The Brewers have been struggling terribly for over a month now. They have fallen to 51-53 and are in danger of being swept by the worst offense in baseball. They currently trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 5.5 games. They are tied for third with the Houston Astros and hold a two percent chance of making the playoffs (according to baseballprospectus). At the end of May, the Brewers were in first place at 30-20. Since then, the team is 21-33. So what went wrong?
It all started after the Brewers were eliminated from the playoffs. The Brewers made it known that they didn't want C.C. Sabathia to be just a rent-a-player. They made it known that their top priority was to sign the big left hander. With a contract offer that would have cost the Brewers $20 million/season, it was difficult to gear up for any other signings. Signing Sabathia would have set this franchise back immensely. There is no way the Brewers could have afforded to pay Sabathia the $100 million that they were offering. Eventually, Sabathia signed with the Yankees, leaving the Brewers scrambling to find a starting pitcher.
The Brewers ended up signing free agent pitcher Braden Looper to a one year deal, with a club option for 2010, worth $4.75 million. At the time, it didn't look to be a bad signing. Looper was coming off a solid season for the Cardinals and came with little risk by only signing a one year deal. Looking back, it is easy to say that this was a terrible signing by the Brewers. Looper has been horrible for the Brewers. His ERA currently stands at 5.03. The only reason he has nine wins this season is due to the insane amount of run support that the Brewers give him.
The other major signing the Brewers made was inking the all-time saves leader to a one year deal. Trevor Hoffman signed with the Brewers for $6 million. Hoffman has been spectacular for the Brewers this season. He has solidified a bullpen that is among the best in baseball. This would lead you to think that this was a successful signing. His $6 million contract came one season after the Brewers signed Eric Gagne to a $10 million deal. While on this topic, I still don't understand why this is considered one of the worst signings ever for the Brewers. Gagne was an experiment that surely failed, but truly didn't set this franchise back horribly. If you compare the Gagne signing to Jeffery Hammonds' 3yr/$21 million deal, Jeff Suppan's current 4yr/$42 million deal, or Bill Hall's 4yr/$24 million, it doesn't look nearly as bad.
The Brewers were in for quite a surprise when they claimed Casey McGehee of waivers from the Chicago Cubs. He started the season of dissapointing before being inserted as a regular when Rickie Weeks went down for the season. He has responded to post a .320/.369/.545/.914 in 178 at bats with nine home runs and 34 driven in. Do I think that MeGehee could post that same line every season? No, but he surely has helped solidify a Brewers offense that could be in much worse shape.
The Brewers traded Cole Gillespie and Roque Mercedes for Felipe Lopez on July 19th to help fill the void that was created when Rickie Weeks went down for the year. Lopez came relatively cheap for what we gave up. Lopez is currently projected as a type B free agent, so the Brewers would receive a pick in between the first and second round if he signs elsewhere. It seems like a good trade for the Brewers as they probably will lose nothing in prospect potential.
The Brewers then traded for Claudio Vargas on the July 31st trade deadline. This seems to be a minor move that will really accomplish little this season.
So what could have been done differently?
The most obvious answer would be starting pitching, but what was out there. The Brewers were not interested in signing a huge free agent to a multiple year deal. So that essentially took the Brewers away from the A.J. Burnett/Derek Lowe/ect... type players. So you are left with players similar to a Braden Looper. The one pitcher that I can remember the Brewers being mentioned with last offseason was Jon Garland. Garland signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for one year/$7.25 million with a mutual option for 2010. He has pitched poorly, as many expected, and the Diamondbacks will probably decline his option, costing them another $2.5 million in the buyout. So Garland essentially signed for around $10 million. Be glad the Brewers didn't take the other option.
The other way this team could have been improved was via trade at the deadline. The Cardinals made a splash in the trade market when they acquired LF Matt Holliday from the A's, and 3B Mark Derosa from the Indians. The Cubs made their major moves during free agency this offseason and are starting to play up to their potential. The Brewers decided to essentially stand pat and not give up any of their top prospects. They were mentioned in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes, but nothing ever came of it. It seems odd to fault Melvin to not pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal. The Brewers could have parted with Gamel and Escobar only to not make the playoffs. What is the sense in that?
This team is clearly struggling. It seems irresponsible to part with top prospects to finish respectively. No one could have foreseen the injuries the Brewers have had. The fact of the matter is that the Cardinals are currently on pace to win the division at 88-74. With the Brewers at 51-53, do you see them going 37-21 the rest of the way? There is no way of saying that a Roy Halladay could have taken the Brewers to the playoffs. So what is the sense in part with young cheap talent? It will only make the Brewers worse over the next decade.