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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024
Jim Dayton

Brewers must break out of recent mediocrity and rebuild for future

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony once famously rapped in 1995, “See you at the crossroads (crossroads).” It referred to the conjunction between life and death, the place where Bone Thugs paid tribute to their recently deceased mentor, Eazy-E.

In a baseball sense, it’s kind of where the Brewers stand right now, the crossroads between a waning period of revival and mortifying irrelevancy. Just four years ago, Milwaukee was one of the best in the National League, winning a franchise-record 96 games to claim the NL Central title. Now, they’re 4-15 and 2015’s biggest laughingstock.

Suddenly, Milwaukee finds itself in a position where pretty much any player outside of Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez is on the trading block. They can try to weather the storm with these veterans until their contracts run out, but it makes far more sense to explore as many trade options as possible.

How quickly success can come and go for a small-market team. The Brewers had long been doormats before they rebuilt themselves in the mid-2000s, drafting and developing players like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. But when the team sat on the precipice of the playoffs, general manager Doug Melvin needed to mortgage some of the future to make a series of short-term moves.

Those paid off in 2008 and 2011, when Milwaukee turned prospects like Michael Brantley and Alcides Escobar into CC Sabathia and Zack Greinke, respectively. But similar transactions for less fruitful veterans, throwing money at 30-and-older free agents and a sudden halt in minor league player development has left the farm system depleted and the parent club without any sense of direction.

The Brewers do have two outstanding players in their prime—Lucroy and Gomez—locked up through next season. But the guys around them top out as complementary pieces, not as driving forces behind a championship run.

Jean Segura is a defensive vacuum at shortstop but has had some depressing stretches at the plate. The rotation is built around two aging veterans in Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse. Braun hasn’t been the same since he stopped taking ‘roids—I mean hurt a ligament in his thumb. And with Aramis Ramirez set to retire after this year and Adam Lind temporarily holding it down at first, the corner infield positions have no long-term solutions.

And that’s what brings us to the crossroads. After last season’s demise, the Brewers reviewed their organization to see if any changes should be made regarding Melvin or manager Ron Roenicke. Nothing happened, but now with this horrible start to 2015, those job security questions may be asked once again.

It’s hard to blame the manager when injuries have forced an already mediocre roster to rely on bench guys like Gerardo Parra or Elian Herrera. In reality, player personnel has languished thanks to all those short-term moves. But fair or not, managers will always have targets on their backs. Roenicke probably won’t last the whole season unless there’s a substantial turnaround, especially considering what happened last year.

This is what happens when a small-market franchise like the Brewers tries to replicate the massive success of a 2011-type season. The moves to acquire guys like Ramirez, Lohse and Garza paid off at first, but now they’re starting to backfire as the players show their age.

Look, it’s still April. Last year at this time, Milwaukee was on fire before a historic September collapse dismantled the season. Pennants aren’t won this early, but they can be lost. The Brewers may be digging themselves too big a hole to climb out of.

That’s why it’s time to start looking at trade partners for guys like Garza and Lohse. Doing so will help restock the organizational depth chart, even if it means temporarily accelerating the team’s death spiral. It’s what the Brewers need to do in the crossroads situation they currently face.

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