Al's Ramblings

Friday, July 14, 2017

(7/14/2017 11:00:00 AM) - Al

Roundtable participants 
Kurt, who asked me to be a Facebook friend about 3 years ago; Carl, who is better known as the Rambling brother; Jason, friend of mine from the Eau Claire days and a noted coach, historian, and author of a pair of books; and finally Justin, whose WTMJ radio show I have guested on a few times.

AL--All right gents, let's get this thing started. I predicted 79 wins for this year's team when I guested on Justin's show before the season began. What were your expectations?

JASON--I was in the same range as you, Al--maybe 80 wins. Up until the last few weeks, that still looked quite feasible. No long winning or losing streaks--just steady and meandering. Things have changed as we headed to the break, obviously. I didn't put a lot of stock in first place in the Central until they started inching closer to the wild card spot. So, yes, I guess I'm quite surprised, but that surprise just happened recently.

CARL--I  think I was expecting the wins and losses they have now to be just about turned around, thus a 41-50 would have been about right. I didn't expect the record to reflect any improvement from 2016 as they are getting younger and less experienced. I thought maybe the 2nd half record might improve over the start but couldn't hardly see an 81 win season.

KURT--I did NOT expect them to win THIS year! I expected 76 wins.

JUSTIN--When we talked before the season, I said I thought this team would be hovering around .500.  I thought most of that would be in the second half though after this team and young guys started to figure things out. 50 wins at the break I don't think anyone saw coming. I think we all assumed those numbers would be flipped and they'd be somewhere around 41-43 wins, best case scenario 45.

AL--What do you see as the biggest positive of this team?

KURT--Many might say 1B play (Thames/Aguilar) but, I figured we'd get some HR's. I'll say Tie between the "depth" (Perez/Sogard/Aguilar/Catchers) and Travis Shaw. Not just the power, but, the RBI, Average (near .300), SO many RBI!

JASON--The biggest surprise for me is the amazing amount of depth Stearns has built in general. Losing key players to injury or ineffectiveness happens to every team and can spell doom for a small/low payroll market. It's terribly cliche, but this is "next man up" at its finest. Stearns' emphasis on versatility was evident from the start, and that certainly has helped fill holes when adversity strikes.

I also like how Counsell/Stearns is willing to reduce playing time or cut bait completely with someone who either hasn't produced or is blocking someone from an opportunity. 

In addition,Nelson getting into a form that many had hoped for but few expected. Sogard was a head scratcher move for me at the time, but you can't argue how vital he has been.

CARL--I'm shocked to see Pina especially, play so perfectly both on defense and offense. Also, Bandy had some great results despite the slump at the end when Vogt was picked up and provided HR help. They have profited at catcher by "getting rid" of Lucroy and Maldy who we thought were so valuable to our team!  I'm also stunned at what a complete 3rd baseman that Shaw has been, as well as how valuable Santana, Sogard, Thames, and Aguilar has been. 

JUSTIN--Travis Shaw.  Its not to say he's been a total surprise, I think we all figured he would give you around 15-18 home runs and was an instant upgrade at third base, but you could make the case he's been one of the five best third basemen in baseball this season.

AL--So, what's the biggest negative or disappointment for you?

CARL--For awhile, we had no lefties on the pitching staff until now we have Suter and Hader. {Note: Roundtable took place before Webb acquisition.} I'm thrilled to have Vogt's lefty bat but am scared to death of what appears to be his dead arm. Hard to dig up disappointments this year though.

AL--I wonder if we'll see a Vogt/Garza pairing (in fact, I think we did). I remember Doug Melvin talking about that a few years ago when the Padres were at less than 10% catching base stealers, as he guested in the booth for an inning. He said "You know, it doesn't seem to be hurting them a bit. Maybe we overestimate the value of a stolen base." 

I just saw someone say in the last day or two that the Brewers lead the majors in stolen bases, and it doesn't seem like they should be even close. Teams simply do not run much to speak of, as only 4 players have 21 or more, and none of them have an OPS over's almost like players that can hit simply don't feel the need to run.

JASON--Villar. We kind of had this hope that he had found something last year but he hasn't built on it. There's still time, I suppose, but even if he goes on a tear during the second half (unlikely considering how well Sogard has played, earning the playing time), it will be a down year for him. Feliz could be in the picture here, too. I don't know that I had high enough hopes for him coming in, though. Guerra's velocity drop has me thinking there is another as-yet-undisclosed injury going on. Could be the league is starting to figure him out, I suppose. The gun doesn't lie, though. 

