Sometimes we just like to talk about baseball. No jokes, no fashion judgement, just plain old baseball talk. For that we call upon Al Bethke of Al's Ramblings. He talks a lot about politics (and Meghan McCain's looks) on his blog, but when he talks baseball there are few who can match his intelligence and rationality.
VINCE: The talk of the fanbase right now has moved past the point of contention in 2012 and moved firmly into "let's trade all of our assets and rebuild for the future." You know, because contending in 2013 isn't possible apparently. (Not to be too simplistic, but if Axford/K-Rod have 4 losses instead of 9 they are over .500. Just saying.) Now I'm all about maximizing value on potential free agents in the trade market, but I have my concerns.
- 85 wins is still not out of the question and I think Wild Card #2 might have 85 wins. Of course this could all change over the next week, but I still think it is possible. Just not all that probable. There have just been too many games that could have easily gone the opposite way for me to give up now.
- What message would trading Greinke and Hart or Greinke and Marcum send to potential season ticket renewals for 2013? I could honestly care less how rich Mark A does or does not get (one of the few bright spots of the Brewers play this season is the amount of cheap tickets available on Stubhub), but I have become accustomed to the Brewers having a healthy budget and I'd love to see that continue. A Yo--Fiers-Estrada-Wolf-? rotation wouldn't exactly send fans racing to the ticket window.
- And this is the big one: I think this team is clearly capable of contending in 2013, but that will be really hard to do while replacing two starting pitchers. Trading Greinke and Marcum not only raises the white flag for 2012, but possibly for 2013 as well. One can be replaced (a Fiers or Peralta for Marcum swap seems almost too easy), but both is a different story.
I think we are both contrarian when it comes to matters of the 25 man roster, but how do you see the trade market panning out? Specifically Zack Greinke. His issues have been well documented (by you), but despite those issues there is no replacement that will be found on the free agent market or in the farm system that can even come close to what he has produced. (When he is "on" at least.) Should they look to spend some money to keep him? I hate spending big money on pitchers, but this is about as similar to when CC left as you're going to get. Some pitchers are worth that risk. Well, as long as that risk isn't for too many years.
AL: I disagree that 85 wins gets it done, as four teams are on pace to win 85-87 victories, and at least a couple of them will probably add players. I used to say 90 wins should be the goal, and with that extra team in, I'd say the magic number is now 87-88. The Crew is not likely to win that many, unless they have a very good month, as they did last year. Their pitching has been better lately, and is capable of a streak, but thus far, is still mediocre. They have not been as fortunate as they were last year (they won six more games than their run differential says they "should" have). The offense, even with a handful of injuries, is above average, but not good enough to make up for the other weaknesses, mostly brought on by injury.
Here's something to chew on...much was made of the fact the Crew only used six SP's last season, and it was important to their success. Here's some more numbers...the main position players (the starting eight, plus Kottaras and Gomez) got 84.1% of the total non-pitcher AB's last year. This year, that number is 71.8%. Despite this, the team is 7th in runs scored this year, and were 5th last season. That's an outstanding job by Doug and the braintrust of plugging in pieces to keep the team from being an afterthought. Ransom, Maldonado, and Aoki have all been key additions, and none have cost much. Think how much better the bench would be with them on it, instead of starting most days.
Another thing to keep in mind, while the bullpen has not been a strength this season, how much better would it be with Estrada and Fiers in it? Last season, Narveson and Marcum were healthy, and Marco and Mike would likely be working out of the bullpen, which, as if by magic, would lower/eliminate the frames pitched by the least effective.
Onto other thoughts...I don't see Hart going anywhere, as he's the best 1B option for '13, and also allows the Crew to do a couple other things...look at Gamel as a reserve 1B/3B/LF/RF "if" he returns in time for April '13, and to look for a bat at either 1B or RF, rather than one or the other. I like Aoki, but as a RF, his subpar arm only evens out his range. While Schafer and Gindl are possibilities, they do not have a 1B prospect close to being ready.
