Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Brewers should claim Kyle McPherson

                Yesterday the Pirates DFA’d Garrett Jones and Kyle McPherson.  First base is a certified national disaster so Jones does make some sense for the Brewers.  He’s not very exciting and I really believe the Brewers are going to re-sign Corey Hart, or at the very least are going to try.  If that’s true then Jones would make an expensive bench player.  I’m not interested in Jones, but I find McPherson intriguing.
                Kyle McPherson is a starting pitching prospect.  Before the season began FanGraphs rated him as the Pirates 8thbest prospect.  MLB.com currently lists him as their 14th best prospect, but had him at 7th before the season began.  He has an above average fastball that sits at 93 mph.  His curveball and change-up are both major league average and he has immaculate control as evidenced by his excellent BB% throughout the minors.  Both project his ceiling as a mid-rotation starter and short of that a solid reliever.  This is similar to the projection for the Brewers current top prospect Jimmy Nelson, however that’s more an indictment of the system than an endorsement of McPherson.  It seems crazy that the Pirates would designate him, but his injury history is to blame.  In 2012 he missed time due to a shoulder issue and unfortunately for him, early in 2013 he suffered an elbow injury leading to Tommy John surgery.
                McPherson is a big risk considering his arm issues.  The Brewers 40-man roster is currently at 39 so they do have a spot for him, but they may want to save that for Corey Hart or the upcoming Rule 5 draft.  I wouldn’t let that stop me, however.  Unless the Brewers are planning on signing a first baseman and filling out the opening day roster with what they have right now, they’re going to have to clear a couple of spots on the 40-man anyway.  McPherson’s potential is as good, maybe better, than anyone they’d get from the Rule 5.  I’ve previously advocated trading Nori Aoki and while I didn’t specify, I figured a prospect of McPherson’s level, albeit a healthy one, would be a likely return.  Here is an opportunity to get that without giving anything up (It should be noted that the Pirates can still pull him back from waivers. They can use that leverage to orchestrate a trade with the Brewers).  With the Brewers’ farm system being what it is (awful) I can’t see a reason not to claim him unless his medicals are just that bad.  A healthy McPherson would rank top 10 in the Brewers’ system, maybe even top 5.  Right now, despite the injury, he would still rank in the top 15.
                Players can be put on the 60-Day DL starting in March and he’d be eligible to return in June, though it would likely be much later.  When he does make his return the Brewers would put him in the bullpen.  This allows them to monitor his elbow and limit his innings in his return to action.  It’s not uncommon for teams to go through many relievers in a season and he may be a welcome addition to the bullpen.  They should have several relievers with options meaning the Brewers can send them to AAA to make room without exposing them on waivers.  Donovan Hand would be perfect.  He’s probably going to be the low leverage/long man in the pen.  That’s exactly the role you’d want McPherson in, at least at first.  I think he’s a good candidate to take the Marco Estrada route to the rotation.  When the Brewers first acquired him, they had him pitching out of the bullpen.  Then he made a few spot starts and before you knew it he was one of their primary starters.
                The Brewers would assume a lot of risk by claiming McPherson.  It would also put them in an awkward situation with their 40-man roster at this point in the offseason.  Tommy John surgery doesn’t carry the stigma it used to and there is no reason to believe he cannot come back from it.  His potential is intriguing and I think it’s worth working around.  If it pays off, the Brewers have a dirt cheap mid-rotation starter under team control until 2019.  If the experiment fails, they wasted a 40-man roster spot for a season.

