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  • Questioning the Process Behind the Brewers' Offseason Trades


    Nate Palmer

    Before landing in San Diego for the Winter Meetings, the Milwaukee Brewers swung two significant trades. Individually they look like quality trades, but the current roster construction is following a strange process. 

    Image courtesy of © Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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    Before teams got to San Diego and the Winter Meetings, the Milwaukee Brewers swung two significant trades to shake up their lineup and payroll. Did they make the right moves, or will they regret sending their two best offensive players from 2022 packing? 

    Trading Kolten Wong and Hunter Renfroe was an early rumor in the offseason. In the trade of either or both players, there were two goals the Brewers needed to reach.

    1) Clear payroll to give extensions to the trio of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, or Willy Adames.
    2) acquire by trade or by way of the freed-up money impact bats to help create more offensive firepower. 

    At the end of both trades, the Brewers significantly sat in the middle of not fully accomplishing either. With the Wong trade being financially neutral, they did not fully commit to making significant room on the payroll to either add players or extend any of that core mentioned above.

    On top of that, offensively, the Brewers only created more question marks for themselves moving into 2023. If the eye is genuinely on the Brewers competing this upcoming season, it may have been better to hang on to Renfroe and pay him. Then have tried to use Wong to acquire some semblance of the pitching help they acquired in the Renfroe deal with the Angels to supplement the bullpen or add for the future. 

    Even though there is a clear path to upside with Jesse Winker, he is still a question mark. If there was a solid supporting cast already around Winker, the gamble could work, but that is not the current state of the Brewers lineup. Even though Renfroe will not be mistaken for Aaron Judge, he is very consistent. In three of the past four seasons, Renfroe has put up a 2.0 fWAR or higher, with shortened 2020 being the season in which he did not. 

    In every full season since 2017, Renfroe has also hit 26 or more home runs. His defense is also better than Winker, who had graded as a negative fielder over his career and recently when injuries helped him to a -16 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). In comparison, Renfroe put up a 6 DRS playing left field for the Brewers last season. While money was always a question mark for the Brewers with Renfroe, history shows he would have been well worth that cost, clearing his arbitration number in value according to Fangraphs in every full season since 2018. The Winker gamble seems strange when you already had a reliable bat on the roster for no more cost.  

    In fairness, we likely only know if something pitching-wise was available for Wong like it was for Renfroe. Looking at these trades side by side, it looks like a strange process for a team that outwardly says they want to extend Woodruff, Burnes, and Adames. Extensions or not, one would hope they would want to build a talented roster around that core to fully capitalize on their presence on the roster. 

    If Abraham Toro does finally turn into a .300 hitter with the bit of pop he has already exhibited in his short MLB career, this may look like an awful take. If any of the three pitchers acquired from the Angels turn into the next coming of Woodruff, Burnes, or even Freddy Peralta, it may again look like a silly take. That also means that the Brewers' front office nailed their player evaluation. That doesn't change; the process looks strange when this team, pitching-wise, looks ready to take on the postseason. As it stands, in their moves, they further weakened their most significant weakness in the lineup. 

    The Brewers still have $10 million in salary relief in this revised direction. There is also still space made for Brice Turang to come in and compete for the starting second base job. 

    Does the process feel as off to you? What would you have done differently, or do these trades seem perfect to you?

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    There's some good points here, particularly the seeming lack of a concerted offseason strategy. As another poster stated in a different thread, it's been a lot of zigging and zagging by this front office.

    However, they have still managed to clear about $20 million from last year's payroll, taking into account projected arbitration figures. That's a meaningful amount of wiggle room that they lacked at the beginning of the offseason. They just have to use it. With plenty of free agent and trade options remaining, I'm not concerned that they'll decide to pocket the savings just yet.

    In addition, one injury-plagued season in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors doesn't change the fact that Winker is a better hitter than Renfroe. 123 career wRC+ for Winker vs. 109 career wRC+ for Renfroe. Renfroe's all-power, high strikeout/low OBP approach is the exact thing that has plagued this offense over the last couple of years. Compare that to Winker, who walked in the 99th percentile last season with a well above average contact rate...

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    Moving payroll im 2023 does nothing for future payroll that extensions would cover, so number 1 is just a wrong premise to begin with.

