On Tuesday night, the Milwaukee Brewers traded Francisco Rodriguez to the Baltimore Orioles for infield prospect Nick Delmonico. That’s convenient, because I had been meaning for a couple of days to talk about a certain similarity I see between the Brewers of 2013 and the Orioles of 2011. The news of this deal not only highlighted the parallel I want to draw, but put both teams together in the headlines, so the comparison might not seem as silly.
I first noticed this last week. The Brewers, as you might have noticed, are terrible. Funnily enough, though, at the positions arguably most important to building a good team, they’re the opposite of terrible. They’re maybe the best team in baseball.
The three spots to which I refer are catcher, shortstop and center field. Those are the most prized, premium positions on the diamond, and conventional wisdom, if nothing else, dictates that being strong in those spots is the recipe for success.
Jonathan Lucroy, Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez have been worth about 11 wins already this season, based on Baseball-Reference WAR. I went hunting for teams as bad, or even close to as bad, as these Brewers, who were as strong as this trio at the most important positions on the field.
I expected to be looking for a while. I expected to report that Milwaukee’s inability to surround such well-rounded depth at crucial positions is historic, maybe the most glaring in 30 years.
I was wrong. The 2011 Orioles, with the same group (Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones) that now mans those positions for a winning club, were not substantially different from this Milwaukee team. Both groups lack a true, transcendent star, although Gomez is perhaps the best player in the National League so far this year. Both are comprised of three multidimensional players, guys whose defense is at least average at their very demanding spots but whose bats are at least average no matter where they play. Both contain players very much at the beginning of their prime, although no one in either group promises to take any kind of second jump into Troy Tulowitzki territory.
That similarity is the most important between the two teams, but not the only one. Like the 2011 Orioles, the Brewers made some minor investments in their bullpen that are giving them a chance to restock a fairly thin farm system, and that could even vault them toward success sooner than later.
The trade of Rodriguez for Delmonico (a 20-year-old walks-and-power prospect hitting well in High-A this year, and a lefty bat to boot) is a coup for the Crew, a team badly in need both of cost-controlled long-term assets and of some platoon balance in a notably, untenably right-heavy lineup. It’s not quite the haul that Baltimore got for Koji Uehara in 2011 (Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter), but it may be every bit as valuable as the return the Orioles got on Mike Gonzalez that year. Gonzalez, the lefty specialist, brought back Pedro Strop from the Texas Rangers. Strop became an occasionally dominant set-up man in 2012, and part of the best (and best-used) bullpen in the league. Milwaukee’s next trade chip up for bid, by the way? It’s Mike Gonzalez.
Like those Orioles, the Brewers lack a margin for error. Like those Orioles, they lag behind three juggernauts this season, and the only team in their division within range immediately is a big-market giant with a thoroughly stacked farm system.
If Milwaukee’s front office is less than perfect, and if they have luck even close to as bad as their luck to this point this year, they’re dead in the water. If, on the other hand, the Brewers embrace the playbook and get it right, they could be very dark horses in the NL Central race next season. Any concerns that Ryan Braun’s whole career was a PED-fueled mirage notwithstanding, Milwaukee actually has better complementary talent on hand than Baltimore did for its up-the-middle triad.
Baseball is a game of patterns, and recognizing one as it begins to repeat is a source of great potential fun, for huge dorks and SportsCenter baseball fans alike. This is that. We’ll soon have a test of whether the famously fluky 2012 Orioles were onto something, or just lucky.Next post: Jeff Samardzija Must Go! and Other Cubs Deadline Thoughts
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