Gazing at Shiny Objects
This isn’t one of those, “I know better than others about how to build the Milwaukee Brewers” posts. No–far from it. I will admit straight up that I don’t know the best course the team should trod on its way back to winning baseball. But I do have some preferences, and a major tenet is a hope that the team doesn’t become too infatuated with the potential of the minor league prospects it might acquire as it retools its roster.
I think most of us humans can get sucked in by the allure of “shiny objects.” I experienced this just yesterday when I watched a video of the soon-to-be-released BlackBerry 9800. Now, I have a perfectly good BlackBerry, the Bold 9000, which is just 1.5 years old. It’s still cool, works well, and remains the best phone I’ve ever had. Yet that new slider…damn, it looked fine! Just imagine all the awesome stuff it could do with that new OS6! It must be faster and have improved call quality. Hey, it looked unbelievable on that video…
But there’s the rub. From a distance, promise and potential always seem more exciting and better than what is known. Trouble is, it often doesn’t end up going that way. A lot of people who cashiered cable for satellite TV know that for all the benefits there is also another side to the coin: a new set a problems, different from the old ones, but real nonetheless. And I think that is the story with gazing at baseball prospects from afar.
Of course, not everyone sees it this way. In fact, a couple of thoughtful observers whom I respect and like a great deal over at the Bernie’s Crew blog think that the key to improvement for the Brewers is changing out guys like Corey Hart and Prince Fielder for as many prospects as possible. My disagreement is not that I don’t favor a trade or would be against a deal for prospects, it’s the level at which I think those prospects should be. To my way of thinking, the more known about them, the closer they are to the Major Leagues, the better. I am all for acquiring talent–ability and skill of players wins a lot more games than anything a manager or pitching coach might do. But the deeper down prospects are the more chance there is of something going wrong in their development. Also, the longer it takes for them to make it to The Show. Meanwhile, as those prospects are maturing, the Big League club goes wanting and fans are left with their noses pushed against the glass, waiting for the day the team will be competitive again.
Personally, I don’t want to wait around for a tomorrow that might never come. We just went through that with the current cohort of players on the Milwaukee roster. I recall too well the many nights when the best thing Jim Powell could talk about on the Brewers radio broadcast was how well JJ Hardy was doing at High Desert in A ball. The message then was: Be patient Brewers fans because a talented group of prospects is on the way. OK, I waited, they came, things got better, but I guess I expected more than three non-losing seasons out of four between 2005-2008 before the window closed. It seems that highly touted minor league talent doesn’t always translate into sustained big league success.
This time around I would like to see them acquire talent in the upper reaches of the minors, players who might cost more but will help them sooner. While I understand the counter argument (younger players = higher ceiling) that strikes me as too much of a crap shoot. Being a fan is about hope (I think Bud Selig was spot on when he uncorked that beauty); I really don’t want to sit through a series of hopeless seasons waiting for a cohort of 20 year old guys to fulfill their potential while avoiding injury, drugs and a multitude of other factors that could befall them as they take those long minor league bus rides. Maybe it is just me, but I would rather enter the season thinking .500 is a real possibility instead of spending my summer dreaming about how some AA pitcher is going to dominate three years down the line.
I am not suggesting that merely finishing at or above .500 should be the goal of each season: I think that should be the first goal, not the last. But if a team trades off all of its good pieces every year in the hopes of stockpiling raw talent, the chances of winning any time soon at the Big League level is diminished and deferred. I don’t think that should have to be the case; it certainly hasn’t been for St. Louis (2010 payroll $93MM) or Minnesota (2010 payroll $90MM), so why should the Brewers have to voluntarily descend into a period of “no hope” when the only payback is a projected hope that the crop of minor leagues far off in the distance will stay on track and mature in a timely and efficient manner? The Cards and Twins, despite having similar payroll constraints, have found a way to remain competitive while developing talent. I would hope this is possible for the Brewers.
So, yes, trade Prince Fielder. Even if all they can get is a single young pitcher–if that guy is a highly regarded rookie or AAA pitcher who will be under the team’s control for the next five or six year, the deal is worth it. If nothing else they improve their pitching staff, save payroll and improve their infield defense. But if Prince is dealt for, say, three A ball kids, the likelihood is that we might only see two of them, and only then in three years, and one of them will likely underperform expectations. I guess I’d rather go for one guy that can help in the near future even if the cost and perception of value isn’t as great on the front end.