n recent weeks, I’ve been contemplating as to whether this article should excuse itself from eternal shuteye, and, therefore, come out. All it took was a few chyrons, frenzied tickers, and a collection of perusals in the daily newspaper, to not only see the Ruth-like season that rookie Aaron Judge has put together for the Bronx Bombers but also see how proliferative the stat lines have been for Cincinnati Reds utility man Scooter Gennett, Seattle Mariners second baseman Jean Segura and Oakland A’s leftfielder Khris Davis.
There was a time when the Milwaukee Brewers lineup didn’t boast top prospects (Lewis Brinson, Orlando Arica, and Brett Phillips), and one doesn’t have to scavenge too much to find it.
Before the seismic renovation to the Brewers organization, one that culminated in the coronating of a new general manager and included the abandonment of, nearly, any longish-tenured player at positions ripe with younger talent, Segura was looked at as an asset, Gennett a fan-favorite, and Davis a player who could swing a mean stick, despite his swing-and-miss rate, in the Brew City. Outwardly, this troika would cement their names on the Brewers’ lineup card for the next decade, well after the baggage and superstardom of Ryan Braun dissipated…, or so we in the Badger state thought.
But, how did the Brewers unload a slugger, Davis, who now ranks in his respective league top-10 in RBIs, top five with 17 round trippers this season? How about the on-base machine, Segura, who ranks second in the American League with .342 batting average? Finally, what about Gennett, who is less than a fortnight removed from hitting four homers and 10 (no, that’s not a typo) RBIs in one game? He is also on pace to shatter his personal season-high for combined Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in a season (1.1 this year; best is 2.2).
It all began with the rapid ascension of Segura, after his award-winning stint in the Dominican Winter League, following the 2012 season, and subsequent All-Star nod months later in his first full big-league season. The hardball cognoscenti thought that he was the straw that would stir the drink for Milwaukee, whose team, at that time were about a year removed from savoring champagne…almost.
Contention looked somewhat realistic after the Crew felt justified in Segura’s production, after acquiring him for Zack Grienke. In ’13, the young shortstop hit .294, swiped 44 bases and amassed 10 triples, all while buttressing the notion he was an above-average defender.
Below the surface, though, the Brewers had another tenderfoot at shortstop, Orlando Arcia, who was unearthing some gaudy flashes of leather as a member of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Brewers’ Class A affiliate.
After being optioned to the Nashville Sounds (the Brewers’ then Triple-A affiliate) early on in his rookie season, Khris Davis took over in left field for the suspended Ryan Braun. His play was inspiring enough to oust Nori Aoki, who was eventually traded to Kansas City in 2014, from his everyday role. Davis’ success also made Braun switch fields, this time playing in right.
After spring training in 2014, Manager Ron Roenicke put second baseman Rickie Weeks in a platoon with Gennett, before deciding to the Gennett the upper hand and a cemented place in the starting lineup.
Gennett hit .289, found his niche as a responsible, versatile defender, and had innumerable fans baying over him, mostly due to his boyish charm and peculiar nickname.
The whole league was put on notice by the Brewers, a team spent that spent 131 days atop the NL Central, with a nucleus consisting of pitch-framing extraordinaire and dead-eye hitter Jonathan Lucroy; Khris Davis, who was becoming a very consistent power threat at the backend of the lineup; Braun; the comfortable Gennettl and Segura.
The Brewers, as had been the case since the turn of the millennium, found a path of turbulence, however, following the All-Star break. Ropes kept getting shorter in the abyss, and a 9-17 September placed them third in the division. Following 2014, unquestioned ace and all-time strikeout leader of the Brewers, Yovani Gallardo, was dealt to the Texas Rangers in exchange for reliever Corey Knebel, infielder Luis Sardiñas and pitching prospect Marcos Diplan.
In July 2015, the fire sale continued with another team in the Lone Star state — this time with the Astros — and the trade of centerfielder Carlos Gomez and pitcher Mike Fiers, both of whom were 29, was consummated. The Brewers were 14 games under .500 by the midsummer classic, plagued by inconsistent hitting, porous defense and a 4.28 team ERA (seventh worst in the majors) by season’s end. They finished fourth in the NL Central. That October, former assistant general manager of the Astros and sabermetric enthusiast, David Stearns, shed his assistant tag and darted to Milwaukee to become the team’s new general manager.
Segura was slumping — his batting average regressed in the two seasons following his All-Star campaign. His WAR was at an even zero – usually the output of a reserve. A change of scenery was necessary, as his age-25 season mucked the future. Remember that line about Segura being that straw that stirred the drink? The Brewers concluded they were better off chugging that drink, tossing the straw to the wolves (or, in this case, the Arizona Diamondbacks), and carrying on, specifically with trading players.
After parting with ways with Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, and all the aforementioned recent five-year legends who have graced the grass and dirt of Miller Park, the Brewers somehow find themselves in the conversation for the postseason, at least as of June 14. The continued success of former Brewers has been stunted, for the most part (discounting the unfair injury that took Prince Fielder’s career, of course); yet, Segura finished 13th in the NL MVP race for the lowly Diamondbacks last season. Khris Davis hit over 40 homers last year, to go with 100 RBIs. Gennett, statistically the least talented of the three, has still been a great fielder for Cincinnati.
Perhaps, the Brewers are great at scouting skilled players but the market (see the once-stalled Segura contract extensions) they’re in has shortchanged any potential for one to see a grassroots prospect climb the ladder of greatness, cleanly. Will Brinson, Phillips and the slew of acquired prospects rumbling under in the realm of A ball be worth the trade off?
Sadly, as is the case with all sports-related arguments and assertions, time will tell.