Drama Jocks’ Commentary: Beer-Flavored Trade Bait

Ever since Milwaukee’s recent run of annual contention (which you could argue has run from about 2007 to the present), they have been buyers rather than sellers at the MLB trade deadline.  With the season now more than 40% complete and the Brewers showing no consistent signs of emerging from a variety of performance issues (not to mention the laundry-list of injuries), it’s time to consider what the Crew might have to do in a month or so if things on the field haven’t significantly turned around.
The two recent series with Kansas City and Toronto–the Brewers’ trade partners from the winter of 2010 when they picked up Zack Grienke and Shaun Marcum–brought the state of the farm system into focus, by featuring a pair of excellent young major leaguers that Milwaukee let go of in those trades: Alcides Escobar for KC, and Brett Lawrie for Toronto.
Would the Brewers look any better right now with Escobar and Lawrie at SS and 3B, but no Grienke or Marcum?  You can be assured that there would not have been a run to the NLCS last season had those pitchers been missing, but it’s still worth it to have the debate.  Milwaukee’s management is probably going to be faced with a tough decision this July: stand pat, hope the team straightens out, and try to make another run, or start dismantling the big league roster and rebuild some depth in the farm system?  The Brewers have a number of quality big league players under long-term contracts, but there are organizational holes: at SS, the bullpen, 3B, and possibly even CF.  Here are some players they might consider moving, and why.
Zack Grienke, SP
  • he will be completely out of the Brewers price-range in free agency–committing 25-million-plus (a full quarter of the payroll or more) to one guy for 5 or 6 years is simply a bad decision for the smallest market in baseball
  • The compensation for losing free agents has changed.  In years past, the former team could let a high-quality guy like this walk, then get the the new team’s first-round pick the next year, in addition to a “sandwich pick” between the first and second rounds.  Going forward, draft pick compensation will only happen if:
    • the player was with his ‘former’ team for the entire preceding regular season
    • the former team offered the player a 1-year “qualifying offer” at the average of the highest-paid 125 players in the league (presently, about 12.5 million), which gets rejected by the player
    • if these criteria are met, the former team will get the new team’s first round pick, unless it is in the top 10, in which case they get the “second-highest” pick.  No more supplemental/sandwich picks.
  • hence, there is practically no value to holding on to a top-tier free agent for an entire season when you know you can’t sign him.  Moreover, unless you are sending that player to a trade partner with a legit chance of signing him to a long-term deal, you can expect the bounty of prospects to be reaped will be much lower than in the past.

Francisco Rodriguez, RP

  • see Grienke, re: free agent issues
  • he absolutely prefers to close, and is unlikely to do so here
  • another case where getting something for him is better than getting nothing after the season is done
  • the problem I see is: show me a contender that doesn’t already have an established closer.  Would K-Rod be willing to play the setup role elsewhere?  He’ll probably have to, if he wants to keeping pitching.

Randy Wolf, SP

  • See Grienke, re: free agent issues
  • Wolf is still serviceable at times, but is getting on in years and probably doesn’t earn the 10 million he would make next year if MKE exercises their option on his contract.  However, he could be a great fill-in at the back end of a contender’s rotation, with his veteran savvy and post-season experience.

Rickie Weeks, 2B

  • Has a long-term contract with the Brewers, but really has had a poor season thus far.  However, he’s a great clubhouse leader, and at this point, one of the team’s longest-tenured vets (along with Corey Hart).  Still, I don’t think the extended slump–which he has shown signs of ending–is the #1 reason to try to move him.  That would be:
  • replace-ability — the Brewers have a guy on their team right now that would be OK at 2nd for the duration of the season in Taylor Green, another at AAA that would be serviceable in Eric Farris, and one of their hotshot position prospects right now is second baseman Scooter Gennett.  Scooter is the best of the bunch.  He’s a AA all-star and will play in the Futures Game this year in Kansas City.  If he continues his rise, he could be ready for MKE by the second half in 2013.
  • After seven-plus years with Weeks at 2nd, we have likely seen his ceiling (the type of year he was having in 2011, where he earned an all-star start by batting about .275 with power and speed).  MKE would probably be nuts to continue shuffling off their up-and-coming prospects if they feel good about their chances as major-leaguers.  Something is going to have to give here, and it might as well be Rickie.

Corey Hart, OF/1B

  • We have moved to the “unlikely-but-possible” players to be traded…
  • Hart has shown his value by moving back to 1B with the Brewers in a pinch this year.  The lack of depth the Crew has at 1st makes trading Corey unlikely.  He also is a guy that fans like to get down on during those stretches where he’s swinging at too many pitches, or under-producing in clutch situations.  Still, you can’t deny the stat books: he’s a career .275 hitter who has had at least 400 ABs every year since 2007, is always good for 25-35 homeruns, and is solid in the field.
  • The only reason the Brewers *might* consider moving him would be their outfield depth.  They have two players in Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez that can start in center, another in Nori Aoki  who can play in right, and two more at Nashville in Caleb Gindl and Logan Schaffer that should be getting a long-term shot in Milwaukee soon.  It will be interesting to see how the off-season plays out with Mat Gamel, who looked really strong at first base before getting hurt.  Will the Brewers send Hart back to the outfield in 2013, or does Gamel need to find another position again?  Another player that I think oddly factors in here is Jonathan Lucroy.  Luc just signed a 5-year deal, but you also can’t deny that Martin Maldonado has looked very solid behind the plate filling in for him.  If, in the future, you wanted to play both Maldonado AND Lucroy with regularity, one of them would have to play somewhere else…
  • Regardless, I say if Hart gets traded this season, you can be no one (other than the untouchable Ryan Braun) is safe.

Nyjer Morgan, OF

  • similar reasons to Hart — Nyjer is probably the most replaceable of a packed outfield.  He has one more arbitration year left, but probably stands to make 3 million or so as a platoon-/backup-player next year.  Pretty expensive.
  • Still — an energetic and exciting member of team.  Keeps things light in a clubhouse that might take itself too seriously at times.  His personality doesn’t fit with all teams and managers, though, and he does remind us regularly of how much he enjoys Milwaukee.

Anyone in the bullpen not named John Axford

  • MLB bullpens turn over with regularity.  Most teams have somewhere between 1 and 3 relief pitchers on multi-year deals.  If someone was willing to give up a young arm with a higher ceiling to get somebody that is ready to contribute on the major league roster right away, I say go for it.
  • My leading candidates here would be Kameron Loe, Jose Veras, and Manny Parra.