The Santana/Nieuwenhuis situation

This will be one of my shorter posts, but there’s something I just need to get off my chest.

I’ve never really had a problem with Craig Counsell as a manager before. Sure, he sometimes uses his bullpen in explicable ways, and yeah, he puts Scooter Gennett in his lineup, but for the most part he’s fine. But now that Domingo Santana is back from a long DL stint, I have an issue with the young manager.

For some reason,  Counsell has been penciling in Nieuwenhuis’ name into the lineup just as often as Santana’s. Since Santana was reinstated from the disabled list on Aug. 19, he’s had just 25 plate appearances. Nieuwenhuis has 27. And that just doesn’t make sense to me.

The Brewers are rebuilding, right? They don’t care about winning in 2016, right? They’re focused on prospect development, right? Then why in the hell isn’t Santana starting every single game?

Nieuwenhuis isn’t by any means in Milwaukee’s future plans. He’s 29 years old and has been worth just 3.5 WAR in his career. There’s a very high chance that 2016 will be the former Mets’ outfielder only season in Milwaukee. The same cannot be said for Santana. He was just acquired last year in a blockbuster trade for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers and figures to be a fixture in the Brewers’ outfield for many years to come.

Santana’s development was already stalled because of his prolonged DL trip, and Counsell placing him on the bench is furthering that. He needs at bats. He needs to see major league pitching, He needs work in the outfield. Having him ride the pine in favor of Nieuwenheis is prohibiting all of that, which makes me wonder if Counsell has any idea how to manage a rebuilding team. And why hasn’t David Stearns stepped in and demanded that Counsell act like a rebuilding skipper?

All of this seems fishy to me.

Who are the Brewers getting in Lewis Brinson and Luis Ortiz?

It happened. It finally happened.

After Jonathan Lucroy vetoed deal that would’ve sent him to Cleveland, the Milwaukee Brewers were able to strike a deal with the Texas Rangers that shipped him, along with closer Jeremy Jeffress, to the Lone Star State in exchange for OF Lewis Brinson, RHP Luis Ortiz and a player to be named later. It had been long speculated that both Lucroy and Jeffress were going to be traded, but David Stearns cut it close, with reports of the move not surfacing until within minutes of the trade deadline. Multiple sources claimed highly touted prospect Joey Gallo was the centerpiece of the deal, but that obviously never came to fruition.

Lucroy upped his value this season and re-entered the conversation of best MLB catcher after a forgettable 2015. The 30-year-old catcher has been worth 2.8 WAR already (third among qualified catchers) and has created 20% more runs than league average. His hitting ability and defensive wizardry is a big get for the Rangers, who have lacked a capable backstop all season.

Texas also acquired Jeffress, who has turned into a shut-down closer after resurrecting his career in Milwaukee. He saved 27 games in 28 chances, if you’re a fan of that sort of thing, and posted a 2.22 ERA and 3.16 FIP along the way.

But this is a Brewers website, so we know all that. Let’s talk about who Milwaukee is getting in Brinson and Ortiz.

Lewis Brinson is a talented and powerful outfielder who has the potential to be a star. MLB.com ranked him as baseball’s 21st-best prospect when they released their midseason prospect list, and despite his poor showing in Double-A this season (.277 OBP/98 wRC+), the 22 year old has real promise. Some in the industry think his bat is capable of hitting 30 home runs with his plus bat speed if he can stay healthy, which has been a big issue for Brinson during in his minor league career. The outfielder also rates as a top-notch defender with a strong arm and excellent speed. It’s no mystery why so many are high on this kid. The disappearance of his walk rate this season is something to keep an eye on going forward, though.

Like Brinson, Luis Ortiz was a highly regarded prospect not only in Texas’ system, but in baseball as a whole. Ortiz is MLB’s 63rd-ranked prospect and enters Milwaukee’s ranks at No. 5. He owns a plus fastball with an above-average slider that could evolve into a devastating pitch in time. The 20-year-old righty has put together a solid first season in Double-A — in nine games (eight starts) he’s accumulated a 4.08 ERA with a 3.32 FIP. What’s most impressive about this youngster is his control as his BB/9 has remained under two in each level of minor league ball with the exception of Triple-A, and that’s only because he has yet to pitch in Triple-A.

Ortiz projects as a mid-rotation arm who isn’t too far away from making his debut. Give him maybe two or three more years to polish his stuff in the minors, and he just might be ready to be an impact player for the Brewers.

