Posted by Steve
It’s getting to be that time. The baseball off-season is upon us. Baseball’s off-season is, without a doubt, the most entertaining off-season in major U.S. sports. Trading is rampant, and we usually see at least one three-team deal. We’ve already had our first major trade of the year. The GM meetings are underway, and the Winter Meetings are just a couple weeks off. Ohhh boy.
As far as the Brewers are concerned, they could go in any number of directions. Trade Prince Fielder or keep him? Trade prospects or target them? Heck, there’s even been rumblings of Ryan Braun being available, though I’d be shocked if he was traded.
Most people will say the Brewers’ most glaring weakness in 2010 was their starting rotation. As is often the case, most people are wrong. Ha, just kidding… But I don’t actually think their rotation was their biggest problem. Their pitching was below average, but it was made even worse because of their awful defense.
The Brewers had the biggest gap in the National League between their starting rotation’s ERA (4.65) and their starting rotation’s xFIP (4.40). xFIP is like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) except it “normalizes” it based on the average number of home runs allowed per outfield fly. Theoretically, this should be a better predictor of a pitcher’s future ERA (Explanation taken from The Hardball Times).
Anywho, all I’m saying in that long-winded paragraph is that the pitching was made worse by the Brewers’ terrible team defense. Fielder, Braun, Hart, and McGehee were all well below average. At least one of those players needs to be replaced with a defensive upgrade, or the pitching won’t look great next year either.
The Brewers had enough problems last season that they could conceivably trade Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, hoard young players, punt 2011, and reload for 2012. At the same time, the division looks to be quite winnable. The Brewers have a lot to improve upon from last season, but at the same time, a few shrewd moves could put them right back in contention. There are many scenarios, but the main issue this off-season revolves around whether they hold on to Fielder. Let’s look at each scenario.
Prince Fielder is traded
Let’s say Fielder is traded–something most media members seem to expect. We have to assume the Brewers will get a MLB-ready pitcher from this deal, presumably a fairly young one. The question then becomes: Who will replace Fielder? Do they move Mat Gamel or Casey McGehee to first? Do they sign a free agent first baseman, say, Derek Lee, to replace Fielder? Or do they go a bit further outside the box and move one of their below average defenders in the corner outfield, Ryan Braun or Corey Hart, to first base? And if they do that, do they try and break the bank for Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford? Doubtful, but the Brewers do have a good chunk of money to spend this off-season.
Prince Fielder is kept
Let’s say the Brewers don’t find a deal they love and decide to hold on to Fielder. How, then, do they acquire pitching? Do they try the free agent route again? That hasn’t worked very well for them in recent years. They’re not going to be serious players for Cliff Lee. Hiroki Kuroda was someone I would have loved to see in a Brewer uniform, but the Dodgers just re-signed him. Still, there are possible values out there: Carl Pavano, Bronson Arroyo, and Vicente Padilla were all better than everyone on the Brewers but Yovani Gallardo last season. There are also some great buy-low candidates: Brandon Webb, Javier Vazquez, Erik Bedard, or Justin Duchscherer could bring real value.
Otherwise, there’s the trade route. But if not Fielder, who do they trade? Rickie Weeks has great value, but Brett Lawrie isn’t ready quite yet to fill in at second. Please no McGehee at second; he was bad enough at third. They could trade Braun and presumably get a great pitcher back. Braun, however, is a great hitter made even more valuable by his team-friendly contract. Plus, the Brewers would be faced with having neither Fielder nor Braun in 2012 and beyond. Other candidates for a trade would be Casey McGehee, Mat Gamel, or any of their prospects.
So, what will happen?
All we’ve really done so far is discuss endless possibilities, and that really only muddled the situation. Now that we’ve been over the different possibilities, I suppose you want to know what will actually happen. Here’s what I’ll call…
Steve’s best guess
If someone for some reason held a gun to my head and forced me to say whether the Brewers will trade Prince Fielder this off-season, my answer would actually be no. I could certainly be wrong, but I just don’t expect them to get the value they want for him. He’s only got one year left, plays the easiest position on the diamond, and teams have other viable options at first base on the free agent market. If yesterday was any indication of what a slugger with one year until free agency is worth, things aren’t too encouraging. Dan Uggla was more valuable than Prince Fielder last year (based on positional value), and all the Marlins got was Omar Infante and Mike Dunn (a promising-looking pitcher but only a reliever). If that’s the return the Brewers are looking at for Prince, I really hope they’d pass.
Instead, I’m guessing they hold on to Prince and use prospects to trade for pitching. My guess is Brett Lawrie is as likely as anyone in the Brewers’ organization to be dealt. He’s a great positional prospect, yet he’s expendable if the Brewers re-sign Rickie Weeks. Lawrie can be used as a main piece to acquire an impact pitcher.
I might as well throw out my dream scenario. Notice I said dream scenario and not pipe dream, because I believe it’s quite attainable. If I’m Doug Melvin, I’m making a serious run at Zack Greinke.
Here’s why I really think it could happen. First, it’s been reported that the Royals are listening to offers. Dayton Moore (incidentally, a bad GM) has admitted that he’ll need to trade Greinke if they can’t work out an extension. Secondly, Doug Melvin has shown he’s willing to trade elite prospects for elite pitchers. Obviously there’s CC Sabathia, but there’s even the deal with Toronto last year for Roy Halladay that Halladay vetoed; you can bet Lawrie was in that deal. Third, it could happen because there’s a good chance Greinke would allow it. He has the ability to block a trade to 20 teams. Normally that would mean Milwaukee would be out, but it has been widely reported that Greinke has no desire to pitch in New York or a big market. Finally, the Brewers can afford his $13.5 million contract each of the next two seasons while other small or mid-market teams may not be able to.
Those are all things working in the Brewers’ favor with Greinke.
So, here’s my dream off-season that’s so dreamy that it will never come true:
- Keep Prince Fielder unless you get blown away. Re-examine a trade at the trade deadline.
- Send a package that includes anything up to both Brett Lawrie and Jake Odorizzi as the main pieces for Zack Greinke. If they prefer Mark Rogers or Jeremy Jeffress instead, fine. That’s a ton to give up, but the division is winnable, and neither Lawrie nor Odorizzi will contribute next season at the major league level.
- Extend Rickie Weeks, as he will now be needed long-term with Lawrie gone.
- Sign one of the free agent starters I mentioned above to a short-term contract.
- We can’t forget about improving the defense. With Braun and Hart locked up long-term, and Fielder sticking around one more season, that means McGehee. Oh, by the way, Bill James has his 2011 projections out. His line for Casey McGehee: .282/.339/.451. His line for Mat Gamel: .287/.359/.469. Looks like I’m not the only one who prefers Gamel. Trade McGehee for the best value you can get, whether that is something at the MLB level or to replenish the farm system.
That leaves the Brewers with essentially the same good offense as 2010, except for Gamel in for McGehee. It gives them a starting rotation of:
4. Mystery Free Agent
The only downside is my scenario doesn’t improve the defense as much as I’d have liked. Still, it does switch out the slow-footed McGehee for the rangier Gamel at third.
That team is drastically better than last year’s and would certainly contend in the NL Central.
So, hop to it Doug. I’m sure it’s that easy, right?