From a single-season perspective, reviewing the Brewers’ offseason for Reds fans is about as far away from baseball relevance as you can get. Both teams are projected to lose 90+ games for the second year in a row, and their matcups won’t even get a mention on Baseball Tonight unless Brandon Phillips balances the ball on his nose to turn a double play. However, if you take a longer view, an interesting drama between the two teams has just begun.

It’s not often you get to see two teams in the same division start to rebuild at the same time, but the Brewers and Reds have done just that. Both teams sort of fired their GMs this offseason and started shipping off veteran players for minor league prospects, signaling that the race was indeed on. (Tangentially, when did baseball get into this golden parachute business, where every GM has to be moved into “an advisory capacity,” instead of just getting canned? Doug Melvin did a bad job when you get down to it, just fire the guy.) Over the next few years we should be able to see which organization did their rebuild better, and what approaches to team building seemed to work.

The Brewers brought in David Sterns to run their rebuild, who at age 30 is the youngest current GM in baseball. He’s another Ivy League guy that has been moving around in baseball since he left college. He’s worked for the Pirates, Mets, the Arizona Fall League, the Commissioner’s Office, and most recently the Astros, where he was GM Jeff Luhnow’s main assistant during their rebuild. Luhnow became a big name by turning the Astros around faster than expected, and has a reputation for relying heavily on his analytics department. Sterns is expected to fit the same mold.

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The Brewers real problem over the last 5 years has been that their draft picks just didn’t work out. From 2009-2012 they picked nine times in the first round and, of those picks, only Taylor Jungmann has even played in the big leagues and he’s not exactly a household name. Sterns laid out the broad strokes of his vision for the Brewers in direct response to that problem. “The trick is to develop a process and a system that allows you to consistently generate that pipeline (of minor league players to the major league team), even as you are competitive at the Major League level. There are a couple of teams that appear to be able to do that, and that’s certainly our goal here in Milwaukee.”

Reading the reviews around the net on Stearns’ first offseason, most people seem to really like the direction he’s taking the team. He completed a whirlwind 38 transactions, mostly acquiring minor leaguers I’d never heard of prior to this review. The general theme seems to be targeting position players who take walks and pitchers who limit them, which is hardly revolutionary at this point. (For some reason the Reds are still focusing on glove-first speedsters, so that will be a difference to watch.)

In the process Sterns dealt K-Rod, Jean Segura, Khris Davis, and Adam Lind. Jonathon Lucroy and Ryan Braun may be the only names you will recognize on this team, and they may dealt eventually (the former being the more likely mover than the latter, as Braun is still owed $95 million and had offseason back surgery). Infielder Aaron Hill was brought in as part of the Segura deal (the Brewer’s took his salary), and Sterns signed elite-level strikeout artist Chris Carter from his former club.

I think the most interesting aspect of the rebuilding race so far is that the Brewers have gone after minor leaguers with excellent talent but who are far from big league-ready, while the Reds seem to have been willing to compromise on elite talent for players that were closer to the majors. I was never sold on the Reds approach, or on the man they picked to implement it, so I’m saying advantage Brewers out of the starting gate. With that said, the Brewers are going to be pretty bad these next few years, and if none of their prospect lottery tickets come through, a lot more than that.

Join the conversation! 8 Comments

  1. i agree the reds approach to take close to ready over high end talent is disappointing, also hope new gm is not one of the kids having the keys to the car

  2. Brewers are a really interesting case on their own and they’ll be fascinating to analyze alongside the Reds’ own rebuilding efforts. They’ve done better at stockpiling young bats so far (Santana, Nottingham, Phillips, Betancourt) through trades, while Cincinnati’s hoarded young pitchers like nobody else.

    Seems like the Brewers are a year or so behind the Reds in having their young talent factor fully into their MLB roster and are thinner in overall talent but better balanced, only needing a 3B/LF, veteran starter, and bullpen help a couple years down the road for when they want to make a run. That is to say, the Brewers’ rebuild seems just about done (outside of a probably Lucroy trade) and they’re simply waiting for their crops to sprout and grow.

    The Reds still have some work to do to (unless every 50-50 prospect like Trahan, Blandino, Ervin, and Waldrop pans out), and that could end up closing that presumed one-year gap or even cause Milwaukee to jump ahead of them.

    • “unless every 50-50 prospect like Trahan, Blandino, Ervin, and Waldrop pans out”

      I’m not sure I would lump Waldrop in that same group as Trahan, Blandino & Ervin. I think waldrop has little chance to produce anything beyond the classic AAAA player while Trahan, Erivn & Blandino still have MLB potential with some significant upside.

      • I was going to agree with a caveat that I thought Waldrop had at least some glimmer of power potential in his bat, but then I looked up his numbers and he hasn’t hit with quite as much authority as he did in 2013. Kind of regressed into a doubles hitter and that’s about all. Good call, Cossack.

  3. I don’t know have the data..but, I wonder what the relative success rate is between high end talent playing in the low minors and middle talent that is ready-almost ready.

    If you took 100 random ” heigh end” guys in A ball and 100 random ” middle talent” guys in AA-AAA…..who gives you the greatest “probability” of sustained MLB success.

    • The guys closer to the majors always have a higher probability of success just because they have already jumped through the hoops to make it that far. But since “success” is a subjective term, the answer is always “it depends.”

      You get to the point where you, as a GM, could be comparing one guy in A ball who has a ceiling of being a 9 WAR player (perhaps a power hitting, GG shortstop), and perhaps one guy in AAA who has a 3 WAR ceiling (a Peraza-type guy, perhaps).

      So, let’s say the AAA player has a 30% chance to make it and stick in the MLB, then the A ball player only needs to have a 10% chance to make their value equivalent.

      That, obviously, is a very simplistic view, but I think that’s how most FOs try to balance the high-upside guys with the high-floor/close-proximity guys. At least that’s how I’d do it! It’s like diversifying your stock portfolio. Get all sorts of guys at all different levels and you even out your risk.

      • I agree with your analysis….very well stated.

        It seems the Reds are going with the “quantity” approach……have as many near MLB ready guys as possible and hope at least one or two are better than anticipated..

  4. I think the Brewers probably made a big mistake not unloading Lucroy already. If reports are to be believed, they wanted way too much for him. If he doesn’t ever get back to that elite-level (offensively or defensively) they’ll have squandered a pretty valuable asset. Also, catchers are rarely traded at the deadline, so that line is probably out.

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