As expected, the Brewers fired manager Ron Roenicke this week, despite a two-game winning streak.
Roenicke was fired, of course, because of the epic 2014 collapse, which has carried over into this season. That shouldn’t be that surprising, because all the 2014 collapse did was prove that, over a 162-game season, the Brewers were at best an average, mediocre team.
CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman explains what happened and what’s next:
Brewers GM Doug Melvin acted decisively to fire manager Ron Roenicke and hire well-respected neophyte Craig Counsell. Melvin was so sure about the switch he sent club owner Mark Attanasio an 18-point email detailing why Counsell had to be the choice to lead the suddenly underachieving team – they’d been 16-40 over their last two months of regular-season baseball.
Now Melvin is being proactive about his next possible step. He’s already sent out feelers to other teams about a possible sell-off, in case Counsell can’t play quick miracle worker with the 9-19 team (2-1 since he took over).
And while Melvin painstakingly laid out his 18-point argument for Counsell – just a few of the reasons were about what a long and successful career he had (a plus was sitting on the bench half the time in 16 years, giving him extra time to study the game), how hard he’s worked in the Brewers front office, how smart he is, how respected he is and what a great teammate he was considered to be – at the moment it is hard to imagine a quick enough turnaround to avoid at least some retooling.
Milwaukee, a team that’s used to being in the middle and in the mix, somehow has managed to fall 11 1/2 games behind to the first-place Cardinals in exactly a month. Melvin and Co. have kept Milwaukee competitive – they’ve won in the 80s seven of the last 10 seasons – but he acknowledges there’s always a time to reboot.
The Brewers have gone for it in recent times, trading Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escibar,Michael Brantley, Jake Odorizzi and many others to take their shots, and while there can’t be regrets now, Melvin says they could have had a young $47-million team had they played for the future earlier. If the Cubs can take a pause, no reason that their far-less-rich neighbor to the north can’t, too, he figures.
Word is, Melvin, after playing counsel on behalf of Counsell, is planning to consider just about anything in terms of trades, though the two players he is most reluctant to deal are star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and young shortstop Jean Segura. Lucroy is the closest to untouchable, it seems, followed fairly closely by Segura.
“Those are two tough positions to fill,” Melvin said. “I guess you have to be open to everything. But you’d have to be overwhelmed. We have some pretty good shortstops in the system. But they are doing well in the minors (and Segura) is doing well in the majors. Those are positions that can take years to fill. We’ve got two young ones who are making (little) money.”
Rival GMs suggest they’d be shocked to see Milwaukee part with Lucroy, one of the best two-way catchers in the game, and maybe just a little less so with Segura. The Pirates,Mets, Mariners and Padres look like teams that may need shortstop help, where Segura might fit. But as Melvin suggested, it would have to take a haul.
Assuming Lucroy and Segura stay, the most coveted Brewer in trade would thus become multi-talented center fielder Carlos Gomez, who’s a free agent after the 2016 season.
“That’s the guy,” who’d be of interest, one rival GM said.
“That’s a quality player,” another rival said.
Kyle Lohse, who’s even closer to free agency (after this year he’s free), could be of interest, as well, despite a slow start (7.01 ERA). Rival GMs could see the Cardinals, where he used to play, the Astros, where he knows GM Jeff Luhnow from St. Louis days, and the Dodgers, who’ve lost Brandon McCarthy for the year and will be without Hyun-Jin Ryu for a while (more on that later) as players for Lohse.
Matt Garza is another veteran righthander who could help someone, but with $35-million-plus to go through 2017, one rival exec says, “I’m not sure anyone would want him.”Aramis Ramirez is only solid these days, but third base is a tough spot to fill, so he too could draw interest.
Gerardo Parra, who seemed slightly miscast there as a fourth outfielder, is a useful player and excellent defender. Closer Franicisco Rodriguez looks as good as ever in his fourth go-round in Milwaukee, and big Jonathan Broxton could help someone in the pen.
Of course, Ryan Braun would be interesting as a trade target. While the Brewers expected some dropoff post suspension, it’s been pretty stark, despite some moments (.667 OPS compared to .913 for his career). There’s still hope for a rebound, but as one rival pointed out, “You don’t know what player you’d be getting.” That makes things dicey.
Melvin, though, feels certain about Counsell after seeing him operate the past couple years in the front office. Though he understands there will be critics, who reasonably point out that Counsell has never managed or coached at any level.
“What kind of message does this send to all the coaches and managers in their system?” one rival executive wondered.