Since taking over the team, David Stearns has made great deal after great deal, and this is no exception.

Who are the Brewers getting in Phil Bickford and Andrew Susac?

About two hours before the 3 p.m. MLB Trade Deadline, Milwaukee Brewers left-handed reliever Will Smith was dealt to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for their No. 1 prospect RHP Phil Bickford and C Andrew Susac. This was the first of two trades the Brewers would make Monday, the other one being the trade of Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress to Texas.

Even though I predicted the Brewers would keep Smith for another year, I knew there was a strong possibility he was a goner, and from the looks of it, Milwaukee made out like bandits. Smith, compared to past seasons, is having a somewhat down year. His ERA is up a full run from 2015, and his FIP is up nearly two — not to mention his velocity has been noticeably lower as well. To get a potential top-of-the-rotation arm and an offensive-minded catcher, both of whom have been ranked among the top 100 in prospect lists at one time or another, is a big win for the organization. FanGraphs called giving them up a “steep price to pay” for the Giants, while Baseball America echoed the notion.

But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Bickford and Susac?

We’ll start with the exciting one. In MLB Pipeline’s midseason top 100 prospect list, Phil Bickford, a first-round pick in 2015, landed at #67. Among Brewers’ prospects, he enters as the sixth-best in the system.

The big righty stands 6’4″, 200 lbs with an excellent slider and deceptive fastball that at one point could hit triple digits. His velocity has decreased significantly this season, with reports claiming he sits between 90-94 with his heater. Even so, that hasn’t stopped Bickford, who’s only 21, from having success in the minors. After he posted a 2.70 ERA with an even more impressive 2.45 FIP in Class-A this season, Bickford was promoted to High-A where he’s put up a 2.73 ERA and 3.96 FIP. He’s struck out almost 10 batters per nine innings but has had some trouble with his control since his promotion (3.27 BB/9). By no means is that worrisome by itself, but it’s a significant bump from the 2.25 BB/9 mark he put up in Class-A.

Bickford’s ceiling is probably a No. 2 starter — especially if he can get his velocity back — with his floor being somewhere around a high-leverage reliever like the player he was traded for. Watching his progression in the minors will be fun, and he should be ready for the majors when the Brewers are finally set to compete.

Andrew Susac has appeared in 87 major league games over his career (mainly as Buster Posey‘s backup), and in that small sample size, he’s been worth 1.0 WAR and owns a .309 wOBA and 106 wRC+. He’s not a prospect anymore, and at 26, he doesn’t seem to fit into Milwaukee’s future plans after the rebuild is complete. The former second-round pick will report to Triple-A Colorado Springs and is more of a depth grab for Milwaukee than anything else. Susac is, however, an offensive-first catcher who could start for the next few seasons if Martin Maldonado continues to not hit. But as far as catchers go, the Brewers are biding their time until Jacob Nottingham is ready.

Brewers trade talk: Who stays and who goes?

Being a fan of a miserable team isn’t all that much fun. Attending games is less entertaining and watching your team lose time and time again on television eventually becomes a waste of time, not to mention beyond frustrating.  And yet, being a fan of a miserable team can have its perks, especially during the weeks leading up to the trade deadline. The trade deadline is a time when rebuilding teams can do just that — rebuild. They go out and acquire young talent while issuing farewells to long-time players, and although it may be sad, it’s for the good of the team.

That’s how Brewers’ fans are currently feeling. Aside from constant trade rumors, it’s been a rather boring year for Milwaukee fans, and they’re excited for the rumors to finally come to fruition. I know I am.

It should be a busy week and a half for the Brewers’ front office, and I’m sure David Stearns is on the phone right now trying to work a deal.

Let’s get to some predictions.

Players who will be traded

Jonathan Lucroy – If Lucroy’s still a member of the Brewers on Aug. 2, I’ll be absolutely shocked. He’s arguably the best player on the trade market, and with his defensive value and 123 wRC+, there’s multiple teams vying for his services.

Prediction: The Texas Rangers seem like the current favorite to land him, and they make the most sense, so I’m going to go with them. However, I have a feeling Boston will come just in the nick of time with a better offer, especially if they don’t believe Sandy Leon‘s current pace is sustainable. Spoiler: It’s not.

Jeremy Jeffress – Almost every contending team is in need of bullpen help, and the Brewers have a few to spare, including their closer. Jeffress’ strikeouts are down a considerable amount in 2016, but that hasn’t stopped him from running a 2.29 ERA and a 3.40 FIP. Teams will be drawn to him because of his mid-90s fastball that creates a plethora of ground balls. Jeffress probably won’t close on whichever team he’s dealt to, but he’ll no doubt make it stronger.

