Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.
2012 Organizational Rankings
#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York Mets
#19 – Los Angeles Dodgers
#18 – Colorado
#17 — Miami
#16 — Diamondbacks
#15 — Reds
#14 — Cubs
Milwaukee’s 2011 Ranking: 22nd
2012 Outlook: 57
Six months after clinching the organization’s first division pennant since 1982, the Brewers appear poised for a chance at a repeat performance. The overall pitching staff should rank among the National League elite, as the entire starting rotation and the back-end of the bullpen — which features shutdown relievers John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez — all return for another season in Milwaukee after compiling a team 3.59 FIP in 2011. That ranked fourth-best in all of baseball a season ago.
The pitching staff will need a repeat performance to help the team transition to an offense that no longer features Prince Fielder in the cleanup spot. Veteran third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who signed a three-year deal worth $36M this winter, should help replace some of that lost production, but the overall run production will likely decrease without Fielder in the lineup. The organization is also handing over the everyday first base role to Mat Gamel. While the former top prospect has always mashed in Triple-A, Milwaukee hopes his career .222/.309/.374 slash line in the big leagues finally begins to mirror his gaudy minor league numbers. Even league-average numbers would help make the Brewers one of the best offenses in the National League yet again.
Although the Brewers lost an elite slugger in Fielder, they rid themselves of the entire left side of the infield. Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee combined for +0.7 WAR in 2011 and posted a wOBA of .278 and .272, respectively. Replacing them with Ramirez’s bat and the plus-glove of Alex Gonzalez should help the Brewers recoup a good portion of Fielder’s value and help them compete in what looks to be a three-way battle with the Cardinals and Reds for the NL Central crown.
2013+ Outlook: 42
Doug Melvin and his club sacrificed a lot last year when they mortgaged their minor league system for an opportunity to return to the postseason. Obviously, the bold trades for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke helped paved the road to an NL Central championship and an appearance in the NLCS, but the ramifications of the loss of prospects will be felt in years to come.
The farm system contains a healthy number of fourth outfielders and potential #3 or #4 starters, but the Brewers severely lacks impact talent in the minors. That resulted in Marc Hulet ranking the Brewers’ minor league system as the second worst in all of baseball. The bright spot on the farm is that quartet of promising young pitchers — Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann, Jed Bradley, and Tyler Thornburg — are all chugging through the system. All four pitchers have significant question marks, however, and could be asked to slide into the big league rotation earlier than desired due to the impending departure of Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and perhaps even Randy Wolf to free agency after the 2012 season.
The future outlook could be improved if the Brewers are able to extend Zack Greinke this spring. It would give the rotation a legitimate ace and put less pressure on the minor league system to produce a top-tier pitcher. A one-two punch of Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo would anchor the starting rotation and allow the organization’s bevy of mid-rotation prospects to round out the remainder of the rotation at the league minimum going forward.
In terms of position players, Milwaukee has a solid core locked up through the 2013 season. Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart, Aramis Ramirez, and Jonathan Lucroy all signed contracts that will keep them in Brewers uniforms through next season, which is vitally important for the organization because the farm system is bereft of premium offensive talent. For example, Scooter Gennett is the top hitting prospect, and his ceiling is only a Freddy Sanchez type second baseman without the glove.
Doug Melvin will navigate a slippery slope after the 2012 season. The Brewers’ GM has been aggressive in signing players to contract extensions and building his core, but the farm system lacks the talent to provide anything more than supplemental talent at this point. The payroll flexibility to add free agents has also decreased dramatically, especially if the Brewers work out an extension with Greinke prior to his hitting free agency.
Milwaukee projects to have enough talent to keep from sliding down to the cellar — a spot they became very familiar with in the ’90s and early ’00s — but may not have enough talent coming from the minor league side to provide the needed talent to tip the scales to perennial contention.
