MILWAUKEE -- The clock is ticking toward the Brewers' fascinating decision. With their rebuild ahead of schedule, general manager David Stearns must decide whether it is already time to tap the team's restocked farm system in order to add Major League talent at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.A report
MILWAUKEE -- The clock is ticking toward the Brewers' fascinating decision. With their rebuild ahead of schedule, general manager David Stearns must decide whether it is already time to tap the team's restocked farm system in order to add Major League talent at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
A report from MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi indicated the Brewers were prepared to add, particularly to a starting rotation that has Chase Anderson (strained oblique) and Junior Guerra (bruised shin) on the 10-day disabled list. Stearns opted not to make any public declarations. Inside the clubhouse, players are as curious as fans to see which direction the team takes.
"The Trade Deadline is exciting," third baseman Travis Shaw said. "When you buy, you know you're playing meaningful games down the stretch. When you buy, I think everybody gets pretty excited."
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The Brewers have the prospects and financial flexibility to make a big move if Stearns opts to go for it. Among the starting pitchers likely available is one who could help the Brewers win now and in the future: A's Sonny Gray won't reach free agency until after '19. On Thursday, the rival Cubs snagged another possibility, dealing for the White Sox's Jose Quintana.
MLB.com's Phil Rogers is among the observers making the case for the Brewers to go for it. If they find a match with a club looking for outfield prospects, Brewers are flush with them -- starting with top prospect Lewis Brinson. Parting with Brinson would be ironic, since the Brewers just acquired him last Aug. 1 along with fellow outfield prospect Ryan Cordell and pitching prospect Luis Ortiz for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress. At the time, the Brewers were in clear rebuilding mode. Times have changed fast.
What are they playing for?
The Brewers entered the season seeking to build on their 73 wins in 2016, but instead find themselves the only team in the NL Central with a winning record. Their current 5 1/2-game lead over the second-place Cubs and Cardinals is Milwaukee's biggest cushion this season. It is clear the Brewers are playing to make the postseason, but don't expect Stearns to make a "win now" trade that would significantly hamper the Brewers' depth for the future. He's looking instead for some balance.
The road ahead
The Brewers begin the second half with 10 straight games against Pennsylvania teams: Four against the Pirates on the road sandwiched between six against the Phillies, starting with a three-game homestand beginning Friday. Then comes a big week leading to the Deadline: Three games at the Nationals from July 25-27, followed by three at home against the Cubs from July 28-30.
Ryan Braun's lingering calf injury is a critical question facing the Brewers in the second half, but they have proven they can score runs without him. The key player here could be Jimmy Nelson, who has taken a significant step forward in his age-28 season. He has pitched to a 3.30 ERA in a team-high 109 innings, and Nelson's continued success is important as the Brewers mull their rotation options while Anderson is on the DL.
"We don't need anybody to 'lead the rotation,'" manager Craig Counsell said to a question about Nelson. "We need five guys to do their job. Leading the rotation, I don't know what that means. Let's have five guys give us a chance to win every time they take the ball."
Prospects to watch
Brinson already got a taste of the Major Leagues and is likely to be back. For Trade Deadline purposes, it is also worth watching right-hander Brandon Woodruff and left-hander Josh Hader. Woodruff has been on the DL with a hamstring injury since getting hurt warming up for what was supposed to be his Major League debut. He is expected to be game-ready by the final week of July, and the Brewers are comfortable bringing him back to the Majors if they need pitching help. Hader, meanwhile, will continue working relief for now, but the Brewers still see his long-term future as a starter.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.