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's time to trade Aoki

                I know a lot of people really like Norichicka Aoki and they want to keep him around.  I can understand that.  He’s a prototypical leadoff hitter.  He has hit for a good average and gotten on-base at a well above average rate since coming to the majors in 2012.  He’ll only make about $2 million in 2014.  I have to imagine that anyone against trading him is under the impression the Brewers have a chance to make the postseason, because why else keep him?  It’s not like they’re lacking for outfielders.  I think the chances are slim that they compete, but if they do they might get better production by starting Khris Davis instead.  I like Aoki too, but quite frankly the time to cut ties with him is quickly approaching if it hasn’t already arrived. 
                In 2012 Aoki hit 288/355/433, with 30 SB (8 CS), and 10 HR which was good for a 114 wRC+.  In 2013 he hit 286/356/370, with 20 SB (12 CS), and 8 HR which was good for a 104 wRC+.  You’ll notice his slugging numbers were way down.  That’s because he hit 2 fewer home runs, 1 fewer triples, and 17 fewer doubles.  His base running skills also took a massive hit.  He stole 10 fewer bases while getting caught 4 more times.  His extra bases taken percentage (XBT%) dropped from 40% to 28%.  The point is not to suggest that he is useless because he can't hit for power numbers or run well.  It's to illustrate his decline.  He still hit for a good average and got on-base at an above average clip. That is a valuable skill even if it’s mitigated by lowered slugging numbers.  I’m just not sure it puts him ahead of the other in-house option.
                If you want the Brewers to compete then you should want them to start Khris Davis.  He has the potential to be a far greater offensive threat than Aoki.   In 56 games he hit 279/353/579 with 11 home runs.  That’s good for a 160 wRC+.  While there’s some doubt that he can repeat that over an entire season, that beats Aoki’s best mark by 46 points.  Davis had good numbers at ever level in the minors so that at least suggests he can be a capable major leaguer.  Even if Davis loses some ground it shouldn’t be too difficult to surpass Aoki’s 104 wRC+ in 2013 which was barely above average (100 is average).  He might not be suited for leadoff, but that won’t matter.  They can find someone else to fill that spot and use Davis’ slugging ability further down the line-up.
Aoki’s defense in right is adequate but I’d be worried about putting him in center.  That limits his value as a back-up.   If they wanted to use him off the bench, his salary is so low that he could serve in a back-up role.  Even then, if the argument is to save money Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer would each make $1.5 million less.  They each provide certain advantages (and disadvantages) over Aoki too.  Gindl provides more pop but cannot play center.  Schafer is a much better defender but his bat is weak.  Aoki is the most well rounded of the three so you could still argue that he’s the best choice.  I think he’d serve the Brewers better in a trade.
By now I’m sure everyone has heard about the proposed Aoki for Ike Davis trade.  This is an example of what I wouldn’t trade him for.  I think, right now, the Brewers should only trade Aoki for a prospect.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure what other teams have a need for him and it’s likely he’s only a 4th outfielder or platoon player on most other teams.  If they’re unable to get a decent value for him, then I’d hang onto him and revisit the scenario at the trade deadline.  Aoki won’t, and shouldn’t, be extended.  At mid-season it will be about getting anything for a player on his way out.  Therefore, at that time, I will lower my expectations regarding the return.  I’ll even take a bullpen prospect.  The only way I don’t trade him is if the Brewers are competing, though if you’ve been keeping up with my articles you’ll know I doubt the possibility.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is there a trade market for Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez will be entering his age 36 season.  He is owed $16 million in 2014.  His contract includes an option for 2015 at $15 million with a rather steep $4 million buyout.  A knee injury that plagued him all year caused him to miss 70 games.  Defensively he is below average.  These are all sound reasons why Ramirez will be a difficult player to trade.  Some might even say it’s impossible.  I’m not one of those people.
Ramirez missed a lot of time when he was injured, but when he was playing he still hit at a high level.  In 97 games he put up a triple slash line of 287/370/461 with 12 home runs which was good for a 132 wRC+.  That’s right in line with his previous two seasons suggesting he can still swing the bat.  Had he been able to produce that wRC+ over a full season it would have put him in the top 5 for offensive production at third base.  As far as the injury goes, he was able to play through it for most of the season.  I guess it depends how you look at it, but he wouldn’t have been allowed to play if it was too serious.  Getting his medicals cleared this winter should allay some injury fears.  With the offensive potential he offers, a team in the AL could see him as a solid option given they could put him at DH every once in a while to keep him fresh.
Arguably the largest obstacle to trading Ramirez will be his salary, but that can be offset.  He’ll be owed $16 million, but only $10 million needs to be paid in 2014.  The other $6 million is deferred to an unknown date.  With a little detective work, and admittedly a lot of assumptions, we can come to a likely conclusion.  Kyle Lohse and Ryan Braun’s contracts each include deferred salaries.  While total sums and years are different, each contract uses similar language.  Each deferred sum ($7 million for Lohse, $18 million for Braun) will be paid in equal amounts spread over a certain number of years (3 for Lohse and 10 for Braun).  Each designate that their deferred payments begin the year after their contracts are up.  In Braun’s case an option year is included at the end of his contract.  His deferred payments begin the year after the option year.  We can, therefore, assume Ramirez’s deferred payments will begin in 2016 (the year after his option year).  The number of years over which the payments are to be made is anyone’s guess, but if it’s like Lohse’s contract, it will be 3 years.  That means $2MM from 2016-2018.  If the Brewers agree to pay that deferred amount, it’ll go a long way towards making a trade a reality.  They haven’t shown a willingness to include money in deals before, but this might be more palatable to management.  It won’t stop them from doing anything this offseason.  In fact it’ll open up a lot of options considering they’d clear $10 million from the payroll.  Then, when it is time to pay up, it’ll be in small, manageable sums.
It’s also important to put Ramirez in context of this offseason.  That means evaluating other trade targets as well as free agent third basemen.  The free agent market is really awful for third basemen.  To put a point on it, Juan Uribe is inarguably the top third baseman free agent available.  Uribe is a good defender but his bat is suspect.  He fits on teams that don’t need offense or that have tight budgets.  He’s kind of the opposite of Ramirez.  Teams that would want Uribe may not be the same teams looking to acquire Ramirez.  That means less competition.
David Freese was recently traded to the Angels.  This is good for two reasons.  It takes a third basemen off the market meaning less competition.  It’s also good because the Angels would not have made a good trade partner since their farm system may be the only one that’s worse off than the Brewers’.  Chase Headley has oft been rumored to be on the block, but I think the Padres are a lot closer to competing than most people give them credit for.  They continue to say their goal is lock him up long-term and I believe them.  If that’s true then I don’t see another third baseman on the block that would be competition for Ramirez. 
I can think of four clubs that make logical trade partners for Ramirez.  The Dodgers have shown interest in Ramirez in the past and they might again.  They’ve stated that their first choice at third is to re-sign Uribe, but that might change if the Brewers dangle Ramirez.  They are certainly not going to balk at his salary this and they might not want to commit to three years to Uribe, which is what he wants.  They could cut ties with Ramirez after the season should they decide to go after Headley (if he’s available) or if they decide to move Hanley Ramirez to third base. 
One team that’s already made a huge splash on the trade market is the Tigers.  They sent Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler.  This allows them to move Miguel Cabrera to first, possibly leaving third base open.  They have an in-house option in Alex Castellanos, but they could have him play left field, which is one of their weak spots.  After two years of Cabrera at the hot corner, Aramis Ramirez would seem like a defensive wizard.  They also have the DH at their disposal.  Again, the money likely wouldn’t be a deterrent. 
The Red Sox may want an upgrade over Will Middlebrooks.  They lost out on free agent catcher Brian McCann and will be unlikely to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury.  They can make up for that offense by acquiring Ramirez.  They could start him and use Middlebrooks in reserve.  They can also use Ramirez at DH on occasion, though Ortiz will be there more often than not.  
Finally, and likely the most realistic, are the Yankees.  Alex Rodriguez is almost certainly getting suspended.  We won’t know until after the holidays for how long, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s for at least the entire 2014 season.  That frees up $25 million for them so Ramirez’s $10 million will seem paltry by comparison.  The Yankees are in win-now mode and Ramirez would be the best third baseman available.  If A-Rod returns for the 2015 season, they can decline Ramirez’s option, or use him at DH.
I think the biggest obstacle to trading Ramirez is lack of a clear alternative for the Brewers.  They’re probably going to try to compete next year, whether it’s a good idea or not.  Juan Francisco and Jeff Bianchi can both play third, but they both come with big question marks.  Juan Uribe is the only real option in free agency and the Dodgers will likely bring him back, unless they acquire Ramirez.  I won’t even entertain the idea of bringing Yuniesky Betancourt back…  It’s possible the Brewers could sweep in and steal Uribe by offering him a 3 year deal.  I’ll even go so far as to say they should, but it’s just so unlikely that the Brewers would do that.
It’s not impossible to move Ramirez, just difficult.  I think the interest will be there.  In reality, whether because of his salary, health, or unwillingness on the Brewers part, I think Ramirez will be playing for them next year.  They will have at least one more opportunity to explore a trade at the deadline mid-season.  If they do, they might find fewer suitors, but they should have an easier time moving his salary.  There’s also the added risk that Ramirez won’t be productive next year or injured at the deadline.  I don’t know what they could get for Ramirez, so I might be wrong, but I think it’s in their best interest to move him.  I'm sure they'll at least explore the market now and perhaps revisit it later.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What to do about the 2014 bullpen

