Midseason Email Exchange – Part Two
Dan Shafer and Michael P. Bischoff exchanged emails to recap the harrowing first half of the Milwaukee Brewers 2012 season and take a look at the road ahead.
The midsummer classic symbolically marks the halfway point for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers, so to recap a “harrowing” first half, sift through the trade deadline rumor mill, and weigh the Crew’s chances going forward, Managing Editor Dan Shafer and Contributor Michael P. Bischoff exchanged emails over the past week.
This is Part Two. Click here for Part One.
I’ll ignore the “bandbox” comment, but will say that, statistically-speaking, Miller Park is virtually pitcher/hitter neutral. We’re just conditioned to think it’s a hitter’s paradise because for the last 12 years the Brewers have been built predominantly around sluggers and gopher-ball pitchers.
As the salaries of premier stars have ballooned the value of “prospects” has never been higher, and teams are much less willing to part with them for short runs at potential success. Moreover, considering that prospects are rarely what they seem in the scouting reports, sellers are much more wary of giving up their stars for a couple guys that might never do anything of value.
Complicating this even further are the new draft compensation rules. Now, a pending free agent has to spend an entire season with a team for that team to be eligible for draft pick compensation in the event he signs elsewhere. From the buying team’s perspective, it makes that player less valuable because they won’t get a draft pick when he leaves (and let’s face it, they always leave). From the seller’s perspective, it makes holding on to that player more attractive because, in the case of a Zack Greinke, they’re a walking first-round draft pick. How is that different that an elite prospect? Well, if the odds of prospect failure are even, you’d rather fail with the guy you chose than feel duped by a rival GM.
But wait, there’s more! Attempting to forcibly recreate the magic that was the last couple days of the 2011 regular season, baseball has added a second wild card in 2012. Teams on the margin, such as the Brewers, have another disincentive to deal their stars, if for no other reason than the dim hope of “putting it all together” and making a Major League-esque run at the pennant. If sports, and being a fan of sports, are run by any sort of fuel, it would be dim hope and glimmering optimism.
Wait a minute, do you actually think this team has a shot at the playoffs?
Pardon me, I had to spit out all of those words you put in my mouth. At 40-45 in the All-Star Break, any kind of playoff talk for the Brewers should be getting the Jim Mora treatment. But it really doesn’t matter if I think the team can still make the playoffs, it’s whether Doug Melvin and Mark Attanasio believe they can. Since Mark A bought the team in 2005, I can’t think of a trade the team has made for prospects. Even in the Lyle Overbay deal to open up first base, Dave Bush and Gabe Gross already had Major League track records. Zach Jackson never really got a chance and was really just filler in the deal. They have been in “win” mode since 2008 and they might not be ready to go back into “restock” mode less than a year after the best regular season in team history.
Speaking of fresh memories, both 2011 Wild Cards had much bigger hills to climb than do the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers. On September 5, 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals were 8.5 games behind Atlanta for the NL Wild Card. On September 6, 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays were 8.0 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL. In both cases, those teams had only 21 games left to make up the difference. The 2012 Brewers have 77 games left to make up 5.5 games on a handful of teams. As I said earlier, there are two Wild Cards in each league this year, which puts the postseason just that much more within in reach.
They will certainly entertain offers for Greinke, but the value they perceive in those offers is going to be colored by how much the front office believes the team can compete for one of those playoff spots this season.
You were dangerously close to making me think the Crew has a chance in the second half. No better way to answer that than with The Jim Mora Clip.
It’ll be interesting to see how Bud Selig’s brand new second Wild Card plays out in the second half. As of now, the only teams that are completely out of range are San Diego, Colorado, Chicago and Houston, who are all 13 or more games back. Also, two of the three division leaders, Pittsburgh and Washington, haven’t reached the postseason since 1992 and 1981 (when Washington was the Montreal Expos), respectively.
It’d be easy to count last year’s finish as an aberration, and in all likelihood, it is. But the ingredients for a wildly entertaining September are still in place, and it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility that the Brewers can get into the mix (a ringing endorsement, I know).
With that in mind, any trade offer for Greinke better be of the aforementioned Randy Johnson variety (or better yet, the Mark Teixera for Elvis Andrus-Neftali Feliz-Jarrod Saltalamacchia-Matt Harrison variety), or else it’s hardly worth considering. As you mentioned, this is highly unlikely given the new compensation rules. Even so, Baltimore’s interest is intriguing, as the O’s hold the rights to the number three prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, 20-year-old shortstop Manny Machado, who would fill a huge need in the Brewers organization.
But if Greinke stays in Milwaukee for the rest of the season, which I think he will, he still has the chance to become a Brew City legend. We have a standard for second-half contract year excellence here, and it looks like this.
There probably won’t be any Dylan Bundys or Manny Machados heading our direction, and the thought of getting a heaping pile of middling prospects rather than one or two elite ones reeks of Milwaukee Bucks-style management (but that’s a topic for another post). Even if they do get an upper-tier prospect or two, I’ll be holding my breath until I see him in the big leagues. Houston thought they had their ace of the future when they dealt Roy Oswalt for J.A. Happ and two roster-fillers. Happ already had 31 major league starts at the time, and they still miscalculated on him, big-time.
I guess the moral of the story is that I’m scared of the future. 2012 has been a bitter disappointment, and it’s forced me to look at what lies ahead. While some of the pieces look promising, Michael Fiers among them, it’s sad to think that the old Baby Brewers are going to go out on more of a whimper than the championship dreams we held for them.
We’re talking about this team as though the corpse is still warm, but certainly past resuscitation. For as brightly as the hopes shined in Spring Training, that should be the most salient mid-season report we can give. Optimism, manifest as the games left and the talent we know they have, is only a caveat to what we’ve seen so far, which is a lot of bad baseball.
That got dark quickly. Ok, it’s been bad, but it’s still baseball, and even in that context at least we’re not following the Cubs, Astros, or the league’s bitterest disappointment, the Phillies. Go out to the ballpark, have fun cheering these guys, have fun heckling the road teams, play Bullpen Bingo, and enjoy the fact that you live within spitting distance of Major League Baseball. Plenty of cities would trade for that. If the Brewers fall into the 1993-2004 cycle of futility, then we can despair. Right now? Well, we’re not there yet.
Now I’m sad. The Baby Brewers are all grown up with nothing to show for it. That’s not how this story was supposed to end.
But there are still reasons to believe—not necessarily for 2012, but for the big picture of the franchise. Mark Attanasio has proved himself to be a world-class owner and Doug Melvin is still one of the better GMs in the league. Miller Park offers a spectacular fan experience. (It still boggles my mind that this is the only baseball stadium in the country where people tailgate. What do they even do in other cities? Arrive on time? Watch batting practice?)
The team may not be what it was last year, but at the end of the day, there’s still Ryan Braun. Few athletes in the modern era have shown a commitment to their city the way Braun has. Sure, his TV ads are awkward, his clothing line is douche-y, the Graffito isn’t all that great, and there’s probably one other thing I’m missing, but in an era of petulant trade demands, city-crippling Decisions, and questionable after-hours activity, Braun’s “Brewer For Life” contract and his shut-up-all-the-doubters numbers this season are reason enough to go to the ballpark and support this team.
It probably won’t happen this year, but the Brewers will be back, and Ryan Braun will be leading the way.
This is Part Two. Click here for Part One.