Milwaukee Brewers: Two ways to push and one way to win

With the deadline looming, the Milwaukee Brewers will have to decide whether to stand pat or make a push now. The wrong move could impact the team for years. 

Numbers matter this time of year.

In just over 24 hours, 30 teams will have 20/20 on their respective 40-man rosters. At least, that’s the hope, which can seem like a commodity as rare as 20 Ks and as biting as sub-freezing October winds in the Midwest.

Among them are the Milwaukee Brewers, whose change at the helm turned perennial derelicts into diamond dreadnoughts once more in less than three years, complete with kind of firepower reserved for only the most affluent or unapologetically savvy. The problem is, there’s blood in the water and fans have acquired the taste.

Seven years removed from the postseason and 36 from the illustrious Fall Classic, there’s little wonder why one drop in the aquifers has sharpened tenured, if not reliable, callousness into the piercing blade of urgency: thirst is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Despite David Stearns’ efforts to acquire enough talent to stay competitive into the postseason, it seems to have failed to meet fans’ expectations, their clanging and banter seem nothing less than shortsighted.

In essence, there are two ways to push and one way to win, but many fans seem convinced that there are plenty more of each. This would be true, if the Brewers were the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. For such a market, the smallest in Baseball, mistakes don’t just shoot into the air, fizzle and dissipate like a miscued bottle rocket, they flop on the ground and fire flaming balls of disaster into the crowd like a rogue Roman candle.

So when the Hot Stove hit this past winter, the demands sounded more like a ransom note than a wish list. Even with the additions of Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich and Jhoulys Chacin, who all helped to bring some clarity to a club that found success without much just one season ago, pundits and fans alike called for improvements to a rotation that ranked surprisingly well, especially for their salary, during the same stretch.

Early success in 2018 did little to quell the masses either, who despite boasting a team that floated to the top of the division for the first half of the year, weren’t content to put their away pitchforks in favor of taking a back seat and trusting the driver, convinced their autumn destination wasn’t even on the map without an arm of an avenue.

But flowery verbiage aside: there’s no need to add anyone — at least, not a starter.

Sure, the Cubs added Cole Hamels, but if underlying numbers are any indicator, he really is pitching to a career-worst in nearly every category, which means he should be as successful as the Northsiders’ last two major pitching acquisitions Jose Quintana (9-7, 4.26 ERA, 4.49 FIP) and Tyler Chatwood (4-5, 4.98 ERA, 5.57 FIP), leaving the door open to the NL Central whether a bigger push for the Brewers is imminent or not.

Would it be nice to add an undeniable No. 1? Absolutely. But unless the Brewers are willing to forfeit half the farm system they just spent the last few years trying to build back up, some of which are arms with significant upside to begin with, the Mets aren’t moving on deGrom or Syndergaard. And from the latest reports, it seems like the ask for Zack Wheeler is based more on his last 12 starts than his injury history or his marginal improvement over last year, making even him out of reach if not outright undesirable to the number-nerds.

Kevin Gausman isn’t much of a better option either, even at the back end, as his surface numbers (5-8, 4.43 ERA) are just as bad as his peripherals (4.58 FIP), if not worse. He’s been marred by the long ball most of his career and if there’s one thing Miller Park will do for him, it’ll almost certainly continue that trend exponentially. Lance Lynn hasn’t been good in any facet either and J.A. Happ, the only reasonable starter to make an offer for, is in Yankee pinstripes.

So with the remaining options residing far beyond baseball reason, why are Brewers fans still in a huff? Because impatience is like a blindfold: you can feel everything in front of you but the darkness beyond it still looks like a void, whether actually it is or not.

If that makes you nervous instead of excited, you can thank former GMs — take your pick.

While it would be nice to see the Brewers take home the Commissioner’s Trophy sooner than later, here’s a sobering fact: there are much more well-rounded teams with far fewer question marks and far larger checkbooks with their eyes set on October baseball. Although it would be a welcome result for 2018 — when is a championship not? — the Brewers are poised to push next year and the year after that and the year after that; that is, unless they choose to sell more of the farm for the win-now mentality from which they’ve spent the last four seasons and the better part of three decades trying to recover.

The Stearns era in Milwaukee is being built to last. If you have any doubts, feel free to look at the contractual obligations for the next five or so years. Cain, Yelich, Braun, Shaw, and Aguilar are likely in for the long haul. Two top prospects in Keston Hiura and Mauricio Dubon could solve the middle infield as soon as next year. Corbin Burnes, a top pitching prospect who’s looked solid out of the bullpen, is slated to join the rotation next year. Freddy Peralta has already shown signs of brilliance at the major league level. Woodruff and Wilkerson still have time to develop and have looked great in Triple-A this year. The rest? They look like this:

Zack Brown, Double-A: 9-0, 2.34 ERA, 108K, 32BB in 111.2 IP
Luis Ortiz, Double-A: 3-4, 3.71 ERA, 65K, 18BB in 68 IP
Marcos Diplan, Advanced-A/Double-A: 1-1, 3.46 ERA, 91K, 56K in 91 IP
Cameron Roegner, Advanced-A: 9-5, 2.16 ERA, 71K 28BB in 108.1

And that’s only a small sample of the kinds of arms that are waiting in Advanced-A or higher with a chance to move up in the next year, the kinds of arms teams like the Mets are going to be looking for in a blockbuster trade for one of their aces, begging questions of age, control, quality and quantity.

Even though the Mike Moustakas deal looks like anything but David Stearns (low OBP, average defense, limited positional potential), it was just about everything he’s come to be known for: largely dealing Melvin-era prospects without compromising depth. Phillips was almost entirely blocked and Lopez hasn’t been seen as a realistic long-term solution for years.

So will David Stearns go get a pitcher in the next 24 hours? Maybe. If he does, chances are it will follow the template of the last three years: shrewdness and an eye on the future. The Brewers have been pushing the same way for years and unfortunately, it’s resulted in a grand total of three playoff appearances in nearly 50 years. While that may have turned some fans into cynics and others into trigger-happy zealots, the record, even if short, shows that playing the long game with a small market is the only way to not only open the window, but and keep it open.

Which is exactly why there are two ways to push and only one way to win.

Jonathan Powell is a co-founder and lead writer for Bronx to Bushville.

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