New Brewers GM will have decisions to make

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 30, 2015

When the Brewers put their new general manager in place—likely shortly before or after the World Series—he will need to hit the ground running.

The more the Brewers play, the more questions surface regarding their personnel moving forward. Assuming the team will not be competitive for the playoffs in 2016—a safe assumption at this juncture—the new GM will have time to get things right.

But the sooner he starts putting the correct pieces in place, the better. You don't just start plugging minor-league prospects into the lineup and expect them to excel from the start. It takes time and experience to make a major-league player.

So, where do we start? Let's begin with the outfield, now missing a legitimate No. 1 centerfielder with the trade of Carlos Gomez to Houston. Rightfielder Ryan Braun has a five-year, $105 million contract extension kicking in next year, so it's safe to assume he's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Swing over to left field and the enigmatic Khris Davis, whose offensive streakiness and below-average defense make people crazy when the Brewers say they want to see what they have in him. Just when you're ready to give up on Davis, he goes on a power tear as he has in August with 10 home runs, showing why the team's decision-makers are intrigued by him.

But, if you're going to stick with Davis and Braun in the outfield corners, where does that leave prospect Domingo Santana? The Brewers didn't pick him up in the trade with Houston with the idea that the power-hitting, strong-armed outfielder would be an extra piece.

Santana has played some center field merely out of the necessity to get him at-bats in the majors, but that is not his future position. The future there is Brett Phillips, also acquired from the Astros, but likely not arriving before 2017. Santana has nothing left to prove at the Class AAA level, so it will be up to the new GM to figure out what's best for him and the team.

The infield presents even more questions. There is absolutely no debate within the organization that Orlando Arcia is the future at shortstop. Arcia, who recently turned 21 and is considered one of the top prospects in the minors, is playing at Class AA Biloxi and might not be ready for the majors until midseason 2016.

If the Brewers plan for Arcia to get some seasoning at Class AAA Colorado Springs next season, that would allow them to keep Jean Segura at shortstop for the time being. But it also might make sense to facilitate the transition at short and figure out if it's best to move Segura to another position or trade him this winter.

The obvious internal move for Segura would be to second base, which would leave Scooter Gennett without a position. Gennett is a second baseman only and would have to be moved to put Segura there. Both are impatient hitters with low on-base percentages, and therefore it would be best for the health of the offense to subtract one from the equation.

Adam Lind has a club option remaining on his contract and the Brewers could exercise it, giving them a year to figure out the future at first base. But, with the team expected to be out of the playoff race again in 2016, perhaps it would be better to trade Lind and move Braun or Santana to first base, which would solve the outfield puzzle. The Brewers have been searching for a long-term solution at first base since Prince Fielder left via free agency after the 2011 season.

The Brewers face a bigger quandary at third base. There is no player on their current roster profiling as a starter there and no heir apparent in the farm system anywhere close to the major-league level. Next year's opening day third baseman likely is not in the organization at this time.

With few exceptions, third base has become a problem position in the major leagues, with few prototypical players arriving on the scene in recent years. All of which is why Chicago Cubs fans should feel very good about having Kris Bryant as their third baseman for years to come.

What the Brewers do at catcher going forward could be fascinating. It might be as simple as sticking with Jonathan Lucroy through the rebuilding process, tabling any decisions for a couple of years. Lucroy is signed for 2016 with a club option for 2017 at club-friendly prices, so it is not a crisis position at present.

Lucroy approached the club with the idea of a contract extension in the spring and was turned away. What that meant for his future with the club was difficult to discern. Perhaps management just saw no urgency to do so at the time.

Lucroy has had a puzzling drop in offensive performance this season, a major toe injury not withstanding. But major-league catchers are not easy to find and he is still considered a plus behind the plate. The Brewers have used Lucroy as a focal point of marketing and his good-guy, patriotic persona makes him a fan favorite.

There probably will be little tinkering in the pitching department. Matt Garza, by virtue of the two years remaining on his four-year, $50 million deal, figures to return to the starting rotation along with Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann.

The Brewers, who seemingly took forever to develop starting pitching, have said they plan to build a future rotation around Peralta, Nelson and Jungmann. But, as we have seen of late, that trio still has considerable room for improvement, and the Brewers must continue to filter starters from the organization to the big leagues.

The best seasons in the farm system were delivered by right-handers Jorge Lopez and Tyler Wagner at Biloxi. Whether either would be ready to make the jump to the majors in 2016 remains to be seen. Zach Davies, the undersized righty acquired from Baltimore in the Gerardo Parra trade, is at Colorado Springs, putting him on the doorstep of the majors.

As for the bullpen, relievers come and go every season. But the Brewers have young, productive arms in Will Smith, Jeremy Jeffress, Michael Blazek and Corey Knebel. Veteran Francisco Rodriguez—the only closer in the majors without a blown save—is signed through next season, giving the new GM the option of keeping or trading him.

Anyone who has watched the Brewers lately can attest to how far away they are from contending again. Some nights they are close to unwatchable. Accordingly, the new GM will have little margin for error.

The Brewers are in the process of finalizing their list of GM candidates to interview. The sooner they find the right man, the better. The to-do list is not getting any shorter.

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