Posted by Steve
It is only appropriate that I am about to experience the least anticipated World Series of my lifetime (even worse than the Subway Series), since this was my least enjoyable baseball season in at least ten years. And by “experience the least anticipated World Series of my lifetime,” I mean I’ll turn it on for the last few outs if the Cardinals are facing elimination. Maybe. That didn’t work so well the last time.
This year, and really, the current state of the Brewers, is depressing not so much because of the below .500 record. We’ve lived through much, much, much worse Brewers years as far as baseball performance is concerned. It’s that it was so predictable, and yet the Brewers’ brass was unable to foresee it, or at least to admit it.
The problem with the Brewers is exemplified by one move: signing Kyle Lohse. The fact that they saw themselves as one number 2/3 starting pitcher away from the playoffs is very concerning. They clearly were not, and that is not just hindsight talking. I saw it beforehand, but so did many others.
But not the Brewers. They kept looking short-term, and once they ran out of minor league pieces to trade, they ran out of options.
I was able to stomach the 90-100 loss seasons of the early 2000s, because there was at least hope on the horizon. Many terrible seasons had amassed an impressive array of draft picks. Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo would all join the big league club within a few years’ time. There was finally excitement, a light at the end of a long, miserable tunnel.
Now? The Brewers are about to enter their fourth consecutive year without one prospect on the same level as any of those mid-2000s players. Sure, they’ve added some much-needed quantity over the last two seasons, but they are sorely lacking in quality prospects.
Ready for something truly depressing? Read this next paragraph, and then tell me if there is one team in the NL Central you wouldn’t trade places with.
A couple months ago, Baseball America released its mid-season top 50 prospects. Included on that list were four Cardinals, three Pirates, three Cubs, two Reds, and, of course, zero Brewers. Even if we go back to the start of the season, when BA ranked their top 100 prospects, Wily Peralta was the only Brewer to crack the list.
What this should tell you is that the Cardinals and Pirates, already good teams, will just continue to reload (or improve, from the standpoint of the Pirates). They aren’t going anywhere. The Reds are on their way out, but even they have a better system than Milwaukee. The Cubs are going to be bad for the next year or two yet, but they look the way the Brewers did in the mid-2000s; they have a lot of exciting players in their system.
So… What can be done? Well, what they should not do is hold on to their veterans, sign a free agent starting pitcher or two, and try to patch together another .500ish season. Basically, don’t do what they’ve tried the past few years.
It’s time for Mark Attanasio to read the writing on the wall: it’s time to blow this up and rebuild. They’ve proven the patchwork strategy isn’t working, so it’s time to change philosophies.
That also means something larger: it’s time for Doug Melvin to go.
Melvin has done some very good things in Milwaukee. He oversaw the reconstruction of a truly terrible franchise, fielded two playoff teams and won one division title. He was two games from his first World Series. Sure, you could argue he could have done more with that core they had, but he also could have done much worse.
It’s been a few years since Melvin was able to work some magic. Most importantly, he still hasn’t been able to adequately replace Jack Zduriencik. The Brewers haven’t had one impact draft pick since Brett Lawrie, and that has been what’s killed them more than anything.
Doug Melvin departing isn’t the most important key to turning this around–all that truly matters is that the Brewers stop their short-term thinking. The best way to do that, however, is to bring in a younger GM who is willing to oversee a rebuilding process.
There are players to build around. Jean Segura, Jonathan Lucroy, and Wily Peralta is a decent starting point. Many fans would hate this move, but Carlos Gomez’s value will never be higher. He’s still young (and affordable) enough to bring back a huge haul, yet, he’s old enough that by the time the team around him is good again, he’ll be leaving or out of his prime. The adage of trading a player a year too early rather than a year too late (i.e. Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez, and hopefully not Kyle Lohse) rings true with Gomez.
Other players should go as well–many should have already, of course, but I don’t need to harp on that any further. They have no choice but to hold on to Braun at this point, so that will at least be in a holding pattern for a while. But even that could be short-term.
They key for a mid-market team like the Brewers is to find young talent and bring up waves of it. The Brewers haven’t had a wave since Gallardo ended their big one about four years ago. They have some players who could be impact prospects, but they’re still in the lower levels of the minors. What they need to do is collect players who are within two years or so of the big leagues and bring them up together, à la Fielder, Weeks, Hart and Hardy.
The concern, from Attanasio’s perspective, is clearly attendance. They’ve drawn extraordinarily well the last five years, and it would be understandable to be hesitant to jeopardize that. I’d argue that Brewer fans are patient; look how bad the teams were for so long, yet fans came back. They’ll do the same in support of an exciting, young team. It beats the alternative of gradually losing attendance year-to-year with no future in sight.
There are a large number of fans who feel jaded after the Ryan Braun saga. I don’t worry about it, personally, but many do. It could actually be a great time to explain to the fans that the strategies of the past few years haven’t worked, and now the team is changing course. I really think many would be open to that.
Hope isn’t lost for Brewers fans. It’s just on hold. Take me back to 2004, 2005 (and not just for this reason). I’d much rather root for a young, rebuilding team with a bright future than for one without much present or future. Unfortunately, if they don’t rebuild, that’s all we’ll have.