Thursday, May 7, 2015

Trade Fair: Gomez Goes to Cleveland

Ensconced in last place in the AL Central with a 10-16 record, it's safe to say the Indians' 2015 season has not gone according to plan.  The Tribe was the chic pick by many pundits to end the Tigers' run of four consecutive division titles and post its first first-place finish since 2007.   Heck, even Sports Illustrated picked Cleveland to advance to the World Series.  But a leaky bullpen, an anemic offense, and porous defense have all played major roles in the Indians' poor start.

The Brewers, on the other hand, entered this season with far more modest expectations, with almost all national writers picking Milwaukee to finish in the middle of the pack or lower in the suddenly-competitive NL Central.  However, the Brew Crew's NL-worst 9-19 start has been far worse than anyone could have imagined, leading to the May 4th ouster of Manager Ron Roenicke as well as sparking talk that the team will start to auction veterans as part of a full-scale rebuild.

As we discussed last week, what makes Milwaukee's situation even more precarious is the fact that three of the teams ahead of it in the standings -- St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh -- have stockpiled tremendous young talent and are currently much better positioned for the future. 

Given the Indians' need to strengthen multiple weaknesses before this season spirals out of control and the good sense it would make for the Brewers to gear up for 2017 and beyond, we've thought up a trade that would satisfy both team's objectives.

The Trade:  The Brewers trade CF Carlos Gomez to the Indians for the Tribe's top OF prospect, Bradley Zimmer, and their best minor league pitcher, Justus Sheffield.

What the Indians are getting:  A legitimate 5-tool player.  Period.  The  29-year-old Gomez is a 2-time All Star and former Gold Glove winner whose WAR of 13.7 in 2013-14 lags only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen among center fielders.  Equally as important, Gomez is under contract through next year, when he will earn a measly $9 million.  Gomez' broad offensive skill set would be an excellent fit in Cleveland's predominantly left-handed lineup and his sterling  glovework would be a welcome addition for the defensively-challenged Tribe, whose Zone Rating, as measured by Baseball Reference ranks as the 2nd-worst in the American League.

Michael Bourn, Cleveland's incumbent center fielder, is on the books thru next year, when he will earn $14 million and has a $12 million vesting option for 2017.  However, it's evident that his best days are behind him and he should be replaced.  From 2012-14, the Houston native's OPS declined from .739 to .674 and is at a measly .499 on the young season.  His steals during the 3-year period also fell from 42 to just ten (while his success rate declined from 76% to 62%).  And if that's not enough, Bourn's defense has also taken a dramatic turn for the worse -- his range factor has dropped from 2.52 in 2012 to 1.86 this season, nearly a full run lower than the league average of 2.73.

What the Brewers are getting:  SS Francisco Lindor is easily Cleveland's best prospect, and it's doubtful GM Chris Antonetti would let the 21-year-old stud be a part of any trade.  However, Zimmer and Sheffield would make excellent consolation prizes.  Zimmer, 22, swings a high-octane lefty bat and as his .474 slugging percentage in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League and 14 steals suggest, he would offer Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin a dynamic talent to pair with RF Clint Coulter in the Brewers' outfield of the future.

Despite his smallish 5-10, 190-pound stature, Sheffield has big stuff, including a fastball that routinely hits 97 mph and devastating slider.  18-year-old pitching prospects are always lottery tickets, but Sheffield's sterling 3.7 K/BB ratio demonstrates that he already has an excellent idea of how to pitch and his learning curve shouldn't be as steep as most other pitching prospects in Low A.  The arrival of Sheffield would give Milwaukee another precocious arm to team with fellow left-handed fireballer Kodi Medeiros, their top pick in last year's draft.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Brewers Should Start Selling, Build for the Future

While few pundits picked the Brewers to make the playoffs this year, Milwaukee's 4-15 record following Sunday's game has the Brew Crew poised for its worst record since going 56-106 in 2002.  Worse yet, the organization's fall from grace has come at a time when three of the four teams ahead of it in the suddenly ultra-competitive NL Central could remain juggernauts for years to come.

The 1st-place Cardinals have long been baseball's premier franchise.  In the 15 seasons since the turn of the century, St. Louis has played in the postseason an astounding 11 times, including winning four National League titles and hoisting the World Series trophy twice.  And through astute drafting, strong trades, and prudent forays into the free agent market, the Cards don't look like they'll go away anytime soon.

After 20 years of futility, the Pirates, NL Wild Card contestants the last two seasons, have built a winner with staying power.  Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen are two of the division's best 28-and-under talents, while minor leaguers like Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Reese McGuire will help ensure this winning tradition continues.