                In 2012 the bullpen was one of the Brewers’ major weak points.  In 2013 it was quite a bit better.  But, if one thing is true above all else in baseball it’s that bullpen are volatile and the 2014 version figures to look very different.  Gone are the veterans (Axford, K-Rod, Gonzalez) and in their place is a solid core of young (-ish in the case of Henderson & Gorzelanny) mostly home grown talent.  The ultimate make-up of the bullpen is yet to be decided, but I think the Brewers are in a strong position.  As of right now, I’ll bet 5 spots will be taken by Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, Rob Wooten, Tom Gorzelanny, and Donovan Hand.  That leaves 2 spots left to be filled.  The question becomes how to fill those spots.  Fortunately, the Brewers have a bevy of options.
                I know a lot of people that are against singing free agent relievers and want the Brewers to simply build from within.  I understand where they’re coming from but I think they’re wrong on a couple of different levels.  Depth is an important, and all too often overlooked, aspect of any bullpen.  The Brewers should already be using at least 5 of their best in-house relievers.  That leaves Michael Blazek, David Goforth, Alfredo Figaro, Kevin Shackelford, MikeFiers, Hiram Burgos, Michael Olmsted, and Jose De La Torre in AAA as back-up.  It is possible Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson, and Ariel Pena could serve in a relief role at some point, but they’ll undoubtedly open the season as starters in AA/AAA. Goforth and Shackelford are new 40-man roster additions.  Making the jump from AA to the majors is much easier for relievers than starters, but they’ll likely need some time at AAA to finish polishing their stuff.   If the final 2 bullpen spots were filled from with-in, that would leave 6 to 9 relievers in reserve.  Five of them (Goforth, Shackleford, Hellweg, Nelson, & Pena), however, wouldn’t be available immediately so now we’re talking about 4 back-up relievers.  In 2011 the Brewers used 18 relievers.  In 2012 they used 18 again and in 2013 they used 16.  Filling the bullpen from in-house options only would leave the Brewers with a total of 16 obvious relief options.  That’s cutting it too close.
                As I hinted at before, there is a seemingly ever growing contingent of Brewers fans that believe signing free agent relievers is always a bad idea and especially now since the Brewers are a long shot to compete.  They’re not entirely wrong, it’s just a bad idea to treat every reliever and every contract the same.  One doesn’t even have to go back further than the 2013 season to see what I’m talking about.  Despite my misgivings about Francisco Rodriguez the man, signing K-Rod the reliever turned out to be a very savvy business decision by Doug Melvin.  At the trade deadline the Brewers were able to turn a reliever that had no future with the club, into a fringe prospect with the ceiling of an average third base regular.  That’s HUGE.  They were also able to trade Axford for what is arguably a younger (ie. cost controlled) and less polished version of himself.  That’s not quite as big of a deal, but it’s still valuable.  It’s exactly these types of intelligent moves the Brewers should be striving for and why I think they should target relievers that offer a chance to be traded mid-season.  I think I’ve identified three.
                RyanMadson has shown in the past he has the stuff to pitch in high leverage situations.  He also hasn’t pitched since 2011 due to elbow injuries.  That’s a huge red flag and very scary.  It’s also why he’ll be very cheap.  The Angels decided to take a chance on him in 2013, signing him to a 1 year $3.5 million contract, which ultimately did not pay off.  That tells us whichever team signs him will do so for less than that.  It’s possible he could sign a deal similar to K-Rod’s which was a minor league deal with an opt out if he didn’t get put on the major league roster by a certain date.  Even if they give him a guaranteed MLB contract, the cost will be low enough, that were he to never pitch an inning for them, they wouldn’t be out very much.  The upside is two-fold.  Should the Brewers end up competing he could serve as another high leverage reliever.  Should the Brewers fall out of contention early enough, he could be traded before the trade deadline.  Even if all they get is another reliever prospect like Blazek it’s worth it.
                JesseCrain is another buy low, high upside reliever.  He was much sought after at the 2013 deadline and even though he was injured (shoulder), the Rays still traded for him.  He never did throw a pitch for them and as a result will carry that stigma with him into spring training.  Unless a team decides it’s worth the risk to overpay and sign him to a multi-year deal, it’s highly likely that he’ll want to sign a one year deal to re-establish his value for next offseason.  He’ll cost more than Madson, but he’s more of sure thing.  He offers the same upside as Madson as well.  I’d wager he signs for something like 1 year $2-4 million with incentives.  That’s something the Brewers can easily afford.
                It’s been reported that the Brewers are looking for another left-handed reliever to pair with Gorzelanny.  I’m against the idea of left-handed specialists (LOOGY) and I’m not sure it’s necessary to have more than 1 left-handed reliever in general, but specifically in the case of the Brewers.  Brandon Kintzler dominated left-handed hitting in 2013.  So, with Gorzelanny, that’s two guys they already have to handle LHH.  In any case, if they do sign one I’d prefer he not have an extreme platoon split.  I’d sign Eric O’Flaherty.  While he has been more effective against lefties (7.43 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, 0.33 HR/9, with a slash line against of 198/262/269, and a 2.84 FIP), he wasn’t bad against righties (6.50 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 0.55 HR/9, with a slash against of 264/350/367, and a 3.89 FIP).  The caveat is, he’s coming off of Tommy John surgery and likely won’t be ready to pitch until around June.  This of course means he’ll be very cheap.  The Brewers have enough depth to carry an injured pitcher until mid-season.  It’s a slight risk, but one that could pay off big if he’s healthy.  Clubs are always looking for left-handed pitching and if the Brewers can sign him to a cheap one year deal with a team option they might be able to trade that at some point for something interesting.        
                One other place the Brewers could find a piece for the bullpen is in the Rule 5 draft which will be held at the end of the winter meetings on December 12.  This article from Milb.com identifies 3 potential relief targets.  I’m no expert on minor leaguers so I can only go by what I’ve read.  Still, there’s not much to lose by drafting one of these guys.  If they don’t work out then the Brewers are only out a few thousand dollars which, in context of major league baseball, truly is nothing.  Taking a flyer on one of these guys could act as a bridge for when Goforth or Shackelford are ready for their call-ups or when O’Flaherty is ready to come off the DL.  Then they’d have two options.  They could keep the flyer and send down Hand or someone else that has an option and may not be doing well.  Or, they could give the flyer back to his original team.  These types of pick-up don’t often work out.  There’s a reason these players are available in the first place.  Still, the chance that one of them could be a solid reliever or even a spot starter isn’t out of the question.  It’s something to consider and with the recent trade of Burke Badenhop, there is an open spot on the 40-man roster.
                It’s possible the Brewers could swing a trade like they did last year to get Badenhop, but I don’t think that’s in their best interests.  They have enough low to mid leverage relievers.  Also, a high leverage reliever would cost too much in prospects.  The last place they can find relievers would be by claiming them on waivers.  In fact, they’ve already done that with Jose De La Torre this year and Michael Olmsted last year.  If they do that player would have to be put on the 40-man roster.  I’d prefer they sign one of the free agents I mentioned.
               Bullpens are volatile and relievers are fungible.  It’s often a bad idea to sign them long term.  Still it’s important to have depth and while the Brewers do have a number of interesting arms, they’ll need a couple more to keep that depth intact.  The right free agent reliever on the right contract can be very valuable.  They’ll need to be careful filling the 2 open spots, but if they’re smart about it, and creative enough, with a little luck and some money they could improve the club now and in the future.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Brewers trade Burke Badenhop for Luis Ortega

        Earlier today the Brewers traded Burke Badenhop to the Red Sox for Luis Ortega, a fringe LHP (non?)prospect.  This is one of those trades that always flies under the radar because it’s not exciting.  It’s certainly not Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler.  Fans have a habit of glossing over these types of trades, but they can end up being very important for a club like the Brewers.

        Badenhop was a fine reliever in 2013.  He had an ERA/FIP of 3.47/3.53 on the season while putting up solid, if not spectacular peripherals: 6.06 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, and 0.87 with a 51.1 GB%.  Seeing that you may wonder why the Brewers would want to give that up, but taking a closer look reveals the answer.  First off, he displayed extreme splits between LHH (325/395/525, 5.08 FIP in 19.1 IP) and RHH (220/247/525, 2.64 FIP in 43 IP).  That’s quite the platoon split, but at least it’s the strong side of it.  He was also used mainly in low leverage situations, where he was rather good (6.46 K/9, 1.33 BB/9, 0.38 HR/9, 2.60 FIP in 47.1 IP).  However he was rubbish in middle (6.10 K/9, 4.35 BB/9, 2.61 HR/9, 6.92 FIP in 10.1 IP) and high leverage situations (1.93 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 1.00 HR/9, 5.41 FIP in 4.2 IP).  With that in mind, it's a good bet that Donovan Hand can do something similar for league minimum.

        Badenhop is entering his final arbitration year and was due a raise to around $2.1 million making him a likely non-tender.  So when you think about it that way, the Brewers were able to trade nothing for something, and that’s great.  Luis Ortega will be 21 next year and could open the season in low-A Wisconsin for the Brewers either as a starter or reliever.  For whatever reason, the Brewers system is seriously lacking in LHP prospects so if he makes it to the major league club at some point, in any role, it’ll be a win for the Brewers.  Probably not a big win, but it’s better than nothing at all.  Worst-case scenario: He becomes nothing, and the Brewers are out nothing.  Likely best case: He becomes a major league reliever for the Brewers that they can pay the league minimum for a few years allowing them to allocate money elsewhere (He could remain a starter, but let’s be conservative for now).

