We’re Managing the (Fake) Brewers!

Good news, everyone! Our crowd-managed Brewers have started the season. Not well! Not well at all! But they’ve started the season. Game 1 was an absolute blowout; the Cubs put up 14 on the Brewers, including five runs against Josh Hader (on three walks, a hit by pitch, and a grand slam by Javy Báez). Our batters weren’t up to the task, scoring only three runs. Yu Darvish went eight innings and struck out 10 Brewers.

One game isn’t enough to say anything about this team, but it was an ugly one. Christian Yelich, Justin Smoak, and Avisaíl García all went hitless, and the team didn’t put enough pressure on Darvish to even make any interesting baserunning decisions. The pitching staff walked 10 and hit three while striking out only four Cubs, a desultory performance to match the offense’s slow start.

But it’s just one game. It’s time to start thinking about the rest of the season. First, let’s review the decisions we made last time. We had a few management sliders to move. You voted for aggressive baserunning, frequent infield shifts, and quick pitching hooks. The only place where there was a confusing result was on pinch hitting, where slightly aggressive pinch hitting was first, slightly conservative pinch hitting was a narrow second, and neutral tendencies came in third. I decided to resolve this by leaving pinch hitting pretty much middle of the road.

Take a look at our crowd-sourced management tendencies all in one place:

Additionally, we made a few personnel decisions. Orlando Arcia is our starting shortstop, and Freddy Peralta and Josh Lindblom are starting in the rotation. I made a contract offer to Zack Cozart, but he laughed me out of the room. I also made a few personnel changes; OOTP hates our now-former hitting coach, so San Antonio coach Al LeBouef is now in the big league dugout.

A few notes on the way I’m going to handle decisions going forward: a few people have asked me to post OOTP’s rankings of players for discussions here. Given the way the game works (you don’t get perfect information about your own players, and you get even worse information about other teams’ players), I don’t want to do that and surrender an information edge. Instead, I’ll give you some general pointers on how our team feels about them; aside from that, you can rely on your real-life valuation of them. We’re not trying to min-max OOTP here. We’re just having some fun running a team.

With that said, we’ve got some issues. Our division is cutthroat this year, and as league commissioner Brad Johnson reported in the league’s official update feed, some trades are going down. The Cardinals are pushing to win now; they traded a swath of interesting prospects (Alex Reyes, Jhon Torres, and Johan Oviedo) for Whit Merrifield and Brad Keller. That’s going to create some positional logjams in St. Louis, but it makes them better, and we’re battling the Redbirds for every inch this year, so that trade stings.

Additionally, I’ve been in contact with our ownership, and they’ve told me that they’d be open to trading a young player if we can’t reach an extension. We have the budget for an extension, but we can’t extend every good young player. They’ve given me four options to seek a trade, and it’s time for you, the crowd, to weigh in.

First, there’s Josh Hader. He’s great, no doubt. Our internal metrics see him as one of the top two relievers in baseball. For a small-market team like Milwaukee, though, allocating resources to the bullpen is a risky decision. Our return wouldn’t necessarily be infinite; relievers have a capped value, and even a cheap and dominant reliever is only worth so much. But if we can manufacture a new closer and retain most of Hader’s effectiveness, we could come out ahead in the bargain.

Our front office is confident in our ability to Hader-ize someone, but they’re an overconfident bunch in general. Maybe they can make Corbin Burnes or Ray Black into an All-Star, but there’s downside risk here if they don’t. The bullpen isn’t particularly deep this year unless Corey Knebel is back to his prior self, which seems questionable at best. Hader might be too crucial to our bullpen-reliant team to move, yesterday’s meltdown notwithstanding.

If we keep Hader, ownership would consider trading Brandon Woodruff. We like him a lot; like, top-30 pitcher in baseball a lot. He’s young, and there’s room for more development. There’s Walker Buehler-level upside here if everything breaks just right. Of course, there’s no guarantee everything will break just right.

Woodruff will also be eligible for arbitration this coming offseason, and while this isn’t a Tampa Bay-style chop shop, it’s still a meaningful cost. In the past, our recipe for success has been cheap, interchangeable starters and a deep bullpen. Woodruff is great, but if he could boost the offense and return a pitching prospect, it’s not impossible to move on from him.

We could, if people are interested, consider trading Keston Hiura. I’ll note that I think this is a bad idea; OOTP thinks he’s the second-best position player on the team, and I’m inclined to agree. He’s also only in his second year. Players like Hiura are basically never traded, and with good reason. We even think his defense could play up with another year of reps.

My guess is that if we shopped Hiura, we wouldn’t find a fair return for him. His combination of team control and skill are simply invaluable in today’s game. But if we’re earmarking extensions for other members of the team, I could at least test the waters with other owners. I find this to be the worst decision, but hey, we’re all the managers, not just me. And hey, there was a mysterious news item about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. trashing the Blue Jays. He’s almost certainly not on the market, but if he is? We’d have to at least listen, right?

Lastly, we could just keep everyone. That’s the most likely outcome in any case; simply putting out feelers doesn’t mean we’re trading our guys, and Hader, Woodruff, and Hiura are all good enough that we’d accept nothing less than a trade that improves the major league club this year. If one of those isn’t available, there’s no point forcing anything.

Even if we don’t make a trade, though, it’s useful to know which of these three we value least. So feel free to vote for keeping everyone, but also know that voting to trade a player doesn’t make it all too likely that any of them will actually be traded. It might, however, inform extension talks later in the year, and to that effect, I’ve asked which players you’d most like to extend as well. In any case, here are the polls:

Again, it’s very likely that nothing will come of this. The names that have been dealt so far are pretty clearly sub-Woodruffian, and I’d argue even sub-Haderian. Whit Merrifield is interesting but old. Evan Longoria is uninteresting and old. Trey Mancini is rumored to be on the move, but again, that’s not the guy you trade a stud for.

But for a team like the Brewers, keeping an open mind about trades is really important. With our budget, the team can’t maintain playoff talent level without a young core. With Yelich locked up, the marginal value we can turn into playoff runs will have to come in the form of young players. If we can add long-term value, we need to consider it.

Oh! We did make one trade that I’ll admit might not maximize long-term value, but seemed harmless and fun. In an eight-player swap with the Royals, we acquired relievers Scott Barlow and Tim Hill, minor league depth third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez, and impeccably named Triple-A outfielder Brewer Hicklen. In exchange, we sent out a mixture of blocked marginal players and young lottery tickets; Keon Broxton, Ryon Healy, Eduardo Garcia, and Carlos Rodriguez.

Will this trade matter? Maybe not! Gutierrez might never make the big leagues, and the two relievers are a strikeout monster with iffy control (Barlow) and a depth lefty (Hill). But the players we sent out weren’t helping the team at any position in the near term, and Brewer Hicklen, in addition to literally being a Brewer since birth, looked good in Hi-A last year in only his third professional season. He might never turn into anything, but he’s an absolute toolshed; he combines acceptable power with enticing speed, and he was a college wide receiver, which explains the late start.

In any case, not much has happened yet this season. Opening Day losses are no fun, but they happen pretty often; to roughly half the teams in baseball, in fact. So buckle down, figure out which stars we should extend and which we should shop, and let’s get ready for a season on the brink of the playoffs.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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2 years ago

While I voted to shop Hader it seems unlikely that we’d end up with a deal that would be reasonable.

Generally people seem kind of down on his value, there seems to be more talk about how relievers are volatile and worrying about him falling off and less talking about how fantastic he’s been and should continue to be. Maybe that would change as a season progressed and people remembered how dominant he can be so maybe a deadline trade might be a better option(though he’s not off to a compelling start)