The blood has been spilled. The carnage? A mere 68 wins against 94 losses for the Milwaukee Brewers. Fourth place in the NL Central. The fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Now, the cleanup process begins.
With David Stearns officially taking over as general manager Monday, the next chapter of the Brewers has begun. Stearns has done a deep dive into what he has to deal with and is likely to announce some initial moves Thursday. Manager Craig Counsell started his own housecleaning by letting go all but two coaches Monday.
Brewers fans are anxious as to whether Stearns feels the need to do a massive teardown of the team or whether enduring possibly one more year like 2015 can lead to a sustainable product. Owner Mark Attanasio recently said that plan will probably be revealed to the paying customers sometime before the winter meetings in December. Stearns first has to get his staff in place and then analyze the players on the roster and how they fit into his vision of the future.
Stearns has said he has been impressed with much of the personnel in the Brewers’ front office, so how much he alters the makeup there could give an indication as to his intentions with on-field talent. Massive changes could portend a massive rebuild.
The best part of what Stearns has been given is he doesn’t have any real albatross contracts. Right fielder Ryan Braun is the only player on the roster with a multiyear contract beyond 2017 as his five-year, $105 million extension kicks in next season and he is still a productive player, although he has yet to recapture his 2011 NL MVP form as injuries and a suspension for his role in the Biogenesis scandal have sapped his stats the last three seasons. Pitcher Matt Garza (two years, $25 million) is a bit more of a problem considering he posted a 6-14 record with a 5.63 ERA. Garza essentially shut himself down for the final month of the season after the Brewers told him he wasn’t going to start anymore in 2015 and he refused to pitch out of the bullpen. Garza was then critical of Doug Melvin, the GM who is stepping aside.
Stearns also has an emerging farm system in his pocket. Of the four trade-deadline moves that sent away five major-league players and brought back seven prospects, four of minor-leaguers (outfielder Domingo Santana, starter Zach Davies, starter Adrian Houser and reliever Yhonathan Barrios) made their way to The Show with the Brewers. And that doesn’t include the prize of those catches, center fielder Brett Phillips, who led the minors in runs scored.
One key to Stearns’ plan is Attanasio, a hands-on owner who likely had a hand in moves involving signing big-name pitchers in recent years to mixed results. Attanasio said he would step back and let Stearns time to make an assessment of where the Brewers are and what the plan should be in order to make the franchise one that competes at a high level on a yearly basis and sustains itself through developing and retaining prospects. As a small market without a ton of revenue yet a dedicated and passionate fan base (the Brewers drew more than $2.5 million fans this season), the franchise can’t afford major mistakes in free agency and has suffered from not consistently producing prospects who made an impact in the majors.
The Brewers have about $46 million in salary committed to players next season, not including first baseman Adam Lind’s $8 million option, seemingly a no-brainer to pick up, even if it is to trade him for more prospects. The cupboard definitely isn’t bare for the Brewers, but expecting a quick fix in order to compete with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs in the NL Central isn’t the answer, either.
Instead, Stearns and Counsell — who has in-depth knowledge of the Brewers’ farm system from his time as assistant GM under Melvin — needs to take his time and build an organization that is sustainable for years. Fans may not like some of the moves coming this offseason and another year (or two) of struggling, but the dividends will pay off with a product that will be able to replenish itself with prospects or trades, giving the Brewers a chance to be competitive on an annual basis, not just once every few years.
Sure, you can’t project a starting lineup for Opening Day 2016 when August has just begun, but with all the moves at the trade deadline, next year is what the Milwaukee Brewers are looking at from here on out. Here is a way-too-early look at where the Brewers stand going into next year:
General manager: Doug Melvin is rumored to be moving out of the GM position and more into an overseer role with the Brewers. Behind the support of owner Mark Attanasio, Melvin has made the Brewers into a stable franchise that has probably overachieved with the way it has contended over the seven seasons before this one. A move to an up-and-coming GM could help the Crew take the next step.
Manager: Craig Counsell signed a three-year contract when he took over after Ron Roenicke was fired at the beginning of May following a 7-18 start. The Brewers have gone 37-43 since (including Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs). The length of the contract was surprising, but Counsell is a no-nonsense manager who follows the trend of ex-players jumping right into the role without managerial experience at any level. His job will be tough in the final two months, but he will also see who fits best into the Crew’s future and who the problem players are.
Catcher: Jonathan Lucroy is an excellent defender who might have peaked in 2014 with his offensive production (.301 average, 51 doubles). Martin Maldonado is a career backup. Lucroy gets bonus points due to his leadership. He is the quiet fire to this team who likely works hard behind the scenes to counsel and motivate his teammates. Lucroy, 29, is under contract through 2016 with an option for 2017. The Brewers are devoid of prospect catchers, so keeping Lucroy is vital.
First base: Adam Lind has been exactly what the Brewers were hoping for when they traded spot starter Marco Estrada to the Toronto Blue Jays for the left-handed hitter. He likely won’t reach 30 homers this year, but it is a mark the Crew should expect out of him next year if they choose to exercise their option on his $8 million contract for 2016.
Second base: Scooter Gennett was given the chance to be the everyday starter entering the season after hitting .289 in 2014 (his first full year in the bigs), but his offense was so bad early in the season that he was sent to Triple-A to work on his game. Ideally, Gennett would be a leadoff or No. 2 hitter, but he isn’t a stolen base threat or have surprising power and still often sits against left-handers, which means he is more of a No. 7 or 8 hitter. His defense is passable, but Gennett needs to step up or face a platoon situation.
Shortstop: Jean Segura was an NL All-Star in his first full season in the bigs in 2013, but 2014 saw him endure on- and off-field issues. His average dipped from .294 in 2013 to .246 in 2014 and he was overall just a lack of an offensive force last year. Segura also had to deal with the midseason death of his 1-year-old son, which obviously had to affect his performance in the second half. Segura has shown flashes defensively, but also seems to have a lackadaisical way about him. Maybe it is just how he is. In 2016, Segura is likely to face competition for the starting job or a position switch. His stocky frame has prompted many scouts to say he is suited for third base, which would fill a need for the Crew after Aramis Ramirez was traded. Waiting in the wings is Orlando Arcia, who is likely to be the organization’s minor-league Player of the Year for his performance at Double-A Biloxi. Arcia already had the glove to play in the majors, but this season is showing he can be a leader offensively. I expect Arcia to be the starter in 2016, with Segura moving to third — at least the way the roster is currently constructed. Luis Sardinas is likely to also be up and be the utility infielder, giving Counsell three excellent defenders at short. Yadiel Rivera, who has split time between short and second at Double-A and Triple-A this year, could be in the mix, too. The Brewers are deep at shortstop and it is likely a place where they can deal from in the offseason.
Third base: This is the wild-card spot for the Brewers. Hernan Perez is receiving the bulk of the playing time after the Ramirez trade and he has a decent average, but doesn’t drive anyone in. He is solid defensively, a good pickup by Melvin after he was waived by the Tigers. But he is purely a stopgap solution. At this point, there are no impact third basemen hitting the free-agent market this offseason, so either the Brewers fill from within or make a trade, the latter option is more likely. As mentioned previously, I see Segura being moved to third with Arcia taking over at short. Perez becomes a utility infielder who can play first, second and third.
Left field: Khris Davis is a one-trick pony — and he hasn’t been flashing that much magic this year. His only tool is power. After hitting 22 homers in 501 at-bats in 2013, his first full season in the bigs, injuries and the hot-hitting Gerardo Parra has hit seven homers in 194 at-bats entering Sunday’s game against the Chicago Cubs. So his power has dipped slightly and his average is at .237, after a .244 mark last year. He is also an iffy defender who has a weak arm. Domingo Santana, acquired from Houston in the Carlos Gomez-Mike Fiers trade, is a power bat who hits for a decent average. Santana got a taste of the majors this year, cracking a pair of homers in 14 games. He also brings a strong arm, making him a candidate for either corner outfield spot. Like Davis, Santana will strike out a fair amount. Santana will be given a shot to platoon with Davis in left next year.
Center field: Gomez’s departure makes this a free-for-all spot. No one on the major-league roster profiles as a center fielder, but there are two prospects who could be ready to make the jump next year. Brett Phillips, the key prospect acquired from the Astros in the Gomez-Fiers deal, is a legit star in the making. He already hit for average and has speed, but now he has developed excellent pop. Tyrone Taylor was the Crew’s second-round pick in 2012 and seemed to be Gomez’s heir apparent until Phillips came along. Both will get strong looks in spring training, but Phillips — a sixth-round pick in 2012 — appears to be further advanced, understandable considering Taylor was also a highly regarded running back coming out of high school. Unless Phillips, a lefty hitter who could bat leadoff, struggles in spring training, expect him to be patrolling center at Miller Park in 2016, perhaps with a veteran backup.
Right field: Ryan Braun hasn’t been an MVP-caliber player since following up winning the award in 2011 with a similar 2012 season statistically while under the shroud of performance-enhancing drug use. Unfortunately, 2016 is when his five-year, $105 million contract kicks in. Braun has been solid powerwise this year after dealing with a nagging thumb injury in 2013 and 2014. Ideally, Braun raises his batting average to the .300 level, which hopefully would lead to a few more homers. He should be a 30-homer guy, at the least, on a yearly basis, but will struggle to get there this year, especially as the Crew struggles to finish this year and he is their offensive centerpiece. A trade would free up cash to pursue free agents, especially considering only Lucroy is deserving of an extension at this juncture.
Starting rotation: Kyle Lohse will be a free agent, leaving Matt Garza, Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson as the only locks for 2016. Taylor Jungmann, a disappointment in the minors since being a first-round draft choice in 2011, has shined since coming up in June and will be in the mix for the other two spots. Tyler Cravy and Tyler Wagner, who each had standout performances in their debut seasons, will be considered along with Jorge Lopez, who is dominating at Double-A, and Zach Davies, acquired from Baltimore for outfielder Gerardo Parra, are other top candidates, while left-hander Josh Hader will get a long look in spring training. Ideally, the Brewers are able to trade Garza in the offseason, but they go out and splurge on a No. 1 starter such as Jordan Zimmermann, a Wisconsin native currently with the Washington Nationals. A rotation of Zimmerman-Peralta-Nelson-Jungmann-Davies wouldn’t suck.
Bullpen: Not much work to be done here. Closer Francisco Rodriguez returns, with Jeremy Jeffress and lefty Will Smith in setup roles, and Tyler Thornburg, Corey Knebel, Michael Blazek and Brandon Kintzler in middle relief. Johnny Hellweg — acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the Zach Greinke deal that also yielded Segura — Wagner or Cravy could be the long reliever. Neal Cotts is a free agent and the other lefty in the bullpen, so a free-agent southpaw could be looked at.
Summary: Depending on how aggressive the new GM is — and based on Attanasio’s track record, I would imagine the GM will be smart and aggressive — a couple subtle moves and one big-ticket item could have the Brewers in the thick of things in 2016.