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.

Quick take: Brewers made the right decision with Wily Peralta

The pitcher who Craig Counsell pegged as the Milwaukee Brewers’ opening day starter is no longer on the major-league roster. Instead, Wily Peralta is down in Colorado Springs with the Triple-A squad trying to work through his difficulties that led him to a 6.68 ERA and 5.57 FIP.

Right from the get-go, Peralta was bad, so bad that it only took fans a month to wonder how long he would remain in the rotation. As things worsened, Brewers Twitter began asking beat writers Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt if Peralta had any remaining minor-league options, a question you hope you never have to ask about a former No. 1 prospect.

When Matt Garza started to get healthy and began to make rehab starts, I was afraid the Brewers would choose the wrong arm to send down in the wake of his return. (I’m still not used to trusting a Brewers’ general manager). I had a feeling that David Stearns and Counsell weren’t ready to give up on Peralta just yet, leaving Zach Davies and Junior Guerra, both of whom failed to make an opening day roster, as top candidates for a demotion. That would have been ridiculous, and you can be sure I would’ve written a post blasting the decision.

Fortunately, the Brewers sent down Peralta.

Name ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Junior Guerra 3.31 3.81 4.28 0.9
Jimmy Nelson 3.43 4.91 4.42 0.5
Zach Davies 3.88 4.18 3.96 0.7
Chase Anderson 4.21 5.00 4.49 0.3
Wily Peralta 6.68 5.57 4.74 -0.2

Davies has been dominant in his last handful of starts, and as you can see from the chart, Guerra has been Milwaukee’s best starter. Peralta was the clear and obvious choice, so kudos to the Brewers for being reasonable.

I don’t expect Peralta to remain in Triple-A for the rest of the season. I think the bullpen is the best course of action for both Peralta and the team. As a reliever, Peralta can work on getting more strikeouts with his high-velocity fastball, because a 5.73 K/9 is completely unacceptable for someone who throws 94 mph.

Quick take: Jimmy Nelson is in trouble

By ERA, Jimmy Nelson is the best starting pitcher on the Milwaukee Brewers. By almost every other metric, Jimmy Nelson is in trouble. Let’s quickly examine, shall we.

As of the second I’m writing this, as Nelson is pitching in the sixth inning against the Mets, he has a 3.43 ERA in 13 outings, which is 70-some points lower than his 2015 ERA. Now, Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder would have you believe that he’s pitching like an All-Star, but in the world of reality, that really couldn’t be farther from the truth. Nelson ranks 85th of 98 qualified starting pitchers in FIP with a mark of 4.88. To put it delicately…well I can’t. That sucks. His ERA minus FIP is -1.48, meaning he’s drastically and unbelievably out-pitching himself so far. He’s also started a disturbing trend.

nelson

Nelson’s strikeouts are down a touch from last year, and he’s walking batters at a career-high 9.9% clip. My projections had him giving up 20 home runs this season, but he’s past halfway there as he allowed No. 12 tonight.

His ERA ranks him as a top pitcher in baseball, but his peripherals, the stats that matter more, tell us he’s in trouble and it tells us we should should expect an ERA regression soon.

Ryan Braun has improved his plate discipline

Go back to 2014, a year after Ryan Braun was suspended by Major League Baseball. Are you there yet? OK great.

Just three years removed from winning the NL MVP award, Braun’s (as of then) Hall of Fame career seemed to be fizzling out, like Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. He had already shown a loss of power in 2013 with just nine home runs in 253 plate appearances, and he showed no signs of a comeback in 2014. In fact, Braun was considerably worse in all facets of his game. His ability to get on base vanished, he stopped pulling the ball and ended up posting his lowest contact percentage since his rookie campaign. A thumb problem could easily explain all of his troubles, but nonetheless, Braun, once of the most feared hitters in baseball, became anything but a threat at the plate.

Jump ahead a year to 2015. After undergoing a thumb procedure called cryotherapy, Braun began to look  a little like his former MVP-self. He bashed 25 home runs and accumulated his highest WAR since 2012. Though he was nowhere near the player he was just a handful of years ago, Braun was once again a feared hitter.

And now we get to the present day, where Braun has been the subject of many, many trade rumors. MLB Trade Rumors listed him as one of the top 10 trade candidates this summer, even taking into account that he might be hard to move given the money he’s owed and his injury/PED history. Why is his name such a hot topic? It’s simple, really. Braun, by far, is having his best offensive season since 2012 when he hit 41 home runs and outperformed his MVP year. According to FanGraphs’ wRC+ leaderboard, Braun is MLB’s 19th-best hitter with a 145 wRC+.

braun

The above chart shows why teams are interested in him, despite the heavy baggage he carries. One of the main reasons Braun has returned to prominence is his eye at the plate. Before the last three seasons or so, no one ever really questioned his plate discipline. Posting high walk rates and respectable strikeout rates was always the kind of player Braun was, but he’s on an entirely different level now in 2016.

Braun’s walk rate (10.0%) is almost a career high, and his 14% strikeout rate is down from 20.2% a season ago. At age 32, that’s damn impressive. He’s done this by swinging at more pitches inside the zone and swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone (see chart below).

swing

Because he’s stopped swinging at bad pitches (i.e. balls), Braun has significantly cut down on his whiffs and his zone contact percentage (89.6%) is its highest since 2010. I don’t know if he’s more confident now that his thumb is seemingly healed, but the player he was from 2013-15, at least in terms of plate discipline, is no longer.

We all know that when Braun makes contact, good things usually happen. We don’t need to look at his .336 career BABIP to understand that,. When Braun puts the ball in play, he’s of great value, and because he’s doing it with such consistency and force, his name will keep popping up in trade talks until he’s inevitably dealt.