I am probably the harshest critic of the Milwaukee Brewers in all of SB Nation. The Brewers are having a surprisingly bad season in 2013, finishing the first half 18 games under .500. At the beginning of the year, I had felt this year's Brewer squad was just a tad under a .500 team (I projected their record to be 80-82), so this potential 100 loss season is surprising.
General Manager Doug Melvin made a comment a few weeks ago on the prospect of the team being a "seller" at the trade deadline, and he said that the Brewers would be making trades for "2 to 3 years away" a difference from more recent moves for Zack Greinke, or a bit further back for CC Sabathia, when the team went "all in". Many Brewer fans have started to believe that the current season, although disappointing, is a bit of a hiccup, but that 2 to 3 years is a good number to throw out until their team is a contender again.
This belief is just not really merited. It is extremely optimistic. And a full rebuild is probably in order for the Milwaukee Brewers, for which the next window to contend is likely 5 years (or more if not done correctly) away. Here are 10 reasons why the Milwaukee Brewers have a long road to recovery in front of them:
- The Milwaukee Brewers farm system is pretty bad. Horrible would be another good abjective to use to descirbe this farm system. Since the hiring of current scouting director, Bruce Seid, the team has drafted one impact level talen in his 5 years at the helm. They have had bad luck (Dylan Covey), made horrible picks (Eric Arnett), and have made picks that seemed "safe" while bypassing players with superior talent and upside (Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley vs. Matt Barnes and Blake Swihart, for example). The current top ten prospect is a who's-who of future relievers (Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg), bottom of the rotation starting pitchers (Jungmann, Jimmy Nelson) average at best major leaguers (Hunter Morris) and utility players (Scooter Gennet, Mitch Haniger).The players in the farm system with the biggest potential upside right now could best be described as "raw" (Victor Roache, Clint Coulter, Tyrone Taylor, Jorge Lopez and even 2013 draft pick Devin Williams is at least a 4 to 5 year project).
- The Brewers have no trade chips on this years roster to improve the farm system in any dramatic fashion. With the unexpected disappointment of 2013, the Brewers will most likely be sellers at the trade deadline. They have what would appear to be a few nice trade chips to offer to replenish the farm system, but looks are deceiving. Yovanni Gallardo - He has 2.5 years left of team control, and was at one time a solid above average to all star level contributor. The problem is that he is owed nearly $28 million, has had decreased velocity this year, and has lost his command. The only way that the Brewers "get blown away" (the consensus belief for what it would take to pry Gallardo away) is that if you believe that Gallardo can compete at an all star level for the remainder of his control. No GM is that stupid or desperate. Aramis Ramirez - He is in his age 35 season, has only played about 57% of the team's games thus far due to injury, and is still owed at least $25 million between now and the end of next season. Unless a very large portion of his salary is picked up by the Brewers AND he returns to his elite form, no one is goint to take on Ramirez unless it is simply a salry dump. Kyle Lohse - Lohse has been the most consistent and well performing Brewer starting pitcher this year, but he is due $27.5 million or so during the life of his contract, and if you are a rival GM bidding for his services the return on acquiring him is going to be a wash, because he really only gives you average performance. Again, unless the Brewers want to eat a big portion of his extremely short sighted and optimisitc contract, you arent going to get anything of value in return. Corey Hart - power hitting OF/!B....oops, out the entire season due to knee injury (both knees) and contract expires at the end of the year . Hey Doug! Maybe if you hadn't asked for Madison Bumgarner (a top 10 pitching prospect in the Giants system in 2010 when Hart was extended last) you would have a couple of nice pieces already graduated to the major leagues for your middling, unspectacular Right Fielder. Norichka Aoki - Aoki is probably the most valuable trading chip the Brewers have, in that he has a very low cost and has proven to be a very good leadoff hitter and average defender in the OF. The problem is his age, and the fact that no one will probably give up an impact level talent to get him. They should get a very nice piece to slip into the farm system, but nothing earth shattering.
- Ryan Braun is no longer doping. This comment is only slightly tongue in cheek. Before this season, the first time that Ryan Braun has gone on the disabled list, Before this year Braun has 43 entries on Baseball Prospectus' Injury Beta list. For a player to have that many nagging, day to day maladies, some of which were quite troublesome for him, and never wind up on the DL is amazing. A lot of people wonder, if the allegations about Braun's PED use are true, if he used them for healing of injuries. It is a valid question, one which MLB is going to most likely decide his fate for doing this in the near future. So a 50, 100, or lifetime suspension is supposedly coming down the pike for Braun. But this season, is probably a good indicator for what you can expect from Braun production wise as far as health and numbers go. So, good, all-star level production, but in 2 to 3 years Braun will be well into his 30's and beginning to decline and it would be unrealistic to think that he could be the elite building block he once was.
- Jean Segura will regress. I like Jean Segura and am glad the Brewers were able to pry him away from the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade. Segura and starting pitcher Wily Peralta will be the players the future Brewer team will be built around. But this year has been a big surprise to everyone in the industry. Scouting reports on him were that he was expected to hit for a solid average and develop power, his defense at SS would probably force a move to 2B as time went on because of his range and his body type. He has some luck built into the numbers this year with a ton of infield hits and an above average BABIP. He isnt going to put up 5.5 WAR every year like he is on pace to do in his first full season of MLB ball, but he should still be a good, occasional all star type player until the time he is traded away for more prospects in the final year of team control. If the Brewers take on a massive rebuild, Segura will be the last player from the current team around (with Peralta) for when the team becomes competitive.
