A Complete Overreaction to the Winter Meetings

On Thursday, Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings concluded with the Rule 5 Draft. During the course of the four-day long meetings, over $500 million in contracts were given out and 79 players changed teams. The Milwaukee Brewers, however? They didn’t do a darn thing.

During a time when the Cubs and Pirates made significant moves to help their rosters for next season (in addition to the Cardinals-Braves blockbuster in November), the Brewers stood pat, seemingly content with the roster they have. The Brewers were one of only five teams that did not add a single player, and they are the only one of those teams that is coming off of a season where they spent 150 games in first place and failed to miss the playoffs.

Coming off of the extreme disappointment of last season, the Brewers need to figure out a way to win in 2015. With six players likely heading into free agency after this year, this could be the last hurrah for this core roster group before a rebuild could begin. This needs to be an “all-in” season. Ron Roenicke and Doug Melvin’s jobs are likely tied to the results of this year, and it certainly doesn’t feel as though they are acting like it.

The Brewers don’t need a lot to really solidify their team and push them over the top to the playoffs next year. Insisting the Scooter Gennett play against left-handed pitching is not one of them. The kid hit .103/.125/.128 against them last season. I get the whole “he can’t learn if he doesn’t play argument,” but why can’t he wait until 2016 to learn? There are so many platoon options on the market!

Emilio Bonifacio would be a perfect fit on this team. He hit .365/.411/.548 against lefties last year, and has a .291/.340/.380 career line against southpaws, the perfect partner for Scooter. He’s a switch-hitter who can provide tremendous versatility off the bench, which is an area the Brewers really struggled with last season. Bonifacio is a slick fielder that rated above average at all three outfield positions, second base, and third base according to UZR/150 last season, and he can play shortstop as well (although his defensive marks are less favorable). As a utility player, Bonifacio could likely be had for somewhere between $3-$4 mil per year, perhaps on a two year deal. He would be a tremendous addition.

There’s talk, however, that money could be tight. How about finding a suitor for Gerardo Parra? Parra is pegged at $6.4 mil by MLB Trade Rumors in his final run through arbitration, a pretty high price for a fourth outfielder. The Reds, Royals, and White Sox are all in the market for outfielders, with the Sox putting a specific premium on defense. No doubt the former Gold Glover Parra could be a good fit in any one of those outfields. Yovani Gallardo and Kyle Lohse are on expiring deals, and we have six viable starting pitcher options. It’s almost certain a team would be willing to make a deal for one of them.

Doug Melvin seems to insist the team’s offensive personnel are fine. With the team losing Rickie Weeks, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds, and Jeff Bianchi, the remainder of the Brewers bench combined for 0.2 WAR and a pinch hitting average of .180. While Roenicke seems high on waiver claim Luis Jimenez, he has a 1.3% walk rate in the 151 at bats in the majors and 4.5% in a six year minor league career. He hit .162 in 41 at bats last year, but figures to get significant at bats this year at first, third, and maybe even second. There’s a reason the Angels cut him loose. A championship team should have a proven, veteran bench.

Melvin is convinced that the team’s only need is relief pitching. He didn’t add a single reliever, however. While top rated arms like Andrew Miller and David Robertson ended up out of the Brewers price range, the Brewers could have at least checked in on guys like Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo, etc. Even when the Brewers turn came up in the Rule 5 Draft, with players like Logan Verrett still available, the Brewers declined to make a pick. They could’ve brought someone into the fold for a miniscule financial commitment, someone to at least compete for a spot. They have taken players in the past and returned them. Why not take a low risk, high reward flier on someone? While it may be true that there have been relief bargains found late in the offseason previously, this team should be more aggressive to improve on a bullpen that was 15th in baseball in ERA, had the second highest home run percentage, and ranked 20th overall with a measly 1.9 WAR. The Brewers even admitted how that their meetings were so quiet that they didn’t generate one single rumor. Should that be acceptable?

