By Jeffrey Newholm
A cliché about unprofitable enterprises says actions are “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”. Some teams, like the 2000’s Pirates and today’s Marlins, are so bad nothing management does helps. But what about improving the situation of a team that’s good? Brewers GM David Stearns faced this task at the trade deadline. Milwaukee has long been an overlooked franchise, so much so a Summerfest grounds rally was held in 2008 for making the playoffs. But after a brief rebuild, new talent headlined by slugger Jesus Aguilar and reliever Jeremy Jeffress has the “Brew Crew” in the chase for both the wild card and the division, against the suddenly hated rival Cubs. With ample talent in the outfield and bullpen, Stearns made two trades to add depth to a fair infield. And they could be the last beams supporting a new structure of dominance.
Last Friday, Milwaukee fans got a second look at a Moose. This time, the acquisition wasn’t free agent Buck bust Greg Monroe. Rather, Stearns swapped prospect outfielder Brett Phillips and reliever Jorge Lopez for the Royal’s Mike Moustakas. Moustakas has 2018 numbers very similar to incumbent Travis Shaw’s, but provides needed depth at third. As comeback player of the year last season and a two time World Series participant, Moustakas promises to fit well with the crew’s ambitious competitiveness while providing guidance should October baseball follow.
Tuesday, the Brewers traded starting second baseman Jonathan Villar, minor league pitcher Luis Ortiz, and prospect Jean Carmona for Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop. At first appearance, this seems a lateral move. Schoop’s batting numbers are only marginally better than Villar. Stearn’s wider vision, however, is clear. Milwaukee is struggling to receive acceptable hitting from the long heralded shortstop Orland Arcia. Schoop can potentially improve the lineup at short, with Shaw playing second. But while Stearns avoided decimating the farm system for the O’s Machado, there’s still a risk. The Milwaukee franchise is famous for post-break slumps, so deferring bigger improvements assumes that the 2018 pennant racer is “practically unsinkable”. But the 2007, 2014, and 2017 Brewers all sunk late, while a megatrade for CC Sabathia brought the 2008 crew to a luxurious harbor.
In most years, September leads to Brewers caps tucked in the closet and the Packers back on TV. But Milwaukee has proven it can support a winning baseball club. If Stearn’s structuring is sound, the crew can bring playoff ball back to Miller Park. Bob Uecker once quipped that he used to think tailgating was just following someone too close on the highway. But as the moving gears shift into place, the Brewers may soon be tailgating Chicago to the last day of September.