    Winker is that potential impact bat for the lineup. Renfroe's 2022 was the best offensive season of his career with a 124 wRC+. Winker's career average season is 126 wRC+, which is 10% better than Renfroe's career 116 wRC+.  Winker's best production was a 147 wRC+ is basically 2022 Juan Soto (145), Julio Rodriguez (146), and Yandy Diaz (146). Even his career wost season in 2022 was still a 108 wRC+ and 10% better than McCutchen gave us. (98) Using WAR when discussing whether an offensive improvement is made. Since Winker is going to be the primary DH, it's highly unlikely he produces a 2+ WAR because fulltime DH lose 1.5-2.0 WAR just for being fulltime DH's. The WAR being made up is going to come from what we play in RF and 2B or depending on where Urias plays.

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    If the season started tomorrow & the current roster is what we had, I'd be very concerned.  But it's December 8th and the picture's very incomplete.  Lots of FAs are still available.  Plenty of moves remain to be made.  I'll hold any judgement 'til the season's a lot closer.

    On a superficial level, I get the concerns.  But Renfroe & Wong, for their pluses, were not spectacular by any means and had some glaring deficiencies.  I like that the Brewers at least were smart to hang onto them long enough to parlay them into other assets -- "assets" plural in both cases.

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    How can this article question our Ownership and FO?  Don't they know that this is the smartest and bestest Ownership and FO in the MLB?  I'm not just talking about now but the entire history of baseball!!!! Surely they have to be at the top of the standings of Ownership/FO not to win anything.

    Did they not hear when Arnold said they were very busy at the winter meetings?  I mean they brought a whiteboard and everything!!!  Now, why they would want to blow the ownership budget on a whiteboard is beyond me.  I mean just look at CC T-shirt he wore doing interviews.   CC and Arnold were like kids in a candy store being with all the other MLB teams.  They must be tuckered out after their trip to SD.  I wonder if they drove north to see Attanasio in LA.  Mark probably wanted to have another conversation where they sit around and challenge each other.  Nobody wants to win more than those three,  just ask them. 

    FO and ownership said at the start they want a ws....then we want to be the best we can be in 2023...to hey we put out a product.  I mean what do people expect?   They have the highest number of arbitration players in the major leagues right now, which has caught them by surprised somehow even though probably should of been planning this earlier.  They have holes to fill from the holes they created every year with there roster creations.  

    Right now ownership is concentrating on what next baseball cards they need to get and getting Norwich promoted to the EPL.  There are only so many hours in the day.

    I mean we are just the Milwaukee Brewers.  Should just be happy we have a MLB team. 

    Afterall, this is the Golden Age of Brewers Baseball.  I prefer the other title though:

    WASTING THE BEST ROTATION IN FRANCHISE HISTORY.

    Wonder if the next era will be WASTING THE POTENTIAL OF OUTFIELD PROSPECTS.

     

     

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    10 hours ago, Redd Vencher said:

    Moving payroll im 2023 does nothing for future payroll that extensions would cover, so number 1 is just a wrong premise to begin with.

    Absolutely, I hear the extension talk a lot but don't believe it will impact current year payroll much at all, It doesn't make much sense to dump payroll this year to sign guys to extensions. It is the long term commitment that is the risk for the Brewers. Yelich isn't really a bad contract for 2023 it is more that he will be taking a big chunk of the payroll into the late 2020's.

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    Like the article points out, any move individually makes sense. But when combined, they're not exactly compelling.

    One thing that chaps me about the moves is that every MLB team received a $30m payout this offseason as Disney completed the BAMTech buyout. The Brewers could have easily invested that money into Wong and Renfroe while also patching up their roster. Both players are on expiring deals that come well under the one-time $30m revenue addition.

    With all of that said, it's still only December 9th. There's a lot of offseason left and I will reserve final judgment until we're well into Spring Training.

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    @Redd Vencher hit most of the points I had when I read the article. 

    I think the base premise is off, in that I don't think the goals listed were necessarily the goals of the front office going into this offseason.

    1) They aren't clearing money to extend guys. They're clearing money because they were over budget last year and were hit with a significant reduction in ticket sales. They probably going to have a lower budget this year until they see that ticket sales come back. The two moves have combined to clear around $10M from the '23 budget.

