The Brewers should trade Jimmy Nelson

Posted by Steve

If you chose to be critical of the Brewers’ approach over the last 8 years or so, I don’t know if I could disagree with you. They have made big win-now trades that have propelled them to two playoff appearances, but they have also traded away a lot of future talent. It is not the recipe for sustained success in the mold of the Rays, A’s or Cardinals.

However, the Brewers’ bed is made. They don’t have a continual stream of prospects reaching the big leagues like they did 8 years ago. They had an unexpected hot streak at the beginning of the year and somewhat unexpectedly found themselves in contention. For the reasons I’ll lay out, the Brewers need to make a big trade to reach the playoffs this year.

The Brewers have been in first place most of this season, but that does not mean they are the best team in the division. Their pythagorean record indicates the Brewers have been lucky to have their current record of 59-49. Worse yet is their upcoming schedule in August. The Brewers will play the Cardinals, the Giants twice and the Dodgers twice over the next month–a brutal stretch. Without a boost to the team, I fully expect the Brewers to fall out of the division lead.

PECOTA has 7 teams in the NL with a greater than 50% chance of reaching the playoffs. Obvious, two of those teams won’t make it, and I think it’s pretty likely the Brewers will miss, given their remaining schedule and regression to their true talent level.

Dodgers: 96.1%
Nationals: 85.8 %

Those two teams should be off the Brewers’ radar, as they will likely have playoff spots locked up and won’t be competing with them for a spot. Here’s where it gets more interesting.

Cardinals: 60.8%
Giants: 60.5%
Brewers: 59.3%
Braves: 58.7%
Pirates: 53.5%

Three of those five teams will make the playoffs, barring some other team getting very hot and coming out of nowhere. The Brewers, Pirates, and Cardinals have the most to gain, as one of them will win a division and not have to play a stupid play-in game.

Basically, the Brewers are in a position in which an addition can really impact their chances. It would mean more for the Brewers to go add a big piece than the Dodgers, because the Dodgers are just about a lock for the postseason. Conversely, it could be a back breaker for the Brewers if the Pirates or Cardinals add a pitcher like Jon Lester while the Brewers stand pat. The NL Central race is that close.

Another reason it makes sense for the Brewers to make a big move is because of the “window” that Doug Melvin likes to talk about. The Brewers have all of their starting rotation under contract for next season, but after that, Lohse and Gallardo are free agents. Not that this makes it impossible for the Brewers to be good after 2015, but it’s seems somewhat likely that the Brewers will be due for a drop-off. So, why not go for broke in 2014 and 2015?

Finally, another factor to consider is that prospects very rarely reach their ceilings. In trades for CC Sabathia, Shaun Marcum, and Zack Greinke, the Brewers traded many prospects. At this point, only two look like true difference makers (Michael Brantley and Jake Odorizzi). Think of all the other highly rated guys who didn’t amount to more than average-ish players: Matt LaPorta, Jeremy Jeffress, Alcides Escobar, Brett Lawrie (Still young, but nothing impressive so far). Plus, they got three young players back for Greinke the following season.

So what is my more specific point? It’s that the Brewers should trade Jimmy Nelson.

Nelson is the highest rated prospect they’ve had in years, so why would they trade him? Looking deeper, it makes sense. The Brewers do have some intriguing prospects, potential difference-makers in their system, but none are close the the big leagues. You ideally want a wave of young guys reaching the big leagues around the same time. Nelson is not part of any wave.

I also think it’s entirely possible that Nelson’s trade value is higher now than it will ever be at any point in his career. He’s number 38 on Baseball America’s mid-season prospect list. He’s dominated in AAA all year, and he’s now broken into the big leagues, where he hasn’t yet proved he’ll fail. He projects to be a good pitcher, but not an ace-type–more like a 2-3. And he likely won’t be a good MLB pitcher this year yet.

If the Brewers could use him to acquire a substantial upgrade, either in the form of a better starting pitcher or a left-handed slugger (preferably first base), then it greatly improves the Brewers’ chances of winning the division. Someone like Jon Lester would be a great fit, or even John Lackey. Cole Hamels would be great, but he’d likely require more than the Brewers have (under contract for multiple years) and so would David Price (Rays back in the race), but neither are very likely. Other players may or may not be available (Justin Morneau would look pretty good in a Brewers uniform), but I won’t speculate much when I don’t know who.

The reason I mention Lackey and Lester is they are both clearly on the block, and they both could likely be had for Nelson. Lackey because he isn’t quite as good of a pitcher (still having a nice season), and Lester because he’s a free agent after that season. Both of those factors make their price lower than Price or Hamels, and it’s possible that if Nelson is included, the Brewers could expand the deal and add another piece from Boston (perhaps Mike Carp or Koji Uehara).