Monday, November 18, 2013

Brewers Prospects Over the Next 5 Years

        I’m worried about the Brewers.  I think their future is bleak if they don’t begin a rebuild or start thinking outside the box when it comes to competing now.  Recently I took a look at what Ithink the Brewers are going to do this winter.  Next I wrote about what I would do instead.  Then to put that in perspective I wrote about what the Brewers could look like in 5 years.  Still, I think that I haven’t fleshed out my concern well enough.  In an effort to more fully understand the Brewers predicament, I decided to take a look at the better prospects in their system with relation to when the Brewers can be expected to call them up.  I also noted which players would be leaving through free agency (that does not include arb-eligible players that could be non-tendered).


Departing Free Agents: Corey Hart, Yuniesky Betancourt, Mike Gonzalez

Jimmy Nelson- SP: He saw some time in Milwaukee this year but showed he’s not quite ready.  He will open 2014 at AAA and is likely the first called up for a spot start or injury replacement.  He has the ceiling of a mid-rotation start, but could be more of a back-end guy.  He could be in the starting rotation as soon as 2015.

Johnny Hellweg- SP: Like Nelson, he spent some time in Milwaukee but still needs time to polish his stuff.  He’ll be starting at AAA in 2014 and could pitch for the Brewers either out of the rotation or in the pen by mid-season.  He has frontline potential, but if he can’t improve his control he could wind up in the bullpen as a high leverage reliever.  If he can make the rotation full time, it’ll be in 2015.

David Goforth- RP: During the regular season he started in A+ before converting to relief in AA.  He pitched out of relief in the AFL as well.  He has a shot to break camp with Milwaukee in the spring, but it’s more likely his relieves for AAA, possibly as their closer.  I think there’s a good chance we’ll see him with the Brewers at some point in 2014.  He has high leverage potential and should open 2015 with Milwaukee.

Michael Blazek- RP: Acquired from the Cardinals for John Axford, he provides a similar profile to Milwaukee’s former closer.  He has a big fastball that allows him to strikeout a lot of guys, but he can be pretty wild.  If can get that under control, he could be a pretty solid reliever.  He has a chance to make the club out of Spring Training in 2014, but I think it’s more likely he relieves for AAA.  Like Goforth, if he can, he should open 2015 with the Brewers

Ariel Pena- SP/RP: He started for AA but wasn’t terribly effective.  His high strikeout rate is accompanied by a high walk rate.  I expect he’ll be converted to the pen sometime soon, but he may start for either AA or AAA earlier in the 2014 season.  Because I think Goforth, Blazek, and others are higher on the reliever depth chart I doubt we’ll see him get called up unless he really turns things around or the Brewers are in a dire situation.  It’s possible he gets a September call-up out of the pen.  If he does turn it around for himself, he could pitch at the back-end of a rotation someday, but I think middle relief is more likely.

Hunter Morris- 1B: He is Milwaukee’s top first base prospect but that’s more a condemnation of the Brewers’ farm system than an endorsement of Morris.  He struggled at AAA in 2013 and will have to repeat the level in 2014.  With 1B as wide open as it is, he’ll have a solid chance of getting a call-up at some point.  At the very least I expect we’ll see him in September.  If he’s going to have a chance to stick with the Brewers it’s probably going to be at first in a platoon, perhaps in 2015.


Departing Free Agents: Aramis Ramirez (if option declined), Yovani Gallardo (if opt declined), Tom Gorzelanny, Nori Aoki

Taylor Jungmann- SP: Jungmann was supposed to have frontline potential, but has shown none of that talent so far.  His fastball is several miles slower than when drafted and he hasn’t had very good strikeout numbers.  In 2013 he pitched poorly in AA.  He went to the AFL but a groin injury sidelined him for most of it.  It’s possible he opens 2014 in AA again, but I think they’ll have him start in AAA.  I expect he’ll spend the entire year there.  If all goes well, we could see him in Milwaukee sometime in 2015 but it’ll be as a back-end starter.

Damien Magnifico- RP: Magnifico has a big time fastball.  I’m talking triple digits.  He’s starting right now, likely to allow him to work on his secondary pitches.  He’ll open 2014 in AA.  He may continue starting or the Brewers might begin his conversion to the pen.  If they do that it’s possible he could split time between AA and AAA.  At the very least he should make it to AAA by 2015 and then he’s just a phone call away from the majors.

Mitch Haniger- RF: He spent the regular season between A and A+ before going to the AFL.  All things considered he had a pretty good season.  It’s likely he’ll start 2014 in AA and could end it in AAA.  Regardless, in 2015 he should begin in AAA and could be a mid-season call-up for the Brewers.  He has the potential to be a solid average regular in right field.  Short of that he could be a solid back-up capable of playing all three outfield positions.  If he pans out, he could be the starting right fielder in 2016.  There is a slight chance that he could tear through AA and AAA in 2014 and be a threat for the starting job in 2015, but I think that’s being overly optimistic.

Nicky Delmonico- 1B/3B: Delmonico was acquired from the Orioles for Francisco Rodriguez.  He split the season between the Orioles and Brewers’ minor league A+ affiliate.  The Brewers are hoping he can stick at third base but if he can’t he’ll have to move to first.  His defense is fringy at third base and his bat is fringy at first base.  He’ll probably spend all of 2014 at AA.  In 2015 he should start at AAA and could be a midseason call-up.  If all things go perfectly for him, he’ll be the starting 3B for Milwaukee in 2016.  It’s probably more likely he ends up at first base or in a utility role.


Departing Free Agents: Aramis Ramirez (if ‘15 opt was picked up), Yovani Gallardo (if ’15 opt was picked up) Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada

Jorge Lopez- SP- Lopez has the potential to be a solid middle of the rotation starter.  He pitched in A-ball with mediocre results.  He’s young and I expect the Brewers will move him through the system at a slow pace.  If that’s true he should open 2016 in AAA.  It so far away it’s hard to tell if he’ll see any time in Milwaukee at all, but it’s possible he gets a spot start or a call-up in September.  The best case scenario for Lopez is probably as a regular starter somewhere in the middle of the 2017 rotation.

Jed Bradley- SP/RP- Bradley, like Jungmann, was supposed to have #2 potential.  Unfortunately he has been even more disappointing than Jungmann.  He’s only made it as far as A+, which he repeated in 2013.  Health and durability is a big question for him.  He pitched 107 innings in 2012 and only 78 in 2013.  The earliest we could see him is probably mid-season in 2016, but it might be as a reliever. If he reaches his full potential, he can probably serve as a 4 or 5 starter for the Brewers in 2017.

Victor Roache- LF: He was dealing with a broken wrist when drafted so he didn’t play in 2012.  He spent all of 2013 in A-ball.  Considering the injury he played reasonably well, but it’s going to slow his progression through the minors.  If the Brewers keep him on the slow track all the way through the minors, he’ll first reach AAA at the start of the 2016 season.  In that scenario he could be a mid-season call-up the same year.  It’s possible he starts moving through the system more quickly and if that’s true he could fight for a starting spot at the major league club in 2016.  Again, I think that’s being pretty optimistic and it’s more likely 2017 is his first full year.  He has massive power, but he needs to figure out how to hit well enough to utilize that power in-game.  He could be an above average left fielder.


Departing Free Agents: Jonathan Lucroy (if option declined), Carlos Gomez

Devin Williams- SP: He has the highest ceiling of any Brewers pitching prospect.  He could be a #2 starter.  He’s quite young so his arrival is surely going to be a long way down the road.  He’ll move through the lower minors slowly but could accelerate once he reaches AA.  The earliest he would reach AAA would be 2016, but I wouldn’t expect to see him in Milwaukee that year.  If he really pitches well he could have a chance to open 2017 with the Brewers, but it’s more likely he’ll be a mid-season call-up.