JUSTIN--Ryan Braun's health.  I continue to be one of his biggest defenders and despite what people still hurt by 2012 want to believe, the fact remains he's a highly productive player - when healthy.  The injuries have held him out of the lineup for more than half the Brewers games this season and despite what you may think, thats not the norm for Braun.  I've never understood the "injury prone" tag he's been given the past few years when other than the suspension year in 2013, he hasn't played in fewer than 135 games since his rookie year.  I think a healthy Ryan Braun all season long would obviously add a few more wins but would have also quieted a lot of the questions on whether or not the Brewers were for real in the first half.

KURT--Villar. Thought he'd "take off" after last year. (Braun disappointing, but, injuries are expected with him).

AL--I warned everyone about Villar's very high BAbip last season. That said, he has fallen off a bit even considering that. He has looked pretty good since his return from the DL, but still just a .317 OBP. Need fewer outs from him.

JUSTIN--Ryan Braun's health. I continue to be one of his biggest defenders and despite what people still hurt by 2012 want to believe, the fact remains he's a highly productive player, when healthy.  The injuries have held him out of the lineup for more than half the Brewers games this season and despite what you may think, thats not the norm for Braun.  I've never understood the "injury prone" tag he's been given the past few years when other than the suspension year in 2013, he hasn't played in fewer than 135 games since his rookie year.  I think a healthy Ryan Braun all season long would obviously add a few more wins but would have also quieted a lot of the questions on whether or not the Brewers were for real in the first half.

AL--I don't think I coined the phrase "in Doug we trust," but I said it often. Stearns has done things differently, but has worked his plan from day one. He has continued to bring in free talent and not hesitated to bring in players with warts (older like Guerra, out of options like Villar, pitchers that lack velocity like Hughes and Drake). I even give him credit for Neftali did not work out, but the downside was minimal. Tell me your thoughts of our still young GM.

CARL--I  have no complaints whatsoever in Stearns so far.  I  feel he may be our most valuable guy on the team from what he has already done.

JASON--The fact that there's always a chance for someone to come in and prove they deserve the playing time is something that is new to Milwaukee. Even when it comes to a financial loss (Feliz), tough decisions are made swiftly. Building patiently, looking for versatile athletes, and churning that 25th/40th roster spot constantly for new potential gems is a great approach. He's not afraid of going outside the box to find something that works.

JUSTIN--I don't think you can say Stearns has been anything but an overwhelming success.  Of all the moves he's made so far, the only one that you can say he wasn't the clear winner on was Khris Davis for Bubba Derby and Jacob Nottingham but even with that one only time will tell.  The biggest thing I think you've noticed with Stearns is he applies the quantity over quality approach in most deals - not to say he's not getting quality back - look no further than Lewis Brinson - but he's brought in a lot of quality players opposed to just shooting for one top level prospect.  Acquiring Brinson may end up being his best move, but the Segura deal is what stands out to me the most.  Getting immediate help like Aaron Hill and Chase Anderson but also a guy like Isan Diaz for Jean Segura - who was going to need to change positions to stay in Milwaukee. Building up the system is one thing and in that category you'd have to give him high marks.  But now comes the challenge of maintaining it and thats the next chapter in Stearns tenure.

KURT--A+. (to use Al's cliche word) The "casuals" don't appreciate the job he's done. NOT just the obvious (Shaw/Aguilar/Thames) but, nearly EVERY move has worked (Sogard/Vogt/bullpen). Yes, given up talent (Davis/Thornburg/Lucroy, etc.) but, a lot of Kenny Rogers in him (he KNOWS when to hold them and KNOWS when to fold or move a Davis or Feliz). As an aside, I sang a Kenny Rogers song "Lady" to my beautiful bride Sue on our wedding day.

Oops, back to the Brewers.

AL: Kurt did marry up, but the real problem is, it's tough to get him to talk about himself. That said, Stearns has brought in Sogard, Espino, Hughes, Drake, and Vogt for nothing, just since the end of last season. Don't forget, Manny Pina was a PTBNL, a AAA veteran with over 3200 PA's in the minors. Suddenly, he is a bonafide major league catcher, both in the field and on offense. It's easy to overlook, but that's a major part of his success.

As for Counsell and his staff, your thoughts?

JASON--This is the perfect team for Counsell. Young, ready to learn, having fun doing it. Not a grumpy old man, not a pushover. Seems to command respect without demanding attention. All are intangibles, of course, but maybe I'm a sucker for that sort of thing from time to time.

