The surprising Milwaukee Brewers enter their Tuesday game against the Arizona Diamondbacks with a .592 winning percentage - good for second best in the National League - and a 3.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for 1st place in the NL Central. They've been fortunate enough to feature an offense that ranks 4th in OPS in the NL, a starting rotation with a league-leading number of innings pitched (444.1), and a bullpen with the 3rd most saves in the NL.
They are a balanced, veteran squad that has thus far remained suspension-free and mostly healthy, and despite being overlooked in the preseason NL Central projections, they've taken the division by storm and led throughout the early season. They're the rare team that has young, star-caliber players under years of team control at SS, C, and CF, and they can throw a steady diet of number 2 caliber starting pitchers at teams day in and day out. They will undoubtedly be buyers at the trade deadline, but as is the case with most teams that can claim 42-29 records, there aren't many glaring holes that need to be filled for them to be considered World Series contenders.
That's a good thing for Milwaukee, since their minor league system was ranked at or near the very bottom in every organizational rankings prior to the 2014 season. That shouldn't be a defining factor of their trade deadline negotiations, however, as they won't have many big moves to make, and even if they do, both owner Mark Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin have shown a willingness to add talent and payroll when their team has a shot at a legitimate playoff run.
The Brewers have been attempting to fill the void vacated by Prince Fielder for several years now, and despite rumors connecting them with everyone from Logan Morrison and Kendrys Morales to former OF/1B Corey Hart, they elected to address the void with a pair of minor moves in the offseason. Former Brewer Lyle Overbay was brought in as the lefty portion of a 1B rotation to pair with veteran power hitter and strikeout maestro Mark Reynolds. So far, the power has been provided by Reynolds (13 HR 222 PA), but neither has shown much propensity to get on base, and as a result, the collective production from Milwaukee 1Bs ranks second to last in the NL in both OBP (.299) and OPS (.685).
For many of the same reasons the Brewers had issues finding a legitimate fit in the offseason, there don't appear to be many LH hitting 1B available currently, either. While Morales, a switch hitter who historically has hit RHP much better than LHP, would have been a solid fit, his signing with the Minnesota Twins presumably leaves the Brewers down one potential upgrade option. Lucas Duda and his .809 OPS against RHP could be available from the New York Mets, but since the Mets already traded the similar Ike Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, Duda's availability may come at an inflated price. The Mets have also recently indicated that they, too, may be buyers at this year's deadline, further decreasing the chance Duda gets traded.
The Brewers will undoubtedly shop for an upgrade at 1B, but they also seem realistic in their pursuits, and have recently indicated that they're still comfortable with a Reynolds/Overbay combination at the hot corner.
Trade Likelihood: Low
Even teams who have rotations that have performed well in 2014 will be on the lookout for additional arms, and Milwaukee is no different. Their investment in free agent starter Kyle Lohse has paid off quite well, and he's been backed in a solid rotation by both Yovani Gallardo and Wily Peralta to form a solid core.
Matt Garza has struggled through his first two and half months in Milwaukee, however, with his worst ERA+ (91) since his 2006 rookie season, but considering the 4 year, $50 million invested in him in free agency this offseason, it seems likely that the Brewers will keep him in the rotation in hopes he can work through his issues.
Marco Estrada, on the other hand, has been the decided weak link in the rotation, as the 30 year old's 5.92 FIP and majors-leading 23 HR allowed have inflated his ERA all the way up to 4.82, good for 86th among the 96 qualified starters in both leagues. If the Brewers do opt to look for an upgrade over Estrada in the rotation, however, they'll likely look to their own minor league ranks to do so rather than swap prospects in the trade market, likely turning to top prospect Jimmy Nelson. Nelson, who pitched 5.2 scoreless innings in a spot-start in late May this season, was ranked among the Top 100 prospects by both Baseball America and MLB.com prior to the 2014 season, and has blown away Triple-A hitters for the bulk of this year.
Trade Likelihood: Low
The one spot where the Brewers will absolutely look to improve is in their bullpen, where they've managed to achieve solid yet unspectacular production despite a dearth of hard-throwers. Due largely to the absence of Jim Henderson and the void left by John Axford, the 91.6 average fastball velocity from the collective Brewers' bullpen ranks just 25th in the majors, and is a large reason why they rely on it so seldom (their 57.2% fastball usage ranks 24th in baseball).Their bullpen still sports a respectable 3.50 ERA (7th in the NL), but only the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins have a worse batting average allowed than the Brewers currently sport at .251.
Finding a hard throwing, lock-down reliever for late inning scenarios to support what Francisco Rodriguez has done in the closer's spot will likely be a priority, and they'll likely target a RHP considering the successes LHP's Zach Duke and Will Smith have had against LH hitters.
Hector Rondon of the Chicago Cubs fits the bill, though there may be a reluctance to trade him within the division. If Attanasio is truly willing to open up the payroll, Joaquin Benoit would be a perfect fit, with the 2 year, $15.5 million contract he signed prior to the start of 2014 the only potential stumbling block.
Trade Likelihood: High