- Jonathan Lucroy is simply an average catcher. Lucroy is signed to a very team friendly deal for the forseeable future. Significant market discount for a player at a premium position. He has a solid bat, that while during his best season last year offensively was greatly aided by luck, is a guy who should consistently hit around .270 with 15-20 HR's. The problem is his defense as a catcher. He has a below average arm for the position and althugh moves ok behind the plate tends to not handle the nuances such as calling a good game very well or handle his pitchers. Most likely down the line somewhere, he will be forced to make a position change to a corner OF perhaps or even 2b, where his bat then becomes that much more valuable. He is never going to be an all star, but is a good solid, average player, not the stud building block that some Brewer fans would like to believe.
- The approach to building the franchise put forth by ownership is more suited to a large market club. If owner Mark Attanasio never figures this one out, 2011 could be the last year in a very long time before the Brewers contend again. This season was a long time in the making by drafting poorly, spending big money on below average Free Agents, and trading away prospects to land veterans. Attanasio has done great things for the Brewer fan base since buying the team in the mid 00's away from the Selig family. He has made Miller Park a fun place to go, and has helped the Brewers draw big crowds in recent years. The problem is that he thinks that "buying" help is the way to improve the franchise as evidenced over the years by signing Free Agents Jeff Suppan, Braden Looper, Randy Wolf, Aramis Ramirez and this year Kyle Lohse. All of these players were given above market deals to come and play in Milwaukee and the results have been less than good. For a small market club like Milwaukee, spending to prosperity is a horrible long term plan and in the end will wind up costing Attanasio his own money, on top of mortgating the long term outlook for the organization.
The Front Office is not staffed with people skilled or able to build a long term, successful franchise. The Brewers have 3 people in very key spots that have been pretty miserable for quite a long time. And simply replacing them and improving on what's left behind could take up to 5 to 10 years to right the Brewer ship. Doug Melvin is completely incapable of overseeing a total rebuild, which the Brewers need. He took voer as GM in 2003 in the middle of a rebuild started by then GM Dean Taylor and Scouting Director Jack Zduriencik. His trades have depleted the farm system, he has been reluctant to trade away veterans when they were clearly out of playoff races with the slim hope "we have a chance", and he has overseen a scouting and player development team over the years that has to be one of the worst in baseball. He seems like a nice enough guy, but wholesale changes at the top of the Baseball Organization for this team is needed for it to move forward. Reid Nichols has been director of player development for longer than Melvin has been GM of the team. During his tenure he has been able to build a pretty decent crop of hitters, but only one pitcher (Gallardo), but this year and last year's team are prime examples of what happens when you dont have any worthwhile pitching. Add to it that they are a small market club, not being able to develop your own pitching is devastating. Someone needs to be brough in to develop young pitching and avoid the big money spent on bad free agent pitching. Lastly, Bruce Seid has overseen the scouting operation for the Breweers for the last 5 drafts and he has drafted ZERO impact level talent. They have taken the safe route in trying to take low ceiling/high floor college pitchers in hopes to reach the major leagues faster (short term focus), have drafted a lot of "toolsy" OF types who can enver seem to figure out how to put things all together, have had a total lack of players drafted at positions up the middle to help build championships, and the only focus they seem to have is to draft players that can hit, no matter what the tool set of that player is. The combination of damage done by these three people is going to be a long term problem for the Brewers.
- The Brewers divsion rivals have significantly better plans in place to build going forward. The Brewers right now are in last place in the NL Central, and they have the worst farm system of any team in the division. The Cubs will always be able to spend their way to prosperity if they want to. They currently do not want to with Theo Epstein at the helm, and this year they are starting to shed expensive vetrans for prospects to build up their already very strong farm system. The one area that the system is lacking is in pitching, and they have money, and or prospect wealth to trade for a player such as David Price in the offseason if they so desire. The Cardinals have the very best farm system in baseball to go along with the best current record in baseball. The develop pitchers well, they always have a player that can fill in at multiple spots productively, and they can spend moeny if they feel they need to fill holes. The Pirates have a very strong farm system as well headed by 3 potential top of the line starting pitchers, a truckload of international talent, and a young roster that is producing the 2nd best record in baseball this year. And the Reds have 3 potential starting pitchers in their farm system that will graduate soon, have a very good core of solid vets headlined by big stars like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. The Reds themselves may need to start a rebuild in a few years, but they should expect to still be successful for the next few years with their current roster. At least they have a few pieces to fill holes over the next few years if they are lacking.
- There are holes everywhere in the organization that need filling. The Brewers had 2 all stars this year in Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez. Segura should still be around if a rebuild is taken on, Gomez will be gone after 2015. Ryan Braun will be entering 30's and is starting to show signs of aging already. The team has no organizational pipeline of impact level players up the middle nor on the corners, and the pitching outlook is bleak at best. The front office is staffed with people that cant seem to figure out what direction to take the franchise in, and the owner is apparently hiring his son's friend to develop a database program to evaluate talent. The team isnt doing shrewd things such as the Marlins, and havent done things horribly wrong for years like the White Sox have done (but the Sox might be a very good comp for the Brewers as far as long term outlook goes).
- Good Rebuilds take a very long time to become fruitful. When the Atlanta Braves brought Bobby Cox into the organization in the early 1980's he figured it would take about 10 years to rebuild the franchise, and that is almost how long it took. The Tampa Bay Rays took almost as long to turn the franchise into a long term success story by drafting well, developing players well and putting the right staff in the front office and on the field. If done the right way, this Brewer team should be able to build and be successful for a long period of time. It all starts thought with an full house cleaning in the front office, spending more money and time on scouting and player development, and the owner needs to let his baseball staff take care of baseball related issues. Good drafts usually take at least 5 years for the fruits of those drafts to become productive MLB talent, and the Brewers have not had a good draft in a very long time. And even if you can draft good players, you need staff to develop them.