Greinke is a very good SP, even with his lack of "toughness." However, the loss of Narveson and Marcum has magnified Zack's value. If you pencil in his replacement for a 5 ERA, and pencil in Greinke for no fall off at all and equaling his MIL production, that'd be giving him a 3.45 ERA next year, that's the difference of about 34 runs, which is 3-4 wins. Is that worth giving him five years and $100M? And if you're answer is yes, would you give that deal to another 29 year-old FA SP with a 3.77 ERA the past three seasons? I'd match Weaver's 5y/$85M deal, and give him an opt-out after 3 seasons.
VINCE: I've said before that the injuries that the Brewers have faced have been mostly to the role players and that they could still be fine without them, which is something I believe, but it's hard not to admit just how much better they could be without them. Without all the injuries and off years from a few key players I really believe this team could have been better than last year's club. Just look at what the way that this team has kept on going despite all of it. To me this season is more of a testament to Doug Melvin's value than winning the pennant last year. I think we should elect him to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame for his efforts. (Never mind. They already did.) The offense's numbers you mentioned are a great example of that, but they fail to leave out the most astonishing part of it all and that's the fact that they are doing it all with sub-replacement level numbers from Rickie Weeks. The fact that this team is 7th in runs scored with Weeks posting a .610 OPS is nearly beyond comprehension for me. You really have to wonder how good the offense could have been if the Rickie Weeks we've grown accustomed to showed up this season. Would it have been enough to pick up a few games? Maybe. (Which is not to say that he still won't, just that by the time he possibly does it will probably be too late.)
I really love your ideal offer to Zack Greinke. 5/$100 is a big no for me, but 5/$85 with an opt-out is at least a conversation for both sides. Unfortunately it makes too much sense for both to ever happen. It's always about the most years and there are few agents who would risk their client on a five year deal when they know they can get a seven in the open market. Zack seems like a pretty self aware guy and I would hope he realizes that Milwaukee is the best situation for him, but I can see the other side of the coin too. Getting paid is getting paid.
Moving on, what do you think will happen if/when the Brewers do decide to sell? You've already ruled out Hart (which I agree with, btw), but what about the rest? K-Rod seems almost surely to be dealt and hopefully we can get back more than we gave up for him. Nyjer probably won't bring much, but I could easily see him moved. Would the Brewers dare to trade both Greinke and Marcum? Can they get a CC-esque package for Greinke? More importantly, can they get anyone who can help the club in 2013 if they do?
AL: Marcum and KRod would be the big ticket items, and may be more likely to be dealt (if healthy) than Greinke, as Zack would bring back draft pick compensation, and the Crew has shown no interest in extending either. Marcum has a better ERA the last two and three seasons, and has a 3.50ish ERA since 2008. He also does not bring with him baggage of being weird or happily talking of giving a less than earnest effort while being paid a bijillion dollars in KC. He might bring 90% of what Greinke does, if he can prove he is healthy. KRod will bring more than a normal set-up man, due to his name and closer experience. Morgan has value, but it's limited due to his odd behavior, as some teams will not touch him (similar to Greinke, actually). That said, the Crew has Aoki and Schafer, and have less use for him as any team in the game. I also would not rule out lesser trades involving Ransom, Kottaras, Loe, and Parra...teams could ask, and if they get into full sell mode, they will look at '13 and not worry abut who is not in the plans.
Could they get a half-dozen prospects for them? Sure. Could a couple of them be ready as early as '13? Possibly. Mark A will likely pick up salary if it means getting top prospects back, as he's already budgeted for this year's payroll. Doug will look for young arms, a young SS, and some doubles/HR pop. They just mentioned on Fox that TEX is not messing around, and had a scout watching Greinke in Cincy. They have a great young SS in Andrus, so if they have one who is blocked...it might be a match.
VINCE: Oh, you mean like Jurickson Profar? Possibly the #1 SS prospect in all of baseball? We can dream, Al. We can dream.