Nine months ago, the Milwaukee Brewers were two wins away from the World Series.
Does that seem weird? Seems like that's weird. That's not to say that just a few months later, they're back in the endless Glendon Rusch void, moaning and rattling chains. It's just that the Brewers are under .500, and for the first time since they were last bad, they're without Prince Fielder. It feels like a different team. It wasn't that long ago that they were the Brewers -- a powerful team with a loaded rotation. Now they're a sub-.500 team in distant fourth. So, yeah, it's a little weird how quickly their fortunes changed.
And the team is at a bit of a crossroads right now. From Ken Rosenthal:
… two rival executives said Tuesday that the Brewers are preparing to move (Zack) Greinke if they are unable to sign him long-term before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
It seems obvious to an outsider. Don't think you can sign him? Flip him for prospects. Easy. Internet GMs are the smartest GMs, alright.
But it's not quite so simple for a couple of reasons. First off, a list of things that are going right for the Brewers:
- Ryan Braun
- Aramis Ramirez (finally)
- Zack Greinke
- Shaun Marcum
- A couple other things
And a list of things that are going wrong:
- Other things
- Most other things
It's a little lopsided right now. Alex Gonzalez is out for the year, as is Mat Gamel. John Axford has been awful, and Yovani Gallardo's control has deserted him. Rickie Weeks was bitten by Adam Dunn over the offseason.
But just as there's always, always, always a surprise contender every season, there's always, always, always a team that goes ape in the second half and resurrects their season. The Cardinals sold millions of dollars worth of t-shirts by doing it last year. And the Brewers still have a cadre of talent. They're right not to give up on the season just yet. Greinke isn't guaranteed to move.
Then there's the long-term stuff. The Brewers have a little upper-minors pitching depth, but Greinke isn't a bad pitcher to latch onto for the long-term. I mean, all pitchers are miserable bets for six-year deals. But if you had to give one out, a 28-year-old with Greinke's statistical and scouting profile is the best way to go. Teams with stellar attendance numbers like to keep those guys around to show the fans they're trying, and the Brewers are still drawing exceptionally well -- sixth in the National League, with their attendance up over last year.
The Indians used to lead baseball in attendance, you know. In this century. It might have made baseball sense for them to trade Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia, but it's hard not to think the attendance dip isn't a coincidence. There's a feel of a rebuilding project -- an aura, a vibe, whatever -- that's hard to quantify. The Brewers play in the smallest market, yet they draw very well. That's a hard balance to maintain, right there. I'm not saying that a Greinke trade is going to lead to a boycott. Just that high-attendance, small-market paradigm is a delicate ecosystem.
But you know what else would be bad for the Brewers? A hurt or ineffective Greinke, sucking up a quarter of the payroll, especially when Ryan Braun is taking up another chunk. It's not like the fans are going to keep coming back out of respect if the team is bad with an ineffective and overpaid Greinke. "They meant well! Honey, you don't need that plasma anyway. Let's get season tickets." It's not like there's an easy answer.
Just as it's not like a package of prospects is a magic salve to cure everything. The vagaries of prospect swapping have to terrify a team with a thin margin for error. One year's Matt LaPorta is another year's Matt LaPorta. And when a keystone prospect comes back, he becomes inexorably linked to the rebuilding process. If he stinks, the feel/aura/vibe blackens just a bit more. And prospects certainly can stink.
...but if they could somehow turn Greinke into some sort of Mark Teixeira-like haul ... why, they'd be set for years. Even if they could only replicate the Brett Lawrie/Marcum trade in reverse, it'd be worth it. So maybe that's a gamble worth exploring.
Apologies if you went into this thinking I had a solution or a suggested plan. No, this was more of a "Let's just stand back and watch in amazement at what the Brewers decide" article. Because it's sign him, trade him, or let him walk. And there are compelling arguments for each, especially if the Brewers can make up a little ground over the next three or four weeks. No big deal. Just the future of the franchise at stake. It will all look so danged obvious in retrospect, too.