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Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Keri: The Rise and Fall of the Milwaukee Brewers

“When we traded for CC [Sabathia], that caught everyone off guard [said GM Doug Melvin]. We got 3 million fans in 2008. Then we trade for [Zack] Greinke and [Shaun] Marcum, and 2011 was our best year in almost 30 years. But when you make those trades, there is a cost. You say, ‘We’ll worry about it later.’ Well, ‘later’ is now.”

What later/now means to the Brewers is a collection of organizational talent that ESPN’s Keith Law ranked next-to-last in baseball before the start of this season… Cashing in a dump truck full of highly rated prospects to make go-for-it trades played a big role in downgrading Milwaukee’s farm system. But so, too, did a talent drain of another sort: an exodus of highly regarded scouts.

[Jack] Zduriencik’s departure to take over as Mariners GM after the 2008 season hurt. But the Brewers also lost four crosscheckers who went on to become scouting directors with other teams… Though drafts can take years to bear fruit, the industry consensus is that Milwaukee has fared very poorly in its drafting for the past few years, even after adjusting for the Brewers picking later than they did when the team was a perennial loser…

By the time [owner Mark] Attanasio took over the team after the 2004 season, interest had hit rock bottom. The Brewers ranked 13th in the NL in attendance that year, while carrying a payroll below $28 million. Having made his money in investing, Attanasio drew on a lesson he’d learned in snatching up distressed businesses: Sometimes it’s best to wait and see what you’ve got before making any drastic changes. What he found was a team that on the major league level hadn’t yet brought those future stars to the fore, with interest in the existing players so low that the top-selling items in the fan store were plush replicas of the team’s sausage-race participants. As the top prospects began to make the big club and grow into key contributors, Attanasio had to decide how to proceed next. An avid reader who’d soaked up Moneyball soon after its release, he’d considered the A’s method of ditching players early, trading them before they could hit free agency rather than losing them for nothing more than comp picks. Instead, he settled on a different approach, one that had been made popular by John Hart and his young Indians teams in the ‘90s: Sign everyone you can. The owner depended on Melvin and his staff to identify those players worth retaining; after that, Attanasio started writing checks. Over the past eight-plus years, they’ve signed [Ryan] Braun, [Corey] Hart, [Rickie] Weeks, [Jonathan] Lucroy, [Yovani] Gallardo, [Carlos] Gomez, and even Bill Hall to long-term deals, buying out their arbitration years, buying out their first couple years of potential free agency, or both.

Attanasio firmly believes that the combination of winning and building a core group of players that fans could follow for more than just a handful of years has contributed greatly to the team’s ability to draw 3 million fans a year (or close to it) in the smallest market in baseball. Trading away stars, or even recognizable regulars, thus gives the Brewers owner pause. In a recent meeting with Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash, Attanasio conveyed a clear message:

“We don’t have to do anything,” he said. “We’re in a good financial position. We have a lot of good players. We have no albatross contracts. What makes the job hard is that we actually have a lot of options.”...

But behind the scenes, there’s anxiety, especially at the lower levels… The Brewers are losing, and with losing often comes change. Stay tuned.

The District Attorney Posted: July 03, 2013 at 02:46 PM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: brewers, jonah keri

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   1. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: July 03, 2013 at 03:10 PM (#4484186)
I can confirm that folks are working on career backup plans.

losing does that

anyway, solid article. thanks to the author
   2. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: July 03, 2013 at 03:20 PM (#4484199)
so far Melvin's trades have worked out in spades. other than Brantley, who is doing ok but not blowing up the world, there isn't anyone 'haunting' the brewers a la jean segura for greinke.

maybe lawrie turns it around.

but the general premise is that the brewers have repeatedly failed on first round draft picks for WAY TOO LONG. a market this size can't have that degree of dry spell. just won't work. you don't have to draft 'franchise' players but you need the corey hart/rickie weeks types to happen. meaning guys who are 3-5 war players in good years.
   3. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: July 03, 2013 at 04:43 PM (#4484302)
I was going to post what Harvey just wrote (except for the first part of #1).

I will add I was firmly in the 'go for it' camp during 2008-2011. They had a window, got into the random event postseason a couple times and came up short. The idea of gradual ascension and progression doesn't make any sense to me, particularly for clubs with small margins. It's kind of similar to the mid/small market dilemma in the NBA, treading water in that 6-8 seed range, always drafting out of the lottery, with little chance of nabbing a FA signing.