Revenue Resources: 49
Milwaukee will never be confused with a large-market franchise, but the financial health of the organization has improved since owner Mark Attanasio took the reigns from the Selig family in 2005. Forbes ranks the Brewers as the 22nd most valuable franchise in Major League Baseball, valued at $448M, and reports that the club netted a $19.2M profit in 2011.
With the one of the smallest television markets in the league, much of that revenue stems from revenue sharing and the impressive attendance numbers that eclipsed the three million mark (3,071,373) last year. Milwaukee ranked #7 in the league in attendance and was only behind St. Louis amongst fellow NL Central clubs. Not bad for a metro area that ranks the worst in all of baseball. That high attendance and the natural revenue increase generated from their 2011 playoff appearance helped the Brewers accumulate an Opening Day roster for the upcoming season that will feature the highest payroll in franchise history.
Looking to future seasons, the Brewers have systematically signed their players to contract extensions and have a solid core locked up. The payroll flexibility is becoming stretched, however, and serious questions remain as to whether or not the organization can afford additional players. Milwaukee already has roughly $54M tied up for next season, a number that does not include arbitration raises. For a franchise such as the Brewers — who admit to being overbudget this year already — the purse strings will be drawn tight for future money allocation.
Baseball Operations: 48
Doug Melvin and his player development department have been criticized for not producing enough homegrown talent to avoid the inevitable step of trading away prospects for proven pitching. That deficiency has put the franchise in a hole for the upcoming seasons, but Melvin has pulled off some enviable trades in recent years. He acquired CC Sabathia for a package of prospects headlined by Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley. He also sent scraps to New York in exchange for Francisco Rodriguez and a non-prospect to Washington in return for Nyjer Morgan.
Of course, not all of his trades have proven so lopsided in favor of the Brewers. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum proved instrumental in leading the Brewers to the postseason last year, but the organization gave up young superstar Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays and a trio of young players — Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain, and Jake Odorizzi — who all project to be valuable cost-controlled talent for the cash-strapped Royals.
As good as Melvin has been on the trade market over the past half-decade, he and his front office have made poor choices on the free agent market. It started with a four-year, $42M agreement with right-hander Jeff Suppan. It then expanded to a one-year, $10M contract to Eric Gagne and a one-year, $4.75M contract to Braden Looper. Some have even opined that the three-year, $36M contract given to Aramis Ramirez this offseason was another example of Melvin’s fruitless jaunts through free agency.
It should be noted that Doug Melvin and the Brewers would not have needed to spend copious amounts of money on aging pitchers had their farm system produced adequate pitching. The organization returned to relevancy through drafting and developing much of the young core that led the Brewers to the postseason last year, but only one homegrown starting pitcher has been able to stick in the rotation since Ben Sheets. That’s Yovani Gallardo. That inability to produce young pitching through the minor league system over the past decade directly forced Melvin to look for pitching via the free agent market.
In the end, Doug Melvin and the rest of the Brewers’ baseball operations staff rank about league average. They have made some mistakes and hit some home runs, just like the vast majority of the baseball operations staffs across the league.
Overall, the Brewers rank exactly average on the scouting scale. They possess a blend of win-now talent that helped them rocket up from 22nd in these rankings last year to 13th this year, but they also possess significant question marks going forward. The minor league system was also largely left for dead last season, but the organization experienced breakout seasons from several prospects (most notably Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, and Taylor Green) and a very promising draft class that features quality, advanced pitching.
The NL Central is largely considered to be a three-team race this year between the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds. The Brewers’ pitching staff should carry the team. A full season of Zack Greinke and Francisco Rodriguez, as well as improved infield defense, should likely result in fewer runs allowed over the course of the season, and while the offense will likely not be quite as potent with the departure of Prince Fielder, the Brewers will trot out enough talent in the batting order to be at least league-average scoring runs. That combination could be enough to bring home back-to-back division pennants for the first time since doing so in the 1981 and 1982 seasons.