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Based On History, Don’t Expect a Fire Sale

HartIn his latest “Full Count” video on FOX, Ken Rosenthal gave the plight of the Brewers quite a bit of airtime, discussing the various trade possibilities surrounding the club as their playoff chances continue to dwindle. If you’re unable/too lazy to watch the video, I’ll briefly summarize:

– At this point, the club is probably going to sell, but they appear set on returning to contention as soon as possible. So, if they do deal Zack Greinke, it’s possible that they will seek major-leaguers (especially big-league pitchers) instead of prospects in return.

– Francisco Rodriguez figures to be one of the most sought-after relievers at the deadline, but the Brewers are also getting calls on John Axford and Jose Veras.

– Randy Wolf and George Kottaras are also possibilities to be moved. Depending on his health, Shaun Marcum would fit in this list as well.

Most of this we could have guessed already, but the first bullet does seem a bit curious: If the Brewers couldn’t contend after going “all-in” in 2012, how do they expect to win after selling off their ace? However, this is more or less consistent with what Doug Melvin and the Crew have been doing for the last five years – variously tearing their roster down and building it back up again, in an attempt to get as many playoff appearances as possible out of their core from the early-to-mid-2000s. 

In fact, the Brewers were in a very similar situation just two years ago, in the weeks leading up to the 2010 trading deadline. Milwaukee was left with a team that wasn’t getting it done (they would go on to finish 77-85), a lame-duck manager in Ken Macha, and a starting rotation that was the stuff of nightmares. To make matters worse, two of the club’s best bats – Prince Fielder and Corey Hart – were getting close to free agency. At that point, many people thought the best move was to try and deal Fielder and/or Hart for young pitching, if not conduct an outright fire sale.

Again, that’s not exactly what the Brewers’ front-office did: Fielder wasn’t traded, Hart was signed to a three-year extension, and I’m guessing we’re all familiar with the club’s retooling efforts the following winter and the playoff run that followed. Something similar happened in 2009, when it was clear the post-Sabathia roster wasn’t playoff material, and there was some sentiment to just tear the whole thing down and start over, as well as essentially every other recent year the club didn’t make the playoffs.

The Melvin regime has had its ups and downs, and there are numerous times the franchise looked like it wasn’t currently built for success, and would be best off attempting a full-blown rebuild. Each time, however, the Brewers front office has tried to build on the fly with whatever they had to work with, and has been surprisingly successful with it. This strategy isn’t going to work forever, but, barring an unprecedented run of winning, it looks like the Brewers are going to do it again: Even if Greinke, K-Rod, and possibly others are moved, it’s likely to be done in an attempt to gear back up for a playoff run as soon as possible, with “buying”-oriented moves resuming as soon as this winter.