A 4-2 road trip preceded yesterday’s off day for the Milwaukee Brewers, leaving them at 25-19 heading into their next series at home against the Blue Jays and with a 1.5 game lead in the National League Central. Needless to say it’s been quite a pleasant surprise for our local nine to be playing so well this deep into the season, especially considering how poorly the team has fared in the win column during the last two seasons.
General Manager David Stearns told Adam McCalvy that he “doesn’t see a strong argument that this isn’t sustainable” because there is no individual player that is performing so far above expectations that he is going to start falling off drastically. And though Tom Haudricourt posted this flashy headline yesterday: “Unexpected early success won't tempt Brewers to skip steps in rebuilding process”, the actual quotes from Stearns within the article don’t really say anything new or different than what we’ve already heard. If the team warrants an addition this summer, then the Brewers’ GM will look into one.
“The overall plan here is to win major-league games,” Stearns said. “That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s what we’re building toward.
“The plan is to consistently win major-league games over a period of years. If that process begins a little bit sooner than people expected, that’s great. And we’ll react accordingly. But it doesn’t change our strategy; it doesn’t change our plan.
“Our goal is to create an organization that’s going to compete in this division for a lengthy period of time. If that starts a little bit sooner, that’s great.”
“There’s no skipping steps,” Stearns cautioned. “But that’s true whether it’s 2017 or 2020. We are never going to be an organization that skips steps. We’re always going to have to balance near term and long term.”
Should the Brewers remain in competition for the division and Wild Card when July arrives, Stearns appears open to exploring deals for pieces that would help the team for multiple seasons rather than pursuing a “rental player” that will be a free agent at season’s end. If that does end up being the case, he certainly has a wealth of talent from which to make a deal.
Milwaukee has a consensus top-5 farm system, with 7 players ranked in the top-100 by Baseball Prospectus and 5 by MLB Pipeline. In reality, especially when considering that the Brewers will have picks #9 and #34 in next month’s MLB draft, the organization could deal two of those top-100 prospects and the leftovers would still constitute a top-10 minor league system. That’s how deep and talented Milwaukee’s collection of prospects is.
One player who has begun to garner attention as a potential trade piece for the Stearns and company is outfielder Trent Clark, who was Milwaukee’s 1st-round pick back in 2015. The 20 year old left-handed hitter is currently playing for high-A Carolina, where he owns a .245/.368/.374 slash with 4 home runs and 10 steals through 41 games. Clark is ranked as the Brewers’ #6 prospect by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, while he’s ranked as #7 in the system by Baseball Prospectus and #99 overall in the league by their evaluators.
According to Chris Crawford, formerly of Baseball Prospectus and now writing for Hero Sports, Clark is Milwaukee’s top trade chip:
The fact that Milwaukee is not only in contention, but in first place in the NL Central, is amazing. Why not keep the party going and move a prospect like Clark for something to win now/later?
Clark was the Brewers first-round selection in 2015, and for the most part, he's looked the part. The swing is a bit unorthodox with an odd hand set-up, but he makes plenty of hard contact to both the pull-side and opposite field. He'll need to add more loft to tap into it, but he also shows some raw power, enough to justify playing in a corner outfield position.
Fortunately for Clark, there probably won't need to be justification, because he's a very good defensive center fielder. He'd be a tough loss for the Brewers, but because of their outfield depth, he's a bit more expendable than you might anticipate.
Outfield is easily the position of largest surplus in Milwaukee’s system, and Clark is a nice player that could certainly bring back something useful at the trade deadline if that’s the way the org decides to go. Milwaukee’s biggest area of need is with their pitching staff, and if the team goes out shopping for some relief help and offers Clark as bait there ought to be some interest. I don’t believe, however, that a package headlined by Clark would be enough to bring back a true “impact” addition. Starting pitching is a much bigger issue than the relief corps for this team and there may very well be multiple “controllable aces” that wind up hitting the trade market this summer. If the Brewers decide to pursue an arm like Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, or Jose Quintana, building a package around Josh Hader and Corey Ray would probably be a more realistic place to start.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference