Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rebuilding the Brewers

Can we trade Yuni for a sausage-to-be-named-later?

On Tuesday, we discussed the Brewers' empty farm and why a lack of impact talent in the minor leagues bodes poorly for the future of Milwaukee baseball--especially since the team can't afford to be big players on the free agent market. Even if the Brewers begin drafting well, it will still be years before the youngsters are Major League ready.

Still, the team can certainly make moves this summer to help expedite the rebuilding project. The draft and free agency are not the only tools for improving the roster; a series of strong trades before the July 31 deadline would go a long way toward realizing the possibility of October baseball sooner rather than later.

Fortunately, for a team this bad, the Brewers have a pretty good number of players that should fetch some decent prospects. Let's take a look at who I'd like to see moved:

Rightfielder Norichika Aoki: Aoki, who has proven to be an excellent and cheap import from Japanese baseball, is in the second year of a very affordable three-year contract. He's a good contact hitter who is patient at the plate and draws walks. There's not much power in his game, but with decent speed and defense, he wouldn't be a bad piece for a contender with an opening in the outfield. Ultimately, what makes Aoki most intriguing is that he comes cheap and will be back for 2014. The Brewers might like him back at his cheap salary for next year, but if they can get a quality prospect, they should flip him because they simply won't contend next year.

Starting Pitcher Kyle Lohse: When the Brewers signed Kyle Lohse just before the season began, I was unhappy. Not only did they give three years and $33 million to an aging veteran to play for a team I didn't expect to contend; they also gave up a first-round draft pick to sign him. But Lohse has put together a nice season, and quality starting pitchers are ALWAYS in demand at the trade deadline. It would be nice to see the Brewers get an impact prospect in return, but there is added value in shedding the final two years of the contract, freeing up money for free agency.

Starting Pitcher Yovani Gallardo: It would be tough to part with Gallardo, who has been a member of the core for so many years. Still, a deal for a proven starting pitcher could bring a quality prospect and salary relief for rebuilding. While I'd like to see a full rebuild, I think Gallardo is likely to stay because--other than a three-game stretch a few weeks back--he's been terrible this year.

Relief Pitchers John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, Mike Gonzalez and Jim Henderson: While the Brewer bullpen singlehandedly sunk the 2012 season, this year's edition has quietly put together an excellent season for a team that otherwise stinks. Any of these four guys might find the radar of a team with a bullpen opening, especially since all four have experience closing.

Bad teams like the Brewers simply don't have the lead enough to warrant paying back-end bullpen guys the big bucks. Axford is probably due for another raise next year. Rodriguez and Gonzalez will be gone after this year. And I tend to think that, given the small sample sizes of their work, relief pitching statistics are heavily subject to luck. I'd flip any of these first three guys for anybody who might contribute to the big league team down the road.

Henderson is under team control for several more years, but he's older than you'd think and could suffer the curse of Brewer closers, many of whom drop off the face of the Earth without warning (See also: Dan Kolb, Derrick Turnbow, Trevor Hoffman and last year's edition of John Axford.).

Guys who won't be going anywhere--But I wish they were: Earlier in the year, when it looked like Corey Hart would be coming back in late April, May, early June, after the All-Star Break, I though the might provide a versatile bat for a contender--and save Milwaukee some money. But with the news that he'll miss the rest of the season, the only contribution he might make to the Brewers is by signing a team-friendly short-term deal in the offseason.

And like Kyle Lohse, third baseman Aramis Ramirez is an aging veteran with a big price tag. He can still hit, and it would have been nice to deal him for a prospect and salary relief. But two stints on the disabled list mean that he'll probably be with the Brewers for the rest of the year--and probably for the rest of his contract.

There we have it. Let's hope Brewer general manager Doug Melvin is on the phones restocking the farm system. And while we wait to find out who is shipped out, who do YOU want to send packing from Milwaukee?

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