Often in postseason races, teams will become prisoners of the moment and lack the vision and mental resolve to navigate the short-term and long-term future of the organization. Few clubs, and almost always the most successful ones, can balance the ideas of their upcoming seasons and the desire to compete for a pennant in the present.
Those with the awareness and clarity to stock up on young guns for the following seasons and know when to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade, major signing, or big-money re-signing of a team staple, are the ones that see the rings at the end of October. The Milwaukee Brewers have exhibited that same organizational vision, which has made the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers perennial pennant contenders, and it’s a shrewd perception that will allow the club to sustain its competitive window for the long term.
After recording a 96-67 record in 2018, marked with the National League Central division title and a postseason run that saw them fall just short of a World Series berth, the Brew Crew has had a lackluster 2019 campaign. At 69-66, their chances of a postseason berth with a month left in the season stands at just 8.9 percent (Baseball-Reference calculation), as they’re third in the NL Central standings and four games out of the second NL Wild Card position.
While 2018 league Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich has had a monster season at the plate, the team has lacked pitching depth in the rotation and in the bullpen. Injuries have taken its toll on the club as well, as manager Craig Counsell has been tasked with shifting players in and out of the order with such frequency that the team has lacked rhythm and chemistry. But even if the 2019 season is a throwaway year, the long-term effects of the year will be positive.
Milwaukee’s willingness to part with flawed or problematic pieces of their roster, instead of trying to extract value from someone with none left to provide, is the stuff champions are made of.
A week ago, the Brewers designated pitcher Jhoulys Chacin for assignment, a mere season removed from the big right-hander recording a 15-8 win/loss record, 3.50 ERA, and eating up 192.2 innings for a team without much pitching depth. Why would they get rid of someone who was their top-ranked pitcher in FanGraphs WAR (2.4) last season, when they aren’t yet out of the postseason race?
Well, Chacin had posted a 3-10 record, 5.79 ERA, and 1.556 WHIP in only 88.2 innings of work in 19 starts this season. At 31 years old and struggling, Milwaukee saw no point in keeping their Opening Day starter around any longer. It’s a somewhat cruel way to let the starter go, but it’s just what we mean in that they have an organizational vision that goes beyond 2019, and they will not let a personal attachment to players and their past performances hinder their development into a consistent contender.
It was the same thought process given to the trade of Jesus Aguilar to the Tampa Bay Rays earlier in the season. The slugger hit 35 home runs, 108 RBIs, and posted an .890 OPS as a major part of the Brewers offense in 2018, but failed immensely in bringing back that offensive power in 2019, hitting .225/.320/.374 with eight home runs in 262 plate appearances. At the July 31 trade deadline, the Brewers dealt Aguilar to the Rays for pitcher Jake Faria.
The trend continued when the club dropped Jeremy Jeffress, one of the best relievers in baseball and a fearsome force in the Brewers bullpen last season. He went 8-1 with a 1.29 ERA last season, while totaling 15 saves and 18 holds in 76.2 innings, but Jeffress came back down to earth this season, with his ERA ballooning over five. The Brewers DFA’d the 2018 NL All-Star when rosters expanded on September 1.
In releasing Jeffress on Sunday morning, they essentially confirmed what their long-term vision and quest for success is. They will not hesitate to improve their club in any way possible, while balancing their chances for a pennant the current season and continuing to look forward to the future.