The Perils of Giving Up
Last night’s Brewers loss was easily the most painful, pull-your-own-eyeballs-out-of-the-socket spectacle of the season. The ending was excruciating, a classic implosion that, when it came, felt like it was destined to be that way.
It has been that kind of season, the sort that has even the most loyal and passionate Brewers fans throwing up their hands in resignation (possibly because they are tired of throwing up after every game). Twitter is full of shouts to blow up the team, trade off whatever can be traded and restock for next year. Believe me, I get that. It feels right and it feels good: “Get rid of those stiffs and give me something new! Yeah, that’s the ticket…”
Problem is, as good as holding a fire sale would feel to many fans, that is not necessarily the smart thing to do long term. Rarely is making long-term decisions on the basis of short term results the wisest option. So it might behoove Brewers fans to take a step back, exhale and think about things for a moment.
First, holding a fire sale in the face of the MLB trading deadline would mean that the team assembled prior to this season, the one so many thought might be a playoff contender, was a sham. Do we really know that at this point in the season? Or would this team be better with Mat Gamel and Alex Gonzales at their infield posts, with Rickie Weeks playing like, well, Rickie Weeks (instead of the mummified corpse of Rickie Weeks) and with Chris Narveson holding down the five slot in the rotation? While I personally doubt that, I don’t know the answer for sure. So if the Brewers are going to make dramatic changes to their roster, they better be pretty sure they were dead wrong in assembling this team in the first place because most of those pieces are going to be back next year and Weeks is quite unlikely to suffer through another disaster like the one he’s experienced so far in 2012.
Second, what value are the Brewers going to get back if they are seen around MLB as selling off pieces in a panic? Doug Melvin has said in the past that good deals are more difficult to come by at the deadline because sellers are often not working from a position of strength. It’s one thing to make deals in which you get good return that can help the team now or down the road. But the context of making those trades now would not favor the Brewers.
Third, Mark Attanasio has stated numerous times that he feels an obligation to the fans who have supported the club in numbers out of proportion to the team’s market size, and that has usually meant making deals that improve the club in the present, not selling off pieces that signal the team is giving up now in favor of some hoped-for future. I have questioned the wisdom of this philosphy in the past, but clearly the success of 2008 and 2012, coupled with the impressive attendance in recent years, seems to suggest that Attanasio knows what he is doing. So if the Brewers do decide to make deadline deals, I expect them to the be the kind that can be spun in such a way that management can claim they aren’t capitulating but, rather, taking advantage of circumstances that will allow the Brewers to be better this year (as well as in future seasons).
It’s a delicate dance. Clearly, the Brewers are not showing any signs that they will be serious contenders at any point down the stretch. The right course is not entirely clear–there are good arguments to be made for maintaining the team’s core (and making a push to resign Zack Greinke) as well as going the other way and dealing whatever pieces that can position them for another window of success in the future (i.e. taking a step back now in favor of two steps forward later). But for a team so dependent on having a strong gate, the Brewers will need to tread very carefully because a misstep (holding on to a declining core or dealing useful parts for hoped-for improvements that may never happen) will have implications about how fast those turnstiles at Miller Park will be spinning during the next few years.