All I know is that a number of factors support that the Brewers should be aggressive in their goal of winning this season. Nelson is the biggest trade piece they have, and it makes sense to use him.

Draft Review: Day 1

Posted by Steve

Some brief thoughts on the Brewers’ draft yesterday:

I was not happy when the Brewers made their first choice. Touki Toussaint, Casey Gillaspie and Grant Holmes were all available, so I was not happy with the pick of Kodi Medeiros, someone who was projected as a late first or even second round pick.

I should mention that I feel better about the Medeiros pick after researching it a bit more. This video makes it look like he could be a LOOGY right now, but of course, the Brewers hope he can stick as a starter. Goodness, that slider 52 seconds in. P.S., that guffaw belongs to none other than Eric Byrnes, he of the famous Throwfall.

But, last night, I was not happy–at first. My opinion changed once they made the next two picks, as it became clear what the Brewers were attempting to do: rather than take one expensive player, they drafted three high-ceiling players who will all be similar in price.

With the new CBA, teams are allowed a draft budget that is dictated by the amount and value of their picks. Each pick is assigned a slot value, which is MLB’s “suggestion” for that pick. Teams and players are free to negotiate that price, but the total amount spent on draft picks must come under a certain overall price. If a team spends more than just a small bit above that budget (small amounts over come with a tax), they end up forfeiting future first round draft picks. Not something teams are going to want to do, unless maybe you’re dealing with a Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper-type talent.

So. By taking Medeiros with pick 12, the Brewers likely knew ahead of time that he would be willing to sign for less than slot, which is $2.8 million at pick 12. Let’s say it’s more like $2 million, though that’s obviously just a guess. They probably told him, “You can take our offer of 2 mil at pick 12, or you can roll the dice and hope to get drafted in the top 21 (the last slot value of over 2 mil). Your choice.”

He may have been drafted in the top 20, but who knows? He also may have fallen to the second round. And maybe he can even negotiate up to 2.2 or 2.3 mil. Either way, this should leave the Brewers with an extra $500-800k to work with in their later picks.

This strategy became apparent, because the players they drafted at 41 and 50 are both serious talents who will surely require the Brewers to go over slot to sign.

I almost listed Jacob Gatewood as another option for the Brewers in the first round yesterday (I wish I would have). He’s a tall high school shortstop who has plus, plus power and is definitely a boom or bust type. It’s fair to say that I’m at least as excited about Gatewood as I am about Medeiros, and probably even more.

Monte Harrison is another high-ceiling high schooler. Profiling as a CF or RF, Harrison is a potential 5-tool player. He is committed to Nebraska both as a baseball player and wide receiver on the football team, which could obviously make it difficult to sign him.

Baseball America rated all three players in their top 32 overall. Medeiros was 32, Gatewood was 21, and Harrison was 20. So if you’re basing it on that, in a vacuum, you wouldn’t be happy about getting #32 with pick 12. But getting three in the top 32 with picks 12, 41, and 50? That’s a haul.

You can see why the Brewers will need to get creative with their money in order to sign all three. They are allotted $6.3 million for their first five picks. Slot value for 41 is $1.38 mil; slot for 50 is $1.1 mil. I think the Brewers will probably need to go 400-500k over slot for both Gatewood and Harrison in order to sign them. That means that not only will they take money away from Medeiros, but I would expect the Brewers to make some reach picks in the next few rounds who will sign below slot.

And I would be completely okay with that. If the Brewers managed to sign all three of these players, that would be extremely exciting. The Brewers have enough guys in their system who can be 4/5 starters, 6/7 hitters. The reason their farm system is rated so low is because they have guys who can make the majors, but they don’t have many who will excel in the Majors. These three players would all enter the Brewers’ top 10 prospects list immediately, and they all have a chance to be impact big leaguers. These are the anti-Jungmann/Bradley picks, which is exactly what I was looking for.

2014 Brewers Draft Preview

Posted by Steve

While fully acknowledging the poor effort shown by this blog so far this season, I couldn’t miss the draft preview post. I probably should call this a “Wishlist for pick #12″ post instead of a preview, because I’ve really only researched first round possibilities, and I’ve really only zeroed in on possibilities for the Brewers at pick 12. And, as always, if you want extensive (or even anything more than my limited knowledge) draft coverage, head over to the Brewerfan.net draft forum.

It would be difficult for me to be as disappointed today as I was in 2011 when the Brewers drafted Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley ahead of Sonny Gray and C.J. Cron (both excelling in the majors by now, yay). True story: the last words I said before hearing “The Milwaukee Brewers select Taylor Jungmann” was “Just not Jungmann.” It’s only fair that I acknowledge both Jungmann and Bradley are in the middle of resurgent seasons in the minors, but those are both still looking like the wrong picks.