Orlando Arcia- SS: An injury has slowed his progression.  He’s very young so he’ll move through the system slowly anyway.  He’ll play 2016 at AAA and could be the starting shortstop for the Brewers in 2017.  It might all depend on his bat as he’s likely to be a plus defender at the position.

Tyrone Taylor- CF: Another young player, he may be the best prospect in the system.  He has the potential to be an above average center fielder.  Because he is so young and Carlos Gomez should be entrenched at the position, I expect the Brewers won’t feel the need to rush Taylor.  He’ll open 2016 at AAA, but probably won’t see any time at the major league level unless it’s as a September call-up.  He has an excellent chance to be the starting center fielder in 2017.

Clint Coulter- C: Hey look!  It’s the Brewers only catching prospect.  He has a long journey ahead of him and he will have to vastly improve defensively to stay behind the plate.  I expect the Brewers to give him every chance to do so.  It may be slow going, but he’s young and it’ll be worth it if he can remain as a catcher.  I’m not sure when he’ll reach AAA, but he could open 2017 there.  In the best case scenario, he gets a midseason call-up and is starting in 2018.

Tucker Neuhaus- 3B: He’s another young guy that could be an above average starter at his position.  Currently playing shortstop, he’ll likely move to 3B before he reaches the majors.  He should open 2017 in AAA but could get a call-up.  If things go well, he could be the starting third baseman in 2018.

        The first thing I find striking is how far away potential starting position players and, to a lesser extent, starting pitchers are.  Nelson and Hellweg are the first up and their first full season would come in 2015.  Morris could be the starting first baseman, but I think he'll need a platoon partner.  It looks a bit better in 2016 when Hainger and Delmonico have a chance to open the season with the Brewers.  They will fill areas of need, but neither will be more than average at their positions.  That’s not a bad thing, mind you.  Jungmann is there too, but I’m not too thrilled with his potential anymore.  Things start to look better in 2017.  Jorge Lopez could be exciting if he can be a #3 starter.  Roache and especially Taylor could be above average, but the outfield might be crowded with Braun, Gomez, Haniger, Khris Davis, Logan Schafer, and Caleb Gindl all possibilities.  Of course there are worse things than having an excess of talent.  It’s not until 2018 that we see a large influx of quality starting talent.  Devin Williams, Orlando Arcia, Tucker Neuhaus, and Clint Coulter could all be looking at their first full years.
        The second thing I notice is there isn’t a lot of very good talent before 2017.  Nelson, Hellweg, Haniger, and Delmonico all provide intriguing options, but not a one of them projects to be above average.  All of them may in fact be well below average.  Nelson might only be a back-end starter.  Hellweg may not be a starter at all.  Both Haniger and Delmonico (along with Morris) may only work as utility players.  There are several relievers with high leverage potential, but they’re still just relievers.  Lopez and Roache could see the majors in 2016, but that would be mid-season and that’s not something you can count on when you’re constructing your team in the offseason.

        So many of the Brewers really good prospects are so far away.  A decent portion of the current major league roster is either aging or leaving through free agency before then which will make it harder to compete over the next few years.  It only makes sense to stock the farm system with prospects that can start helping around 2016-2018.  They’ll only have so many opportunities to do that.  I’m worried that they’re going to waste those opportunities on a slim chance at making the post-season, leaving them with an ever sliming opportunity to compete in the future.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brewers Prospects to Play in AFL Championship Game

The Arizona Fall League championship game will be this Saturday at 2 pm CT.  It’s being shown on the MLB Network for those of you interested in checking it out.  The Surprise Saguaros will be taking part which means we should get a look at several Brewers prospects.  Here’s what you need to know about them:

Mitchell Haniger-OF:  He was drafted 38th overall in the 2012.  He plays center field but it’s believed he’ll eventually move to right field.  His first season in the minors was cut short due to an injury but his second year has been much better.  He tore up low A-ball before being promoted to high A where he cooled off a bit.  In a way the AFL has been a microcosm of his regular season.  He got a grand slam in his first game and continued hitting for another week or so.  He did so well in fact that he was named co-player of the week.  While he still performed adequately (hitting a few more home runs including another grand slam), he wasn’t as consistently good.  The AFL can mean a lot of different things to individual players and his performance here doesn’t affect his overall prospect status.  Depending on who you talk to, Haniger has the potential to be a solid average regular or a fourth outfielder.  His performance will probably be the deciding factor in whether he starts next year at A+ or AA.  I think he played his way to AA.

Jason Rogers-OF:  Rogers doesn’t have the same pedigree as Haniger.  He was drafted in the 32nd round in 2010.  Since then he’s played mostly first base.  He has been able to hit for a pretty solid average and get on-base, but has no power.  Right-handed first basemen with no power don’t usually make it to the majors, at least not in a starting capacity.  I normally wouldn’t spend much effort on him, but Juan Francisco and Hunter Morris are the leading in-house candidates at 1B.  It’s likely they’ll need a platoon partner and Sean Halton isn’t any more compelling than Rogers (though he’s likely still at least half a season away).  He’s hit the ball really well but again, performance isn’t all that important.  Offensive stats can be misleading.  The hitting is usually ahead of the pitching in the AFL and pitchers aren’t used the same way as they would during the regular season.  The Brewers put Rogers to play in the outfield to increase his versatility.  They'll also have to decide if they want to put him on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft..  Being able to play right or left field in addition to first base may mean the difference between platooning with a LHH in the majors and simply becoming a quad-A player.  He played this year at AA and will likely split time between first base and the outfield at AAA next year. 

David Goforth-RP: Goforth is a right-handed power reliever.  He sits around 93-94 with his fastball and can get it up to 98 on occasion.  He also features a solid slider.  He’s been used primarily as the Saguaros closer and aside from maybe two games, he has been lights-out.  The Brewers likely sent him to the AFL just to work on polishing some pitches and face greater competition before making the leap from AA to AAA.  They might also want him to get used to closing because they still think closers are things.  Closers aren’t things, but it shows their level of confidence in him and that’s important information.  There’s a good chance he gets some time in Milwaukee too.

The Others: Kevin Shackelford and Tyler Cravy are the other two relievers the Brewers sent.  They don’t have the same ceiling as Goforth (high leverage reliever) but they have both been solid for the Saguaros.  It’s possible we’ll see them Saturday.  Cravy is old for the levels he’s pitched at, A+ being the highest.  Both he and Shackelford will need Rule 5 protection.  They did pitch quite well in the AFL so that’s possible, though I think it’s equally likely they leave one or both unprotected and someone grabs them.  Taylor Jungmann was also sent to the AFL but a groin strain sidelined him for most of it and he pitched on Tuesday so there’s no chance he’ll be in the game on Saturday.  He’s quickly pitching his way to non-prospect status.  Adam Weisenberger is the last player the Brewers sent to the AFL.  He’s a catcher and a non-prospect.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Brewers in 5 years

                I think it’s fair to say, when it comes the Brewers future, there are two main camps.  One group believes they have the talent on the field to make one last run at the playoffs.  The other group believes that time has passed and it’s in the team’s best interest to start rebuilding.  It seems as though Mark Attanasio is in the former group.  I think I skirt the line between the two, but if I had to choose it would be the latter group.  That’s not exactly what this article is about though.  I simply want to take a look at what the team could look like in 5 years if the Brewers continue pushing towards contention.  The purpose being to see what the future might hold without an influx of talent.  For this article we’re ignoring potential trades, free agency, the first-year player draft, and the foreign market.  This is just a thought experiment and not meant to be definitive.   
                To do this I took a look at the prospects currently in the farm system, major league players with guaranteed contracts, and those whose careers are young enough that they could still be in their arbitration years.  I excluded anyone that wasn’t under contract after 2017.  This is of course partially subjective and likely entirely unrealistic. Some of these players may no longer be a part of the Brewers system in five years and it’s possible some of them never reach the majors.  It’s also possible current players on the roster are extended past their existing contracts.  I’m going to focus primarily on the starting positions except for the outfield and starting rotation.  I’m also going to ignore the bullpen because the reliever game is a complete crapshoot.  Here’s what I came up with:

Catcher: Clint Coulter-He’s here mostly out of necessity as he represents the only real prospect at this position.  I’ve read that scouts like his bat, but to say he is raw behind the plate is the definition of an understatement.  He’s young, so he’ll have every chance to improve but eventually he may have to move to first, third or right field.