Look, 2015 is going to be the last decent chance the Brewers might have for awhile. After the bitterly disappointing end to last season, this team should be taking a more aggressive approach to win it all. While the Lind trade was nice, there needs to be more. It’s so plain to see what the Brewers need to become about as complete a team as one can be. It’s nothing major, really. It’s not a blockbuster trade or a $100 mil free agent. A utility infielder that hits lefties well, a 1B/3B type that hits lefties well, and some solid relief pitching (another lefty for certain) will push the Brewers over the edge. It’s simple, Doug. Take some action!

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

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A Blockbuster Proposal

The Cincinnati Reds head into this offseason on the heels of a disappointing 76 win season in 2014. Coming into this week’s Winter Meetings, the Reds’ highest priority is to find someone to man left field in 2015. GM Walt Jocketty has been on record saying that the Reds will have to move payroll in order to add another player, and that could come from the rotation. With four pitchers entering their final year of control, it is believed that Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon could all be available for the right price.

With six players on one year deals, 2015 has all the makings of an “all-in” season for the Milwaukee Brewers. GM Doug Melvin has been relatively quiet this offseason, his only big move being the acquisition of half of the 2015 version of the first base platoon, Adam Lind. That’s not to say the Brewers aren’t open to making moves, however. Doug has a history of making unforeseen deals during all-in campaigns (Sabathia, Greinke), and the rumor mill has the team in the market for pitching and outfielder Gerardo Parra on the block.

As previously stated, Doug Melvin has a penchant for blockbuster deals for big time pitchers. The Brewers current rotation of Peralta, Gallardo, Lohse, Garza, and Fiers/Nelson, while solid, lacks a true ace that can shut down an opposing team. In order to try and match the upgrades the Cardinals and Cubs have made recently and become the early favorites in the division, the Brewers should pursue Johnny Cueto.

Johnny is coming off a season in which he finished second in the NL Cy Young voting after leading the league in games started, innings pitched, strikeouts, and h/9. He was second in wins and ERA, and third among pitchers in WAR with 6.4. He limited batters to a .192 average and carried a 0.96 WHIP. Despite a FIP of 3.30 last season verses his 2.25 ERA, Cueto has consistently shown he is able to outperform ERA estimators. Over the last four seasons, Johnny has bested his FIP by an average of .92, while his highest ERA in that stretch was 2.82 in 2013. Cueto is in the option year of a deal he signed with Cincinnati in 2011, and he’ll make a very affordable $10 mil in his age-29 season. Cueto is the Reds’ starter who can make the greatest impact, and therefore will command the greatest return. The Brewers, however, have a good enough mix of major league ready talent and minor league prospects to be able to sway Cincinnati to trade their erstwhile ace within the division.

Milwaukee’s package would likely consist of at least three players to send to the Reds. The headliner of the deal would be 25 year old pitcher, Jimmy Nelson. Nelson had long been a top prospect for Milwaukee, ranked Brewers #1 prospect and #87 by mlb.com prior to this season. Nelson transitioned to the majors full time in 2014, taking over Marco Estrada’s rotation spot midseason. Though Nelson struggled at times during first extended shot at the majors (4.93 ERA in 69.1 innings), his 3.78 FIP and 3.0 k/bb ratio should be encouraging. He has six years of team control remaining, with only 107 days of service time. Nelson would be able to fill Cueto’s spot in the rotation upon his departure for years to come.

Given the Reds need for an outfielder, Gerardo Parra would be the second major leaguer in the group. The Brewers have been said to be willing to move Parra, who isn’t projected to be a starter on the team next season. Parra is projected to make $6.4 mil by MLB Trade Rumors in his final year of arbitration eligibility, and carries with him a career .274/.326/.395 line and a stellar defensive reputation. Parra could fill the hole the Reds currently have in left, and when combined with Billy Hamilton and Jay Bruce (if he isn’t moved) the trio forms one of the best defensive outfields in baseball.