Anyway, like I said, I don’t see myself being that disappointed with the first round pick this year. Guys I want to see the Brewers avoid are the low-ceiling college guys (i.e. Jungmann and Bradley). I’d be happy if the Brewers got any of the following players.

Kyle Schwarber, 1B/C, Indiana University

As you can probably guess, Schwarber earns a lot of Prince Fielder comparisons due to body type and a powerful left-handed swing. He catches in college, but he’d be a first baseman in the big leagues. He’s the best power hitter in this draft, and as a college hitter, should move quickly through the minors. He’s regarded as a better player than Matt LaPorta, another former high Brewers pick. The Brewers need power hitting prospects, they need left-handers, and they just so happen to have a huge need at 1B. Not that they’d be reaching for need at all; there is some question as to whether Schwarber will be available. This draft is very heavy on pitching in the first round, but Schwarber is in my top two choices. They could take him and go pitching for the next couple picks, and they’d still be in great shape.

 

Grant Holmes, HS Pitcher

Holmes is probably the second or third best high school pitcher and my favorite among those who have a shot to still be on the board at number 12. Holmes has mid-90s velocity and apparently dazzled during a workout at Miller Park. He has a high ceiling, but has demonstrated better command than many of the high-ceiling high school pitchers. That is why Holmes is in my top two choices along with Schwarber.

 

Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State

Gillaspie is not showing up in most mock drafts until the second half of the first round, but I can’t really understand why. He has made a joke of college pitching this year, hitting .402/.511/.687. He’s 6’4″ and has prototypical size for a first baseman. He is a better prospect that his brother Conor was at his age. If Schwarber is Prince Fielder, Gillaspie may be Mark Teixeira (switch hitter-ness included). It would be hard not to be excited about this. Both Gillaspie and Schwarber would immediately become the best power bat in the Brewers’ system.

 

Touki Toussaint, HS Pitcher

How about that for a name! Toussaint is in the discussion with Holmes for the best high school pitcher who could be available to the Brewers. He is likely a riskier pick than Holmes, but may also be more of a boom or bust pick. His fastball and curveball combo is great, but he also has issues with walks. His ceiling is high enough that some scouts are saying there is a chance he ends up as the best pitcher out of this draft.

 

I think I’ve settled on the guys here as my top four for the Brewers’ pick. Don’t be surprised if they select either Max Pentecost, catcher from Kennesaw State, or LHP Kyle Freeland from Evansville. Another name to watch is Jeff Hoffman. Hoffman, a RHP from East Carolina, was a projected top 5 pick before news broke that he needs Tommy John surgery. He’s a great talent, and he’s not projected to fall too far as a result. Teams are confident enough in Tommy John that they could still draft Hoffman high. He’d be an exciting yet risky pick at 12.

Enjoy the draft, and if you just haven’t have enough 2011 draft woes, enjoy watching Carlos Rodon, the Brewers’ 2011 16th-round pick who they failed to sign, be drafted in the top 3 tonight.

Free Rickie Weeks, one last time.

Posted by Steve

The Brewers continue to get strong starting pitching, but they are really starting to feel the loss of Ryan Braun from the lineup. A look at the main contributors (sans Braun):

Gomez: .280/.338/.538

Gennett: .265/.299/..373

Lucroy: .312/.380/.440

Ramirez: .248/.311/..376

Segura: .240/.269/.327

Khris Davis: .239/.265/.434

Mark Reynolds: .229/.301/.518

Lyle Overbay: .236/.333/.327

Not pretty. The only hitter outperforming expectations is Lucroy. Everyone else is either at or below what was projected, and most are below. Braun may still be out a few weeks yet, and the Brewers can’t afford this type of offensive output the rest of his DL stint. Ron Roenicke doesn’t have many options, but there is one that he really hasn’t explored: Rickie Weeks.

Yes, Weeks has looked largely terrible this year, and his (very small sample of) numbers reflect that. At the beginning of the season, that wasn’t a problem. Gennett was playing well, and the Brewers were scoring runs and winning games. Now, along with the entire offense, Gennett has really cooled down to the point that his OBP is under .300. Say what you want about Rickie Weeks, but even when he struggled, his OBP was never that low–usually it was much higher. I realize it is low right now, but that’s in a completely sporadic 33 plate appearances, or roughly the same amount as a 4th outfielder who’s been on the DL and somebody named Elian Herrera.

I’m not saying Weeks is a clear answer, or that he needs to take the starting job back. What I am saying is it makes zero sense to continue using him in this capacity. He is taking up a valuable roster spot and isn’t even asked to contribute, all while making $10 million. They either have to trade him or find out if he can contribute anything. If not, they need to cut him. Since no team is likely to trade for him when he hasn’t even played yet, this seems like a great time to find out. Play him at second base, or even in a corner outfield, but just play him regularly for the next week or two. It’s not like he’ll be worse than the people they currently have in those positions.

