Which players are most likely to be traded in a Brewers firesale?
Even before they fired manager Ron Roenicke on Sunday, the Brewers let other teams know that they are open for business in the form of trade proposals. While Milwaukee's 7–18 record may not be the best advertisement for those involved, the roster does contain many players who could help other teams, and the Brewers are in need of both salary relief and help for their farm system.
Jonathan Lucroy—a National League MVP candidate in 2014 who's under club control through '17 via a $5.25 million club option—is almost certainly untouchable. He's also injured; via a broken toe, he could be out until later this month. Also likely unavailable is Carlos Gomez, who's making $8 million this year and $9 million next year. While he's already drawn heavy interest, it's difficult to see general manager Doug Melvin moving him unless the package of players the Brewers receive is exceptional. At the other end of the scale is Ryan Braun, owed a minimum of $105 million from '16 to '20 and hitting just .229/.273/.410. He’s probably immovable, though given the recent trades of Josh Hamilton and Melvin Upton Jr., it's clear that just about any contractual albatross can be shed with the right combination of circumstances.
Braun, Lucroy and Gomez are likely staying put, but over the past few days, several national writers have reported the names of a number of Brewers who could interest other teams, including pending free agents Kyle Lohse, Adam Lind, Aramis Ramirez, Gerardo Parra, Jonathan Broxton and Neal Cotts, all of whom could provide short-term help for a contender. Given that Milwaukee is going nowhere, paring down payroll from a club-record $104.2 million would help the franchise, as would restocking a farm system that was ranked 19th by Baseball America and 26th by Baseball Prospectus before the season.
The 36-year-old Lohse, who is making $11 million this year, has been roughed up for a 7.28 ERA through his first five starts, but since his injury-marred 2010, he's enjoyed by far the best stretch of his career. From '11 to '14, he delivered a 3.28 ERA (116 ERA+) and averaged 199 innings and 3.1 WAR per year. His 5.9 strikeouts per nine and 3.80 FIP across that span aren't very sexy, and he's had trouble keeping the ball in the park, serving up 2.4 homers per nine this year, and 1.2 per nine as a Brewer overall. That's not just a matter of pitching at Miller Park, as his home/road splits since joining the club are essentially even in that department.
Still, Lohse shown he can work around that thanks to a microscopic 1.8 walks per nine, which ranks ninth among the 90 pitchers with at least 500 innings from 2011 to '14. If the Brewers are willing to deal within the division, a return to St. Louis—where he pitched from '08 to '11—makes sense. His ability to eat innings in bulk could also appeal to the Dodgers, who have cycled through Scott Baker, Mike Bolsinger, David Huff and Carlos Frias in the absence of Hyun-jin Ryu and who need a more substantial solution after losing Brandon McCarthy to Tommy John surgery.
Acquired in November in an effort to shore up the team's longstanding first base problem, the 31-year-old Lind has been the team's only above-average hitter in terms of OPS+; his 159 mark (on a .318/.392/.553 line) is 64 points better than the second-ranked Brewer, Jean Segura. Lind has his limitations, both as a defender who's best suited to being a designated hitter and as a lefty who struggles to hit same-siders (.214/.259/.331 career), but he's hit a combined .302/.369/.496 for a 138 OPS+ since the start of the 2013 season. He's affordable, too, making $7.5 million this year, with an $8 million club option for next. An AL team getting little from its DH or first base spot, such as the Mariners or Angels, makes some sense, though Seattle's lineup already tilts heavily to the left. The Rays could use help at both spots, but for a team that's burning more than $12 million on James Loney and David DeJesus, even Lind's modest salary could prove too much.
The 37-year-old Ramirez, who has already said that this will be his final season, is making $14 million this year and hitting just .233/.263/.411 with three homers in 76 plate appearances thus far. He did, however, put up a solid .285/.330/.427 line with 15 homers and a 109 OPS+ last year and has produced a 123 OPS+ in three-plus seasons in Milwaukee. His defense at third has been lousy (-13 DRS as a Brewer, a prorated -5 per 1,200 inning "season"), and he does have limited no-trade protection, but there are a few teams currently receiving subpar play at the hot corner who could use Ramirez's help. The Giants, for example, are currently suffering through Casey McGehee's .188/.243/.275 start; the Padres are receiving an NL-worst .194/.252/.337 at third, primarily from Will Middlebrooks; and the Angels are getting a miserable .216/.252/.392 line from David Freese. But moving to the West Coast could be a tough sell for a veteran on his last lap, particularly one with a preference for the east coast.
