While the rest of the league was sitting by the hearth, quietly contemplating the balance of expenditure and analytics, David Stearns was in the kitchen, his fingers on the dial of the burner, waiting for the temperature to be just right to make a splash. By the time he was through, he had cooked up one of the best outfields in the NL and served it to the rest of the league on a silver platter.
Who says you can’t go home again?
Hall of Fame voting season is silly season.
Despite the seemingly growing malcontent in the ranks of Milwaukee Brewers fans over the team’s lack of big offseason acquisitions, David Stearns and the rest of the front office have been quietly proving that need is not best filled by big names or big money but by good timing and tangible value.
“The Yankees are talented, well-developed and returning to the form with which we’re all familiar. It’s a great team and, for the first time in a long time, for the outsider, they’re likeable. Give Cashman credit: he’s reinvented himself in real-time and built a next-generation Yankees team that, save for pitching, is reminiscent of those teams that started the last dynasty.”
That would be yours truly, on October 5, previewing the ALDS.
Yes, hell was freezing over. The New York Yankees–the Yankees!–weren’t the team everyone loves to hate. They had retooled the team the right way–no more massive free agent contracts, homegrown talent, had to play their way into the postseason and caught fire against the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Game. The 2017 Yankees were the good guys for once.
Fast forward two months, and most of us outside of the five boroughs feel a bit snookered. Cashman swooped in after Giancarlo Stanton rebuffed the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, offered the Miami Marlins an offer that could be easily-enough refused, and the team–whose face is now Yankee legend Derek Jeter–was allowed by their superstar to make the deal. It will be formally announced Monday.
And I hate it.
I’m admittedly being a little melodramatic, but the optics on this deal just don’t *ahem* look good.
In 2011, the then-New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a complex deal to send Chris Paul to the Southland. It was so lopsided, commissioner (and Dark Lord of the Sith) David Stern vetoed it.
In fairness, it’s to a significant extent apples and oranges: different sport, different CBA, different economics. Stanton flexed his muscle through a total no-trade clause freely agreed to between himself and Marlins management (then overseen by Jeff Loria) in a mammoth 13-year, $325M contract signed in 2014. In so doing, he nixed reported deals with the San Francisco Giants (which made sense, the Giants are currently a tire fire) and St. Louis Cardinals (which makes no sense, Stanton goes to a hitter-friendly division, a team that needs a single plus-bat to be instantly competitive and he would have been revered as a god in baseball-happy St. Louis and I’m freely conceding these points as a Milwaukee Brewers fan!)
So, no: the Yankees aren’t the culprits here. Doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Further, on paper, of course this makes the Yankees a better team: the team already had solid bats in Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, speed and upside in Aaron Hicks, big upside in Greg Bird and a mutant beast in Aaron Judge. When news started circulating, Yankees Twitter started in on how this would be the new Murderer’s Row, how Jeter should get a ring for his part in the 2018 World Series pennant, etc.
Stanton is an all-world talent and the reigning National League MVP, but he struck out at a 2:1 ratio to taking walks, set a personal low for outs in a season (447, by far his highest to date), grounded into 13 double plays (after totaling 11 in 2015 and ’16 combined) and likely will not see the field in AL play.
The Yankees have also agreed to take on the overwhelming majority of Stanton’s remaining contract, which is straight out of the old spend-spend-spend playbook that turned the Yankees into full-on baseball heels. Further, if there are injuries (not out of the question) or he underperforms (see also: Giambi, Jason, Ellsbury, Jacoby, Johnson, Randy), Stanton has zero incentive to opt-out in 2020. The Yankees have tied a significant part of their future to a star who is showing signs of beginning to trend in the wrong direction and won’t help in the field.
I’m not in any way convinced that Stanton will absolutely make the Yankees better than they would be by staying the course. We’ll never know now; nevertheless, that’s a lot of money for a player who hasn’t played meaningful homestretch baseball, much less in October.
And let’s be real: Giancarlo Stanton is a great ballplayer, but he’s not Bryce Harper and he’s certainly not Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth. For the Yankees, this is a clearance rack bargain in the same way that your local Marshalls isn’t a Nordstrom Rack.
We can hate the Yankees, but we all can agree that this was the deal they really couldn’t not make. For that, we can hate Jeff Loria more than we already do: after all, Loria allegedly tanked the Montreal Expos (Hi, Jonah Keri!) and sold them to Major League baseball, only to pull a Bill Veeck and acquire the Florida Marlins, hold Miami and Dade County over a barrel and build an atrocity of a stadium with an eyesore they call artwork in left-center, and then sold the team for a reported $1.2 billion dollars to the current, Jeter-led regime.
