Looking towards the future

5 05 2008

After the Houston series, I began to think about how the Brewers will look a few seasons down the road.  How many years do we have before our core hits free agency?  Interestingly enough, a post on Brew Crew Ball offered a look at this same topic.  I’ll add a couple different things though.  I wrote this article a little off the cuff, so I may have forgotten a couple of prospects or different scenarios.  It will, however, be a good little summary of what the Brewers have in the foreseeable future.

  • J.J. Hardy – arbitration eligible 2008-2010, FA in 2011
  • Prince Fielder – arbitration eligible 2009-2011, FA in 2012
  • Corey Hart – arbitration eligible 2009-2011, FA in 2012
  • Rickie Weeks – arbitration eligible 2009-2011, FA in 2012
  • Bill Hall – signed through 2010 w/ club option for 2011, FA in 2012
  • Ryan Braun – arbitration eligible 2011-2014, FA in 2015
  • Yovani Gallardo – arbitration eligible 2011-2014 (I believe), FA in 2015
  • Carlos Villanueva – arbitration eligible 2010-2013, FA in 2014

As roguejim points out on BCB, it appears that 2012 will be the season where the core of the 2008 Brewers will walk.  What will the Brewers do?  What should they do?

First of all, if the Brewers want to have any hope of building a perennial winner, the organization cannot hand out big contracts that will handcuff the team for years to come.  Jeff Suppan got one of those deals.  It is not team friendly.  The Brewers cannot make a habit of signing players to long-term deals.

This is why I am wary of giving players like Ben Sheets and Prince Fielder long-term contracts.  People are being incredibly short-sighted with Sheets.  I understand he is a bona fide ace when in the rotation, but that is never a certainty.  Someone like Soup is making $10M per year.  You can only imagine what Sheeter would cost the Brewers.  They cannot set aside that type of money to an unknown entity.  Yovani Gallardo will be around to take up the ace position in the rotation, so Brewers fans should not fret too much.  Jeremy Jeffress is an intriguing arm in the farm system that could make a large impact in the rotation in just a couple of years.  Zach Braddock is more of a long-term project, but his arm is one to watch.  He’s a lefty that could step into the rotation in three or four years.  The Brewers also have a boatload of picks in the first three rounds of this seasons draft.  Jack Z will most likely draft a couple of college arms that can rise quickly through the system.  Ben Sheets will certainly be missed, but the Brewers cannot afford that price tag.

How about Prince Fielder?  Surely there is no one in the farm system that can replace that beast.  I will grant that point.  Prince is a special player, and a leader in the clubhouse.  If anyone would be worth a long-term deal, it would be Prince.  That is, if we were someone like the Chicago Cubs or the Atlanta Braves, he would be worth that type of contract.  The Brewers are a team that needs to build its core from within, and players like Prince Fielder allow Doug Melvin and Jack Z to develop a deep farm system.  When 2011 comes around, Prince can bring in four or five elite prospects and major league ready players.  Look at what Seattle gave up for Erik Bedard.  Do you really think the price of an elite player will dwindle by 2011?  The price may actually get steeper.  Prince will demand somewhere around $15-17M per year, and the Brewers can definitely not afford that contract.  The Brewers must get prospects for Prince.  They must replenish the system when they have the chance, especially when you have a player like Mat Gamel or Matt LaPorta that can step in to fill the void.  I’m sorry Brewers fans, but Prince will have to go.

J.J. Hardy and Bill Hall will be the first players that will give Milwaukee a difficult and delicate situation do deal with.  Hall looks to have found a home at third base, but his average leaves a lot to be desired.  Is he worth that $9.5M in 2011?  Is he worth the money when players like Mat Gamel and Taylor Green will be waiting in the wings by 2011?  If Bill can raise his average, the answer is a resounding yes.  That is a big if, however.  The Brewers organization may even look to trade Hall if Gamel can improve his defense at the hot corner.