The past several years have been fun as a fan, and have helped suppress some of the bad Royster, Lopes memories.
   4. The Mighty Quintana Posted: July 03, 2013 at 04:43 PM (#4484303)
I don't follow the Brewers too closely, so I have to ask: Why in God's name have they given Yunesky Betancourt so many PA's at 1B/3B? There's gotta be somebody better out there!
   5. The Mighty Quintana Posted: July 03, 2013 at 04:47 PM (#4484306)
Wait, just checked BBREF and see that Alex Gonzalez has also played significant time at 1B/3B for the Brew Crew?!? I think they might be .500 without those 2 sinkholes.
   6. Tulo's Fishy Mullet (mrams) Posted: July 03, 2013 at 04:48 PM (#4484309)
The Yuni experiment(s) is a mystery to me. It's like the reappearance of George Mitchell anytime somebody needs a blue ribbon panel or independent commission to get involved in something. Him, again?
   7. Walt Davis Posted: July 03, 2013 at 05:01 PM (#4484315)
I don't follow the Brewers too closely, so I have to ask: Why in God's name have they given Yunesky Betancourt so many PA's at 1B/3B? There's gotta be somebody better out there!

Much the same way Ed Begley Jr. became drummer for Spinal Tap.
   8. Ron J2 Posted: July 03, 2013 at 05:06 PM (#4484324)
Ray frequently goes on about firing offenses for a GM. I happen to believe that any GM who can't do better than Yuni Betancourt at 1B should be fired. I don't care how many injuries are involved.
   9. Dingbat_Charlie Posted: July 03, 2013 at 05:16 PM (#4484329)
After losing Hart, Gamel and Green they just said screw it.
   10. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: July 03, 2013 at 05:37 PM (#4484338)
i have explained the first base situation about 25 times but if these are legit inquiries and not just meant to be snarky here are the key facts:

--hart was targeted to be out for 2 months or so returning no later than mid-june
--gamel went down
--green went down
--hunter morris did not impress
--khris davis was a disaster at first base when they experimented in spring training

so that's four backup ideas that failed. four. 1......2...........3...........4

doug began calling around well before options 3 and 4 were in test phase. gms wanted the world for even the most ordinary guy. and by all accounts there was no freely available talent that the brewers thought would be a fit.

betancourt was known and again, the crew thought hart would return and really figured gonzalez would be the primary

gonzalez never bounced back from his injury of last year, betancourt had an early hot streak. brewers figured they were ok with hart due back

then hart's target date suddenly got fuzzy and when doug began sending out feelers the price skyrocketed across the league

so he picked up francisco who has slowly been getting more at bats

the excessive yuni playing time of the 3-4 weeks is totally on the manager. betancourt has been betancourt now since early may which means he stinks. but ron keeps sticking him in the lineup be it at first or third. drives everyone nuts

but as for melvin he did explore multiple options.

if a general manager is expected to have six options for a single position going into a season that is a tough standard. so he failed by that standard.

   11. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: July 03, 2013 at 05:39 PM (#4484339)
and the brewers are on a budget. i don't know if that really mattered with other guys who may have been options but i did want to mention that management has been very clear to doug that he has x dollars and no more.
   12. Walt Davis Posted: July 03, 2013 at 06:38 PM (#4484383)
I'm with Harvey but if Melvin missed on anybody obvious it was Overbay. He was released by the Red Sox and signed by the Yanks on March 26th. He's got a history in Milwaukee although I suppose he still takes the Yanks over the Brewers. But then a call to the Sox on March 24th or 25th might have gotten it done. Or Mike Carp who the Sox picked up for cash/PTBNL on Feb 20.

But there don't seem to be a lot of AAAA 1B floating around this season. We've had the discussion before and Mike Hessman is about the only name that comes up. I'd first thought of Mike Morse but that was a much "bigger" trade than I remembered -- 3-way with Jaso to the A's and three young-uns to the Nats. None of the young-uns are supposed to be much I don't think but if the Brewers' system is as empty as advertised I don't imagine they could give up what the A's did.

It's the flaw in the notion of "freely available talent". The freely available talent is only freely available between Nov and Feb and the freely available talent is smart enough to know it's better to be January option #3 than January option #5. You get 1 shot at a LaHair type and 1 shot at an Overbay type in the offseason then usually 1 more shot in late March. After that your flexibility is very limited (except when it comes to relief pitchers, those guys are always on the waiver wire).
   13. cardsfanboy Posted: July 03, 2013 at 07:18 PM (#4484404)
But there don't seem to be a lot of AAAA 1B floating around this season.


Could have had Ty Wiggington.... :)
   14. The District Attorney Posted: July 03, 2013 at 07:29 PM (#4484413)
if Melvin missed on anybody obvious it was Overbay. He was released by the Red Sox and signed by the Yanks on March 26th. He's got a history in Milwaukee although I suppose he still takes the Yanks over the Brewers. But then a call to the Sox on March 24th or 25th might have gotten it done. Or Mike Carp who the Sox picked up for cash/PTBNL on Feb 20.
Right. Brennan Boesch, similar situation to Overbay (not that he's played 1B, but under these circumstances, who cares). Luke Scott is still kicking around and hitting acceptably. Lucas Duda would take more than nothing to get, but he is a guy whom the Mets ultimately want to trade, and if he's too expensive for you, there's Josh Satin.

I think it's simultaneously true that A) the Brewers were doomed not to get good production out of 1B this year, and B) literally the last thing you ever need to try is a guy who couldn't hit enough to stick at SS. I'm not being snarky (intentionally, anyway) to say that I can't imagine how many plane crashes it would take for that to be the best available move. Playing a bad-hitting SS at 1B is like hitting Rey Ordonez cleanup. What confluence of circumstances are needed to make that happen??? At least if my team were getting a 600 OPS out of Joe Uselessminorleaguevet, I would understand the thought process.
   15. Walt Davis Posted: July 03, 2013 at 07:35 PM (#4484417)
Could have had Ty Wiggington.... :)

And an excellent addition to the "things could be worse" file. The Cards signed Wigginton for 2/$5 after 4 seasons of being horrible and he's been horrible. If Melvin should be fired for signing Yuni at 1/$900k as his 5th option, what fate is appropriate for the moron who signed Wigginton for 2/$5? :-)
   16. Bitter Mouse Posted: July 03, 2013 at 07:57 PM (#4484428)
I was told Soriano was available. I was promised it in fact.
   17. Infinite Joost (Voxter) Posted: July 03, 2013 at 08:40 PM (#4484453)
Top-notch article, BTW.
   18. McCoy Posted: July 03, 2013 at 08:57 PM (#4484470)
I think it is perfectly understandable that the Brewers didn't have 6 options or more of viable candidates but that doesn't mean you stick with Betancourt. They had Halton down in AAA the whole year and they could have given Gandl a flyer as well. The issue is, like someone else already said, if you're going with Betancourt as a more than 1 or 2 game stopgap you've already failed. If you've burned through 5 options and bringing in talent from the outside is too cost prohibitive then you should start letting your minor leaguers that have a decent history have a go at it before you let a failed SS have a go at it.
   19. McCoy Posted: July 03, 2013 at 09:13 PM (#4484493)
But when you make those trades, there is a cost. You say, ‘We’ll worry about it later.’ Well, ‘later’ is now.”

Brewers gave up Bryson, who has yet to play in the majors, Zach Jackson, a career minor leaguer at this point, and Matt LaPorta, who ahs been nothing special, for CC.

Brewers gave up Brett Lawrie for Marcum who has been nothing special with the bat though DRS likes his defense.

For Greinke the gave up Lorenzo Cain, who has been mildly useful, Alcides Escobar, who has been mildly useful, Jeremy Jeffress, who hasn't impressed, and Jake Odorizzi who hasn't either. They also turned Greinke into Jean Segura and Johnny Hellweg.

So it looks to me like there was virtually no real cost to the Brewers for picking up these players. It looks to me like the minor leagues dried up about 5 or 6 years ago and the Brewers haven't effectively solved that problem so far.
   20. morineko Posted: July 04, 2013 at 01:59 AM (#4484691)
Halton got called up last week and started at 1B tonight. He's started in 4 of the last 5 games.

Gindl got called up too, but then sent back down to Nashville. Gindl isn't really a 1B at all, he's CF/RF, but they had him playing in left after he got called up. It, um, didn't work. That is an understatement.
   21. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: July 04, 2013 at 02:44 AM (#4484701)
Grantland probably publishes 5 NBA pieces for every MLB piece they do but if you look at their list of most popular stories there is rarely a basketball story listed unless it is by Simmons. Keri, however, gets most of his stuff on that list.
   22. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: July 04, 2013 at 03:24 AM (#4484707)
Lucas Duda would take more than nothing to get,...

Which while true is pretty funny, in that over the four seasons the Mets have played him he is below replacement level. He's so bad out there it's clear he'll never be better than that in the OF corners, but that's where the Mets have persisted in playing him rather than dealing him to a team that can use him at 1B or DH in return for a prospect, any prospect, who might be able to play the OF tolerably.
   23. McCoy Posted: July 04, 2013 at 03:38 AM (#4484708)
It, um, didn't work. That is an understatement.

We're going to burn a guy after only 23 PA?

Out of those 23 PA 5 of them came as a PH so as a starter he got 18 PA and had a .353 OBP with a ROE as well.
   24. Russ Posted: July 04, 2013 at 06:11 AM (#4484716)
Keri, however, gets most of his stuff on that list.


That's because Jonah is not only one of the best baseball writers around, he's one of the best sportswriters.

Smart? Check.
Not condescending? Check.
Writes like an adult? Check.

Sign me up, every time.
   25. Jay Z Posted: July 04, 2013 at 09:22 AM (#4484734)
We're going to burn a guy after only 23 PA?

Out of those 23 PA 5 of them came as a PH so as a starter he got 18 PA and had a .353 OBP with a ROE as well.


He was horrendous in LF. Misplayed at least 3 catchable balls. Including a looping liner right at him that he didn't even touch.
   26. donlock Posted: July 04, 2013 at 09:28 AM (#4484735)
Orioles just DFA'd Travis Ishikawa. He was having a good year at AAA. Plays a nice 1b and hits a little.How could he be worse?
   27. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: July 04, 2013 at 09:54 AM (#4484743)
post 26

speaking only for myself i was walking through what transpired feb-april which led to the ridiculously awful, dreadful, horrendous betancourt playing semi-regularly for the brewers

as to 'right now' the brewers consider 2013 a 'lost' season. i am not speaking for the front office but i am pretty sure they are not going to waste time on a fringe guy who isn't part of any long-term plan. instead they are going to give playing time to anyone in the minors with a pulse and see what happens.

betancourt gets to stay because for some bizarre reason the manager likes him and thinks he provides 'flexibility' under the delusion of playing 3rd, short and first. that betancourt is a train wreck at any position is lost on the manager.

   28. McCoy Posted: July 04, 2013 at 09:56 AM (#4484745)
He was horrendous in LF. Misplayed at least 3 catchable balls. Including a looping liner right at him that he didn't even touch.

In 5 games. His minor league numbers suggest he'll be better than a butcher with the glove.
   29. Jay Z Posted: July 04, 2013 at 10:06 AM (#4484752)
In 5 games. His minor league numbers suggest he'll be better than a butcher with the glove.


The Brewers had him in LF, which is the position he played the least of the three OF positions in the minors. The Brewers don't need help in CF or RF right now.

I don't know what happened, but he was clearly utterly lost playing LF in Miller Park. It was about on the level of your 1B dropping a throw a game. How long can you put up with that?
   30. McCoy Posted: July 04, 2013 at 10:26 AM (#4484761)
6 games?
   31. morineko Posted: July 04, 2013 at 11:51 AM (#4484801)
Gindl would probably still be with the team, however, if the Brewers hadn't burnt the bullpen in a few games in a row. They needed Tyler Thornburg a lot more.
   32. Walt Davis Posted: July 04, 2013 at 06:35 PM (#4485031)
Orioles just DFA'd Travis Ishikawa. He was having a good year at AAA. Plays a nice 1b and hits a little.How could he be worse?

He wouldn't be ... but he only just became available (and not really available yet unless you want to trade for him).

Halton I'll agree looks like he should have been ahead of Yuni on the depth chart all season. He was ho-hum at AAA last year and again this year but that seems like a better idea than Yuni.

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