The final piece the trade would likely be a prospect. The Reds would likely prefer a young pitcher, and the Brewers have 20 year old Devin Williams or 21 year old Jorge Lopez to offer. Williams, the Brewers #6 prospect, has been described by mlb.com as having possibly having the highest ceiling in the system. He is a righty that throws in the low 90s (with room to add more velocity as he grows) and struck out 66 in 66.1 innings in the Pioneer League in 2014. Lopez, the Brewers #8 prospect, was the team’s representative in the Future’s Game last season. Lopez is currently playing Puerto Rican winter ball, and one scout has called him the best pitcher in the league this season, where he currently sports a sterling 1.76 ERA.

There’s no doubt the impact Cueto would have on the Brewers if he were acquired. He would immediately step into the #1 spot in the rotation and give the Brewers the true ace they’ve lacked since trading Zack Greinke. This would allow the Brewers to use Mike Fiers out of the bullpen, where he has held hitters to a .192/.287/.333 line with a 2.08 ERA over his major league career. Johnny would bolster a starting staff that ranked 16th in ERA and 21st in total WAR in 2014. Perhaps Cueto, a native of the Dominican, could even play a mentoring role in countryman Wily Peralta’s continuing development.

The Brewers offseason has been a relatively quiet one so far, to the point that the team has reportedly has yet to meet with any teams or agents during the Winter Meetings. With the Cardinals getting Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden, the Pirates bringing back Francisco Liriano and AJ Burnett, and the Cubs bringing in John Lester and Miguel Montero, the Brewers need to make something happen so they don’t get left in the dust next season. GM Doug Melvin has a history of dramatic deals, and this offseason should be no exception. With the Reds needing to move as much as $17 mil in salary this offseason, the Brewers are well positioned to match the Reds needs as a trading partner and save them some money. The Brewers best possible move to bring home a World Series in 2015 would be to bring Johnny Cueto to Milwaukee.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

Rule 5 Draft Preview

With the weather getting colder, the Hot Stove is just starting to heat up in Milwaukee with the Winter Meetings starting this coming Monday. Thursday brings baseball’s Rule 5 Draft, in which the Brewers will be picking 16th. To be eligible to be drafted, a player that was signed at age 18 or younger must be added to his team’s 40 man roster within 5 seasons; a player signed at age 19 or older must be added within 4 seasons. That player must stay on the drafting team’s 25 man roster for the whole season or be offered back to the club he came from. Last season, the Brewers took Wei-Chung Wang from the Pirates rookie league affiliate, and he managed to stick with the team all season (with the aid of a mysterious shoulder injury causing an extended DL stint) and become Brewers property going forward. The Brewers have also previously hit on Rule 5 picks such as Jeff Bennett, Enrique Cruz, and Matt Ford. The Crew’s 40 man roster currently stands at 39, meaning they have a spot available to add a player. The Brewers still have issues with their roster that need to be addressed, so with that in mind, here are three prospects that would be fits in Milwaukee:

  1. Delino DeShields, Jr.                      2B/OF Houston Astros

DeShields was the number eight overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Houston Astros. He is 22 years old and was rated by mlb.com as the #66 prospect going into 2014. However, his prospect star lost some luster in a season in which he only hit .236 for AA Corpus Christi. DeShields has had issues on the field regarding lack of hustle and has been pulled from games. He also was hit in the face by a pitch on April 18th of this past season, causing massive swelling in his jaw. Delino has a history off the field, as well: in 2011 he was charged with three misdemeanors in regards to a drunken driving incident.

Despite all of this, however, DeShields is a very good offensive prospect. While his batting average last year was over 30 points lower than his career average, he still managed to produce an OBP of .346 and 54 stolen bases. Delino also played 114 games despite suffering a non-displaced maxillary sinus fracture when he took that 90 mph fastball to his jaw. DeShields has a great approach at the plate and shows tremendous patience. He has a career minor league walk rate of 11.3% and OBP of .362. In 497 career games, he has 241 stolen bases. He has a lot more pop than a normal speed guy, too; he has an ISO of .129 to this point and is the only minor leaguer with a 10+ home run and 100+ stolen base season (in 2012). He profiles as a strong leadoff candidate in the future, and only a year ago Jim Callis of mlb.com profiled DeShields as having a greater MLB future than this year’s NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, Billy Hamilton.