J.J. Hardy, on the other hand, presents a much more difficult decision.  He is an absolute fan favorite, especially amongst the crowd that has two X-chromosomes.  Hardy is a fantastic defensive player, even if his range is a little limited.  His throws are right on the money consistently.  Fans never have to hold their collective breath when he fires the ball to first.  Besides his offensive explosion last year, however, Hardy has not proven that he can cut it offensively at short.  He is a dead pull-hitter, and prolonged slumps are not foreign to J.J.  Alcides Escobar will also make this decision more difficult.  His defense is better than J.J.’s, but he has much less power.  Melvin and the Brewers organization love Escobar at short, so his big league career is all but a foregone conclusion.  If I had to make a decision, I would trade J.J. when he is in the midst of a hot streak at the plate.  It would not be a popular move, but teams would give up a lot to get a young shortstop like Hardy.  Alcides is perhaps a year away from the big leagues, and Abraham Nunez or Craig Counsell could provide a stop-gap until then.  Hardy is the most expendable amongst all these players, and Melvin would be wise to make a move with Hardy before his stock goes too far down because of his lack of offense.

Rickie Weeks will ride out his time in Milwaukee.  I have no idea how his tenure will end, as he has the talent to be an All-Star second baseman.  He has not been able to turn that talent into consistent success at the big league level, however.  The Brewers have no one on the horizon that can play second base exceptionally well.  Callix Crabbe appeared to be promising, but the Brewers lost him to San Diego in the Rule 5 draft this season.  The farm system does have Michael Bell, who is a power-hitting second baseman that reminds me of Dan Uggla.  He strikes out too much and needs to improve his defense, but he can hit the long ball.  Eric Farris will be interesting this year though in his first season of professional baseball.  He could be someone to watch as a potential successor to Weeks at second.  Until then, the Brewers will deal with the ups-and-downs associated with Rickie Weeks until he becomes a free agent in 2012.

The outfield appears to be a strength for the upcoming years for the Milwaukee Brewers.  Corey Hart and Ryan Braun are not going anywhere anytime soon, and they are both excellent candidates for a long-term contract that would buy out their arbitration years.  I would not advise locking these players up to a long-term contract, but it could work out in the team’s favor with Ryan if they can get him locked up in the upcoming months.  At that point, Ryan would be more apt to take a pay-cut down the road in favor of getting paid more in the coming years.  The team could then buy out one of his free agency years.  Corey Hart could also be a candidate for this type of deal, but he is a little too close to his arbitration years to work out in the team’s favor.  Plus, the Brewers farm system is chock full of solid outfield prospects.  Matt LaPorta is the obvious candidate for an outfield gig, but so is Tony Gwynn Jr. Further down in the system, Hernan Iribarren made an impressive debut for the Crew last month.  He is a scrappy hitter that could make a run at a big league job next season.  Caleb Gindl and Lorenzo Cain are also intriguing prospects that could be elite players in a couple years.  In short, there are plenty of options for the Brewers in the outfield.

Now on to the pitching.  Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Villanueva, and Manny Parra will be with the team for the foreseeable future, but only Yo has proven to be a solid major league pitcher.  Parra and Villanueva certainly have the stuff and the make-up of a good major leaguer, but they have not proven it yet.  The farm system is a little concerning when it comes to pitching though.  Jeremy Jeffress and Zach Braddock are good arms in the farm system, as I said earlier, but they are a couple years away.  Zach Jackson has proven to be a bust thus far.  I do not see him in a big league uniform in Milwaukee, unfortunately for him.  He is a lefty, so Milwaukee will give him a chance though.  A pitcher to watch is Steve Hammond in Double-A Huntsville.  His strikeout rate has skyrocketed this season, and success has followed closely.  He has a developed arm, as he is 25, so the Brewers could push him up the ladder in the next year or so.

There are a couple of relievers in the farm system that could make some noise in Milwaukee in the coming years.  Both Omar Aguilar and Luis Pena are flame-throwing pitchers that are rising up the system.  Pena may get called up this season, and Aguilar could see Double-A in the coming months if his success continues.  A prospect who is more of a sleeper is Tim Dillard.  He has recently moved to the bullpen, and he has found success in Nashville.  He is a durable reliever that has good stuff.  Tim could become a reliever in the mold of Salomon Torres, someone who is durable and effective.