Melvin countered, “I think game management is a small part of what a manager needs to do. I think it is all about preparation and passion for the game. He’s always been well respected. He’s an intelligent guy who had a good understanding of analytics, and an understanding about younger players.”
Attanasio bought the 18-point reasoning, but just in case, he interviewed Counsell for three hours himself. There’s no denying at this point that they needed something different.
The Brewers began 7-18 after finishing last year in a 9-22 nose dive after spending 150 days in first place, so something was amiss. Roenicke wondered why he was fired right after the team had won two of three games. But Melvin said he talked to the team about that.
“I apologized for making a change when we had played well the last three games. But I had to look at the last 100 games. And we were 28 games under,” said Melvin, who has been in discussions with Attanasio about his own future and is expected to stay on in some key capacity beyond this year.
If anything was wrong with the timing, perhaps it should have been done after last year’s collapse – it’s tough to change the story following such an implosion. Plus, Brewers higherups compounded that choice by picking up Roenicke’s 2016 option for $1.4 million in advance, a generous but unnecessary March move. Melvin said they all agreed to give Roenicke – who had a winning record overall with the Brewers – another chance. And one of those votes of support came from Counsell.
But soon into this season, it became apparent a change needed to be made, as whispers started to go around that Roenicke had “lost the clubhouse.” Although, Melvin puts little stock in that, saying, “I am not always in the clubhouse, and I am not one to have a spy.”
Roenicke is the fall guy for Melvin’s failures as GM. That’s not surprising, because most Brewers fans overrate the talent level on this team. Chris Davis and Logan Schaefer are major league players only because they’re on a major league roster (or at least Schaefer was until he was sent down when Carlos Gomez returned). Braun will never be the player he was before his, well, substance (ab)use. Gomez has the outfielder equivalent of the old baseball saying “a million-dollar-arm and a 10-cent head.” He is the type of player you put on a good team so you can live with his screwups.
There are three specific players from the 2011 Brewers that were never replaced. One was Prince Fielder, though the Brewers made the right decision to let him go, unless you think a 300-pound player is likely to have a largely injury-free career. But only this year with Adam Lind do the Brewers have an actual left-handed-hitting power threat. The other two are maybe more surprising — Jerry Hairston Jr., who was a great utility player and good in the clubhouse, and, of all people, Nyjer Morgan, who may have driven team management (and perhaps his teammates) crazy, but he was a very valuable addition to the 2011 team.
Assuming Melvin is replaced, either by his choice (retirement) or not, the next GM needs to have one priority: Pitching. As you know, the Brewers have largely failed to develop their own pitching largely during their entire history. The 1982 World Series team had one home-grown starting pitcher, Moose Haas. The 2011 National League Central champion team had one home-grown starting pitcher, Yovani Gallardo. Both teams imported most of their other starters (in 1982’s case, Pete Vuckovich, Mike Caldwell and, late in the season, Don Sutton; in 2011’s case, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum) and their closers (Rollie Fingers in most of 1982, John Axford in 2011).
The Brewers have a depressing history of having one good starting pitcher who then burns out. Teddy Higuera becomes Cal Eldred, who becomes Ben Sheets, who becomes Yovani Gallardo, who becomes either Wily Peralta or Jimmy Nelson. The Braves had an embarrassment of wealth in starting pitching in the 1990s, all except for Greg Maddux developed within their own system. (The Braves traded for John Smoltz, but he was a minor-leaguer at the time.) The Dodgers have had plenty of starting pitching for decades. Bench coaches are hired for in-game strategy, so a manager doesn’t necessarily need to do that himself.
Accordingly, I’m not sure Counsell was the right choice to replace Roenicke. (Given that Counsell worked with Melvin, maybe he should have, or should, replace Melvin.) Position players are relatively easy to find. (Where was Lind last year?) The Brewers need a manager who can develop his pitching, such as it is — whoever might be 2015’s answer to George Bamberger, who turned a bad pitching staff into a pretty good staff in the late 1970s, whether or not the Staten Island sinker was a legal pitch.
Related to that, it might be worthwhile for the Brewers to replace all of their minor league managers, coaches and instructors, and find managers, coaches and instructors who can actually teach their players fundamental baseball. Brewers losses are a traveshamockery of bad baserunning (this means you, Carlos) and bad defense (Braun will never remind anyone of Garry Maddox, wherever you put him), in addition to poor pitching and insufficient hitting.
The Brewers face a bad choice of either hanging on to overrated players (everyone except Lucroy, Nelson and Segura should be available), or having players who are not ready for the major leagues playing in the major leagues. It’s a good thing Miller Park is a great place to watch a baseball game. There won’t be good baseball played at Miller Park for years.