In a lost season like this one, it's not so easy to stay engaged in the day-to-day grind of a baseball season. Let's take a break and think about the cool new prospects that may be joining the Brewers if they start selling off assets and building for the future. If the Brewers decide to sell, they'll have to consider who to move and what they can expect to get in return. It got me to start thinking about that by mimicking the concept Fangraphs has run every year for the whole of MLB, by ranking the trade value of Brewers who have played on the Major League team this year from number 20 to number 1. This isn't necessarily a case to sell everything at the deadline; it's more a big-picture look at what each of these guys could fetch in return and then if it would make sense to move each player given the current situation.
While attempting to come up with these rankings, I considered remaining contract control and salary. For players under Brewers control for well into the future, that can improve their ranking (Jimmy Nelson, Luis Sardinas) or hurt it if they're due a lot of money (Ryan Braun, Matt Garza). I excluded players who have yet to play for the big league team; Orlando Arcia and Clint Coulter at the very least would be on this list if they were eligible-- but that's not the type of player the Brewers should trade away anyways.
I won't give away the rest of the rankings yet today, but they lined up into broad categories. The bottom of the list tends to include veterans who have clunky or expiring contracts that plenty of MLB teams would be happy to have join their team, but not for more than a middling prospect. Moving up the list we get into rentals that teams would be more likely to give up a bit of value for. Then it's on to the most valuable assets in baseball-- young contributors who are cost-controlled through MLB's salary suppression system or signed to favorable long-term contracts, but are also potential pieces on the next contending Brewer team.
On to the rankings.
Just missing the cut: Jeremy Jeffress, Martin Maldonado
Number 20, Michael Blazek
Team control: Through 2020 at pre-arb and then arbitration rates
Blazek surprised a lot of people by making the team out of spring training and has been one of the only pleasant surprises for the Brewers, logging 24 effective innings so far. There's even a chance he gets a shot at the starting rotation at some point. His limited track record hurts his value, but if he's still sporting good numbers near the deadline, a team in big need of bullpen help could offer a far-away prospect with some upside for him. In the volatile world of fringe MLB relievers, however, that's a big if. Most teams in that position would rather pick up a rental than give up value for longer control.
Trade framework: Fringe MLB, cost-controlled relievers rarely get traded on their own unless they're very elite. Blazek would fit the mold of a add-on for an additional prospect in a larger trade.
Should Brewers Trade?: If he remains effective, selling high would be great.
Number 19, Matt Garza
Team control: 2017 plus option
Garza has a long track record of success and plenty of contending teams might have interest in plugging him into the back end of their rotations. They just might not want to give up anything to do so. The money owed to Garza is fairly reasonable, but his awful start to the season has probably killed most of his trade value. If Garza were to be placed on waivers today, some team would likely claim him and pay him the remainder of the deal. But at this point the most likely trade would involve a mediocre prospect coming to the Brewers and a bit of money going to the other team. The Brewers might be better off riding this one out; if he rebounds in 2016 he might have more value as a rental.
Trade framework: If the Brewers really wanted to clear salary they'd agree to pay $2-3 million a year of Garza's contract and accept a low-level prospect in return.
Should Brewers Trade?: Probably not worth it at this point, may as well wait it out.
Number 18, Corey Knebel
Team control: 2020 at pre-arb and then arbitration rates
Right now Knebel sits in a similar trade value position to Blazek, but has a much better chance of shooting up this list. That's partly due to the upside of his stuff being better, but also partly due to the distorted value of late-inning relievers. If Knebel begins to excel in a late-inning role, teams will pay a premium for that kind of experience. Knebel's long window of control also helps here. If some of the bullpen veterans above him are sold off during the year, the Brewers would be wise to use him in late-inning roles to increase his value down the road. One of the best ways for rebuilding teams to stockpile a few extra prospects is to trade "closers" every half year or so, because any reliever's value rises by accumulating saves.
Trade framework: Knebel again wouldn't be the centerpiece of a "selling" deal, and he would also be an unlikely throw-in at this stage in his career. His path in the future is likely to move up the ranks of the bullpen and continue rising on this list.
Should Brewers Trade?: No, let him take over closer or setup role in the next couple of years and let value build up.
Number 17, Kyle Lohse
Team control: Final year of deal
I could copy most of the Garza paragraph down here-- veteran pitcher, teams could use him, but won't be willing to give up much to get him. Unlike Garza, he's on the last year of his deal, which in this case helps his trade value a bit. A team might be more interested in a rental of a back-end starting pitcher than a long-term commitment to someone who's already not all that good. With a solid first half Lohse could have been a reasonable trade chip at the deadline, but that ship has sailed at this point. If you're looking for a reason to actually root for good outcomes in Brewer games these days, hoping Lohse strings together some good starts is a solid one.
Trade framework: Along the lines of the trade of Jake Peavy from the Red Sox to the Giants in 2014. Peavy was 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA and was owed a fair amount of money. The Red Sox got two reasonable relief prospects in return.
Should Brewers Trade?: Yes.
Number 16, Tyler Thornburg
Team control: 2019 at pre-arb and arb rates
Thornburg bounced around a lot on my initial drafts of this list. At this point he's 26 years old, stuck in the minors, and has dealt with significant injury problems. But he's also displayed effectiveness at the Major League level and has an ability to start. This spot makes sense to me right now for what Thornburg would fetch if he were shipped out tomorrow-- not a whole lot, probably an equivalent swing guy with upside but also a good amount of risk. I think if we do this list again next year (hopefully things won't be quite so dire), there's about an even chance that Thornburg is in the top 10, or out of the mix entirely. Maybe he will get his sink-or-swim chance soon in the big league rotation.
Trade framework: Tough to know given current status, more likely an add-on than a centerpiece.
Should Brewers Trade?: No, upside is much higher than likely current level of return.