The Brewers are in sell mode, particularly on Zack Greinke, as the trade deadline nears.
By RYAN KARTJEFS Wisconsin
Milwaukee Brewers held out as long as they could. They focused talk on getting back into the NL Central race instead of becoming sellers at the July 31 trade deadline. They spoke of high hopes and soon-to-be-realized potential.
But on Wednesday, as the Brewers boarded a plane back to Milwaukee having lost six straight games on the road — their longest losing streak of the season — one fact was painfully clear:
General manager Doug Melvin and his Brewers are going to be selling off parts in the next few days.
According to a report from CBSSports.com, Melvin told his staff that losses in five of the Brewers' last six road games would give the team reason to sell. Then Melvin admitted as much publicly Thursday morning on WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee, saying, "We're taking phone calls. … At this point, we have to listen to opportunities to improve the ballclub for the future and still try to win ballgames now."
Melvin and Brewers owner Mark Attanasio have never been quick to sell — they haven't sold much at all, actually — but with the most valuable trade piece left on the market only gaining value as the deadline nears, there's reason to believe that Brewers ace Zack Greinke will be dealt sooner rather than later.
"There's a lot of teams that make contact," Melvin told WTMJ when asked about Greinke. "You try to narrow the list in that regard. You take the serious ones."
Trading Greinke – who is scheduled to pitch Sunday against Washington – may not have been such a sure thing 48 hours ago, before Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels re-upped with Philadelphia for a reported six-year, $144 million deal. But that move both likely priced the Brewers out of the market for Greinke's services beyond this season and took Hamels off the market. Now teams desperate for top-notch starting pitching for the stretch run will have chatting with Melvin at the top of their list – even if Greinke is merely a two-month rental before he hits the free-agent market this winter.
That much is good news for a team that hasn't had much lately. So what will another club pay for two months of a pitcher who in his last start gave up only three hits, smacked a home run and flashed Gold Glove-type defense, and will Milwaukee's sell mode go far beyond Greinke?
It'd be silly to expect a team 13 ½ games off the division lead to not deal other assets, but don't look for Melvin to blow up this roster. Though the 2012 season has hardly been successful, the team is just one season removed from an NLCS berth. A trade or two in the next week shouldn't and won't signify the beginning of a rebuild.
Instead, expect Milwaukee to look to acquire prospects and young pieces who are major league-ready or close, adding to a core that should come back healthier and better next season.
The AL West-leading Rangers have plenty players like that and seem like the best trading partner because of a season-ending injury to pitcher Colby Lewis, but they'll be hesitant to trade a top prospect such as shortstop Jurickson Profar or third baseman Mike Olt. The Braves, depending on what happens with their proposed deal to get Ryan Dempster, could be an option, considering pitching prospects such as Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran are possibly on the table. The Angels, White Sox and Orioles, among others also could be in the mix for Greinke.
Regardless of the suitor, Greinke will be the talk of baseball until he gets traded. And if the Brewers can do well on the other side of that trade, they could capitalize as soon as next season on the returns.
Greinke, however, is only one piece of what could be a very interesting trade deadline puzzle for Melvin. Most trade speculation so far has surrounded players like backup catcher George Kottaras — who is the odd man out with Jonathan Lucroy returning and could provide a veteran presence for a team like the Rays or Angels. But even heart-of-the order players such as third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who plays a position of need for big-time teams like the Dodgers and Yankees, and first baseman Corey Hart have been mentioned in rumors. It's unlikely, though, that the Brewers would take anything less than a perfect deal for either Ramirez or Hart, who have both played well this season. Maligned setup man-turned-closer Francisco Rodriguez and starter Randy Wolf may have value based on their past success, but their recent performances will make them tough to deal.
So there's little doubt the Brewers will be active, but many questions remain heading into the final days before the deadline. Greinke hasn't flat-out ruled out re-signing with the Brewers, although that seems highly unlikely, and Melvin has been mum on what he would expect in return for potential trade pieces. It's safe to assume a shortstop, starting pitcher and probably a reliever as well are on the wish list.
The good news in a tough season for Brewers fans is that if those wishes are fulfilled, the team might be able to both restore optimism for 2013 and generate a little excitement in 2012 before this season comes to an end.