150 flippin’ days the Milwaukee Brewers sat atop the National League Central Division. 150 days of #BruceLeeFocus. 150 days of looking like an October lock. 150 days of
We all have had bad days…the days where absolutely everything goes wrong. Try a bad month, a bad 40 days. I guess I can’t provide a better analogy for the Brewers’ catastrophic September because the collapse was something of unspeakable ridiculousness. So soon enough, the wheels came off. October aspirations were derailed by an almost unprecedented collective offensive slump and an 11-25 finish to the season. The Milwaukee Brewers could do no right. Hitting with runners in scoring position was a foreign language. Surely, that would be one of the biggest pitfalls of a team that at times struggled to put the ball in play and swung at unhittable pitches, and had the postseason been reached, an early exit most likely would have been in order for the very same reasons. But postseason baseball is indescribable, and unearthing memories from 2008 and 2011 will never cease to bring goosebumps. The 2014 Milwaukee Brewers had every opportunity to be mentioned in the same breath as those teams, but failed, dare I say, pathetically. When such a collapse of epic proportions occurs, the finger-pointing, of course, ensues. Maybe Ron Roenicke allowed the clubhouse to grow a little too loose. Possibly there was something in-house we did not know of. Or maybe, just maybe, this was an average baseball team the entire time whose ice cold September was evened out by a scorching hot April? The latter is the correct answer if you’re playing along. In regard to the team’s prospects for the 2015 season, I foolishly dwelled on 150 days, figuring the Crew could ride hunger and a number of contract years to the promised land. Instead? The collapse parlayed into 2015, Kyle Lohse and Aramis Ramirez effectively wrote their career eulogies, and the season was over seemingly before it began, which basically left Brewers fans awaiting the end of July since almost Opening Day. A depleted Major League team. A depleted Minor League system. Here we are. It’s August. The deed of selling is partially done, with more deals to come during the month’s waiver period and/or this upcoming winter. The final days of July provided Brewers fans their first sliver of optimism in nearly a calendar year. Four deadline trades garnered a seven-prospect return, two of which we will see in September, with Doug Melvin not settling for less than high upside guys at minimum. The uninformed fans were upset with specifically the Carlos Gomez trade. The intelligent fans understand the process. If you were happy with what was accomplished at the deadline, good, you should be. Replenishment of the farm system was necessary for survival. Every organization, every sport goes through a rebuilding phase. Everything is cyclical. It’s the Brewers turn, so why not embrace it? Who’s ready for nightly minor league scoreboard watching?
The headliner deal, of course, saw Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers, better known by OOWF as Miguel Fuegos, shipped to Houston in exchange for a four-prospect haul, highlighted by the then-#2 prospect in a deep Astros farm system, outfielder Brett Phillips. Gomez, who hits free agency following the 2016 season, was effectively dealt for his replacement. Phillips, whom many prognosticators see as the prize of the trade, is described as being a potential five-tool player at the Major League level, although not as toolsy as GoGo. However, with greater discipline and overall balance in Phillips’ favor, his big league production should match that of Carlos Gomez, but let’s pump the brakes. We’re a few years away. The present-day benefits from this blockbuster swap lie in acquired Dominican slugger Domingo Santana (yes, another outfielder). Brewers fans should look forward to seeing Santana’s bat in the lineup a good bit in the month of September. He has already seen two Major League stints in his career, one of which was an 0-19 faceplant in 2014. Don’t fret, his 2015 punch-in with Houston was much more successful. Signed as a 16 year-old by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, Santana, now 23, was the player-to-be-named-later in the 2011 deal sending Hunter Pence to the City of Brotherly Love. He was, in fact, somehow accidentally given to Houston (Whaddup, Ruben Amaro?). I digress. Santana has since developed into a mammoth of a human being with monster power. In today’s era of baseball in which on-base propensity is king and the strikeout is viewed as simply another out, Domingo seems to fit right in. At the time of his callup with Houston this season, Santana led AAA in walks. His production at AAA Colorado Springs has picked up right where it left off with the Astros organization. Yet, he is the owner of an alarmingly high strikeout rate (near 30%), which leaves his range of what he could mature into anywhere from Jermaine Dye to Wily Mo Pena. No matter. Optimism is what we seek. Phillips and Santana present exactly that.
