2017 Brewers: The rebuild that never ends


Up next: The Brewers have opted for the full rebuild, and what better way to do it than trade with the Rangers, who have been known to give away a prospect or two (to the Rangers’ credit, that’s also because they develop so many of them). The Brewers traded Carlos Gomez in the middle of 2015, and Jean Segura after it, and Khris Davis just before the start of spring training 2016. Finally the Brewers dealt Jonathan Lucroy to Texas for three minor-leaguers, the most important being outfielder Lewis Brinson, who has more tools than discipline. The Rangers drafted Brinson with the 29th pick of the 2012 draft, and he’s hit in some hitter-friendly environs: a 1.004 2015 OPS in the California, Texas and Pacific Coast leagues, and a .382 average in 23 games post-trade last year at Colorado Springs. Hitting in Milwaukee against big-league pitching won’t be as easy for someone who’s fanned nearly three times for every walk (546/167) in five minor-league seasons.

What he said: “We’ll see what the future holds, but if I’m fortunate enough to spend my whole career here, it’s something that would be really special, for sure.” Ryan Braun on whether he’ll remain a Brewer. What he meant: “My bags are packed.”

Outlook: The Brewers are rebuilding again, and given how much practice they’ve had, you’d think they’d be better at it.

But if they were, they wouldn’t be the Brewers.

Since losing the World Series in 1982, they’ve made the playoffs twice and had winning records 10 times in 34 seasons. By comparison, the Marlins, who started play in 1993 and have had their roster gutted more than once with a thoroughness perhaps only Connie Mack can appreciate, have been to the playoffs as often as the Brewers.

And won the World Series both times.

There’s not a franchise in baseball that’s been to the playoffs less in the last 34 seasons than the Brewers — the Rays, who started playing five years after the Marlins and didn’t have a winning season in their first decade, have been to the postseason twice as often. In their 48 seasons, the Brewers have been to the playoffs four times. That’s going to make for some franchise 50th anniversary celebration in 2019, though at least it gave us Ball Four from its only season in Seattle.

In the last 35 years the Brewers have changed managers and changed leagues, spent money and saved it, tied their fortunes to a slugger whose credibility broke down and not to one whose body did, and built a new ballpark but not a winning team for any duration.

Remember how heartwarming the Royals story was, going 29 years between postseason appearances before getting to the World Series in consecutive seasons and winning it in 2015? The good people of Milwaukee could rightfully grimace. Even with the nearly three-decade gap, since 1982 the Royals, like the Rays, have been to the postseason twice as often as the Brewers.

If you’re looking for the most ignominious record of the last 35 years, you can stop in Milwaukee (the Nationals are next-worst, going 29 years without from 1982-2011, but they’ve been to the playoffs three times in the last five years, even if not successfully so, and look good for more before the Brewers return).

The Brewers’ rebuilding program is a lot like your local highway construction — it never seems to end — and Brewers fans will have the same aura of amazement as commuters if the barriers to the playoffs are ever overcome.

But this won’t be the year. Brewers fans are used to not going to the playoffs, and 2017 will be another season the team doesn’t. The more important question is whether it looks more like one that eventually might.

Only two players remain from the starting eight which lost on Opening Day just two years ago, which isn’t a bad thing because the 2015 Brewers, coming off a winning season, if barely at 82-80, lost 94 games.

GM David Stearns, who followed Doug Melvin’s vacillation of rebuilding one year and contending the next, has been more decisive, and razed everything. Given the farm system he inherited, it needed it.

But Stearns’ path has also revealed the perils of rebuilding. There’s far more certainty  in established major leaguers than the prospects they can be dealt for. There’s a reason sometimes they get the big money.

Stearns traded Gomez to the Astros for four players, including outfielder Brett Phillips, a .309 hitter and .528 slugger the previous two minor-league seasons before the Brewers obtained him. As a Brewer farmhand, Phillips batted .229 last year in AA and fanned 154 times.

Stearns traded Davis for two minor-leaguers, including catcher Jacob Nottingham, coming off a .316/372/505 season. Nottingham hit .234 last year in AA, fanned 138 times and had 21 passed balls.

Stearns traded Segura to Arizona as part of Dave Stewart’s Crazy Eddie the GM routine (“these prospects are insane”), and got middle infielder Isan Diaz, whose batting average dropped nearly 100 points from a D-back in Rookie League to a Brewer in Class A. Diaz did hit .264 and 20 homers and walked 72 times, but fanned 148 more. He should fit right in.

And Stearns traded Lucroy in midseason last year for three players, including Brinson and Ryan Cordell, another prospect with a potential for power and propensity for strikeouts — he fanned 96 times.

That’s not to suggest the Brewers are being mismanaged, only that it’s not as easy to rebound as radio sports-talk show callers believe or the Cubs made it appear.

The Brewers might not win as many games as last year — Jeff Bandy replaces Lucroy, who could probably outperform the former at bat if he kept his shin guards, chest protector and mask on while swinging, Travis Shaw, who couldn’t measure up to free-agent flop Pablo Sandoval in Boston, is at third, and Matt Garza, who has a 4.57 ERA in his three Brewer seasons, is still around to earn $12.5 million and remind Brewers fans not to be nostalgic for Melvin. (If Garza pitches 110 innings, his contract will be triggered for 2018 at $13 million, so unless he improves, don’t expect him to stay in the rotation for long).

Garza spent some of his offseason, as if his summer wasn’t difficult enough, taking to Twitter to scold actress Jessica Chastain, who had tweeted on behalf of birth control being covered in the Affordable Care Act. Garza tweeted back, “It’s called abstinence … it’s the best contraceptive,” and his argument might have been more persuasive had not Garza fathered his first child at age 18.

Unfortunately for Garza, major-league hitters aren’t all he has trouble handling. “You play for the Brewers. What do you know about birth control OR baseball?” a woman tweeted back at Garza, and she’s got a point.

Garza deleted his Twitter account. Too bad the Brewers can’t do the same to the last 34 years.

Team song: Tom Waits: Warm beer and cold women

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