Prediction: The San Francisco Giants have been rumored to have interest, and I think that’s where he’ll land, maybe as a setup man to Santiago Casilla. Those two would make a dangerous 1-2 punch.

Junior Guerra – I’m in the minority on this one, but I really think Guerra will be moved. A team looking for a controllable pitcher who won’t cost much will find no better option than the Brewers’ 31-year-old rookie. He has an ERA that’s flirting with going below 3 and can hit 96 mph on the gun. At least one team will be attracted to him,

Prediction: Guerra seems like a perfect fit for the Rangers, who, by the way, are currently employing Kyle Lohse as a starter in their rotation.

Players who won’t be traded

Ryan Braun – If you would have asked me a month ago if I thought Braun would be on the move, I would have definitively said yes. Now I’m not so sure. His contract is huge, and his injury history is obviously worrisome. I thought his performance this season would negate all that. Then July hit. So far this month Braun has a 45 wRC+ and has yet to hit a home run. Can a team really take a chance that he’ll get his swing back over the last two months AND absorb his enormous contract?

Will Smith – Will Smith is receiving a lot of interest, so I could see him being traded. Then again, I’m a believer in David Stearns, and I think Stearns will wait until next year to sell Smith off after he regains some value. Smith has lost a little value this year because he’s not striking out hitters like he once did. His strikeout rate has fallen from 34.5% in 2015 to 22.7% in 2016. That’s essentially a 12% loss of strikeouts. Stearns might want to hold on to him a little while longer.

Is Junior Guerra trade bait?

The trade market for starting pitchers is relatively weak this season. There’s really no other way to put it. Very few “ace-like” pitchers will be available, if any at all. When teams trade for a starter just before the deadline, the intention is for that hurler to pitch for them in the playoffs, not just to pitch them into the playoffs. Unfortunately for postseason-hopeful teams, there’s not many playoff pitchers out there, even though the demand is substantial.

MLB Trade Rumors recently released a list of 40 pitchers that teams could pursue, but a good majority of them are either at best average pitchers or have too pricey of contracts, safe for a few like the entire Rays’ rotation, Drew Pomeranz and Julio Teheran.

But among the 40 that made the list, Milwaukee Brewers’ rookie Junior Guerra was nowhere to be found. And that’s what prompted me to write this post, because Guerra should absolutely be considered trade bait.

After spending essentially his entire career with the minors, Guerra has burst onto the scene as a Brewer. He’s made 13 starts and accumulated a higher WAR (1.5) than any other Brewers’ starter. Guerra can also brag about having the lowest ERA (3.06), FIP (3.87) and K% (22%). Needless to say, he’s been one of the few and unexpected bright spots on a team that sits near the bottom of its division.

Guerra is under team control for another five seasons after 2016 finishes up, and doesn’t hit arbitration until 2019. Granted, his age of 31 isn’t exactly a plus, but his arm doesn’t have as much wear and tear on it as, say, a major-league pitcher who’s been in the bigs since age 22. Besides, he’s most likely going to be a cheap player who’s under team control for the duration of his career, and that’s the important part.

If a team shows enough interest in Guerra, expect David Stearns to pull the trigger. The Brewers don’t have much of a need for an aging pitcher when their sole focus is acquiring young talent. However, I don’t believe Stearns will trade Guerra just to trade him. That’s not his style. So if Stearns isn’t satisfied with the return, he’s going to hold on to him and hope his stock rises a bit more in 2017 as a starter and then try to move him. It would be a risky move, but it might behoove the Brewers in the end.

Guerra looks like a playoff pitcher from what he showed in the first half of the season. His FIP and xFIP tells us to expect some regression, but it could be that he’s just peripheral-beater. Watch out for teams like the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals to make a play for him.

Who are the Brewers getting in Aaron Wilkerson and Wendell Rijo?

The Milwaukee Brewers began their sure-to-be interesting march to the trade deadline by sending Aaron Hill and cash to the wRC+-leading Boston Red Sox in exchange for RHP Aaron Wilkerson and INF Wendell Rijo. This trade will be the first of (hopefully) many the Brewers make before Aug. 1.