    2) I guess this depends on the definition of "firepower." As has been noted often, the offense in '22 was in the top third of MLB (near the bottom of the top third, but still above average). The problem as I see it was that they had too much "all or nothing" which made them streaky. I think they're trying to get more consistent, which could be done by getting guys who strike out less and get on base more. 

    3) I'll add one. I think they want to get their rookies on the field. First, they're talented and deserve to be there. Second, they're pre-arby, so they'll play for league minimum. Third, they're facing a big turnover in the roster soon as all of their arby guys are traded or become free agents, so they need their young guys to get some experience before this exodus. Finally, and probably most importantly, the rookies in question are all lower K/higher OBP guys.

    Brandon Nimmo just got a monster deal after stars who are much bigger than him signed even bigger deals. We have a group of guys who are above-average MLB players offensively (based on things like wRC+), so we won't be able to bring in upgrades to our position players by outbidding other teams on the open market. Thankfully, we have a group of MLB-ready guys who are ready to step in to complement our pitching. If we had to pay open market prices for Frelick and Mitchell, we already wouldn't be able to afford them this offseason.

    The pitching, which is supposed to be where we dominate, is the reason we just missed the playoffs last year. If they're healthy and play to their ability, we're going to be a playoff team in '23 as long as our position players continue to be around average, and they're a little better than that.

    So, the front office has trimmed around $10M from payroll, while holding onto their pitching, maintaining a roughly equal offense "on paper," upgrading the defense, and opening room for the rookies. All this while other teams are signing players for $20-$40M/year to try to get better.

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    @monty57

    The streaky comment about the offense I don't necessarily agree with. They were 6th in baseball in both 4+ (97) and 5+ (78) run games and T-9th fewest games of with 2 runs or less (48). Cardinals were 2nd (100), 2nd (83), and T-8th (47) in those categories. Obviously, park factors are different, so that is much better offense from the Cardinals even if the number of games is close. A fun fact is the Yankees, the only team besides the Dodgers to average more than 5 runs a game, were 9th (93), 5th (79), and T-16th (52).

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    Forget today's Cyber Metrics which is great for bloggers even though I spent 30 years working for IBM the eye test for me who has played on the high school, college, and military levels tells me an extension for Renfroe in the range of $15M a year for 3 years would have locked up a solid clutch/power hitter who will hit to the opposite field as a team player and has a gun for an arm in the outfield and plays like a free agent trying to make the roster would be money well spent.  How in the world does a guy like Nimmo make $160M over 8 seasons hitting .270 with 12-15 homers and 60 RBI's per season ?

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    32 minutes ago, Lou Buell said:

    Forget today's Cyber Metrics which is great for bloggers even though I spent 30 years working for IBM the eye test for me who has played on the high school, college, and military levels tells me an extension for Renfroe in the range of $15M a year for 3 years would have locked up a solid clutch/power hitter who will hit to the opposite field as a team player and has a gun for an arm in the outfield and plays like a free agent trying to make the roster would be money well spent.  How in the world does a guy like Nimmo make $160M over 8 seasons hitting .270 with 12-15 homers and 60 RBI's per season ?

    Renfroe is obviously going to go to free agency after what we are witnessing this offseason. Along with every other MLB player that is within a year or two of free agency. 

    Nimmo has a career 130 OPS+. If Renfroe puts up another 125 OPS+ season he's looking at a $100 million+ contract. 

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    7 minutes ago, owbc said:

    Renfroe is obviously going to go to free agency after what we are witnessing this offseason. Along with every other MLB player that is within a year or two of free agency. 

    Nimmo has a career 130 OPS+. If Renfroe puts up another 125 OPS+ season he's looking at a $100 million+ contract. 

    The mind boggles at the numbers we're seeing right now. Hunter Renfroe is potentially a nine figure contract guy.

    What world are we living in right now? It's just staggering.

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    18 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

    The mind boggles at the numbers we're seeing right now. Hunter Renfroe is potentially a nine figure contract guy.

    What world are we living in right now? It's just staggering.

    Was listening to a baseball podcast yesterday and the host said this kind of spending typically happens after a lockout.  Didn't really give any detailed reason why but we'll see if this continues next offseason.

