Three weeks ago, I wrote a post on the trade value of Christian Yelich. About a week after that, Mike Millius wrote about the promising Brewers future up the middle, led by a strong outfield and exciting middle infielders. Mike’s piece concluded by mentioning that the Brewers’ “outfield may look crowded now and their pitching staff is mediocre, but that’s a different post.” I had been trying to get any OTBB contributor to follow that post up with a blog on pitching options for the Brewers that may happen to be on other rosters with the idea that the Brewers’ overabundance of outfielders made for good trade bait. Then news broke that the Brewers had acquired more outfielders. Within the span of two hours, the Brewers roster changed significantly as they secured Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain i for the next 5 years, and their talent distribution trended even more towards an unnecessary abundance of outfielders.
After giving up some signifiant prospects for Yelich and shelling out $80 million for Cain, we can expect the Brewers to be looking trade value soon.
It’s a complicated situation for the Brewers front office, but the roster they have constructed doesn’t quite make sense together. GM David Stearns will likely be asking himself the following questions over the next few weeks.
- Can we move players from their traditional position(s) to scotch tape the roster together?
- Do the Brewers really need pitching help that bad?
- Do other teams value the Brewers’ spare parts enough to make a trade for pitching worthwhile?
Ryan Braun recently spoke with reporters about the possibility of playing first base or second base. The former MVP hasn’t played on the infield since 2007, but the potential versatility would come in handy as manager Craig Counsell looks to rest incumbent first baseman Eric Thames and oft-injured second baseman Jonathan Villar. Injuries happen, but assuming that a 34-year-old left fielder can simply slide around the diamond to fill in is a fool’s errand.
Elsewhere, the Brewers also do not appear to have obvious candidates for creative position shuffling. Their roster is not made of particularly flexible pieces.
How is the Pitching?
In the aftermath of the Brewers acquisitions last week, the Brewers young pitching was highlighted and discussed. A year ago, I said that their young pitching was surprisingly good. It’s a year later and that position remains the same, yet the potential starting pitching options feel more surprising than truly good. Is the baseball community ignorant of the talent on the Brewers pitching staff, or more skeptical that each unknown outcome will end in relative success? Put most simply, it’s a team that could use an Ace.
The team returns three guys who are solid rotation options:
- Chase Anderson shrugged off his 4-ERA-backend-of-rotation stigma to post a 2.75 ERA in 25 starts last year. At age 29, did Anderson discover magic? The Brewers believed in it enough to lock Anderson in for the next two years.
- Zach Davies was a good-not-great prospect, who has turned into a young good-not-great starting pitcher. He’s almost 25 and figures again to be the number 3 starter that he was in 2016 and 2017.
- Brandon Woodruff fits the Zach Davies mold, but is slightly older and less established.
Behind those three, the Brewers list Jhoulys Chaucin, who is not average-not-great, Brent Suter, who I had never heard of until right this minute, and Yovanni Gallardo, who has been replacement level over the last two years. Big-time prospect Josh Hader is also set to get a look in the rotation, but his control problems leave one thinking that his 2017 bullpen role may be his best fit.
I should note Jimmy Nelson, who was the Brewers best pitcher for long stretches last year. Nelson ended the season posting a 3.49 ERA over 175 innings last season- good enough for a 9th place Cy Young award finish. Unfortunately though, Nelson’s year ended prematurely thanks to a ‘non-typical labrum injury’ in his shoulder that required surgery. Optimistically, he could be back mid-season but ‘non-typical’ scares the heck out of me.
The group as a whole is not terrible, but it certainly does not scream playoffs.
How Do the Spare Pieces Look?
Trading spare pieces from an MLB roster for an Ace makes perfect sense, but only if the spare pieces are valued by other teams. So what do the Brewers have to work with?
Let’s characterize the existing pieces in the outfield:
- Domingo Santana – The 25-year-old is coming off of a 30 HR season that accompanied a .371 OBP. He struck out 178 times, but power hitting right-handed hitters are valuable in today’s game. He’s also not a very good defensive outfielder.
- Keon Broxton – Broxton is the yin to Santana’s yang. He’s a good defensive outfielder without much of an OBP. The two share a propensity for homers; Broxton hit 20 of them last year.
- Brett Phillips – The prospect impressed in limited time in 2017. He figures to be an all-around contributor, but he’s not guaranteed to be an impact MLB player.
- Ryan Braun – See above.
The Brewers also have Jonathan Villar listed as a backup. He was worth 3.9 bWAR as a 25-year-old in 2016 and he’s under team control for another 3 years. He also managed a .293 OBP in over 400 at-bats last year, so he’s an enigma.
None of these players would return the type of guaranteed impact pitcher that would make a difference for the Brewers’ playoff outlook. Does the team really need another back end of the rotation piece?
The Roster Reorganization
Rather than pursue a true Number 1 through trade, the team would be wise to go after upside pitcher(s) with their pieces. Matt Harvey makes sense as a possible Ace who could be had for non-Ace value. Dylan Bundy could look like an Ace when the Orioles are (potentially) ready to concede their 2018 season. Michael Fulmer makes sense, but the Brewers’ spare parts don’t fit with the Tigers’ rebuilding timeline. Asking questions like “Would the Blue Jays be willing to concede Marcus Stroman long with Josh Donaldson this summer” only make sense if you expand the potential trade pieces heading away from the Brewers. That’s about the end of the list.
The pipe dream for the Brewers is likely to swap Ryan Braun’s salary for a short-term commitment to Yu Darvish. Whatever return for Braun would ideally be in the form of prospects. Such a move would extend the Brewers’ window for contention.
It’s an awkward roster without a true Ace, but the Angels nearly made the playoffs last year with an awkward roster without a true Ace. The depth across the outfield and infield could prove valuable as injuries pop up. The rotation is not in terrible shape and the newfound depth could look less deep very quickly.