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