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    Renfroe is nowhere near a 9 figure guy. Nimmo had a 5 WAR year and has a career 131 ops+, Renfroe is a perennial 2-3 WAR player with a career 111 ops+. Renfroe will get around the 3 year contract Mitch Haniger got.

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    44 minutes ago, jay87shot said:

    Renfroe is nowhere near a 9 figure guy. Nimmo had a 5 WAR year and has a career 131 ops+, Renfroe is a perennial 2-3 WAR player with a career 111 ops+. Renfroe will get around the 3 year contract Mitch Haniger got.

    That's why I said if he puts up another 125 OPS+ year similar to 2022. Haniger has missed a ton of time due to injury and was not a difference maker when he returned from injury last year. 

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    David Stearns really screwed over the Brewers and Matt Arnold, in my opinion. The time to build around the 'big 3' was last off season. We should have been making a serious run in 22-23...multiple years. Stearns left Arnold with a crappy situation with the MLB roster. Should we really be making notable FA signings and make notable trades when all of those guys should either be extended (unlikely) or traded next offseason? Probably not, not for just a year. Would have made waaaay more sense to do it last year and get multiple good cracks at it before a mini tear down. 

    Matt Arnold wants to build around them, but it is a little too late for that. Why build around guys that you would trade next offseason? It doesn't make any sense to hold anyone to the '24 deadline. What are you going to do if you are competing? Ride them to FA? Yikes. It should be interesting to see if they can extend Woodruff or Burnes...but that seems unlikely. If not, they are as directionless as their moves make it seem. It is too dumb to invest in a roster that only lasts a year and too dumb to waste all the talent on the team. Honestly, Arnold is in a tough situation without a good answer on what to do. 

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    19 hours ago, Nate Palmer said:

    Trading Kolten Wong and Hunter Renfroe was an early rumor in the offseason. In the trade of either or both players, there were two goals the Brewers needed to reach.

    1) Clear payroll to give extensions to the trio of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, or Willy Adames.
    2) acquire by trade or by way of the freed-up money impact bats to help create more offensive firepower. 

     

     

    I think the reasons, in order of priority are:

    1) pay for the raises that arbitration-eligible players would be getting.

    2) provide opportunities for our rookies to play.

    I see  absolutely no evidence that the moves were made to make us better in 2023 (rather, they're just hoping the young players get better and rookies thrive). It's possible, though unlikely, that some player (say Vaquez) doesn't get very good offers and the Brewers swoop in. They'll probably sign one decent reliever, and whatever they can sign to minor league contracts (Apparently, acquiring pitchers with ERAs over 5.00 is the new moneyball). Maybe we'll acquire a decent player at the deadline, if we're in the playoff race.

    19 hours ago, Nate Palmer said:

    If Abraham Toro does finally turn into a .300 hitter with the bit of pop he has already exhibited in his short MLB career, this may look like an awful take. If any of the three pitchers acquired from the Angels turn into the next coming of Woodruff, Burnes, or even Freddy Peralta, it may again look like a silly take. That also means that the Brewers' front office nailed their player evaluation. That doesn't change; the process looks strange when this team, pitching-wise, looks ready to take on the postseason. As it stands, in their moves, they further weakened their most significant weakness in the lineup. 

    The Brewers still have $10 million in salary relief in this revised direction. There is also still space made for Brice Turang to come in and compete for the starting second base job. 

     

     

    I'd be surprised as hell if Toro hits anywhere close to .300; in AA and AAA, he played in places where batting was inflated.
    The pitchers we got from LAA aren't very good, and aren't young enough to make a huge, sustained jump in performance--that was one of my complaints, that they didn't take a flyer on a young pitcher.

    Again, there is no $10M in salary relief. Winker and the $1.75M to the M's ate up Wong's salary. Salary savings (and actually, they are savings from projected salary) from Renfroe will go to their arbitration players.

    Our only hope is that our players improve from 2022, and our rookies hit the ground running.

     

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    39 minutes ago, MrTPlush said:

    David Stearns really screwed over the Brewers and Matt Arnold, in my opinion. The time to build around the 'big 3' was last off season.

    What moves would you have made? There wasn't a whole lot of wiggle room with all the arbitration raises and it looks like they overextended themselves to a franchise record payroll as it was.

