The trade deadline, a notoriously crazy day for baseball teams, media types, and fans, was as frenetic as ever this year, but the Brewers were completely left out of the action. After flipping Zack Greinke to the Angels on Friday, the club’s only real trade chips were various relievers (Francisco Rodriguez, Manny Parra, Kameron Loe, and John Axford had all been mentioned at one time or another) and, if the club was really down on their future, Aramis Ramirez and/or Corey Hart. However, the 13.03 ERA those pitchers combined to put up over the last week apparently quashed any immediate interest in them, and nothing happened on either the Ramirez or Hart front. In fact, Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt that he didn’t get a single call from another GM today.
By today, it was pretty clear that July 31 was going to be a relatively quiet day, but the absolute absence of activity was surprising – the closest thing to a rumor being thrown around today was when one of the many “MLB Insiders” on Twitter was fed a tip (as a joke, it turns out) that the Brewers and Diamondbacks were working on a trade for Corey Hart; a few people, myself included, got excited for about two minutes before everyone realized the guy didn’t know what he was talking about. However, given the current state of the Brewers, this can actually be considered a good sign.
Almost as soon as the team-appointed “window to get back into contention” passed a couple weeks ago, it was clear that Zack Greinke was going to be traded. Greinke was about to become a free agent, likely wasn’t going to re-sign with the Brewers, and keeping around for another 2 months wasn’t going to help the club at all. The Brewers simply had to try to turn two months of his services into players that would help them during a time they were ready to make another playoff run, and they did a great job with that, acquiring at least two potential impact players that could be able to help next year. Before other teams got around to watching how Francisco Rodriguez has been pitching lately, it was the same story with him: Try to wring as much value out of a player that, at the present time, can only help you sell a few tickets and gain that all-important 74th win.
In what has to be considered a vote of confidence for the club’s medium-term fortunes, Doug Melvin’s “sell” moves were entirely restricted to that scope. The 2012 season is already a lost cause, but the Brewers had a decision to make about 2013 and possibly beyond: Hold on to all of their assets with multiple years of club control and try to build a contending team out of them in the offseason, or get rid of some and attempt a rebuild that, at this point, was going to inevitably be half-hearted and poorly timed.
By deciding to stand pat, the Brewers conceded this season but refused to declare next year a lost cause. In 2013, the Brewers – in my opinion at least – will still have the raw material to build a playoff-caliber club out of. They will retain Ryan Braun, Hart, Ramirez, Jonathan Lucroy, Norichika Aoki, Carlos Gomez, and Rickie Weeks (major bounce-back candidate), with the possibility of reinforcements such as Jean Segura and whatever they choose to do with Mat Gamel. In the rotation, Yovani Gallardo, Mike Fiers, and Marco Estrada will be back for sure, while Shaun Marcum might be back, and Tyler Thornburg or Wily Peralta both might be ready to make the jump to the major-league rotation. As for the bullpen, things are going to have to regress back to normal eventually, the club still retains several stalwarts from 2011, and a shoddy relief corps is perhaps the easiest issue in the game to address inexpensively.
If the Brewers are able to retain Marcum (assuming they don’t deal him during the waiver period), I think the 2013 team is actually in very good shape – maybe a couple complementary pieces away from being able to at least contend for the division or one of the wild cards. There are certainly people that don’t think that rotation is going to cut it – they have a point and may be right – but I think that roster framework is sufficient to build around.
Had Ramirez or Hart been dealt, the Brewers would have retained enough of that core to win 75-80 games, but there’s no point in winning that many games. If the Brewers were going to truly “sell”, they would have needed to sell more than just Ramirez or Hart. They would have needed to completely tear down anything of value on the major-league roster and postpone their playoff hopes for a few years. There’s a time for that (and the Brewers wouldn’t have been crazy to do it this year), but it would make no sense, given all the effort Melvin has made to lock up his core beyond 2012, as well as the decision to demand high-level prospects in exchange for Zack Greinke.
It’s going to take a ton of work this offseason to make the Brewers contenders again next year. However, it can be done, and Doug Melvin has done it before, possibly even with less to work with than he has now. The fact that the Crew didn’t even try to sell players they didn’t have to sell has to be considered a vote of confidence in this process, and if the Brewers front office thinks so, I’m not really in a position to disagree.