MILWAUKEE -- If you’re a believer in the numbers, then no team’s hopes took a bigger hit in the weeks leading up to the All-Star Game than those of the Brewers, who lost 15 of their final 23 games to reach the break at 47-44.
The Brewers are only one-half game behind the National League Central-leading (and equally sputtering) Cubs, but the mathematical models don’t like Milwaukee’s chances. All three of the most prominent formulas give the Brewers a less than 40 percent chance of making the playoffs, with less than a 25 percent of winning the division. The biggest problem: A minus-17 run differential. The Brew Crew is the only team in the Majors with more wins than losses while scoring fewer runs than it allows.
Of course, the remaining 71 games on the schedule will be played by human beings, and not the millions of bits of data running the thousands of simulations per day. And the roster today is not the roster the rest of the way; Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns is likely to add by the July 31 Trade Deadline.
“I mean, I feel like we’ve won in a lot of unconventional ways the last two years,” said reigning NL MVP Award winner Christian Yelich. “I guess analytically, people want to say that’s not sustainable and won’t translate to success in the end, but we’ll see. I think we have a lot of talented guys in our clubhouse. I think there’s something to be said for having a will to win.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best baseball by any means. But we’ve put ourselves in solid position when we start the second half to put ourselves in the playoffs and make a run. That’s all you can ask for.”
Current status: Buyer
Stearns has fallen clearly on one side of the seller-buyer spectrum in each of his first three summers at the helm, and this year is no different. It will be the third straight year he is in “buy” mode, though the debate this time is how many prospect pieces to give up and how much payroll to add to an already franchise-record-setting sum, given the team’s middling results so far.
What they are seeking
Pitching. Stearns has expressed confidence in his club’s arms, saying the answers have to come from within. So far, however, it is clear that this year’s staff has significantly more holes. Credit Brandon Woodruff and Zach Davies for stepping up their performances, and to Josh Hader for remaining lights-out in a shift to the closer role. The hard question facing Stearns and his staff is this: Even if he adds via trade, is there enough to make a deep postseason run?
What they have to offer
Stearns tends to be dispassionate about organizational assets, so it’s probably inaccurate to call second baseman and consensus top prospect Keston Hiura off-limits. But given that he is up in the big leagues for good -- “This isn’t a ‘stint,'” manager Craig Counsell said Sunday -- trading Hiura would be painful.
Trouble is, any team with a top pitcher to deal would start with Hiura, since the gap from Hiura to the rest of Milwaukee’s prospect list is a relatively wide one. Other valuable assets include shortstop Brice Turang, who was just promoted to Class A Advanced Carolina at age 19, and 20-year-old outfielder Tristen Lutz. They are No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Top 30 Brewers prospects. No. 3 prospect Corey Ray has dealt with injuries this season. No. 5 Mauricio Dubon just made it to the Major Leagues. And then there’s another intriguing trade chip from the big league roster: Shortstop Orlando Arcia. Would another team take a chance on Arcia, who has the raw tools to be a star and is still shy of his 25th birthday?
Possible scenarios for a starter
The ‘go big’ scenario: Stearns loves controllable assets, and if he aims high to strengthen Milwaukee’s starting rotation, the list of targets could start with the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard, the Indians’ Trevor Bauer or the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman, difference-makers under club control through 2020. Any attempt to land a pitcher of that caliber would take a haul of top prospects starting with Hiura. Unlikely.
The more realistic scenario: Among the available pitchers are a handful pending free agents, including Madison Bumgarner of the Giants and Zack Wheeler of the Mets. The Brewers have had some talks with the Giants, whose front office includes former Milwaukee pro scouting director Zack Minasian. Wheeler would be interesting because the Brewers had a trade in place with the Mets for him in July 2015, only to see it fall apart. Both teams have changed GMs since then, however. Considering Wheeler and Bumgarner's contractual status, it’s more reasonable to think the Brewers could entice the Mets or Giants with a package starting with Major League-ready Ray or Dubon.
The depth scenario: Last year, the Brewers got to Game 7 of the NL Championship Series with a pitching staff built on depth as opposed to star power. Perhaps that is a possibility again, and Stearns could target a less high-profile pitcher like the Orioles’ Andrew Cashner. He had a poor first season in Baltimore, but he is 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA so far in 2019, and he would be a rental since he won’t get the innings to kick in a '20 contract option. With the O's in long-term rebuilding mode, it could be possible to get the 32-year-old Cashner for a young, upside prospect lower in Milwaukee’s Top 30.