The Brewers are not in a great position to try and compete. The Major League roster has holes, the farm system is fairly weak, and payroll is already near its maximum. For the sake of optimism though, let’s say the Brewers can compete in 2014. How should the Brewers go about this off-season to get there?
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Understanding the Payroll:
The Brewers currently have 75.5 million that is only paid to nine players. If the Brewers were to move Norichika Aoki to make room for Khris Davis that would lower the number to 74 million. Marco Estrada is projected to get approximately 3.5 million in arbitration which brings the total to 77.5 million. I assume they would non-tender both Burke Badenhop and Juan Francisco. The remaining 17 spots on the Major League roster are likely to be filled by players earning at the league minimum of $400,000. This brings the total payroll to 84.3 million. The highest the Brewers payroll can reportedly work is around 95 million. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for adding players, so the Brewers may have to move salary.
There are two prime targets for a salary dump: Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks. There is no formidable option at third base besides Ramirez, so he seems unlikely to move if the team wants to contend in 2014. On the other hand, Scooter Gennett provides a viable alternative at second base, making Weeks expendable. He’s due 12 million in 2014. If Melvin and Co. can convince a team that Weeks still has something left and can get some of the salary paid for, that will open up a few options for them. Best case scenario is that a team covers 3 million of Weeks’ salary in 2014. This gets the payroll down to 81.3 million.
Banking on Bouncebacks:
The Brewers had a slew of underperformances in 2013. Aramis Ramirez is a prime candidate for a bounceback. Steamer projection system projects a 2.6 WAR in 2014, a sizable improvement over his 1.4 in 2013. First base is also destined to improve from an abominable -4.7 WAR. A full year of a healthy MVP candidate Ryan Braun will obviously help things as well. Yovani Gallardo showed signs of life after returning from a hamstring injury late in the season, and I wouldn’t expect him to struggle the way he did this past season.
There is value to be had in free agency, but unlike mainstream media would like you to believe, it’s usually in the middle and lower tiers. Small market teams often make a living picking up undervalued players or bounceback candidates. If you don’t believe me go look at the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays.
The most obvious position to upgrade is first base, and the most obvious player is Corey Hart. He’s already expressed his desire to stay in Milwaukee, and even claimed he’d come back at a big discount. This plays perfectly into the Brewers plans. I doubt Hart comes at much more than 4 million base with incentives. This puts the payroll at 85.3 million.
A little shameless self promotion is involved in this next one. Mark Ellis makes a lot of sense in Milwaukee. Scooter Gennett simply can’t hit left handed pitching. Ellis could be the lesser half of a platoon at second base while also serving as a defensive replacement and spot starter at third base. Ellis had his 5.75 million option declined by the Dodgers recently, so I’d be surprised if Ellis came for more than a few million dollars. Let’s say 2.5 million. The payroll is now at 87.8 million.
The Brewers could also try upgrading the pitching staff by throwing out very low guaranteed offers to buy-low candidates such as Roy Halladay, James McDonald, Scott Baker, or Dan Haren. It would strongly depend on the money, obviously, but it is possible that the markets are very weak for these players.
Capitalizing on the League Minimum:
The Brewers should be trying to capitalize on the league minimum if they want to contend in 2014. The bullpen should be nearly entirely built of league minimum players. The bench should come fairly cheap, and the back part of the rotation should come cheap as well.
1. 2B Scooter Gennett/Mark Ellis
2. SS Jean Segura
3. RF Ryan Braun
4. C Jonathan Lucroy
5. 3B Aramis Ramirez
6. CF Carlos Gomez
7. 1B Corey Hart
8. LF Khris Davis
That’s not an elite team by any stretch, but that is a very formidable offense. The starting rotation has a bit of upside in Gallardo, Peralta, and possibly Nelson. This gets the Brewers in the conversation of a contender even though it doesn’t make them a pre-season favorite without sacrificing the future of the organization (aka Royals). If the plan falls apart, there are plenty of pieces to sell off in July. If it works, however, we may be having flashbacks of 2008 all over again.