JUSTIN--When Counsell was hired I thought it was nothing more than a nice story. Hometown kid plays for the Brewers and eventually goes on to manage them, but given the way they've performed at this point you have to question if Counsell is a really good manager.  Overall I think he's done a fine job of not getting in the way of his players and given some of his constraints with the bullpen, I think he's done a fine job managing his pitching. Overall, I've been pleased. 

KURT--In my opinion ...(A) THE most under-rated manager in all of MLB .... but, the LEADER to be Manager of the Year in NL! SO many NOT great athletes turn out to be fine managers/coaches. (I know a Fuller Brush man that never scored a point in HS basketball ... in 3 years mind you; then went on to a 827-173 coaching record. Craig Counsell/Bob Uecker/me...all turned mediocre playing careers into fine "after careers" in coaching/broadcasting.)

CARL--Yes, for now, CC and his coaching staff seem to be golden, also. 

AL--What additions do you think we'll see from the minors?

CARL--I  feel Brett Phillips and Wily Peralta might be of help in the 2nd half.

JASON--I think the position players are in good shape. DeJesus seems like a good option if there's an injury, and Brinson and Phillips could be up for that reason as well. As for pitchers, I think there could be an outside shot of bringing Burnes in as he has had success at every level he's played. Wang probably deserves a shot, too, just to see what he could do in the future.

JUSTIN--We're already seeing them linked to starting pitching - which makes sense given Davies' inconsistency and Anderson's injury, but I don't think Stearns is going to do anything short term.  If they're going to make a move for a starting pitcher, I think Stearns would do something to bring back someone under team control yet and give up a little more, which is why both those names make a bit of sense - being under control until 2020.

KURT--The obvious... Brinson up for end of season and playoffs. No, Hader does NOT move to SP (as many suggest).

AL--Hader's future is probably as a SP or a closer, but right now, he'll continue doing just what he's doing. He's not going to be able stretch out and start again this year...if memory serves, they moved him due to an innings limit anyway.

So, the one you've all been waiting for, what trades, if any do you see? Major? Minor? None?

KURT--They buy AGGRESSIVELY: Stearns and Mark A. will "go for it." I'm an old coach; you don't always WIN the YEAR you think you will. 2 years early, we REACT as PERFECT timing ... just like year St. Louis was 83-79 and WON it all. They BUY a Starting pitcher. Though I'd like Quintana, it's Gray of Oakland"ouch" (though we don't lose Brinson, Hader or Ray ... other team would want Ray) we lose 2 of next 7 (Ortiz, Diaz, Erceg, Dubon, Phillips, Woodruff, and Clark). My guess one IF, Diaz or Dubon, and one SP (Ortiz or Woodruff ) and (if they receive 2 players ... maybe a RP, or we lose one OF (Phillips or Clark). Yes, 2-3 of top 10, but, neither Hader, Brinson, and hopefully not Ray.

CARL--I  feel very confident that Stearns will do just enough without mortgaging the future. He will never trade Arcia, or any blue chipper. Anybody he trades is not that untouchable.

JASON--Minor additions only. Stearns seems patient and if the reports are true, Mark is allowing him to continue working the plan. Personally, I'd like to see a starter like Estrada targeted. He had a rough month or so, which is a little concerning, but I think that plus his salary could be enough to make him cheap from a trade value standpoint yet a valuable piece down the stretch. I'm pleasantly surprised about Suter's early success. I don't know that he can continue it. It would be nice to have an experienced option if he can't.

I'm probably too hung up on prospects. I like the depth that has been built in a short amount of time. But if I had to pick just a handful of untouchables, I'd go with Brinson, Burnes, Woodruff, Hader, and Ray. Man, that leaves an awful lot of players I'd also hate to lose...

JUSTIN--I don't think they do anything major to ships out multiple guys in their top 10-15 prospects and I don't think they'll do something minor.  The NL Central's leader at the all-star break has won the division 8 of the last 10 years (the lone 2 times it didn't happen being the Brewers in 2007 and 2014) so you know its within reach.  Plus you factor in a team thats been in the post-season just 3 times in the last 25 years and I think that heightens the sense of needing to do something given how realistic it is to reach the post-season this year.  Stearns isn't going to do anything to change his rebuilding plan, but he'll slightly alter it.

AL--I'm hoping for a Gray and Doolittle combo platter. I think Kurt's price is pretty darn accurate...a couple top 10 prospects seems like a fair price for the two A's pitchers, with maybe a lesser prospect. I actually have Dubon right up there with Hader and Brinson...he just turned 21 and he dominated at AA and is holding his own at AAA. Stearns has said he wants players with years of team control, and they do not come cheap.

