The Brewers’ Rebuild Continues to Be Ahead of Schedule
Just three weeks ago, with the Milwaukee Brewers clinging to an unlikely perch atop the NL Central, we discussed ways they could make minor improvements without sabotaging their rebuilding process. Since that story first appeared, two things have happened:
· The Brewers have gone 11-10, good enough to slightly expand their division lead from a game to a game and a half, and
· They’ve taken a pair of small steps to improve the roster that line up with items we’ve previously discussed.
First, the organization showed some faith in the players they’re developing by allowing Brett Phillips, Lewis Brinson and Josh Hader to come up to the majors and play a role in a pennant race, and attempted to allow Brandon Woodruff to do the same. The results were mixed: Phillips and Brinson both struggled to find consistency and playing time and have been subsequently sent back down to AAA and Woodruff had to be placed on the disabled list before throwing his first MLB pitch, but Hader has been excellent in early work in a bullpen role. Through five appearances (his first regular season relief work at any level since 2015) he’s allowed just one hit in 6 1/3 innings and has yet to allow a run.
On Sunday the Brewers also opened up the checkbook and reinvested a small portion of the savings from one of MLB’s lowest payrolls, claiming veteran catcher Stephen Vogt and the remainder of his one-year contract from Oakland. Vogt is on the wrong side of 30 years old and he’s coming off a rough start to the 2017 season (he’s batting .217 with a .287 on-base percentage and .357 slugging through his first 54 games), but before that he was an American League All Star in each of the last two seasons.
Because he was available on waivers Vogt will cost the Brewers little more than the roughly $1.6 million remaining on his contract. If he performs, he’s still eligible for arbitration and would leave the Brewers with yet another controllable option behind the plate for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Even if his 2017 statistics with Oakland indicate roughly the type of player he’s going to be going forward, however, the slight uptick in production one would expect from a move from the American to National League would make him a solid-if-unspectacular backup to Manny Pina. He’s also a left-handed hitter with some power against righties: 34 of his 36 home runs since the start of the 2015 season have come against right handed pitchers.
The Brewers deserve credit for not letting inertia and clubhouse comfort stand in the way of a move that could help the team. Jett Bandy had a hot spring, a nice month of April and gets some credit for being a good teammate, but since April 28 (111 plate appearances) he’s batted just .152 with a .243 on-base percentage and .242 slugging. Even Vogt, who was playing his way out of Oakland at the time, was a better hitter over the same timeframe (.216/.310/.363 in 116 plate appearances). The fact that Bandy has a minor league option remaining makes this an even easier move for the Brewers as they can return him to AAA, let him get consistent playing time and hope he gets back on track without having to expose him to waivers.
The Brewers’ rebuild continues to appear to be ahead of schedule largely due to David Stearns and company’s knack for finding freely available talent: When he’s activated Vogt will become the fifth member of the Brewers’ 25-man roster who the organization has claimed off waivers, joining Jesus Aguilar, Hernan Perez, Junior Guerra and Nick Franklin. The Brewers deserve credit for their willingness to make moves like this and give opportunity to other teams’ castoffs, and their results show that these decisions are paying dividends.