We know in one sport that the state of Wisconsin likes to hold itself up as a beacon of “the right way” and “what football should be.” It’s nauseating as fuck and hardly true, as the career of the greatest QB of all-time goes pretty much to waste. And really, their baseball team should be more of an example to others than that. At least in one sense.
Most teams, or owners to be precise, think the way to the mountain top is to dive for the valley first. Sell off anything that’s not nailed down, acquire prospects and pool money, get high picks in the draft, take three-four years, and presto. You’re the Astros or Cubs. It worked a couple times, so many assume this is the only way. Of course, owners like this plan because they can promise fans they know what they’re doing and the reward is coming while also getting to spend nothing for a few season and soak in the profits.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, and the Brewers have proved it. You can become a contender, such as the Brewers are, by just being shrewd and making your move at the right time. You don’t need a slew of top-three picks to reconstruct a system.
The Brewers have never really bottomed out this decade. Since winning the Central in 2011, they only had one truly bad campaign, which was in 2015 where they only managed 68 wins. Which is the season that got David Stearns the GM job and kicked Doug Melvin upstairs.
But Stearns was able to profit off the work Melvin had done before, as soon the system was producing Kyle Davies, Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, Domingo Santana (before he returned to the Earth’s core, apparently), Josh Hader (the latter two in a trade with the Astros). Most of these players would form the backbone of the recent Brewers teams that have been so annoying.
And it was Melvin’s picks in the past that made up the haul for Christian Yelich from the Marlins, which of course is the biggest move of all. Stearns sensed there was something there for the Brewers have an 86-win campaign in 2017, and struck. He also signed Lorenzo Cain, who was a down-ballot MVP candidate last season. At no point did the Brewers have to spend three or four seasons making up the numbers, making players up, and making everyone in Milwaukee go do something else.
More teams should probably do this, because it’s less torturous. The problem is, the boom window might not last as long, and that’s what the Brewers could be finding out.
They have little option going forward but to keep going for it, as Yelich only has three years left on his contract (two years plus a team option that is most certainly going to be exercised). As we said with the Packers, you don’t waste a perennial MVPs prime. But Cain is aging quickly, the pitching staff is in shambles, and as they’re finding out this year, a team built on a bullpen has the rockiest of foundations.
They’re also not terribly young in the field. Keston Hiura and Yelich are the only regulars who matter that are under 30. and Grandal has a mutual option in the winter so he’s no guarantee to come back (though given how free agency went for him and many others last time, he may just take the security of a paycheck). So to suggest anyone other than Hiura or Yelich is going to be as good next year is the hilt of cock-eyed.
The rotation is probably priority one, as they can no longer know what Jimmy Nelson will be and Brandon Woodruff appears to be constructed entirely of matchsticks. This team could use Gerrit Cole more than just about anyone, but he’s headed straight to Anaheim when free agency opens. Anthony Rendon would be an upgrade on the corners, though that would involve moving Moustakas to either second or first full-time. And the former isn’t really an option thanks to Hiura.
It’s also a question of how high the Brewers can go. They draw well when they’re good, and they’ve been good the past three years. But they’re already on the hook for in the neighborhood of $160M next year, and it’s hard to see them going too much higher and anywhere near $200M next season or anytime soon.
You can rebuild by patchwork and creativity. But you don’t end up with quite the base. What the Brewers do going into next season will show just how sustainable, and attractive, their option for building a team is for others.