No, it’s not the Yankees being the evil empire. But it’s not ideal for those of us genuinely enjoying the Yankees’ success playing the same fiscal game as (most of) the rest of Baseball.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.
The Mets had a rough 2017, and a fire sale left a lot of questions ahead of a new season. Do they have the resources to address all their issues? Or is it time to start a rebuild in Flushing?
Miles Mikolas, Hyeon-Jong Yang and Hideaki Wakui are all potential international pitching options for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.
The Milwaukee Brewers are officially out of the race for Shohei Ohtani, but that doesn’t mean general manager David Stearns will be any less willing to test the international market.
While the likes of Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn remain contract-heavy outside options the Brewers can most certainly afford stateside, Stearns has proven that big moves don’t always necessitate big names or big contracts. Even with his limited experience in Milwaukee, the young GM has already cemented his identity as an exceptionally-discerning deal maker, as evidenced by key additions like breakout third baseman Travis Shaw.
But Stearns’ greatest strength resonates far beyond his frugality. In truth, his taste for the unconventional may be the key to the team’s recent success and fans need to look no further than first base. Adding former MLB prospect and KBO phenom Eric Thames was about as under-the-radar as it gets, and bolstering the position by claiming Jesus Aguilar off waivers in February meant he was able to add a combined 47 home runs and 115 RBI — along with several years of security — to the stat sheet, all for an average of only $6 million a year.
With hot stove already in motion and the Winter Meetings less than a week away, there will be plenty of opportunities for Stearns to again prove his front office prowess. While Major League Baseball’s roster of free agents is already drawing speculation far and wide, it could again be unorthodox methodology that makes or breaks the Brewers’ playoff hopes in 2018.
One name that has surfaced that seems right in line with that type of thinking is Miles Mikolas, who, like Thames, was given limited MLB playing time before greatly improving his game overseas, as noted by Ken Rosenthal.
For all the hype on Ohtani, one of the top pitchers in Japan last season, former major-league RHP Miles Mikolas, quietly became a free agent today. Mikolas had a 2.18 ERA in 62 starts for Yomiuri Giants from 2015-17. His agents at Octagon expect at least 10 major-league offers.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 1, 2017
Mikolas’ first foray in the majors was met with middling results at best, as he compiled a 4-6 record, 5.32 ERA and 1.423 WHIP with wholly-average strikeout and walk rates (6.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9) over 37 games split between three seasons. But since joining the Yomiuri Giants in 2015, he’s vastly improved in nearly every statistical category. Over the last three years, he’s compiled a record of 31-13, posted a 2.18 ERA and 0.994 WHIP, all while trimming his walk rate to an impressive 1.5 BB/9 and buoyed his strikeout rate to 8.0 K/9. In 2017, he even pushed those rates to 1.1 and 9.0 respectively.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a comprehensive arsenal either, and Mikolas suits the need with a fastball that has topped out at 94-mph, a curve with exceptional movement, a hard slider and a change-up to boot. Given the fluidity that Stearns and manager Craig Counsell regularly employ, he would also make a good fit for a mid-season move to the bullpen should another starting option become available outside of Jimmy Nelson’s return from injury.
Contract estimates have ranged between $7 and $10 million for a two-year deal, potentially making him an absolute steal given what he’s been able to produce. But like any international free agent, success at the MLB level is a long road to proof. The 29-year-old will be facing much different hitters than he was in Japan and given the precarious nature of even tenured pitchers, it’s still a risk, even if small. Luckily for Milwaukee, if they do decide to make Mikolas a competitive offer, it will likely have little impact on the incredibly low payroll still on the books, even after arbitration, as the team has hovered at the bottom of league-wide spending for the last two years.
But Mikolas isn’t the only international pitcher Milwaukee could open their checkbook to. Hyeon-Jong Yang, a left-handed pitcher out of South Korea could also be a potential fit. Like Thames, who was also signed out of the Korean league, Yang’s end-of-year status was held in high regard — he was named the KBO MVP in 2017.
Outside of being an additional left-handed arm the Brewers’ rotation could undoubtedly utilize, his numbers over the last three years (3.20 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, 7.2 K/9) prove that he could be serviceable in the back end of the rotation.
— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) November 13, 2017
In the past, Yang had expressed his interest in playing in the majors and was previously posted by the Kia Tigers in 2014, but the offers the team received were quickly rejected for being too low. As recently as mid-November, a few MLB teams have already completed status checks on the 29-year-old but nothing has come to fruition in any official capacity and Yang has also stated publicly that he would like to return to the Tigers in 2018, leaving his status cloudy at best — not to mention the team would again need to post him before talks begin. But then again, with the MVP notch on his belt, his potential value may have already reached its ceiling and could be the impetus to his entering the MLB pool.