DeShields bats right handed and while he’s never been praised for his defense, he has experience at second base and all three outfield spots. If he is available when the Brewers get their turn, it would be a huge mistake not to roll the dice on him. Should he stick with the team, he would be an ideal platoon candidate with Scooter Gennett and his experience in the outfield could mean not having to waste a roster spot on Logan Schafer as a backup. Delino could provide meaningful security in center field, as incumbent Carlos Gomez is almost certain to leave via free agency in 2016 if he’s not traded this season, should the Brewers falter. DeShields could even turn into that prototypical leadoff hitter Milwaukee hasn’t had since Nori Aoki. With tantalizing tools and first round upside, the Brewers need to take Delino DeShields, Jr. if he is still available.

2. Mark Canha                                      1B/3B/OF Miami Marlins

Mark Canha is a 25 year old first baseman, drafted by Miami in the seventh round in 2010. Canha bats right handed, and had a monstrous season in AAA last year. In 537 at bats, Mark hit .303/.384/.505 with 20 home runs, good enough for a wRC+ of 131. His career minor league slash is .285/.375/.484 and he has an ISO of .189 over five seasons, showing his big 2014 wasn’t a fluke. He is a patient hitter with a career walk rate of 11.3%, something that is sorely lacking with the current Brewers team. Canha is more of a hit first prospect with middling defensive marks, but he has played third base and the corner outfield slots in addition to first. Mark would make sense for the Brewers as a right handed complement to platoon with and provide insurance for Adam Lind at first, being that Lind has a career .212/.257/.331 line against lefties and played only 96 games last year while dealing with a back issue. Canha could also back up Aramis Ramirez at third and even play the corner outfield in a pinch. Mark Canha could be a valuable addition to the Brewers in 2015.

3. Andrew Mckirihan                           LHP Chicago Cubs

Andrew Mckirihan was a 21st round pick in 2011 and is 24 years old. He underwent elbow reconstruction in 2012, but he hasn’t het that slow him down. As a reliever, he has a career 2.16 ERA in 121 innings pitched. He throws a fastball that runs between 94-96 mph and mixes in a curveball and cutter. He sports a nifty 1.08 WHIP and 2.6 BB/9, while striking out a strong 9.52 per 9 innings pitched (though that number tailed off slightly in 2014). What really sets Mckirihan apart is his 0.37 HR/9 mark. He in fact went all of a limited 2012 and 2013 without allowing a single home run in 39 innings over that period, and gave up only four home runs in 65 innings between high A and AA last year. With Zach Duke signing with the White Sox (for an exorbitant sum), Tom Gorzelanny becoming a free agent, and Wei-Chung Wang being sent back to the minors and groomed as a starter, the Brewers only have Will Smith as a lefty relief option with major league experience on their 40 man roster (recently added Michael Strong has only pitched one game above A level). With Doug Melvin recently alluding to the possibility of a closer by committee type situation where Will Smith could be pitching the ninth inning on occasion, adding another lefty in the pen to pair with Smith should be a high priority. Power throwing lefty Andrew Mckirihan could be an excellent candidate to slide into that role if the Brewers select him.

With the changes to the Rule 5 Draft in 2007 extending the time each team has before they need to protect players, it has become increasingly difficult to find true difference makers through this process. The three players highlighted, however, would have ample opportunity not only to make the team in 2015, but to be significant contributors to the Brewers. For a team with roster needs, adding any one of the trio of Delino DeShields, Jr., Mark Canha, and Andrew Mckirihan would be a big step towards shoring up the depth they need to contend next season.

