The Milwaukee Brewers didn’t sign a free agent. They didn’t swing a trade for a player that could contribute to a playoff run. Yet their path to the playoffs could very well have gotten easier as a potential competitor for a spot seemingly threw in the towel before the season even got started.
Last nigt, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent Gerrit Cole to the Houston Astros for back-end rotation pitcher/reliever Joe Musgrove, second-tier third base prospect Colin Moran, relief pitcher Michael Feliz, and outfielder Jason Martin.
CONFIRMED: The Pirates have acquired right-handed relief pitcher Michael Feliz, outfielder Jason Martin, third baseman Colin Moran and right-handed starting pitcher Joe Musgrove from the Houston Astros in exchange for Gerrit Cole. pic.twitter.com/iPhCMXQSI7— Pirates (@Pirates) January 14, 2018
I won’t go into what I think the Pirates are doing here, except to say that I think it makes them worse for next year. As late as the 125 game mark last season, Pittsburgh had every reason to feel as optimistic about a Wild Card as the Brewers. Not now, and things might get worse yet. Rumors still swirl about possible trades of Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison.
Let’s look at the competition for the playoffs in the National League in a cursory way; no deep analysis of the teams, just a gut feeling:
Bluebloods: Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs
Contendas: Colorado Rockies, Arizona D’Backs, Milwaukee Brewers
Could be’s: St. Louis Cardinals, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies
Miracles can happen: Cincinnati Reds, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates
Umm...no: Miami Marlins
You can move ‘em up or down as you will; teams can surprise us (really!). But if I’m putting together a team for next year and I look at this slate of squads as my opposition I’m thinking that now might be a good time to take a real shot. Only one of the AL powerhouses can make it to the World Series...and man, there are a few really, really good teams in the AL. And some other really good teams after that. If the Brewers were still in the AL, I’d probably be advocating furtherance of the rebuild.
But the Brewers aren’t in the American League. So while all those outstanding Junior Circuit squads are fighting things out for supremacy, there will realistically be only seven or eight teams fighting for five playoff spots on the Senior Circuit. One of those teams will earn the right to play the Astros, or Yankees, or Red Sox, or Indians, in the 2018 World Series.
Why not our local nine? If ownership and the front office is willing to augment their ~$66 mil projected payroll (now that all arb salaries are official), as Mark Attanasio himself suggested at the outset of the offseason, they could sign one of the top-tier starting pitchers still available to help solidify the rotation. Imagine how dangerous that group could be if Jimmy Nelson can come back healthy and effective sometime in the second half. I know that many believe Jake Arrieta wouldn’t be a good long term investment, but he would certainly solidify a rotation that is a bit thin in top level performers. The Brewers apparently think so, since they’ve reportedly offered him a contract. If his stats approach his second half of last season (a 15.1% K/BB ratio, a 1.09 WHIP) and he can be the big-game pitcher that the Brewers need, wouldn’t that help compete with the D’Backs and Rockies?
It may also be possible to take advantage of the hopeless situation facing a team like the Rays, who are looking up at the Yankees and Red Sox, and probably even the Blue Jays (not to mention most of the rest of the league). Tampa Bay already dealt the best player in franchise history this winter when they moved Evan Longoria, and if Stearns is opposed to shelling out big money he could improve his MLB team by leaps and bounds if he is open to moving a few prospects from the deep farm system over to the Rays’ rebuild. And really, (just spit balling here) would a trade of Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Lucas Erceg bankrupt the Brewers’ hoard of minor league talent? The return of Chris Archer and his four years of cheap contractual control could make the Brewers’ rotation not just competitive, but perhaps elite. It would certainly make Milwaukee a strong contender for the Wild Card, maybe the NL Central title. It would give them a truly solid playoff rotation.
Nothing is guaranteed in sports. The moves I suggest won’t make the Brewers a lock for the playoffs next year (not like the Astros. Good God, what a deep roster). But one thing I think is guaranteed is that a competitive situation this inviting may never present itself to the Milwaukee Brewers again, at least not in my lifetime.
Let’s go for it.