At worst, he’s bad, but then they know they can cut him and free up a roster spot. At best, he starts playing better, helps the team while Braun is out, and either finds a role on the team this season or builds some trade value.

Raining on a non-existent parade

Posted by Steve

I was very busy during the first couple weeks of the season. Then I was on vacation. Then things were going SO well that I figured I wouldn’t do anything to jinx it. But today, a topic has come up that has caught my attention, and I couldn’t stay away any longer.

The Brewers are playing incredibly well and far above expectations. The starting rotation has been excellent, but the more surprising area has been the bullpen.

Rightfully so, the pen has started to garner some national attention. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs has a post today that does a great job of illustrating just how incredibly good the bullpen has been. You can choose your own favorite amazing way of illustrating how good the Brewers’ bullpen has been after reading that article. I think my favorite is that it has essentially been twice as good as the fourth-best bullpen in the majors.

Cameron does draw a conclusion, however, that I sort of take issue with. His conclusion, that the Brewers and their bullpen will inevitably regress, is not wrong; I happen to agree with it. My problem is that his conclusion isn’t really even newsworthy.

Cameron is great, so I don’t want to single him out, but he’s arguing something that really has no opposition. So are other national writers/talking heads. In the few minutes at a time that I can stomach non-Brian Kenny portions of MLB Network, announcers routinely make claims like, “Well they’re not going to run away with the division,” or “They aren’t going to keep up this pace!”

The Brewers’ current pace for the entire season would land them at 118 wins. They aren’t going to do that, you say? No kidding. But who has argued that they will? I’ve yet to see that argument anywhere. They’re raining on a parade that isn’t even taking place.

Cameron, to his credit, does mention that the Brewers don’t need to be a great team from this point on with the cushion they’ve built for themselves. That’s true, although we have been in this situation fairly recently with the Brewers, and it didn’t end well at all.

Still, they’ve put themselves in great position, and I don’t understand everyone’s need to point out that they probably won’t win 100+ games. I wouldn’t bet on them being an elite team at this point, but they’re now in a situation in which they could be buyers at the deadline, making themselves even stronger (Kendry Morales after draft day, anyone?).

Can we simply be excited about a great start without having to damper expectations that aren’t even there?

Which decision is worse?

Posted by Steve

We’re getting tantalizingly close to MLB’s regular season, but my enthusiasm has been curbed a bit by two curious decisions made by the Brewers over the last few days.

The first is the result of the least exciting first base competition in recent memory (except for last season). The Brewers have shipped out Juan Francisco, opting instead to keep the Ageless Wonder, Lyle Overbay.

That’s actually a poor nickname for Overbay, because he hasn’t resembled a wonder in several years. His last season with an OPS+ over 100 was 2010. Wrap your mind around this: Overbay has been below replacement level the last three years! At age 37, it’s amazing that a team was even willing to invite him to Spring Training, much less keep him on a freaking 25-man roster.

I know Juan Francisco isn’t a barnburner, but he was at least something that could have ended up as a pleasant surprise. That was within the realm of possibility. He can do things that Overbay can’t, such as hit a baseball hard or with any power whatsoever. The Brewers are using defense as an excuse, but first base is a position you need offense from. To put it in a different way–both of their floors are in the basement, but at least Francisco’s ceiling is off the ground. This is an inexplicable move. If Overbay is on the roster for more than a month, something is seriously wrong.

The other move that makes no sense was handed down by Runnin’ Ron himself. Actually, the only reason it isn’t shocking is because Roenicke made the decision. Say hello to Carlos Gomez, your new leadoff hitter for your Milwaukee Brewers.

Gomez had an excellent year last year–the best of his career, by far. And in his career year, his on-base percentage was still not good enough to hit leadoff. His OBP was .338 last year, but just the year prior, it was .305! And even after last year, his career mark is .303.

Carlos Gomez is multi-talented, but just about the one baseball skill he does not have is on-base ability. It just so happens that on-base ability is the single-most important trait of a good leadoff hitter.

As Ron Roenicke mentioned, no, they don’t have Shin-Soo Choo on their team. But that doesn’t excuse this decision. Rickie Weeks (or Scooter Gennett), Jean Segura, or Jonathan Lucroy all would be better options at leadoff than Gomez, because they each are likely to have better OBPs.

These are admittedly not major decisions in the grand scheme, and each is correctable fairly early in the season. It is just frustrating at this point because there is nothing that makes either one a good bet at this time.

Brb, rioting in the streets in celebration

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