OOTP Brewers: Tailspin

When I launched this OOTP fan-sourcing project in March, the prospect of an actual season of baseball felt remote. I didn’t give much thought to how I’d feel virtually managing the Brewers while the real Brewers played, because it simply wasn’t an option. The real Brewers weren’t playing, regardless of what we did, so it hardly seemed to matter.

Why bring this up now? Because having both sets of Brewers play at the same time is making it difficult to keep track of the two. In the real world, Lorenzo Cain opted out of playing this season, leaving the Brewers scrambling for center field depth. They resorted to playing Avisaíl García in center yesterday, but they’ll be searching for answers elsewhere. In the Out Of The Park universe, Cain hurt his wrist throwing the ball — he’ll be out a week or more, leaving the team scrambling for depth in the interim.

In the real world, the rotation has some questions. Josh Lindblom left his first start early with back spasms, Brett Anderson looked shaky in his return from injury, and it feels like more arms will be needed. In OOTP, Lindblom missed the first four months of the season with injury, Anderson perpetually looks shaky in his return from injury, and even after an early trade for Kevin Gausman, more arms are surely needed.

Oh, right. There are some big differences. First, the OOTP Brewers are without the services of franchise cornerstone Christian Yelich for the next month or so after he strained his oblique. The team is running out a platoon of Tyrone Taylor and Matt Joyce in left field to replace as much as possible of Yelich’s production — oof. No team could replace Yelich’s production and not miss a beat, but that feels particularly bad, even if Joyce can still hit righties.

Second, the Pirates are ascendant in the OOTP universe, 16 games over .500 and holding down first place in the NL Central. They’ve made some moves to consolidate their success, adding Marcus Semien and Sean Manaea in a deadline trade with the A’s. It’s still a flimsy lineup — Guillermo Heredia and Elias Díaz play key roles — but an MVP candidate and pitching depth make them formidable opponents after spotting them three games, their current lead in the division.

Lastly, in our world, the trade deadline has already happened, which makes replacing Cain’s production trickier — he was injured on August 3, sadly. That makes our trade deadline acquisitions a little less helpful, though they’ll still shore the team up elsewhere; we acquired Brandon Belt and Jeff Samardzija, along with some major salary relief that leaves us on the hook for only $3 million of Belt’s salary in 2021, in exchange for a package of prospects.

Let’s take a closer look at that trade.

Brewers Get:

  • Brandon Belt
  • Jeff Samardzija
  • $3 million in 2020
  • $13 million in 2021

Giants Get:

With Burnes out for the year, Anderson on his fourth IL stay, and Lindblom accounting for only nine innings in three appearances this year, Samardzija was a necessary evil. He keeps the team six deep in starting pitchers, which makes Freddy Peralta a high-value swingman; he’s the third-best reliever on the team in addition to being the fifth-best starter, and can fill in for Lindblom or work as a setup man based on our needs.

As for Belt, the Justin Smoak experiment wasn’t cutting it. Smoak was only playable against right-handed pitching due to his wide platoon splits, and Belt is a better hitter against righties, with nearly as much power, far more gap power, and better contact skills. He’s also playable against lefties in a pinch, while Smoak wasn’t. It’s not a huge upgrade, but it’s unequivocally an upgrade, and a $3 million Belt in 2021 could be a bargain.

As for the prospects, Drew Rasmussen was a tough guy to give up. He’s a fastball/slider starter with a future in relief, and a chance to start if things go well. Dillard is a low-minors catcher, more depth than anything else, though he put together a solid batting line in High-A this year.

Why didn’t we make a bigger deadline move? In truth, it was a quiet deadline aside from two trades. The first, the Semien trade, was classic A’s; at 58-55, they’re out of the hunt, so they cashed in some pieces for Nick Gonzales and reliever Blake Cederlind. The other was a doozy, and one the Brewers simply didn’t have the assets to attempt: Wander Franco, Jelfry Marte, José Martínez, and Charlie Morton’s contract (he’s out for the season) in exchange for Rhys Hoskins, Seranthony Domínguez, Ian Happ, Bryson Stott, and Nick Pivetta.

That bloated and momentous trade aside, there wasn’t much to be had. That leaves the team in a bind now that Cain went down with injury. The team has options in center — at least in theory — but none of them are good. The two players on the active roster with ratings in center are Taylor (40 on the 20-80 scale) and Brock Holt (35). Corey Ray and Jacob Robson can handle the position better, and calling one of them up might be a better play than continuing to field a sieve in center.

There’s also one last option, not a good one but an option nonetheless. Cain’s wrist injury doesn’t affect his defense at all. He can still play, though he’d be throwing and hitting at reduced strength. Today and tomorrow, we take on the Pirates; go 0-2, and the chance for a division title starts to feel remote. In the world of unexpanded playoffs, that title is worth shooting for, but it’s unclear if risking Cain’s wrist is a fair price to pay. Let’s put it up to a poll:

Other than muddling through Cain’s injury and waiting for Yelich to return, there’s not much to do in virtual Milwaukee these days. The squad is assembled, the deadline has passed, and other than shuffling players between positions and optimizing platoons, we’re mostly just hoping to outplay the Pirates down the stretch. I’m on FanGraphs Live now to go over the last few weeks and look for any small edges that can put us over the top. See you there!

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Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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