Surely everyone would have liked Doug Melvin to acquire more pitching at his final trade deadline at the helm of the Milwaukee Brewers, as seemingly every other deadline deal was centered on young arms (how fitting Melvin’s greatest rewards were position players), but the Brewers didn’t whiff. The second prospect we should see in September is Zach Davies, bartered for the red-hot Gerardo Parra. From the outside looking in, there are things that stand out about Davies, positive and negative. It is difficult to ignore his glaringly slight Big Time Timmy Jim-esque stature at 6’0”, 160. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, sitting mainly in the upper-80s. Nevertheless, he has put up nice numbers at AAA this year. Baltimore, after selecting him in the 26th round out of high school in 2011, was so fond of him that they lured him away from Arizona State with a gargantuan (relative to a 26th rounder) signing bonus, obviously saying something about his talent. Davies is a workaholic, an overachiever, defies flashy measurables with location and an out-changeup, and he projects as a four or five at the next level. Melvin, additionally, acquired a pair of pitchers in the Gomez deal who currently have shop set up in AA, most notably Josh Hader, another player originally drafted out of high school. Hader’s tall, lanky frame and Chris Sale-type delivery have assisted him to a career 9.8 K/9 IP as a professional, and his promising start at AA Biloxi provides yet another reason to want to fast forward to 2018.
All in all, the Milwaukee Brewers were winners at the trade deadline, and Doug Melvin should be the recipient of one final pat on the back. Houston reportedly did not include Brett Phillips until the Brewers included Miguel Fuegos. This was a brilliant deal for Milwaukee. Things appeared gloomy after the New York Mets, well, New York Mets’d themselves out of Carlos Gomez. A deal being completed just 24 hours later came as a shock to me, but thank heavens Melvin was reluctantly willing to part ways with the untouchable Miguel Fuegos. To the Brewers, Fuegos, already 30, is an irrelevant commodity, a smoke-and-mirrors starting pitcher with an 88 mph fastball. Yet he is a quite valuable commodity to other organizations, specifically ones such as the Houston Astros seeking a starter controllable beyond 2015. Fuegos can’t go anywhere until the winter succeeding the 2019 season, which is why the smaller market contenders were so intrigued by the time the deadline rolled around. The trade, in the end, placed a sizeable dent into achieving the goal of revamping the Brewers’ prospect pool. Phillips and Santana, combined with silky smooth shortstop Orlando Arcia and Trent Clark, the left-handed Mike Trout, are a nice foundation of sanguinity. Nothing is perfect, though. The Pittsburgh Pirates managed to coax Aramis Ramirez away for literally almost nothing (Yhonathan Barrios is Rule 5 eligible after this season). Adam Lind, whom I thought provided nice value to an American League team or the St. Louis Cardinals, is still in town. All hopes of moving him were spoiled by the Cardinals’ acquisition of Brandon Moss. I will spare the “best fans in baseball” my vulgarity. Sure, in a perfect world, every tradeable player is wearing a different uniform. In a perfect world, a high profile minor league arm is now a few short years away from bringing his electric stuff to Miller Park. But in an imperfect world, Brewers fans could not ask for much more. Jimmy Nelson has shown ace signs for an extended stretch now, finally proving his July 2014 untouchable status. Taylor Jungmann has exquisitely utilized deception to become a Rookie of the Year frontrunner and a pleasant surprise that looks as though it is going to last into the future. Khris Davis has shown a pulse with his August power surge in a desperate attempt to save his job (or boost his trade stock). See, it’s only bad if you make it bad.
This is a critical time for the Milwaukee Brewers; it’s a time of massive transition. With a managerial change at the beginning of May and the official announcement of Doug Melvin stepping aside, the overhaul is imminent. Melvin should be applauded for his tenure as the Brewers’ decision-maker. He turned Milwaukee into a respectable Major League franchise, but it is undoubtedly time to move on. Melvin is a steroid-era general manager. As a small market franchise in baseball, virtually the only way to compete is through delving into analytics, something that has been absent in the Brewers organization. Front office transition will translate into on-field transition shortly. Expect your Milwaukee Brewers to soon walk more, put the ball in play more, and strike out less. Expect Ryan Braun to move to first base to open up at-bats in the outfield. As a natural infielder, it should be a relatively easy conversion for him. Expect Jean Segura to be gone soon. Expect change. Expect a new Milwaukee Brewers. But most importantly, expect a ring in 2020. It’s all for the better, and remember, patience is a virtue.