Thursday, August 9, 2012

What would the Brewers have to do to contend in 2013?

Ever since Mark Attanasio took over the Brewers franchise, it's been pretty clear that the team wants to compete every year. Although the team has only made two playoff runs (with one other close call in 2007) since Attanasio purchased the team in 2004, they've kept themselves out of the cellar of the division and maintained relevancy in the NL. And while this season has been a tremendous disappointment, there's no evidence that the team is interested in a rebuilding phase. While it seems smart that the team should use the 2013 season as a mini-rebuild and a litmus test for players such as Mark Rogers, Jean Segura, Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada, Logan Schafer, etc., there are a few problems with this scenario. I'll leave my personal views out of this for a minute and just look at this objectively.

Other than a possible hit in attendance due to a less-competitive roster, 2013 is the last year the team will possess slugger Corey Hart. Although a contract extension is possible, Hart is setting himself up for a big payday and will likely price himself out of Milwaukee. While first basemen aren't all that difficult to find, veterans tend to be expensive and the internal options of Matt Gamel and Hunter Morris are weak at best. Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez will both be on the downside of their careers in 2014, and there aren't any impact bats in the minors to fill any holes that might arise. 2013 is also the last year the team controls CF Carlos Gomez, and no matter what you think of Logan Schafer, he's probably a downgrade. Another issue is that the team might decide to save up for 2014 but "accidentally" compete in 2013. Coming into this year, no one expected the White Sox, Orioles, and A's to compete, but here we are in August and they're all in the thick of it. The extra wild card opens up a lot of possibilities, and making the playoffs should not be cast aside; flags do fly forever. And finally, if the team were to consider adding a much-needed starting pitcher, this is the offseason to do it.

While the idea of free agent starting pitchers tend to make Brewers fans shudder, there are a lot of good pitchers out on the market (I've included guys who will almost certainly have options declined). There are the decent, young-ish options with upside (Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman, Francisco Liriano, Brandon McCarthy) as well as buy-low guys (Roberto Hernandez, Ervin Santana, Carlos Zambrano, Jonathan Sanchez), coming-off-injury bargains (Jorge De La Rosa, Rich Harden, Joel Pineiro, Chris Young, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker), and steady, reliable veterans (Joe Blanton, Bartolo Colon, Ryan Dempster, Hiroki Kuroda, Colby Lewis, Brett Myers, Joe Saunders). And then there's possible trade candidates and guys who could have their options declined (Gavin Floyd, Dan Haren, James Shields, Jake Peavy, Tim Hudson, Jake Westbrook). It's also within the realm of possibility that the team brings back Shaun Marcum, and they've made it clear that they will try to go after Zack Greinke when he hits the market.

                                        Bonus: Brandon McCarthy comes with a supermodel wife.

Although the team's offense will probably be just fine going into next year, a starting rotation of Yovani Gallardo, Mike Fiers, Estrada, Peralta, and Rogers/Chris Narveson/Tyler Thornburg isn't destined for glory. Considering the injury histories of Narveson and Rogers (and Marcum for that matter), possible regression of Estrada and Fiers, and the unknown of Peralta and Thornburg, the team will have to go after a couple of pitchers pretty much no matter what they decide to do. It comes down to whether they bring in veterans on minor-league deals for depth or bring in someone who can help them long-term. And as for the bullpen, even if the current staff doesn't rebound (which I think they will), options abound in free agency as well as the guys who would likely be pushed to relief roles if the team does bring in free agent starters.

Basically, the team's 2013 fortunes revolve around what the do with the pitching. And given management's history, it's likely they will be players in the free agent market in some capacity. But what SHOULD they do? Both competing next year and building for the future have their pros and cons. But those things aren't mutually exclusive; as long as they don't part with prospects to acquire help for next year, the future can still be bright. And if they sign someone like Edwin Jackson to a reasonable multi-year deal, they'll obviously be around for potential playoff pushes in 2014 and beyond. While there aren't any blue-chip prospects in the minors, thanks to recent drafts and the Zack Greinke trade, the depth is better than it's been in years; we're not going to end up like the Astros or Cubs. Whether they push for next year or focus on the future, I'm okay with it. And there's nothing to say it can't be both.

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