There’s a common thought that pops up at this time of year from fans of rebuilding teams. The month of September should be about developing talent and preparing for the future. That’s true, and it’s why we will see several players added to the active roster when September 1 comes around. (For more info on who the Brewers could add, check out Kyle’s post from Monday.) While that fact is true, some people take it a step farther than that: Players who have no future on the team should be benched and receive no playing time for the rest of the season. Not everyone is as harsh as that, but that’s the general idea. If you’re not on the team beyond the current season, your playing time goes to those who could be. It’s a thought that comes from a good place, but it’s not correct. Just because a player won’t be on the team beyond the current season doesn’t mean they should be benched.
1. Playing time is earned, not given.
There’s a saying that goes something like this: If you want to be trusted with a lot, you have to first be successful with a little. This is true when it comes to playing time in baseball. To be trusted with more responsibility, a player first needs to prove they deserve it by succeeding with less. It’s true that the players who come up to the majors have already proven that to an extent. That’s why they were called up. Each of them has proven it to a different extent, though. For example, in the case of Orlando Arcia, the fact that he was an excellent player through several seasons in the minor leagues meant he was able to get a starting job right away in the majors. Meanwhile, in the case of Domingo Santana, he has been struggling in his playing time (and is potentially being eased back into his role), so he does not have a full-time starting job right now. Finally, you can also look at the case of Keon Broxton. He had been struggling for a while so he lost his place on the roster, but when he got another chance, he made adjustments and found success. Now, he’s getting regular starts.
Another line that’s said at this time of year goes something like this: “This player would do much better if he had a full-time starting job.” It’s true that players have talked about how getting prepared for just one at-bat in a day can be difficult, or how not playing daily throws them out of rhythm. However, players don’t get starting jobs just because teams think they would play better with a daily job. They get the jobs by performing well n what limited time they get. Then, as people start to notice, that time builds more and more, and eventually can turn into a full-time starting job.
What all of that comes down to is simple. If a player is going to get playing time, it’s because they’ve earned it at some point. Some players earn it through high levels of success in the minors. Some earn it through success in limited playing time at the major-league level. Finally, some players lose it through struggles in the majors. Whatever the case is, players have to earn their time before they can actually get it.
2. Veteran players are playing for their futures.
It’s true that not every player on the Brewers will be back next year, and we can already pick out some of the players who will be gone. Blaine Boyer and Chris Capuano are only on one-year contracts, and players like Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jake Elmore probably won’t be around long either, even though the team could control them for a while if they wanted to. Playing them won’t help the team’s future development at all. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve playing time.
Many of these players have desires to play beyond their time with Milwaukee, and need to show what they can do. They want to keep playing because they need to secure their next job. While it would be easy to say that not being part of the future means they don’t get playing time, it’s not respectful to these players. If they have earned their playing time so far, they shouldn’t lose it just because the mindset of the team has changed.
It also helps build confidence for future free agents who are considering Milwaukee. If they see that there is a chance to earn playing time and keep it, that improves the overall perception of the team. However, if the team starts to develop the appearance of benching veterans who are gone in a month, it creates a negative perception in the minds of free agents. If they have to spend a month on the bench at the end of the season, do they want to go to the Brewers? While it’s not always in the best interests of the team, letting the players who have earned their playing time play out the season is a courtesy that all players respect and hope is honored.
3. Craig Counsell’s primary job is to win games, and secondary job is to develop players.
Once again, it seems counter-intuitive for a rebuild, but that’s how the manager’s job goes whether it’s a rebuilding year or not. On a game day, Craig Counsell has one primary goal: to win the game. While there are secondary goals as well, such as the development of young players, the primary focus remains the same no matter what the season is.
Thousands of fans come to every game at Miller Park. Many more watch on TV at home or in public places. Some are interested in the development of the young players, but every fan still wants to see the same thing: a win. You might tell yourself that it’s not the primary goal, and even that losses are better long-term. However, there’s that part of every fan that wants to see a win, and when the chances of that are lower, it reduces motivation to watch. The team still has to sell tickets and other merchandise now, and winning is the best way to do that.
It’s not just the fans that want to see wins either. Players also want to see wins. Players don’t like to lose, even if it’s for the best of the team. They go out every day expecting to win the game. If the team is losing, it not only starts to demoralize the fans, but also the players. Winning cures many problems, even if it’s just for a short time.
It’s also important to note that development of players doesn’t only happen in games, either. Just being on a major-league roster can help a player much more beyond game time. There’s batting practice, fielding practice, bullpen sessions, and much more that happens behind the scenes. This is also part of a player’s development. Playing in games is an important part, but it’s not the only part. So, Counsell can play his lineups out each day while still helping those on the bench get some development time in.
The development of players is important, especially in a rebuilding season, but it’s not the only factor to consider in a daily lineup. Rewarding good play, giving everyone a chance to play, and winning the game are still important factors even in a rebuilding year. It’s not good to just throw playing time at those who haven’t earned it just because it might help their development. It’s also not good to exclude players just because the team is focused on development. There’s many things to balance in a daily lineup, and while the weight of those things changes based on the importance of goals, it’s still a balance. Don’t get angry when the ideal lineup you want out there isn’t the lineup for a given day. Just trust that the manager is doing what is best for the team.