    Entering 2022, external projection systems all favored the Brewers over the Cardinals to win the division.

    With hindsight it's easy to see that some moves for additional pitching depth would have been nice since Hader (-3.2 rWAR from 2021), Houser (-3.2 rWAR), Peralta (-2.8 rWAR) and Woodruff (-2.4 rWAR) combined for about 11-12 fewer wins in 2022 than in 2021, but it's tough for even the richest teams to withstand that kind of lost production from their closer and half the rotation in the primes of their careers.

     

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    1 hour ago, sveumrules said:

    What moves would you have made? There wasn't a whole lot of wiggle room with all the arbitration raises and it looks like they overextended themselves to a franchise record payroll as it was.

     

     

    They also are getting record revenue sharing and got a newly minted TV deal in recent years. I’m not going to sit here and claim they are just stashing money, but they are hardly raising payroll. We were doing $100mil payrolls a decade ago. $137mil in 2022 is hardly impressive, baseball inflation since then has been bonkers.

    FA and adding a bunch of payroll isn’t the only answer anyway. They could have traded for someone. Don’t ask me who because I don’t own a crystal ball or take part in trade talks in the Brewers front office. The point is they didn’t build around those players. A bunch of guys regressing off of ridiculous career years wasn’t shocking, that should have been expected. 

    They don’t seem to want to invest payroll (whether by choice or can’t afford to) and protect their prospects like they are all holy grails. That leaves us with a fringe playoff team that missed the playoffs in 2022, hoping to get better by rearranging deck chairs. If that is their plan just trade the guys now if a great offer comes by. Maybe that changes before march, but that is how they have acted the last year+.

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    13 minutes ago, MrTPlush said:

    They also are getting record revenue sharing and got a newly minted TV deal in recent years. I’m not going to sit here and claim they are just stashing money, but they are hardly raising payroll. We were doing $100mil payrolls a decade ago. $137mil in 2022 is hardly impressive, baseball inflation since then has been bonkers.

    FA and adding a bunch of payroll isn’t the only answer anyway. They could have traded for someone. Don’t ask me who because I don’t own a crystal ball or take part in trade talks in the Brewers front office. The point is they didn’t build around those players. A bunch of guys regressing off of ridiculous career years wasn’t shocking, that should have been expected. 

    They don’t seem to want to invest payroll (whether by choice or can’t afford to) and protect their prospects like they are all holy grails. That leaves us with a fringe playoff team that missed the playoffs in 2022, hoping to get better by rearranging deck chairs. If that is their plan just trade the guys now if a great offer comes by. Maybe that changes before march, but that is how they have acted the last year+.

    Sounds like the roots of your problem are more with the economic structure of MLB or with the budget Mark A gives the front office to work with.

    We returned 11 of the top 13 pitchers by IP from the pitching staff that was 3rd in rWAR in 2021. They finished 14th in rWAR in 2022.

    That is not an expected level of regression.

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    18 minutes ago, sveumrules said:

    Sounds like the roots of your problem are more with the economic structure of MLB or with the budget Mark A gives the front office to work with.

    I think the lack of using prospect capital is a little less relevant to baseball economics and budget. Depending on the player and where they are in arbitration it may add some payroll…but usually easy to fit in a budget. Especially for an impact player. You might not be signing the Andrew McCutchen’s of the world or paying $10mil for Jesse Winker

    Maybe they hit a home run on Winker this year…but would be nice if we could add someone we could expect to be an impact bat. Not praying Winker bounces back or rookies can be impact bats. That isn’t to say I don’t like the Winker trade (I think he can fit in nicely hitting at Miller Park) or dislike letting rookies have a chance. But if that ends up your entire concept of building around the core we have and that is what you depend on giving us a solid offense…well, that just seems to be really wishful thinking. 
     

    Personally, if that is the game plan, I’d rather them try to cash in big on one of our huge trade chips.

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    55 minutes ago, MrTPlush said:

    I think the lack of using prospect capital is a little less relevant to baseball economics and budget

    …but would be nice if we could add someone we could expect to be an impact bat.

    Stearns didn’t really have prospect capital to use until now after dealing for Yelich (& to a lesser extent Adames/Urias/Lauer/Rowdy) and graduating all the arms that have been the foundation of the Brewers recent success.