Hill was acquired by the Brewers this winter for Jean Segura in a package that included Chase Anderson and Isan DIaz. So essentially, if you’re a fan of trade trees, Milwaukee traded Segura who is absolutely killing it this season, and Tyler Wagner for Anderson, Diaz, Wilkerson and Rijo. That’s a significantly better haul than it was the first time around, and something I can get behind.

But who exactly are the Brewers getting in Wilkerson and Rijo?

Aaron Wilkerson has had a tumultious professional career up to this point. He underwent Tommy John surgery in college and made stops in independent ball before being picked up by the Red Sox. Wilkerson is a 27-year-old righty who started the 2016 season in Triple-A — his first stint at the highest level of minor-league ball, and so far the results have been good despite not being among Boston’s top prospect lists. In nine games (eight starts), Wilkerson posted a 2.44 ERA and a 3.17 FIP, thanks to a very strong strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.91). Among his four-pitch arsenal is a deceptive fastball that has no doubt been a huge reason for his success in the minors.

Although he’ll start in Colorado Springs, Wilkerson has a real chance of getting a call-up this season. There’s no reason the Brewers shouldn’t try him out during a rebuilding year, even as a bullpen arm.

Wendell Rijo seems to be the prize in this trade. He was rated as Boston’s 17th-best prospect to begin the season, and he provides even more depth for an organization that’s starting to get stacked with infield talent. Rijo is naturally a second baseman, but is capable of moving around the infield which he will likely do when he reports to Brevard County. He played with Boston’s Double-A squad this year as a 20 year old, so it’s not really a surprise that he struggled. His batting average was sub-200 with a .245 on-base percentage. Previous to 2016, though, Rijo was an OBP hitter who could draw walks and hit for average power. Not necessarily home run power, though, as most of his isolated power in Single-A came from his ability to hit doubles.

Overall, this trade provides the Brewers with great value. They traded Aaron Hill, a player who has been just dreadful the past two seasons, for two prospects who both have a shot at making an impact with the major-league club.

I don’t know about you, but with all the impressive moves David Stearns is orchestrating, I’m starting to think he’s a wizard. And not like an evil wizard like Saruman from the Lord of the Rings. More like Gandalf who does good things. Ya know?

Poll: What to do with Jonathan Villar?

Jonathan Villar is playing like a star. I don’t necessarily know if he is a star, but he’s definitely playing like one. A few weeks ago I wrote about how his stardom came from essentially nowhere, and frankly I’m surprised his performance hasn’t tailed off yet.

We’re less than a month away from the All-Star break, and Villar is still riding a .390 on-base percentage thanks in large part to an insane .401 BABIP. He’s MLB’s seventh-best shortstop according to WAR, has created 23% more runs than league average and has stolen more bases than anyone. Being one of the best players on a rebuilding Brewers team, which Villar is, isn’t of much significance, but he’s been more than that. He’s transformed into one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, even with Orlando Arcia‘s shadow cast over him since he arrived in Milwaukee.

Because he’s been so valuable to the Brewers, his future is even more questionable than it once was. It’s obvious that teams will be interested in him as the trade deadline approaches. Yet general manager David Stearns has said that there’s little motivation to trade him, and that makes sense. Villar is a young, controllable talent, and as Stearns stated, that’s the exact type of player the Brewers want right now. Still, trading him could net a sizable return for the same reasons.

If the Brewers decide to hold on to their diamond in the rough, moving him to second base seems likely. Villar’s days at shortstop are numbered and that’s not just because Arcia is almost ready to make his major-league debut. He’s a good defender, yes. That’s evident by his 3 Defensive Runs Saved this season (even though UZR has a drastically different opinion of his fielding abilities), but he’d probably provide more value at second. It’s a much easier position to field and doesn’t require many long throws, something Villar has had a problem with at times this year.

That, though, leaves Scooter Gennett on the outside looking in, and that, honestly, is the way it should be. To be frank, he’s just not a good player, especially in relation to Villar. He lacks OBP skills and his wRC+ has fallen in every season of his career. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gennett traded if the Brewers decide to retain Villar. It would make sense.

Another option for Villar is to take over third base duties when Aaron Hill inevitably leaves, whether that be in free agency this winter or in a trade this season. There’s a low likelihood to that though, in my opinion. He’s shown some surprising power so far, but teams usually want their hot corner guys to be big boppers, and Villar definitely doesn’t fit that label. Stearns may have his own ideas for the position, though.

This dilemma is a good one to have if you’re Milwaukee, and it shows why teams take fliers on players like Villar. You never know what you have until you give them a shot.