Besides those prospects, there is not too much on the horizon for Milwaukee concerning pitching.  That is one reason why trading J.J. Hardy could be such a beneficial option.  It could bring back a proven starter, while still securing a couple top prospects.  Milwaukee’s organization and Brewers fans cannot be shortsighted and try to win now and mortgage the future.  If they play their cards right, they have a chance to be a small-market team, yet compete for years to come.  They may just need to follow the mold of Oakland’s Billy Beane and make a couple of unpopular moves to secure success in the future.  The Brewers have the personnel to make such a franchise, they just need to put the plan into motion.

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9 responses

5 05 2008
Kyle

i agree with much of what you wrote… the sad part is, this year is the year that everything came together, after building for 5-6 years… but with our ace gone for the year, gallardo, and sheets all but gone next year, it looks like this is the year we need to do it… the season is still early, but I don’t think the way things have gone thus far give many fans the confidence that we can pull it off.

If we end up trading away our studs, it will still be a few years before those players hit their peak… and everything will have to go right it seems to make the playoffs in 2013 again…

5 05 2008
brewersnation

I agree kyle…but to a point. We will not need to trade away our studs until 2011. I do favor trading away Hardy sometime this season, however. If we can use the players we have now, trade them away incrementally, we will have a steady flow of talent coming up through the system to fill in the holes made by free agency. Then, we would have the money to fill out the roster with veteran players like cameron, suppan, and counsell. It’s a difficult job for sure, but it’s the best hope the Brewers have.

I am by no means saying that we should sacrifice the coming years. We have the talent to make a run now and in the next couple of years. the problem is that the Brewers do not have the luxury of trading away its future starters in LaPorta and Gamel to pay for a one year run. I want to be a fan of a perennial winner, not just a one-and-done type of team.

5 05 2008
gobrewers

trading hardy could be a useful trading chip for the season. plus, counsell or nunez would get another left-handed bat in the lineup. hardy has been brutal.

6 05 2008
Al from Milwaukee

It’s ridiculous that you don’t advocate building around anyone. You advocate the Brewers being a farm system for other teams. That is ridiculous. It won’t work.

You can’t keep developing players then letting them go right before free agency. This “advice” is total bullshit.

6 05 2008
Bob

I disagree Al. Who has the Florida Marlins built their team around the last 15 years? Who have they signed to a long-term contract? No one.

Oh yeah…they’ve also won two World Series championships in the past 11 years.

The Brewers need to trade their studs for prospects when they can. Otherwise we will have another 20 years before our next winning season after 2012. Good article!!!

6 05 2008
Ryan

I know the Brewers cannot afford him, but it would be great to keep Fielder for a while longer. Doug Melvin should trade Hardy and Hart and such when the time comes, but only if he can get a good haul for them…which he should be able to.

I do not understand what the big deal is about trading studs before they become free agents. It is not popular, but it has worked with Sexson, Overbay, etc. It’s not like the Crew will be able to afford all their players after free agency hits. They may be able to sign one though.

6 05 2008
brewersnation

I would agree that one player could be built around. Prince Fielder would certainly be a candidate for that. The problem is that four or five elite prospects would be very difficult to turn down for Prince. It’s trades like those that can replenish your farm system for a couple of seasons.

Al, would being a farm system for other teams like the Yankees or the Red Sox be all that bad? Would getting prospects like Phil Hughes, Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson, and Jacoby Ellsbury be all that bad? If I can get four players like that for Corey Hart or Prince Fielder, you take that right away. Especially when you have someone to step in afterwards like LaPorta or Gamel. I’m not saying it would be a popular PR move…

7 05 2008
Looking towards the future (pt. 2) « BrewersNation

[…] towards the future (pt. 2) 7 05 2008 After the article I wrote concerning the future of the Brewers franchise, I decided to take the discussion a step further.  How about projecting a lineup for […]

12 08 2008
Right Field Bleachers » Blog Archive » In the News (5/5)

[…] BrewersNation and Brew Crew Ball look to the […]

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