When Theo Epstein took over as the Cubs' president in 2011, he promised to turn baseball's perpetual doormats into a "player development machine."  Well,  he wasn't lying.  In less than four years, Epstein & Co. have added the likes of Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber and others to form the game's most impressive stable of young, high-end talent.

Simply put, the Brewers picked the wrong time to enter baseball's abyss.  However, there is a silver lining.  Unlike most cellar-dwelling teams, Milwaukee actually has a decent number of star-caliber, cost-controllable players who would command a sizeable return if traded.  This potential bounty would combine with the high-end prospects the Brewers have already accumulated to put the club on a sharp upward trajectory.

Brewers' GM Doug Melvin's sexiest trade piece is CF CarlosGomez.  The  29-year-old Gomez is a 2-time All Star and former Gold Glove winner whose WAR of 13.7 in 2013-14 lags only Mike Trout and McCutchen among center fielders.  Equally as important, Gomez is under contract through next year, when he will earn a measly $9 million.  Gomez' broad skill set and affordability would easily net the Brewers at least one A-rated prospect and two complementary pieces in a trade.  Top suitors at this early date could be the Indians and Mariners, whose incumbent center fielders Michael Bourn and Austin Jackson have been trending down for several years.  The Blue Jays could also enter the mix, especially if GM Alex Anthopoulos thinks rookie CF Dalton Pompey needs more seasoning in the minors.

C Jonathan Lucroy, just 28, is another trade chip who would bring back a bonanza in a trade.  Not only is Lucroy one of MLB's best-hitting backstops, but he's also outstanding at pitch framing, a skill that's received increased scrutiny as more sophisticated methods of statistical analysis within the sport have emerged.  And like Gomez, Lucroy's contract--including an affordable $5.25 million team option for 2017, he's due to earn just $9.25 million in 2016-17--ensures he can fit into any team's budget.  The Astros, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, and White Sox are all teams with aspirations of October baseball who could be seeking an upgrade behind the plate.  The return for Lucroy should approximate the prospect treasure that a trade of Gomez would fetch.

SS Jean Segura, 25, has appeared to bounce back nicely from a down 2014, a year wracked by personal tragedy.  In 2013, Segura posted a robust .423 slugging percentage and 44 steals to produce a solid WAR of 3.5.  Not arbitration eligible until after this season, Segura's upside and low price tag would likely translate into a package of two solid prospects in a trade. 

Those worried about who would replace the departed Segura need to look no further than Triple A Colorado Springs, where 21-year-old defensive wizard Luis Sardinas is holding his own with the bat.  However, Segura's ultimate replacement will be 20-year-old wunderkind Orlando Arcia, who's currently slashing to the tune of .423/.492/.596 at Double AA Biloxi.  Arcia's glove is already big-league ready and once he fills out his 6-00, 170-pound frame he could project as a poor man's Nomar Garciaparra, but with more steals and better defense.  He's that good.

Arcia forms one-third of a troika of talented Brewers prospects.  RF Clint Coulter is the second guy fans in Milwaukee should be excited about.  Coulter, 21, is a converted catcher, who in his first full season in the outfield has evidently enjoyed being liberated from the physical rigors of catching.  The Washington native has started off the year on fire, slashing .338/.434/.708 with 6 home runs in just 17 games at High A Brevard County.  Rock solid at 6-03 and 220 pounds, Coulter's power and patience at the plate mesh nicely with his cannon arm in the outfield and evoke memories of long-time Angels great Tim Salmon.

Southpaw Kodi Medeiros is still just 18, which means that the word "caution" is the first word that should be used when describing his potential.  However, his 97 mph fastball and dynamite breaking stuff could enable him to move quickly through the Brewers' chain.  He's also off to a hot start, posting nearly a K/IP of nearly 12 and WHIP of .78 at Low A Wisconson.

Any discussion about Milwaukee's future fortunes would be incomplete if it didn't mention upcoming drafts.  The Brewers under new Scouting Director Ray Montgomery pick 15th this year in a draft that may be short on historical, franchise-changing talent at the top but is still considered deep by most insiders.  And next year, assuming its horrid start is not an aberration, the club will have a top-3 pick in a draft looks like it will be loaded with premium talent.

Throwing in the towel on this season, and most likely 2016 and 2017 as well, certainly won't be easy for Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, one of baseball's best front men.  Despite drawing from MLB's smallest metropolitan areas, Milwaukee's payroll has consistently been in the middle of the pack as Attanasio has made winning a priority since purchasing the team in 2005.  However, Attanasio should realize that taking a step back to regroup now will put his club in a better position going forward to achieve sustained success in dog-eat-dog world of the NL Central.