    Looking at the FanGraphs WAR leaderboards for 2021-22, here are the best position players that have been dealt at some point in the last two years…

    Trea Turner (135 wRC+ | 13.1 WAR)
    Juan Soto (154 wRC+ | 10.9 WAR)
    Matt Chapman (110 wRC+ | 8.3 WAR)
    Matt Olson (133 wRC+ | 8.2 WAR)
    Willy Adames (116 wRC+ | 8.0 WAR)

    We were never getting Turner or Soto, maybe we could have gotten one of the Matts from OAK last offseason?

    Even if the Brewers wanted to go “all in”  at this point, let’s say deal for Sean Murphy then push payroll and sign Correa to the high AAV opt out heavy deal he got from the Twins last year, we still aren’t the favorites for anything. Our payroll would still be a couple two tree superstars short of LAD, SDP, NYM, ATL, PHI and STL.

    It would certainly increase our playoff odds, add some excitement and sell some tickets (which is why I personally would do it) but it would still be an uphill battle with lots of luck required along the way to win the NLC or make a deep playoff run.

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    3 minutes ago, sveumrules said:

    Stearns didn’t really have prospect capital to use until now after dealing for Yelich (& to a lesser extent Adames/Urias/Lauer/Rowdy) and graduating all the arms that have been the foundation of the Brewers recent success.

    Looking at the FanGraphs WAR leaderboards for 2021-22, here are the best position players that have been dealt at some point in the last two years…

    Trea Turner (135 wRC+ | 13.1 WAR)
    Juan Soto (154 wRC+ | 10.9 WAR)
    Matt Chapman (110 wRC+ | 8.3 WAR)
    Matt Olson (133 wRC+ | 8.2 WAR)
    Willy Adames (116 wRC+ | 8.0 WAR)

    We were never getting Turner or Soto, maybe we could have gotten one of the Matts from OAK last offseason?

    Even if the Brewers wanted to go “all in”  at this point, let’s say deal for Sean Murphy then push payroll and sign Correa to the high AAV opt out heavy deal he got from the Twins last year, we still aren’t the favorites for anything. Our payroll would still be a couple two tree superstars short of LAD, SDP, NYM, ATL, PHI and STL.

    It would certainly increase our playoff odds, add some excitement and sell some tickets (which is why I personally would do it) but it would still be an uphill battle with lots of luck required along the way to win the NLC or make a deep playoff run.

    It isn’t only players that get traded though. There probably were guys that didn’t end up traded that could have been had the right deal come along. Which is why I don’t tend to chase the ‘what-if’ game because we don’t know who they maybe could have had and what the cost would have been.

    Would we be favorites for anything? Well no, but neither were the Phillies going into the postseason. Do we still come up short? Likely so, but surely better odds than watching from the couch.

    Would have ‘overpaid’ to acquire someone? Possibly, but we have done that in the past and has led to the best seasons in Brewers history. 2008 headlined by Sabathia trade, 2011 headlined by the Greinke trade, and 2018 due to Christian Yelich. For all the moaning about losing such great players…we ended up giving up a grand total of two OFers. Both of which were only good when we were rebuilding and wouldn’t have been that useful to us anyway.

    I am not really clamoring for anything at this point. I think they dug themselves into a hole. Partially bad luck, partially their own doing. Feels like their options are dig the hole deeper or build a 15 foot ladder to try and get out of a 20 foot hole. 

    Might as well build for the future with the prospects we insisted on hoarding and hopefully have Burnes/Adames/Woodruff fill in most of the holes. You then aren’t adding another long term contract to make the payroll a crippling mess even for the next stint of competing. Though I’m not against extending Woodruff because they could have enough pieces to maybe do a quick turnaround in a few years. If it ends up not being quick I suppose the contract isn’t that big of a deal and you just lose out on the prospects you could have had.

     

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    I think Stearns was hamstrung by MA's budgetary constraints. I also think that's a major reason why he's playing out the string as an advisor for his last year and then moving on greener pastures.

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    21 minutes ago, endaround said:

    Who could the Brewers have gotten? Well the Twins traded Urshela for a 19 year old 40 grade pitching prospect.

    We already have an Urshela. His name is Luis Urias. Same exact WAR last season and a superior WAR the season before that...

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