that Davis could reasonably be expected to produce.

Ultimately I think the question will be whether the Brewers value his trade value more than keeping a low costed Davis. Regardless, the Brewers don't necessarily need him to contend next year if that's their goal but he will be a more proven quantity than the obvious replacements. So his being traded could mean anything.

If the Brewers want to contend next year they might want to keep Adam Lind. However they might also feel Matt Clark is ready to take over or that a platoon with him and Jason Rogers is just as competent as Lind. Therefore trading Lind doesn't necessarily signify a rebuild.

The Brewers control Jean Segura for a few more years after this season so it would seem like a rebuilding move to trade him. However they have Hector Gomez and Luis Sardinas that are more or less ready to contribute now. If Segura is just a 2 win player then replacing him with Gomez/Sardinas probably isn't much of drop-off in quality. They also have Orlando Arcia who could be ready by mid-2016.

Everything that applies to Segura also applies to Scooter Gennett. In addition though, the Brewers could trade Gennett and then slide Segura over to 2B when Arcia is ready.

The Brewers don't really have any quality replacements for Matt Garza if they trade him so on the surface it would seem to signal a rebuild. However there are a tremendous number of quality starting pitchers that will become available in the offseason. If the Brewers were to trade Garza they could very easily replace him that way and retain a comparable or even improved rotation by next year.

Contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts