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

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