No sense playing ‘what if?’ with 2012 Brewers

MILWAUKEE — Imagine for one moment that it’s July 26 — the trade deadline closing in — and you’re standing next to Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin. He’s on the phone with Anaheim general manager Jerry DiPoto discussing a potential trade that will send ace pitcher Zack Greinke to the Angels for three prospects, including shortstop Jean Segura.

He hangs up the phone, turns to you — the you who has time-traveled from late September to assist Melvin with this decision — and asks for your opinion of the trade. Should the Brewers deal Zack Greinke?

Of course, unlike Melvin, you know the twists and turns of the season’s script. You know that after the Brewers trade Greinke, the team will go 32-18 and skyrocket itself back into the wild-card picture as one of baseball’s hottest teams — all with the backbone of an impressive young rotation. Plus, Segura seems to look like the real deal.

But you also know how good Greinke was in Milwaukee. After all, his final start was a seven-inning, classic Greinke gem in which he gave up just three hits and one earned run. And since initially struggling in Anaheim, Greinke has been just as good as he was in Milwaukee — if not better — maintaining a 1.70 ERA in 37 innings, while AL hitters are batting just .185 against him.

So what do you tell Melvin? How might the Brewers’ season have changed directions if Greinke would’ve remained in Milwaukee? Would it be better? Could it be worse?

That indecision is the reason players and coaches don’t play games with “What if?” And with this year’s Brewers — a squad that clearly underachieved for the majority of the season — there are plenty of lingering “What if?” questions.

For now, let’s stick with the Greinke dilemma. If the one-time Cy Young winner would have remained in Milwaukee, there likely wouldn’t have been a serious August slump like he went through in Anaheim — at least, not as drastic of one. Assuming he would’ve kept up his similar pace from earlier in the season, Greinke would’ve actually still been just the team’s third-most valuable starter, behind Mike Fiers and Yovani Gallardo. But his presence likely would’ve allowed for Shaun Marcum to be pushed out of the rotation during his recent struggles, giving the Brewers a pretty talented group, more battle-tested than the one they currently trot out to the mound. Greinke could certainly be a force in the playoffs.

But without Greinke in Anaheim, there’s no guarantee the Brewers would’ve ever pitched Mark Rogers, who was effective in his stint in the majors. Or how about Wily Peralta, who had even less chance of making the major league roster without Greinke? Peralta and Marco Estrada, who also was no guarantee not to concede a rotation spot at some point, have been anchors of late in the Brewers’ rotation. After all, perhaps one of the best parts about the last two months is that Milwaukee has seemingly killed two birds with one stone — showcasing young talent while still making a playoff push.

With that in mind, what would you tell Melvin? Personally, I’d tell him to continue as planned and pull the trigger.

For this reason: There’s no telling what small twists of fate in the second half of the season guided the Brewers in the right direction. Since Greinke’s trade, Yovani Gallardo has established himself as one of the NL’s best pitchers. Who knows whether that would be the case with Greinke still wearing a Brewers uniform.

And Greinke’s trade isn’t the only event that had a significant effect on Milwaukee’s trajectory. What if catcher Jonathan Lucroy had never gotten injured? What if Marcum wouldn’t have been injured for much of the season? For that matter, what if no player on the roster had gotten injured this season?

Would the Brewers really be in the same position if Mat Gamel would’ve played out the season at first base? If he hadn’t torn his ACL, Milwaukee wouldn’t ever have realized the potential of Corey Hart at first base or the potential of Nori Aoki in right field and batting leadoff. If Lucroy would’ve never gotten hurt, there’s no reason Martin Maldonado would’ve been on the major league roster with George Kottaras as a viable backup. Maybe Lucroy’s numbers would be a lot better this season, but Maldonado’s inclusion has certainly been a positive one.

And without a revolving door at shortstop, following Alex Gonzalez’s ACL injury, it’s no certainty Greinke would’ve gone to Anaheim and Segura would’ve come to Milwaukee.

Though so many “what if’s” have gone in the Brewers’ favor this season, there is reason to legitimately question what could’ve been had Milwaukee’s bullpen been its 2011 self for the majority of the summer. There’s reason to believe that without even half of John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez’s 15 combined blown saves that the Brewers would be the leaders in the clubhouse for the NL’s second wild card. That I will concede.

But hey, why drive yourself crazy with what if’s, right?

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