Buyers or sellers?
Buyers. The Brewers are just three games back of the Cardinals in the N.L. Central, and three games behind the Giants in the Wild Card race.
Whether or not they're ready to admit it, the Brewers' best chance of upgrading would be grabbing a catcher who can hit even a little. So far in 2009, the Brewers have wasted 309 punchless plate appearances on Jason Kendall, many from the leadoff spot. No amount of nice work with pitchers can make up for a .282 slugging percentage. Milwaukee might be wise to talk to a team like the Pirates, who need prospects and have two credible starting catchers in Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo, but so far I haven't heard of any trade rumors involving the Brewers acquiring a catcher.
Instead, Milwaukee is likely to look for a starting pitcher--even with Manny Parra, who was tremendous in his return from injury against the Cardinals shortly before the All-Star break, and Dave Bush, who seems likely to finish his rehab assignment within a week or two, the Brewers' current rotation consists of Yovani Gallardo and a bunch of mediocrities. (Parra showed better velocity in his Cardinals start than he did earlier this season, and he should be able to bounce back after a poor beginning to the year, but I wouldn't count on him being any better than a league-average starter down the stretch.)
GM Doug Melvin appears unwilling to part with top youngsters Alcides Escobar or Mat Gamel, though, so he'll have to be creative to find a pitcher who could improve on the Brewers' back-end starters. They don't really need a starting pitcher who can just take the ball every fifth day; they need a starter who's good, and that generally takes real prospects to acquire.
The Brewers have been mentioned in rumors about Roy Halladay. Melvin hasn't denied the Brewers are interested, but he didn't seem aware of the details of Halladay's contract last week, so it seems unlikely the Brewers are seriously pursuing him.
Realistically, what Milwaukee needs most is for the rest of the division to stay mediocre. They're very much in the playoff hunt this season despite losing C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets from last year's squad. But their corps of young hitters is getting expensive, and costly deals for lesser players like Jeff Suppan, Bill Hall and David Riske aren't helping them. Gallardo, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun may still be young, but this isn't really a dynamic young team anymore. Their time is now and the very near future.
They could also use a centerfielder--Mike Cameron will be a free agent after the season.
Big leaguers on the market?
Gamel's name will continue to come up if the Brewers continue to be connected to Halladay, but it's unlikely Milwaukee will trade anyone from its 25-man roster.
Minor league strength
The season hasn't been particularly kind to the Brewers' minor league system--a number of their best prospects (including Jeremy Jeffress, Cutter Dykstra, Lorenzo Cain, and Angel Salome) have been disappointing this season. But Escobar has handled Class AAA pitching fairly well and 2008 first-rounder Brett Lawrie has been terrific, and a number of starting pitchers have played well at age-appropriate levels in the low minors--Wily Peralta, Cody Scarpetta, Daniel Meadows and Evan Anundsen all bear watching. Also, the Brewers had five picks in the first two rounds of the 2009 draft, so they should be able to recharge fairly quickly.
Take on short-term money to win?
If last year's decision to take on salary for Sabathia wasn't the sort of bell that would get the Brewers' ownership salivating, then I'm not sure what would be. The Brewers also already took on salary when they traded for Jody Gerut in May. The issue for the Brewers isn't so much money, it's whether they'll be willing to part with the young players required to bring another star to Milwaukee. They already traded Matt LaPorta last year; the idea of trading Gamel, Escobar or Lawrie may be a bit much for the Brewers, who aren't the Yankees and really need a flush farm system to succeed.
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