I will just add that Josh Harrison seems like a Stearns type and is able to play 2B/3B/LF/RF (he "could" play SS/CF if he had too, I'm sure). If the Pirates continue to struggle, they might well decide to reset and rid themselves of high priced vets. There's my sleeper pick, the one no one will see coming.

All right, how many games does this club win total?

{For the readers benefit, allow me to say if they go .500 the rest of the way, they'd finish with 85.5 W's}.

JASON--I think they will continue to avoid long losing streaks and finish with 89 wins and a playoff spot.

JUSTIN--The schedule isn't extremely difficult in the second half but its projected to be slightly more difficult.  That being said I've seen projections on Fangraphs and a few other sites that have them sitting around 89-91 wins.  I'm going to say your magic number is 88 which would mean going 38-33 which I think is certainly attainable at this point.  It would also mean the Cubs need to go 45-29 which is no small feat even with the talent they have.  Put me down for 88.

AL--I was not feeling very confident until I noticed they were only a couple games behind the Rockies for the second wildcard spot. I'm going to guess 86 wins, but I'm not sure if that will be good enough for the playoffs or not. The Cubs are scoring a run less and allowing a half run more a game so far this season compared to last. I just can't see that not "balancing out" a bit...and Quintana should help too.

The Cubs are probably not done, their success cycle looks far shorter than it did a few months ago. Because of this, they will be aggressive, they're all in at this point.

KURT--They finish 88-74 and WIN the Central. FYI: I WILL be there!

CARL--I'd be very surprised if they won 88 or more but I have already been very surprised this year. I think both St.Louis and the Cubs will win more often from now on this season.

AL--I just saw on Fangraphs yesterday that they give both the Cards and Cubs a better playoff percentage than the Crew, even though they're down 5.5 games.

Finally, I'm a proud contrarian, but sometimes it gets lonely. Give me an idea that will never happen, but you would support. Can be either on or off the field.

KURT--A. I'd make a "Craig's Crushers" T-Shirt featuring about 5-6 players (for sure Thames, Shaw, Santana, Arcia, and Braun, plus a pitcher or two ... either Nelson or "Ebel" Knebel) and start selling it to the fans! 

B. I'd make the 2nd to last game a Hernan Perez "bobblehead day" and ...IF by some "bad chance" we fall OUT of race, THAT day (possibly a low ticket sales day) have Hernan Perez (or Eric Sogard) play ALL 9 positions .... FIRST one since Cesar Tovar and Bert Campaneris. 

CARL--First, I  would hire a super psychiatrist to be with Wily Peralta 24 hours a day to pump him full of confidence so our team could benefit from his potential.  He could be as effective as Knebel, one would think, because he has a similar fastball and had success as a starter (was it 17 wins?) that one year. If he could come through as a hero in the 2nd half, what a story we have! We could also use a calf specialist to live with Braun! 

JUSTIN--The crazy thing is you don't really have any looming issues with this team, other than trying to squeeze in at-bats for guys that are hot.  I still think Santana ultimately gets moved, but moving him now isn't the right time. Managerial move, put Orlando Arcia in the leadoff spot. GM move, I'd shop Eric Thames and see if someone wants to bite on his 20+ HR.  He's been a nice story and is still productive but that slash line has been dropping since May.  If you moved Thames now you have Aguilar and Perez to take over his at-bats (notice I'm not saying play Ryan Braun at first like everyone else insists would be easy to do as if this was little league).  If you got desperate enough you could even rekindle things with the newly released Chris Carter.

Ultimately this move would never happen because the safety Thames brings is providing you with a first basemen for the next two years when there isn't a clear first baseman of the future on this roster, but for a shot in the dark why not?

For anyone asking why not Braun, no.  You'd be moving about $66 million in payroll so you're either picking up a bulk of that in exchange for a prospect or you're dealing him just to get rid of the money.  Neither of those two options sound very appealing to me.
JASON--Going ultra-aggressive and using some of the savings from payroll to bring in Shohei Otani for next season. It makes no sense. But I couldn't think of anything else.

AL--Well, needless to say I don't see any of those happening, but that's what I asked for, isn't it? Thanks for joining me, fellas, and I look forward to doing this again some time. By the end of the season, I'm sure I will have forgotten what a time consuming beast this is to put his thing together.

7/14/2017 11:00:00 AM

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