First Base: Nicky Delmonico-He currently plays both first and third, but talent evaluators all seem to agree that he is limited defensively.  The options at third are few so the Brewers will give him every chance to remain at third.  If he does have to move, his power-lite bat doesn’t project well for first base.  Also, he strikes out a lot and this is the low minors we’re talking about.  I chose him over Hunter Morris, Sean Halton, and Jason Rogers because they seem to have as many if not more question marks and their sink-or-swim moments are approaching faster.

Second Base: Jean Segura-I’ve read about some scouts that believe his body type isn’t suited to shortstop long term. He’s been fine so far but with Arcia in the system I felt comfortable sliding Segura over.  Scooter Gennett could still be under contract at this point, but I view him as a platoon or bench player.  It’s possible after a few years as the Brewers’ primary second baseman they were able to trade him when he became expendable.  Perhaps to the Cardinals who never really got their act back together after the fiasco that was their 2014 season.  Hey, a guy can dream!

Third Base: Tucker Neuhaus-He is a solid defender at short but I’ve read that he’ll need to slot in at third base in the majors.  He projects to be a plus defender there, so that’s good.  I don’t really know anything about his bat, but I’ll take his defensive potential over Delmonico’s lack thereof.

Shortstop: Orlando Arcia-Finally, a player that is just fine where he is.  The word here is that his defense is far ahead of his bat.  He might not hit enough to be a viable starter, but his defense is plus.  He's also quite young so he'll have plenty of time to work on improving his hit tool.

Outfield: Ryan Braun, Tyrone Taylor, Victor Roache, MitchHaniger-Taylor is arguably the best prospect in the system.  He is talented enough to stick at center and has held his own offensively thus far in A-ball at the age of 19.  Haniger plays center now but will have to move to right when he reaches the majors where he should provide above average defense.  It’s uncertain whether his bat will play.  Roache is going to be relegated to left field (or DH) but he has serious power. He’s just going to have to prove he can hit well enough to utilize that power in-game.  Ryan Braun is Ryan Braun.

Designated Hitter: Khris Davis- “There is no DH in the National League!” –You.  Whoa, calm down.  I know there isn’t now.  There will be eventually whether we like it or not.  In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened in the next CBA (The current one ends after 2016).  Anyway, I included it for the fun of it.  Khris Davis is kind of the perfect example of how the DH could be beneficial for the Brewers.  He’s not a good defender, but his bat is intriguing.  The same could be said about Victor Roache but we have less information on him so I left him in the OF mix. 

Rotation: Devin Williams, W. Peralta, J. Nelson, T. Thornburg, J. Hellweg, Jorge Lopez, Taylor Jungmann-A lot of people criticize the Brewers farm system for its lack of impact.  This is probably no more prevalent than in the starting rotation.  Devin Williams is the only player on that list that projects to be a #2 starter.  The rest are likely 3/4 starters at best and even that might be generous. 

Most of these players are so far away we simply can’t count on them to actually reach the majors at all.  On top of that, not many of them project to be much more than average players.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if everyone on your team is average then your team is, well, average.  Average doesn’t make the postseason.  Teams can fill in spots from free agency but the Brewers don’t have the money or the appeal necessary to bring in high level talent.  With the length and AAV of those types of contracts, it’s often a bad idea anyway.  They could make trades to bring that talent in like they did with C.C. Sabathia, Zack Greinke, and Shaun Marcum.  That approach, however, inevitably leads back to the Brewers current conundrum of being somewhere between competing and rebuilding.  It’s for these reasons I think it’s imperative for the Brewers to begin some form of a rebuild, and soon.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

My Build for the 2014 Brewers

Compete or rebuild.  Everyone seems to think baseball teams need to choose one or the other.  I don’t see why they have to be mutually exclusive.  In a year where they finished last in their division, the Red Sox traded away a bunch of their marquee players.  Then the following year they won the World Series.  The Rays traded away one of their front-line starters (among others) and still made the playoffs.  I’m not at all suggesting the Brewers have the ability to do exactly the same thing.  They have neither the money nor caliber of pitching, but I think they can do something similar.  Here’s what I’d try to do:

1. Trade Lohse; Sign Scott Kazmir to replace him.

Several clubs were reported to have interest in Lohse at the trade deadline, but for some reason the Brewers weren’t interested.  I expect there to be even more clubs looking in on Lohse over the winter, especially since the free agent class for starting pitchers is so very mediocre.  I’m not sure what they could get for Lohse, but I imagine it would by a package with 2 or 3 prospects coming over.  If they do trade him, they would have the money to sign a guy like Kazmir.  If MLB Trade Rumors is accurate with their prediction, Kazmir could be had for something like 2 years and $16 million.  With Kazmir they’d still have a chance at getting the same level of performance from their rotation.  Kazmir experienced a career renaissance in Cleveland.  He threw his fastball harder than he has in years and had great peripherals (9.23 K/9, 2.68 BB/9, 1.08 HR/9).  They’d also have the potential to trade him at a later date as well.  Gallardo is another guy I’d listen to offers for, but I think if he pitches well leading up to the trade deadline he could be worth quite a deal more.  I know the reverse is true as well, but I’d hang onto him until then.

2. Trade Aoki; Use Khris Davis in left and Ryan Braun in right.

I would absolutely trade Aoki.  I like Aoki, but he’s essentially a league average player well into his decline years.  I’d like to see Khris Davis play a full year in left field (with Ryan Braun in right).  I was impressed with what he did in 2013 and if he can perform near that level over 150 games he’ll be a very productive (and cheap) player for several years.  Aoki is a fourth outfielder on most teams, but he’s a reasonably productive player on an extremely cheap one year contract.  I think he could fetch one B type prospect.  That’s what I’d aim for rather than a major league player.

3. Trade Weeks; Platoon Gennett with Bianchi or Mark Ellis.

Trading Rickie Weeks before the season starts would prove exceedingly difficult.  Weeks was awful in 2013 and missed the second half of the season with a torn hamstring.  He’ll make $11 million in 2014.  There’s a chance, remote though it may be, that a team like the Royals or Blue Jays get desperate and trade next to nothing for Weeks and a significant amount of cash.  Gennett has proven he simply cannot hit left-handed pitching so they'll need someone to platoon him with.  They can probably find a cheap option on the free agent market but, they may already have one in Bianchi.  He hasn’t acquitted himself well at the plate in the majors but he was a much better batter in the minors, specifically against left-handed pitching.  If they don’t feel comfortable with Bianchi, Mark Ellis would provide a cheap and productive option.  Despite his age he still hits LHP well and has good defense so he could also serve as a defensive replacement late in games. 