Statistics Courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and the Baseball Cube

Khris Davis: The Right Man in Left

With the MLB Winter Meetings looming next week, there has been plenty of Hot Stove talk centered on the Brewers here in Milwaukee. There is a large faction of fans and several sports radio hosts in the area that are convinced the Brewers need a big name acquisition; one of the ideas most bandied around is making a deal for Matt Kemp to replace Khris Davis in left field. While Matt Kemp in Milwaukee is ludicrous on many levels (a 35 year old Ryan Braun and a 34 year old Kemp making a combined $40.5 mil in 2019 for starters), the thought itself begs this question: is Khris Davis the answer in 2015?

Khris Davis burst on to the scene with a big Spring Training in 2013. After struggling off the bench in the early part of the season, Davis became the starter in left field after Ryan Braun’s suspension in connection to Biogenesis. All told, Davis hit .279/.353/.596 in 153 at bats with 11 home runs and a .316 ISO. This was enough to convince management to trade leadoff hitter Nori Aoki, shift former a former MVP across the outfield, and give Davis an everyday spot.

Davis was less impressive in 2014, but overall put together a solid first full season. His slash line .244/.299/.457 was good enough for an OPS+ of 107, and he added 22 home runs. Khris, however, walked only 5.8% of the time while striking out 22.2%. He struggled in the second half to the tune of a .229/.294/.429 line while losing starts to Gerardo Parra as the Brewers faded down the stretch. Coming off the bench wasn’t much suited for Davis, either; he was 0-11 as a pinch hitter in 2014. Some of the struggles Khris experienced can be attributed to pitchers learning Davis’s game and making adjustments; he was particularly awful against changeups with a .131 average in 2014 and a -5.0 wCH (runs above average against changeups). Still, Davis was worth 2.1 wins above replacement in 2014 (Matt Kemp was valued at 1.1 WAR).

With his first full season behind him, there is a lot of reason for optimism for Khris heading into 2015. Though pitchers were able to figure him out to a degree in 2014, there are several encouraging statistics that show Davis should be able to take the next step. First, Khris is not a player with a significant platoon split. A triple slash of wRC+/ISO/OPS shows a 111/.218/.777 line verse lefties was comparable to his 106/.212/.749 line against righties, proving Khris can be an above average offensive producer against both. While his walk rate overall was poor, it was skewed by a bad September (when the whole team was struggling) and an abysmal April. In between, he managed marks of 7.2%, 7.1%, 7.1%, and 9.9%. Across his five minor league seasons, Davis walked at a 12.7% rate, so we should expect Khris to show improved patience next year. Davis’s isolated power mark of .214 was the 15th highest in baseball last season. With scoring down dramatically over the last five seasons, someone with Davis’s ability to hit the ball far is becoming a more and more valuable commodity. Though Davis only managed a .244 average last season, it could be contributed in part to bad luck, as his .273 BABIP was 27 points lower than league average (his minor league career BABIP is an astonishing .332). One could easily expect more hits to fall for Khris next year. Finally, perhaps the most surprising fact was that Khris Davis was rated among the league’s better left fielders last season. Khris has always been considered a poor defender, but his UZR of 3.1 and DRS of 5 both ranked sixth among left fielders in 2014. While his arm is still rated as rather weak, Davis has proven he can at least be a serviceable major league outfielder.

Many fans have fallen into the trap of “big name” players. They have a recognizable name, play in a big market, and make a lot of money, so they have to be good, right? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and while Khris Davis had a flawed year in his first full season in the show, giving up on him would be foolish at this point. Acquiring an overpaid, overvalued “superstar” would require a large commitment both prospect wise and dollar wise. Putting Gerardo Parra in left would be giving the majority of at bats to a defense first player whose OPS has declined each year since 2011. Khris Davis is a young player on the rise and he has a full offseason to adjust to the ways pitchers attacked him last year. Davis is primed for a big 2015, and he will be ‘Khrushing’ balls as the right man in left field for Milwaukee.

 

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and the Baseball Cube

Medlen: A Fit in Milwaukee

Tuesday marked the deadline in Major League Baseball for teams to tender contracts to their arbitration eligible players. Teams can choose to non tender players if they believe they aren’t worth the money that the player could receive through the arbitration process. If a player is non-tendered, he becomes a free agent able to sign with any organization. One of the most notable non-tenders of the day was the now former Atlanta Brave Kris Medlen.

