Posted by Steve
The Brewers’ front office continues to show it prefers year-to-year, patchwork solutions over anything resembling a long-term plan. Their owner meddles in baseball operations to the point that he pushes for acquisitions that are detrimental to the future of the team. It is more important to them to appear like they are making every attempt to win now, every season, than it is to actually do what is best for the long-term health of the franchise.
We saw this least season with their refusal to admit they were not a contender until the 11th hour of the trade deadline. We saw it this off-season with their decision to not shop around veteran players toward the end of their deals. And we saw it today, with their shortsighted signing of Kyle Lohse.
By now you’ve surely heard: the Brewers signed Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract with performance incentives. To put it another way, the same team that won an average of 78.3 games in PECOTA’s 2013 simulation and had the smallest chance at the playoffs in the NL Central just forfeited a first round draft pick, three years and $33 million on a 34 year-old pitcher.
Short-term, it seems to make sense. The Brewers have young, inexperienced pitching! That same young, inexperienced pitching has struggled in Spring Training! In a world where Spring Training stats matter (unfortunately, that’s not this world), there might seem to be a need.
If the Brewers were around a 85-win team or so on paper, signing Kyle Lohse could be a smart move that could put them over the hump and get them into the playoffs. Problem is, the Brewers aren’t that team. PECOTA at this point actually projects them with the same record as the Cubs and tied for last in the division. Lohse had above average seasons the last two years. His best year was 2012. If we take his WAR of 3.6 from last year and add it to the projected win total, that would put the Brewers at 81.9 wins—still not enough to reach the playoffs. That calculation isn’t foolproof either—if you add Lohse’s WAR, you need to subtract the pitcher he’d be replacing, which likely lessens the team win projection even more.
Essentially, this moves a team that was projected to win around 78 games to a team that is projected to win around 81 games. And for that, they hamstring themselves to another mid-30s pitcher who is somewhat likely to not even pitch to the end of his contract.
There is something that is even more concerning than the Lohse deal itself. Earlier in the off-season, the Brewers tried to land free agent starter Ryan Dempster. The Brewers would only offer him a two-year deal, and he eventually signed with Boston. At the time, Melvin talked of “learning a lesson” with past deals and not wanting to offer a third year. Later, when asked about Lohse, he said giving up a draft pick was a deal-breaker. So what changed?
The season got closer, the pitching looked poor in Spring Training, and the owner panicked.
It’s been widely reported that Mark Attanasio “remained in contact” with Scott Boras over the last few weeks. Why is Attanasio talking with a player agent? That is Doug Melvin’s job.
We know Attanasio was behind the Suppan signing to a degree. Presumably he’s been involved with others as well. And sure, owners should be involved, but he shouldn’t be negotiating the deal.
The Brewers have had a couple of very good seasons in the last handful of years. Sprinkled in between them, however, were some years of failed free agent pitching signings rather than focusing on a long-term plan. A forward-thinking front office might have seen that the Brewers have several key pieces nearing free agency and/or reaching the end of their primes, and that it might be wise to cash in those pieces before they lose value or leave for nothing.
Instead, the Brewers did the opposite. They overpaid by a year and forfeited a draft pick for yet another mid-30s, past-his-prime pitcher, and they gave up a first round pick to do it. Lohse might still be solid this year, but it’s the same story as all the ex-Cardinals pitchers the Brewers sign: his defense behind him won’t be as good as the one last year, and that’s likely to end poorly. Jeff Suppan was 32 when he signed. Randy Wolf was 33. Kyle Lohse is 34. That is not trending in the right direction. I could say more about Lohse and what he’s expected to do, but I almost think that’s for another post. My focus here is on the Brewers’ overall philosophy.
In his presser, Doug Melvin just said, “This signing makes us a better club than we were yesterday.” This perfectly illustrates the problems with the current makeup of the front office. Lohse would have made the Astros better too. That doesn’t mean it would make sense for them to sign him.
Here’s what you can see coming a mile away: The Brewers will be around .500, maybe even a few games below, and rather than selling, they’ll make a deal for a reliever, or a #4 -type starter, still miss the playoffs, and start the cycle all over again