4. Trade Ramirez; Sign Juan Uribe to replace him.

Ramirez also missed a significant chunk of time due to an injury (knee).  He was still very good when he played, putting up a triple slash line of 283/37/461 over 91 games.  A team may be interested in that, especially if they can put him at DH every once in a while to keep him fresh.  He’ll need to show he’s healthy and his salary is going to make a trade difficult.  He’s owed $16 million in 2014, $6 million of which is deferred.  There is also a mutual option in 2015 for a salary of $14 million with a $4 million buyout.  If the Brewers were to pay the $6 million in deferred salary it might make a deal viable.  If/when Alex Rodriguez is suspended, I bet the Yankees at least check in with the Brewers.  Should they find a way to complete a trade, my top target to replace Ramirez would be Juan Uribe.  His 2013 season at the plate (278/331/438) might prove to be a fluke but he’s a plus defender at third base.  That will be a nice change especially for the Brewers starting rotation which features an ever growing cadre of ground ball pitchers.  Again, if MLB Trade Rumors is accurate with their prediction, he’ll be a comparatively cheap option at the hot corner and can likely be had on a two year deal.  That could bridge the gap for recently acquired Nicky Delmonico, assuming he can actually stick at third.

5. Re-sign Corey Hart to play first base.

He comes with serious health concerns after a season missed to multiple knee surgeries, but there aren't any very good first basemen on the market.  Already several teams were reported to have shown interest in Hart as a buy low right handed power option.  I still think he ends up back in Milwaukee.  I look at Mike Napoli’s 2013 contract as a model for what Hart’s will look like.  Ultimately, I believe he’ll sign for something close to $6 million in base salary with the potential to earn another $8 million in incentives.  He’ll be a useful player, assuming health, if the Brewers are able to compete.  If they can’t, then maybe he could bring in a mid-tier prospect or two at the trade deadline.  Should they trade him (or never sign him to begin with) I would platoon Juan Francisco with Sean Halton or maybe even Jason Rogers rather than pursue a free agent or make a trade. 

6. Sign Jesse Crain and/or Ryan Madson.

They’ve both proven to be successful in high leverage situations, have high strikeout rates, and low home run rates.  Madson has been better at limiting walks.  They’re both coming off injuries, but Madson hasn’t pitched since 2011.  I expect both will want a 1 year deal to rebuild value.  Crain’s deal might include incentives based on games played or finished, but I doubt it would raise the entire salary to something the Brewers couldn’t afford.  A deal for Madson is more difficult to figure out.  It’s been two years since he pitched so he might have to settle for a minor league deal similar to what Francisco Rodriguez signed with the Brewers in 2013.  Otherwise, I would be surprised to see him get a major league deal worth more than $2 million dollars.  That’s right in the Brewers wheelhouse.  It’s possible the Brewers could sign both of them for $3-5 million in total (plus incentives for Crain).  Much like Hart, they would be useful to the Brewers if they compete or as mid-season trade bait.

Before the season begins it might prove impossible trade any one of these players I mentioned (Weeks/Ramirez), or not to their advantage either because his value might be too low (Gallardo), or they just signed him and simply aren't allowed to trade him yet (Hart, Madson, Crain).  If that’s the case, and unless they had an impressive lead for one of the playoff spots, I’d revisit the trade market at the deadline.  Depending on health and performance, Estrada might draw some interest too.  I’d even start to listen to offers for Gomez.  I know, I love him too, but my main goal here is to build a competitive team.  With the current major league talent and the farm system the way it is (consistently ranked at or near the bottom), I think the Brewers best window to start competing again is around 2016-2018.  With that in mind, I’m fine with putting together a team to compete now if it’s done intelligently and with an eye towards the future.  I think this combination of trading as well as signing (and then possibly trading) players is the best way for the Brewers to do that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The 2014 Milwaukee Brewers

Today (Monday, November 11) is the last day for players to accept or decline qualifying offers.  The deadline is 4 pm CT.  After that, the free agent season will begin in earnest.  As usual, it figures to be a rather quiet offseason for the Brewers.  There aren’t a lot of open roster spots to fill and looking at the abysmal free agent class, that’s a relief.  First base is easily the largest hole and I believe they’ll re-sign Corey Hart.  Past that it’s likely just a couple of relievers and possibly a bench player will be signed.  They could go for a starting pitcher if the front office decides Tyler Thornburg is better suited at AAA or in the pen.  However, with Jimmy Nelson and Johnny Hellweg waiting in the wings I think it’s unlikely.  With Mark Attansio as the owner, however, it’s not something I am willing to fully write off.  The following is my best guess at what the Brewers’ 2014 opening day roster will look like:

C: Jonathan Lucroy ($2 MM)
BN: Martin Maldonado (****$500 k)
1B: Corey Hart (*****$6 MM)
BN: Juan Francisco (***$1.4 MM)
2B: Scooter Gennett (****$500 k)
BN: Rickie Weeks ($11 MM)
3B: Aramis Ramirez (*$10 MM)
BN: Jeff Bianchi (****$500 k)
SS: Jean Segura (****$500 k)

LF: Khris Davis (****$500 k)

CF: Carlos Gomez ($7 MM)
OF: Nori Aoki ($1.95 MM)
RF: Ryan Braun **(12.5 MM)

SP: Kyle Lohse ($11 MM)
RP: Jim Henderson (****$500 k)
SP: Yovani Gallardo ($11.5 MM)
RP: Brandon Kintzler (****$500 k)
SP: Wily Peralta (****$500 K)
RP: Tom Gorzelanny ($2.8 MM)
SP: Marco Estrada (***$3.5 MM)
RP: Rob Wooten (****$500 k)
SP: Tyler Thornburg (****$500 k)
RP: Donovan Hand (****$500 k)

RP: Free Agent
RP: Free Agent

Unless indicated otherwise, all salary figures come from Cots Contracts.
*Aramis Ramirez’s total salary is $16 million, but $6 million of it is deferred.
**Ryan Braun’s salary is $10 million, but he also gets $2.5 million from his signing bonus.
***Salary figure comes from MLB Trade Rumors' arbitration estimates
****The league minimum is $500,000. Some players might make slightly over that, but not by much.
*****This is just my best guess for Hart’s potential base salary. There would likely be incentives as well.

You can argue against some of my picks but I think this is pretty close to what we’ll see.  Rickie Weeks’ contract is about as close to immovable as it gets so I expect they’ll platoon him with Gennett.  As I mentioned above, I believe the Brewers will bring Hart back.  I’m guessing it’ll be for a deal similar to Mike Napoli’s 2013 contract with the Red Sox.  He got a base salary of $5 million with $8 million in incentives.  I’m also of the opinion that Juan Francisco will return.  I know a lot of people are against it because in their minds Sean Halton’s triple slash of 238/291/396 is just too good to pass up.  For the record, Juan Francisco’s was 227/296/422 (221/300/433 as a Brewer).  Neither was very good but Francisco hit better in the minors, has a massive edge in power (if he can ever hit well enough to utilize it in-game), and can play third base (in addition to first) while Halton can only play first and corner outfield.  Francisco’s defense was pretty bad at first base, but that was his first season ever at the position.  He’s been solid defensively at third in the past.  Francisco is currently working on a new swing in the Dominican Winter League with apparent success.  We shouldn’t make too much out of it though since I doubt he’s facing a lot of quality pitching, but it might just be enough to earn his way back on the roster.  He’s only expected to earn approximately $1.4 million so he won’t be prohibitively expensive.  I’m willing to pay $900,000 more than Halton’s league minimum for the potential Francisco offers.  As a side-note, if the Brewers don’t end up bringing Hart back, I wouldn’t be entirely shocked to see them platoon these two guys instead. 