Kris Medlen, 29, was drafted in the 10th round by the Braves in 2006 from Santa Ana College. Medlen reached the majors in 2009, and has accrued 5.137 years of Major League service. During that time, he has put together a stellar career 2.95 ERA and 3.23 FIP over 512.2 innings. Kris isn’t without his baggage, however.

Medlen had his first Tommy John procedure in late 2010, causing him to miss the entire 2011 season. Following two successful seasons in 2012 and 2013, Kris left a spring training game in 2014 with soreness in his elbow. The result was a second Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season. Medlen made $5.8 mil last year, and given that he isn’t scheduled to return until around the All Star break, a non-tender of Medlen was hardly surprising.

Also unsurprisingly, the Braves have been rumored to be interested in bringing back Kris, potentially on a two year deal. They figure to have some competition for his services, and if the Brewers are wise, they would do their best to sign Medlen.

Two year deals for players coming off injuries are not all that uncommon in baseball. This past September, the Rays signed reliever Neil Wagner to a two year, minor league contract. Wagner, like Medlen, will miss significant time in 2015 recovering from Tommy John surgery. What are less common are players returning from a second Tommy John. Brian Wilson had his second procedure in 2012; he pitched effectively for the Dodgers in the second half of 2013 before regressing badly last season. Chris Capuano had his second procedure in 2008; he was roughly the same pitcher in the seasons following as he had been following his first surgery.

If Medlen can return to his pre-surgery form from 2012 and 2013, the Brewers would be getting a potentially dominant player. Upon returning from his first procedure, Kris posted a stellar 1.57 ERA and 2.48 FIP in 138 innings, working 38 games from the bullpen and making twelve awe inspiring starts during which time he went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA. He followed that up in 2013 with a 3.11 ERA and 3.48 FIP in a career high 197 innings across 31 starts. Despite a fastball that is nearly two MPH slower than his peak, Medlen has maintained a consistent rate of around 7.0 k/9, and is an excellent control pitcher with a career 2.12 BB/9 rate. He is tremendous at getting ahead of hitters with a 64.2% career first pitch strike rate. He finishes batters with his changeup, which has held opposing hitters to a .176/.214/.285 slash with a 34% strikeout rate.

Though Medlen will be out until at least the All Star break, he still makes sense as an addition to the Brewers. Should the Brewers find themselves in a pennant race, Medlen could be a valuable presence in the bullpen for the stretch run if he gets healthy. In 132.2 career innings as a reliever, he has posted a 2.92 ERA with a 2.82 FIP with only a 0.41 HR/9 rate. Combined with Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, and Johnathon Broxton, the Brewers could have themselves a lockdown bullpen to shorten games. Just as easily, the Brewers could falter and become sellers at the deadline; should the rebuilding process begin in 2015, Medlen could step in to fill a spot vacated by a trade. Regardless, Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo will become free agents after 2015, leaving openings in the rotation that Medlen could step into in 2016.

Given his strong track record and tantalizing potential, Medlen could be a hot commodity as a free agent. Ideally, the Brewers would bring in Kris on a one year deal with an option. This guarantees Medlen money while he is recovering but limits the risk should he not get back to health going into 2016. While it is fair to assume that he could take a pay cut from his $5.8 mil salary from last year, it may not necessarily be a large one. While that may seem like a large guarantee to give to a pitcher coming off his second major surgery, it could be well worth it if it allows the Brewers to lock him up on an option what could be a bargain rate. A one year deal worth $4.5 mil with a team option of $8 million for 2016 could be enough to bring Kris Medlen to Milwaukee. It may seem risky to invest in an oft-injured pitcher, but the upside of a career 132 ERA+ is too good for a team like the Brewers to pass up. If Medlen returns to form, he could be a home run for small market Milwaukee.

 

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference