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Beware the Brew Crew

The Milwaukee Brewers have had a really quiet off season. Just how quiet? They only signed two players to major league contracts. For a team that needed a lot of help, two major league signings doesn’t seem like a lot. However, they did get a lot of help this off season. The other teams in the NL Central have failed to make a splash big enough to make the central a three team race again, and this is a potential opening for the Brewers to move in.

The Brewers were, and are, not expected to make a playoffs appearance during the 2014 season, but is that really true? They could. They very well could, and here’s how:

First, the three other teams who made the playoffs last season have regressed. The Cincinnati Reds have not done anything to improve. They lost their, arguably, two most important players to free agency in Bronson Arroyo and Shin-Soo Choo. The two players combined for an even six wins above replacement. Their replacements (Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani) have a combined WAR of 2.9, a 3.1 difference! Albeit, the two players have not been major players in 2013 having spent most of the season in the minors, but that is more reason to be concerned. Who knows how two second year major leaguers with little experience under their belt will do to replace two All-Star caliber players. Will the loss of Choo and Arroyo hurt the Reds? Of course! And Hamilton and Cingrani may not be the best replacements for a team who won one of the NL Wild Card spots in 2013.

The other team who didn’t make moves AND who won the NL Wild Card series, the Pittsburgh Pirates, is in a tougher boat. They lost several key players in Marlon ByrdJustin Morneau, and A.J. Burnett and they replaced them with, well, nothing really. The only major league signing that the Buccos pulled off was for Edinson Volquez who had an absolutely atrocious season in 2013 and is the least likely replacement for an ace. Plus, first base and right field are still questions with no viable replacements at those positions. So does this mean that the Pirates will be out of the playoffs? I don’t think that the front office will go down without a fight. They want to appease their fan base and they still have many pieces in place to win over 80 games again, but unless they upgrade the rotation, first base, and left field, they are not going anywhere.

The final team and NL Central winners are perhaps in the best shape to make the playoffs again. The St. Louis Cardinals have done enough to maintain their dominance in the central. With Jhonny Peralta and Peter Bourjos in the fold including dominant young players such as Oscar Taveras and Michael Wacha, the Cards are looking like they will win another central title. But the Brewers might have something to say.

Other than the Cardinals, the Brewers have made the most important moves to improve their ballclub for 2014. They addressed all of their issues: The rotation, first base, and a left handed relief pitcher (according to ESPN). The rotation was fixed momentously with the addition of Matt Garza. Garza, one of the most sought after starters during free agency, will help to form a powerful front three rotation. With Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo leading the way and Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg rounding things out, the Brew Crew’s rotation is looking like it can compete with the best of them. Plus, the addition of Garza helps to address another issue. Will Smith, a lefty who was acquired in the Norichika Aoki trade, will move to the bullpen. Here, the Brewers are able to add to an already strong bullpen that features a strong back-end and now a stable and reliable left handed pitcher.

Although the Brewers never signed a first basemen to a major league deal, the ones that they were able to acquire will impact the ball club in many ways. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay will help what was a weakness for the Crew last season. Their combination of power, defense, ability to platoon, and familiarity to the NL Central and other leagues will impact the Brewers as if they had signed a major league contract. Plus, the Brewers have many great players in place at other positions. Jean SeguraCarlos GomezJonathan Lucroy, and even Ryan Braun will make a formidable lineup while young players like Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett have shown that they can play at the major league level.

Overall, the Brewers are a much better team and are starting to look much better than the 2013 season. They have addressed all of their pieces while other teams in the NL Central have regressed. Although the Brew Crew may not make the playoffs, as many predict, they will cause havoc and surely improve from the 74-88 record they posted last season.

The Last Remaining Top Starting Pitcher

Ubaldo Jimenez: Check.

Suk-min Yoon: Check.

A.J. Burnett: Check.

Ervin Santana: Nope.

The first three names have all signed contracts within a week and a half, the last one has not. Ervin Santana, a top 50 free agent according to many, is still unsigned and, according to MLB Trade Rumors top 50 free agents list, the only starting pitcher unsigned. So what does that mean for Santana? Well, it means that he may garner a large contract with a large sum of money from a desperate team, or he’ll be robbed of what he’s actually worth. Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Santana would receive a 75 million dollar contract over five years. Pretty good by any standards, but most likely not what he will get. Jimenez received 50 million while Matt Garza received 50 million as well only weeks ago, while Ricky Nolasco early on in the winter received a 49 million dollar contract. Of course, the annual average salary varies for each player, the highest guarantee salary is 25 million less than that predicted for Santana. So although he may still receive his projected 75 million, the likelihood of that happening looks slim. At this point in the stage, a four year deal seems logical, but I think with an annual salary of ~12 million, perhaps less. Although his career numbers and career in general don’t garner a salary like this, teams will match this price, or exceed it, in order to fill a hole.

The fact that Santana, and many other free agents, took so long to sign does not bode well with the player’s association and reflects negatively on the qualifying offer. The fact that a team is passing over a player with ties to a draft pick means A) that teams value their picks more so than ever and B) that the ability to win now is not as important as the future. Let me explain.

Option A makes sense. Many teams have depleted farm systems a la the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels, so restocking their farm system and building towards the future (whether that be future trades, future post season aspirations, etc) is a viable, and necessary, option for all teams whereas option B is only for a few teams. Not every team is in a position to win now, so signing a player tied to their draft picks would be a lose-lose, but then you have the other teams who can win, and can win now. The Yankees clearly have attested to this. They have signed players tied to draft picks and thus lost those picks, but they are in an excellent position to win now, and for the future. You see, since a team loses a draft pick, they are obligated, but not obliged, to sign players to long term deals in order to make the signing worth wile. The Seattle Mariners believe this as do the aforementioned Yankees.

Thus the qualifying offer, although in place to help players which it does, can hurt teams and players alike. Teams can’t make respectable offers to players without losing their draft picks, and if they do, they tend to offer the player more money than he is worth. While the players, on the other hand, receive large paydays and security for their families, they do have to wait for a team to take a chance on him, if they even want to and lose their draft pick. And Santana perfectly reflects this. The notion that a team in need of a player (the Toronto Blue Jays for example) is not willing to offer a worthwhile deal to a player because they need the picks, while the player has to hope that what he receives is a viable, and legitimate, contract.

In conclusion: I do not like the qualifying offer. It ruins a team’s ability to sign a free agent while at the same time makes a player less valuable since his is tied to a draft pick.