Apr 18, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Milwaukee Brewers catcherJonathan Lucroy
(20) waits his turn in the batting cage before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
This news isn’t surprising, as Dave Cameron of Fangraphs points out. Plenty of losing teams have held onto their stud pieces instead of moving them. The Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton are perhaps the best recent example.
But the differences between these players and their home teams are immense. Stanton is just 25 years old, and plays a position in right field that is friendly to an aging body. Lucroy is 3 years older, and while there is evidence that catchers don’t have the presumed, nightmarish drop-off in offensive production around age 30, teams seem to fear it as the conventional wisdom. It is also much more difficult to quantify defensive value, which is the major concern for catcher in their 30s. Additionally, the Marlins were capable of dropping a $300+ million contract, while the Brewers might not be able to retain Lucroy past his current contract.
If the Brewers are going to win 75 games or less this year and maybe as many as the following two, there is no reason to anchor the team with a superstar. Not from a baseball standpoint, anyway. From a business perspective, the team could see a noticeable dip in attendance should the team flip Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, but this is short-sighted.
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There is always talk in baseball of “fully committing” to a rebuild for this exact reason; teams are terrified of dropping all the fan-favorites and MVP-caliber players from the roster in order to protect the future.
Instead, they risk damning the future at the expense of what is already a below-average present. Though again, this is from a baseball angle. From a business angle, the team’s poor start is bad, and a rebuild could be even worse.
No one really wants to watch a team full of quadruple-A players struggle while the farm system grows strong, but at some point, it becomes necessary. If the Athletics under Billy Beane isn’t a positive enough example, maybe the Phillies under Ruben Amaro Jr. can be a cautionary tale.
The Phillies recent collapse both at the Major League level and in the farm system has created a sort of infamy among baseball writers and fans, one in which the team struggles with no end in sight. Fans have worried if the Tigers could be “the next Phillies”, and now the Brewers have earned the dubious questions as well.
The Phillies have Cliff Lee on the 60-day DL, Chase Utley is currently the worst player in the Majors, and Cole Hamels is off to a slow start. Realistically, all of these players could be elsewhere by now, and they would not be Philadelphia’s concern.
Instead, they would likely have a pretty slick farm system. Add in Jonathan Papelbon and the future could have been much, much brighter for the Phillies. So why don’t the Brewers bite the temporary bullet and trade their biggest piece?
The problem is apparently not isolated to Lucroy, because as Brew Crew Ball points out, there is evidence that the team is similarly stubborn on the subject of Gomez, the Brewers only other true shot at a big prospect haul.
It is no longer an issue of win-now or win-later, which is a much grayer issue, because, as Brewers fans could tell you, you never know what to expect from a team. Now the issue is sputter-now-with-some-good-players or win-later.
Of course, as is always, win-later is still a best case scenario, and could have its own issues, but it is more realistic to expect things to turn around for the franchise when you plan for the future. The present plan’s trajectory seems as ominous as it is obvious.