ESPN senior baseball writer Buster Olney appeared on Jonah Keri's podcast recently and had a bit to say about the Brewers as they enter the trade season. You may not like what it sounds like he's saying.
"The one thing about the Brewers that you hear is that, yes, they're wiling to talk to teams...I think the way that you and I would do things if we were running a strat-o-matic teams is we would say ‘we'll listen on all our guys, give us your best offer on all our guys.' Where on their end it's sorta like ‘well, we'll talk about that guy, but nah, you know.' Other teams are getting some of that. So that, yeah, you can talk about their lesser guys, but if I'm in their shoes you got Carlos Gomez who's under contract through 2016, I mean, my goodness you could put him out there. Tell me a team like the Mets right now you couldn't theoretically come up with some sort of a match and is that a guy they could desperately use right now. Uh, absolutely."
As a tl;dr of sorts, here's what I'm getting out of that: The Brewers are willing to talk about trading anyone the same way they should be willing to discuss anything without needing to be too seriously in talks. However, they're doing so only to check what teams are offering, at least in the case of bigger fish like Carlos Gomez (mentioned specifically) and Jonathan Lucroy. Unless the Brewers get a deal that wildly favors them (rather than a deal that would appear fair for both sides) it seems they're comfortable turning away potential suiters.
Which maybe is a bit frustrating and concerning. The thing is, we've never had Mark Attanasio as an owner while the Brewers were a losing, on a down-turn team. He's been the owner of an up-and-coming team and a team that stayed somewhere around contention the last few years. The Brewers aren't that anymore, and we don't know what kind of owner Attanasio will be.
The fear is that he's more of a Herb Kohl type owner. As owner of the Bucks, Kohl was all about making the playoffs year in and year out, though that strategy meant the Bucks were a .500 team for the better part of the last decade plus. It sucked a lot of life out of the fanbase because unless something lucky happened, it was clear the team wasn't actually going anywhere. They stagnated in the name of competing year-in-year-out.
If Mark Attanasio is a similar owner -- in this case, it would be about being 'in competition' for a playoff spot i.e. hovering around .500 and a few games out of a wild card -- the Brewers would want to keep their stars, and maybe they'd go out and sign another mid-tier starting pitcher or something, and they'll try to come back from 2014 and go back to an OK-but-not-great team again. Then the Brewers become the Bucks, and just sit at that level to try and bring in tickets, but slowly lose the fans as they realize the team is never going to be great under this strategy.
That's the Big Fear. Whether it's reality, who knows? We can't say. Attanasio has shown a strong willingness to win, yes, but that doesn't mean he's going to be Herb Kohl. Again, we've never had Attanasio as an owner in this situation. It's going to be an important time for him though.
The other thing is, is this might all be some sort of posturing by the Brewers. Teams use the media to get out rumors and help themselves in trade talks. Of course, Olney's info seems to come from other teams that have talked to the Brewers.
There's still a full month until the trade deadline however. The Brewers have time to play around. If they tell the Mets (this is very hypothetical): "We're willing to give you Carlos Gomez, but we want Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz and Kevin Plawecki" then of course the Mets are going to get the impression the Brewers aren't trading unless they get something ridiculous. But then the Brewers can go back at sometime over the next month and ask for something more reasonable but still favorable to Milwaukee and maybe that comparatively looks better to New York.
I trust Doug Melvin when making trades, to be sure. There's not really a reason to not trust him; very few trades he has made have not worked out in Milwaukee's favor. He's had duds (Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz for Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero and Laynce Nix comes to mind as possibly the worst) but he's had far, far more good trades as general manager.
Of course, Melvin needs to make a trade if it's going to be a good trade. And there isn't necessarily that sense of urgency with the team's biggest trade pieces (Gomez, Lucroy, Segura, Nelson, Peralta) being under team control through at least next year. There's an advantage in trade talks there, but it can screw a team over if they play it too strongly. Waiting on a player trade might cause their value to drop.
Keri and Olney discussed Adam Lind as well, where they believe the Nationals could be a strong fit or an AL team where he could be a designated hitter, but don't really mention any actual possibility of him being dealt.
Also concerning is their mention of Francisco Rodriguez, as Olney had this to say:
"Also you mention Francisco Rodriguez, the one thing I've heard from several teams is, in this post Ray Rice era, they're scared away by the history of domestic violence."
That's not great. We'd heard there had been little interest in Rodriguez at least in part because of his contract. The history of domestic violence has long been a concern and is only becoming more of one due to a multitude of recent incidents in the sports world. Good closing pitchers are almost worthless to a bad team and Rodriguez should be dealt post-haste. It's looking like a possibility no team will want to take on his burdens, though, despite how he could help on the mound.
This trade season is going to be a crucial one in where the franchise develops over the next few years. This might be Doug Melvin's last year as general manager, but it's going to be an important one for the team. Melvin seems likely to ascend to a vice president position following 2015 -- he'll want to leave the team in a good place with his successor. We'll have to trust him for one more trade deadline bonanza.