On the other hand, the 27-year-old Parra (.262/.274/.426 in 61 PA) is a useful fourth outfielder known for his outstanding defense. He owns two Gold Gloves, a Fielding Bible award and a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award, and has averaged a prorated +14 DRS per year for his time at all three outfield positions, with rightfield (+23) his strongest. On the other hand, his bat (.274/.325/.395 for a career 94 OPS+) is a bit light for an everyday player unless it’s in centerfield, and he owns an unplayable .587 career OPS against lefties. In a market where several teams such as the Padres, Red Sox and Dodgers have gluts of outfield inventory (even if it's not all currently healthy), his low cost ($6.24 million this year) will almost certainly appeal to some contender.
Broxton, the setup man in front of Francisco Rodriguez, has been all over the map both literally and figuratively over the past few years, passing though the Dodgers, Royals, Reds and now Brewers since 2011, with ERAs ranging from 2.30 to 5.68 in that span. The 30-year-old behemoth can still pump it into the high 90s velocity-wise, but he's no longer a strikeout machine, instead becoming more reliant on a two-seamer with which he can generate ground balls. He was effective last year, with a 2.30 ERA and 3.37 FIP in 58 2/3 innings and 7.5 strikeouts per nine, but he doesn’t come cheap. Broxton is making $9 million this year with a $1 million buyout on a $9 million club option for next year, so the Brewers would likely have to eat some of that.
The same is true for Rodriguez, who's owed a minimum of $9.5 million beyond this year including a 2017 club option, and who seems to have found a home in Milwaukee, having closed deals with them—ranging from minor league to multi-year—in each of the past four years. More affordable is Cotts, a 35-year-old lefty making $3 million. He's been roughed up for a 4.30 ERA in 82 appearances since the start of last year, and has struggled to get lefties out in that span, though he posted a microscopic 1.11 ERA in 58 appearances for the Rangers in '13.
Beyond Braun, one pricey player who could prove tough to move is Matt Garza, who's owed $12.5 million this year as well as each of the next two, with either a $13 million vesting option or a $5 million club option at the end of the rainbow. The 31-year-old righty has been ineffective thus far with a 4.60 ERA and 5.48 FIP through five starts, and while he was solid last year, posting a 3.64 ERA in 27 starts over 163 1/3 innings, he’s averaged just 23 starts and 141 innings from 2012 to '14, with last year’s workload (27 starts, 163 1/3 IP) the only time he qualified for the ERA title.
One young player who could be on the move is Segura. The 25-year-old shortstop is coming off a nightmare season in which he endured the sudden death of his nine-month-old son and slipped to an injury-fueled .246/.289/.326 line with five homers and 20 steals after earning All-Star honors in 2013. He's currently hitting .289/.324/.381 and making just $534,000, with three years of arbitration eligibility ahead of him. He’d be a good fit for the Mets, who are off to a hot start but gritting their teeth as Wilmer Flores illustrates what everybody else already knew: He’s not a big-league shortstop.
What makes Segura expendable is the presence of a pair of prospects. The first, Luis Sardinas, was acquired from the Rangers in the trade that sent Yovani Gallardo to Texas. The 21-year-old switch-hitter was rushed to the majors last year due to injuries in Texas' infield and hit a thin .261/.303/.313 in 125 PA, but he placed in the lower reaches of MLB.com's and Baseball Prospectus' top 100 prospect lists in 2013 and '14 (topping out at No. 72 on the latter last year).
Sardinas may be more suited to a utility role in the long run, with 20-year-old–Double-A shortstop Orlando Arcia (brother of Twins outfielder Oswaldo) as the heir apparent. ESPN's Keith Law, who ranked Arcia 54th on his Top 100 Prospects list, wrote, "He projects as a clear everyday shortstop, the kind of high-contact player who can develop into a .300 hitter in time, with 15-homer peaks once he fills out." In February, Brewers farm director Reid Nichols even mentioned Arcia as a potential contributor in 2015, though his 23 games at Biloxi (where he's red hot at .375/.429/.500) represent the extent of his experience above Class A. The point stands, however: This is the rare area where the Brewers have some organizational depth, which marks Segura as a trade candidate.
It’s unlikely the Brewers will move all of the players named here, and they may take some time to start swapping, given that general managers tend to spend the first couple months of the season evaluating exactly where their top needs are. Still, Melvin will probably be a busy man this summer as he embarks on an overhaul that few saw coming prior to the team’s dreadful start.