Another option could be right-hander Hideaki Wakui. Despite having only a modest 2017 season (5-11, 3.99 ERA, 1.323 WHIP) in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball at 31 years old, the tenured pitcher has maintained an incredibly consistent 13-year career, compiling a 3.45 ERA and 1.259 WHIP while posting solid walk and strikeout rates (2.7 BB/9, 6.6 K/9). Wakui’s contract expired at the end of the 2017 season and he’s previously expressed an interest in joining the MLB ranks. Given his age, he easily meets international requirements in both age and experience to surpass being restricted to international bonus pools, leaving a vast amount of financial room for the Brewers, or any team for that matter, to make him a considerable offer.
While Mikolas may be the greatest potential asset of the three, there’s little doubt that Stearns will be looking to explore every potential option available to secure a competitive roster for 2018 and beyond. Based on his previous history, almost nothing seems out of reach.
Jonathan Powell is a co-founder and lead writer for Bronx to Bushville.
The Milwaukee Brewers, as we’ve been told time and time and time and time again, don’t have much obligation in the way of payroll. They can go get a big name starting pitcher. They’ve already been linked to Jake Arrieta by several national baseball pundits, but all indications closer to the organization seem to indicate that’s blowing smoke where there probably isn’t fire.
And, really, do the Brewers need to go get a big name starter? Jimmy Nelson is going to miss significant time in the next campaign recovering from shoulder surgery, Zach Davies is an enigma and there’s no guarantee Brent Suter can replicate his dark horse success in 2018. With Chase Anderson really in the only position to safely build upon 2017, it might make sense at 20,000 feet to open up Mark Attanasio’s checkbook and land a marquee free agent pitcher.
Closer to the organization and with more familiarity with the system, the view is different and rings as such: The Brewers don’t have to jump in to the free agent pool.
Nelson’s return to Milwaukee will be as good as a trade at midseason, or whenever he’s ready to get back to the bump. Davies is an enigma, streaky in both the best and worst sense, but he’s shown effectiveness enough to warrant another look (and serves as solid rich man’s Marco Estrada-esque tradebait. I wouldn’t be surprised if he is either the Brewers’ No. 2 or packaged in a deal at the Winter Meetings.) Suter’s unorthodox mechanics and approach and fast pace serve him well to keep hitters guessing. Let’s also bear in mind that Brandon Woodruff has yielded some dividends in a small sample size and has great movement on his pitches.
That leaves us with Anderson, Davies, Woodruff, Suter and an empty fifth spot. None of those four have been in a major league rotation together for a substantial period of time, but these four were in the trenches during the stretch run and were key in keeping the Brewers in the hunt. They could very well go to war with who they have without being obligated to substantial free agent money.
Then we ought to consider who else the Brewers have right now. Andrew Miller is a bit of a unicorn, and it’s not fair to hitch Josh Hader to that bandwagon. Hader was dominant in his relief role and could still profile into a strong lefty starter. He has earned the opportunity to get a look in Spring Training, as has Aaron Wilkerson who could also earn another extended look in March after posting his first 10 major league innings at the end of the regular season with some success. Jorge Lopez, Luis Ortiz or 2017 Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year Corbin Burnes could all be possibilities as well.
David Stearns has built an organization that has an embarrassment of riches at every level. They could have guys in the farm ranks on their radar as easily as they could package some of them for a starter who isn’t in the conversation right now. They’re [very] dark horses for Shohei Otani.
Jake Arrieta is trending in the wrong direction and he’ll be 32 before Opening Day. Alex Cobb is intriguing, but he’s a year removed from injury and would be high-risk/high-reward. Yu Darvish is radioactive after his October meltdown (and he didn’t look healthy in October, either.) Lance Lynn isn’t going to follow the trail Kyle Lohse blazed from St. Louis to Milwaukee, and the Brewers need a guy who can get strikeouts at will: Lynn has a reputation as a Brewer-killer.
So did Jeff Suppan. That’s as much as I’m going to say on this matter.
Any deal the Brewers make with one of those guys is a move for the sake of making a move. Those kinds of decisions kept the Brewers irrelevant at best under previous administrations. Stearns isn’t that type, and it would be out of character for him to start making it rain now.
Yes, the window of contention is officially open for the Brewers but there’s no need to tear the wall out.
The more likely scenario is that Stearns keeps kicking tires, keeps an eye on the market and makes a trade either in the winter or May. Let others spend their money on free agent pitchers who may or may not help, in all likelihood, they’re paying for past performance with other clubs.
The Brewers have stayed the course until now; there’s no need to change that strategy.
This much, though, is true: it’s fun to talk about pieces that could put the Brewers over the top in 2018.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.