The Brewers have exercised Norichika Aoki’s 2014 option and announced another Aoki bobblehead day so despite all the trade rumors, until it actually happens, I expect him to be manning the outfield alongside Gomez and Braun on opening day.  Khris Davis hit his way into a reserve or platoon role.  The problem here is he can only play left.  Aoki could play centerfield in a pinch, but there is no true centerfield back up for Gomez.  The Brewers need Jeff Bianchi to back up shortstop (in addition to second and third base) so that leaves no room for Logan Schafer, assuming they roll with a 12 man pitching staff. 

The rotation seems pretty straightforward.  Kyle Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta, and Marco Estrada are almost sure locks at this point.  There will be lots of trade talks surrounding Lohse and Gallardo over the winter.  While I’m in favor of this, I’ll believe the Brewers trade one when it happens.  They might have enough money to pursue a back-end starter, but I don’t think they will.  In my opinion, Thornburg is the strong front runner for the final rotation spot.  If they do end up acquiring another starter then I’d expect to see Thornburg in the bullpen.  That being said, Jim Henderson, Tom Gorzelanny, and Brandon Kintzler are probably the only relievers that are assured a spot on the roster.  Burke Badenhop stands to make just over $2 million through arbitration and is a potential non-tender.  For that reason I think the Brewers will instead go with Donovan Hand.  The two pitchers offer similar groundball potential but Hand could serve in long relief and even get a spot start or two.  I also think Rob Wooten has a solid chance of making the club out of spring training.  He was decent in 27.2 innings with the Brewers, if not overwhelming.  He didn’t strike out a lot of guys but that could improve as he’s had a solid strikeout to walk ratio in the minors.  Michael Blazek, Alfredo Figaro, David Goforth, Michael Olmsted, Johnny Hellweg, Jimmy Nelson, Ariel Pena, Kevin Shackleford, and Tyler Cravy could all factor in at some point. 

With the roster as I have it, the Brewers will have committed approximately $86-87 million to 23 roster spots.  In 2013 the Brewers opening day payroll was approximately $88 million.  With the extra $25 million each club is set to receive in national TV money I think it’s safe to assume the Brewers will feel comfortable going over 2013’s payroll.  They certainly won’t spend all of the extra money on the major league roster, but they shouldn’t need to use even half of it.  If I’m right all the Brewers will need from free agency is two relievers (aside from Corey Hart that is, but he’s already factored into my roster mock-up).  I won’t even hazard a guess on which relievers they’ll actually target, but it’d be nice to see them take a chance on a guy like Jesse Crain or Ryan Madson.  Each has a history of success in high leverage situations and will be cheap as they’re coming off of injuries.  It’s likely they’ll only sign one year deals wherever they end up.  They could be the 2014 version of Francisco Rodriguez.  By that I mean they provide mid-season trade potential.  

I see three main problems with this roster.  Having Khris Davis as the fourth outfielder leaves a lack of defensive depth in the outfield.  I’m not concerned about Gomez going on the DL because Schafer still has an option left and he can be called up to replace him.  However, when Gomez inevitably needs a day off Aoki would have to play center.  They might be able to get away with it here and there, but I’m concerned about his diminishing skill set.  Perhaps the Brewers feel comfortable taking that chance, but defense matters.  It’s possible they decide to go with a 6-man bullpen in favor of keeping Schafer on the roster, but I don’t see it happening that way.  Honestly, the real problem here may be wasting a roster spot, which could otherwise be filled by Schafter, on carrying two second basemen only guys.  I’d be comfortable using Bianchi in a platoon with Gennett where he faces left-handed pitching and comes in late in games as a defensive replacement.  The Brewers might be able to move Weeks at the trade deadline, but after two straight disappointing seasons and coming off an injury it’ll be a longshot to happen before opening day. 

I’m also worried about the fragility of this roster.  Aramis Ramirez is going to be 36 and he missed large parts of the season while dealing with a knee injury that never fully healed.  Ryan Braun went on the disabled list for the first time in his career right before he was suspended.  He admitted to using PEDs in order to come back from an injury during the 2011 season.  Without knowing the full story, one has to wonder if time off due to injuries will increase in the coming years.  To be clear, I’m not worried about his ability to perform at the same level, only his susceptibility to injuries.  Corey Hart missed the whole 2013 season to what ended up being two knee surgeries which makes 3 over the past 2 years.  Kyle Lohse has been fine in recent seasons but he’s dealt with injuries before and will be 35.  Gomez and Estrada both seem to end up on the DL at some point each season.  I like both of them quite a lot, but it’d be nice to see them be healthy for a full season.  With his injury history, Rickie Weeks is a risk especially since he’s coming off a torn hamstring.  I expect he’ll serve in a diminished role next year so it may not matter that much.

The other problem is the starting rotation.  Kyle Lohse exceeded my, perhaps too low, expectations.  He was the best starter for the Brewers.  I’m convinced he’s better than I thought, but I’m not sure he’s much more than a mid-rotation starter.  He’s a pitch to contact, flyball pitcher, throwing half his games at Miller Park.  Despite his excellent walk rate, I think that mix will always worry me.  Yovani Gallardo was a mess for the first half of the season.  I think it was due to his inability to adjust to his lowering velocity.  He’s never had great control and now he can’t get his fastball past hitters.  He did have a good stretch to end the season after coming off the disabled list.  It’s possible he started to figure out how to pitch with his lower velocity, but I can’t know that for sure.  Based on his peripherals I do believe he can regain some of his former skill level, but regardless, he’s now likely a number 3 quality starter at best.  Wily Peralta has exciting stuff.  His average fastball velocity is consistently among the best in baseball.  He just needs to learn how to control his pitches.  He’s shown flashes of being a number 2 guy but more often he pitched like a back-end starter.  I really like Estrada.  He had the best strikeout to walk ratio (8.30 K/9 to 2.04 BB/9) among Brewers starters.  He does have a problem with home runs, but that can sometimes be mitigated by his low walk rate.  I think he has as much potential as anyone else in the rotation.  He just can’t seem to stay healthy for a whole season.  Tyler Thornburg was very good for the Brewers over 7 starts.  He had a 1.43 ERA but it screams “small sample size.”  He gave up zero home runs and unfortunately that’s unsustainable.  He can get his fastball up to 94 and sits 92-93.  The biggest knock against him has always been his size.  Because he’s short for a pitcher, he has a hard time getting a downward plane on his pitches.  This can result in a straight fastball, which in turn results in a lot of hard hit balls.  If he can limit that issue, he could be a solid 4/5 starter.  Jimmy Nelson and Johnny Hellweg provide intriguing depth but they both showed they need more time at AAA to develop.

This team absolutely has above average potential.  I won’t pretend they can’t compete, but I can’t pretend that’s anything more than a longshot.  If everyone is healthy for the whole season the offense will be above average, arguably among the very best in baseball.  If each of the starting pitchers was able to pitch to their fullest, they’d be pretty good.  Still, we can’t ignore the problems I discussed above.  We also can’t judge this team in a vacuum.  They compete in what might be the best division in baseball.  I hate to admit it, but the Cardinals are probably going to be the strong favorite again.  The Reds and Pirates should be very tough too.  Even the Cubs are getting better.  If I had to put a number to it, I’d say this team has the potential to win anywhere from 78 to 90 games.  A 78 win season probably looks good enough mid-season to convince the front office not to sell off pieces or (worse) trade to bring talent in.  A 90 win season is just as likely to finish a couple games back of the second wild card spot as it is to earn it.  There’s a lot of risk involved here for a marginal chance to make the post season.  If it were up to me I’d look to trade some guys for prospects both before the season starts and at the trade deadline, but that’s another article.