Do the Milwaukee Brewers Need to Sell at the Trade Deadline, This Winter, or at All?

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COMMENTARY | Corey Hart said he would be back ahead of schedule. He said that he wouldn't be out for the year, but rather only until May, perhaps even April if everything broke right.

He also said this on Feb. 13. The news gradually became worse, as Hart was placed on the 60-day disabled list on April 8, meaning he would be out until at least the beginning of June. Then word broke that Hart would be out until after the All-Star break on June 13.

The final blow was dealt on June 28, when it was announced Hart would miss the entire 2013 season due to cartilage damage in his right knee. It was his left knee that Hart had surgery on in January.

Hart was going to be the Milwaukee Brewers' most valuable trade chip. The 31-year-old was in the final year of his 3-year, $26.5 million extension and coming off a season where he hit .270 with 30 HRs and 83 RBIs. Hart also made the switch from right field to first base, a position he hadn't played since his days in low-level minor league baseball, almost seamlessly.

But Hart is gone, and so is his replacement, Mat Gamel, who tore his ACL for the second consecutive season.

It left the Brewers' first base situation in flux. They started six different players at the position, all of whom had never played first at the major league level. And according to Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs, Milwaukee has the worst first base OPS since 1947.

Not only was Hart's injury devastating to the team's success this season, but also down the road. Assuming Hart stayed close to his career averages, he could have been swapped for a nice prospect or two at the deadline.

Injuries have taken a massive toll on Milwaukee this season. Aramis Ramirez has missed 32 games and spent nearly a month on the DL earlier this year. Ryan Braun has dealt with nagging injuries, and the one to his thumb may be enough to keep him out until the All-Star break. Pitchers Marco Estrada, Hiram Burgos, Alfredo Figaro, Jim Henderson, Chris Narveson and Tom Gorzelanny have also missed time with injury.

The under the radar impact of Ramirez's DL stint was the performance of Rickie Weeks.

Remember how well Weeks was playing at the start of the season? He recorded eight hits in his first five games hitting out of the two-hole in front of Ryan Braun, but when Ramirez hit the DL, Weeks was moved to cleanup, and thus began his tumultuous tailspin.

Perhaps it was a promotion of second base prospect Scooter Gennett that lit a fire under Weeks, as the 30-year-old hit .355 in June and was named the Brewers' player of the month. We saw a similar down-and-then-up pattern last season, which makes Brewer fans long for consistency with Weeks.

Why do we mention Weeks? He is one of several players currently on the trading block for Milwaukee. Overall, Weeks has under-performed, and so has Yovani Gallardo, who is in the midst of the worst season of his career.

We've talked about the bevy of injuries the Brewers sustained this season, but here is the rundown of Milwaukee's lineup when everything is right.

Norichika Aoki, a bargain at $1.25 million, is an ideal lead-off hitter (.360 OBP), a plus defender in right field, and also rumored to be in trade talks.

Jean Segura, who has exceeded all expectations (.325 AVG, 11 HRs, 33 RBIs, 24 SBs) and shown flashes of brilliance in the field at short.

Ryan Braun. Aramis Ramirez. Corey Hart. We know what we're getting there.

Carlos Gomez, a revelation just like Segura who has grown into an All-Star-type player and one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. Jonathan Lucroy, a catcher who hits for average with pop. Rickie Weeks.

The bench? An outstanding defensive outfielder in Logan Schafer who is awaiting a full-time job, perhaps at the expense of Aoki's departure. More outstanding defense behind the plate with Martin Maldonado. After that? Take your pick from Taylor Green, Jeff Bianchi, Mat Gamel and others not named Yuniesky Betancourt.

But the problems, as in 2012, begin with the pitching. Last season, it was the bullpen, but general manager Doug Melvin did an excellent job of retooling his relief pitching, which now ranks in the Top 5 of baseball.

This season, it's been the starting rotation.

We mentioned Gallardo's struggles. Wily Peralta has also been inconsistent and nothing near what he showed at the end of 2012. Mike Fiers couldn't hang on with the parent club. Estrada and Burgos, who are both rehabbing, weren't of much use either prior to their injuries.

This is why the Brewers are stuck in a conundrum. They have a great offense when healthy, but pitching wins championships. If they try to trade players like Kyle Lohse, Gallardo, Weeks, Ramirez, Aoki, and relievers, maybe they can get that pitching in the form of prospects.

But just how good of prospects?

Each player save for Aoki is making a lot of money. Lohse has been Milwaukee's best starter (3.63 ERA), but Weeks hasn't lived up to expectations for the second-straight year, Gallardo's value (4.78 ERA) isn't where it needs to be and Ramirez can't generate his usual power because of a bum knee.

Take a look once again at Milwaukee's lineup when healthy. Of those players, Hart is the only one not under contract for 2014. But considering his situation -- a 31-year-old with bad knees who missed the final year of his contract due to injury -- Hart could come back cheap on a one-year deal.

It's a win-win for both sides. Should Hart come back healthy and produce, he rekindles his trade value. It also allows the Brewers to take it easy with first base prospect Hunter Morris, who has seen a substantial decline in batting average, but not production, after making the move from Double-A to Triple-A.

It just comes down to the pitching, and the Brewers would have to hope most of their young arms pan out.

Peralta, who is just 23, needs to find consistency. We got a glimpse of Johnny Hellweg, who quite frankly shouldn't be at the big league level yet. There is also Jimmy Nelson and Taylor Jungmann, who are projected to reach the big league level by 2014. And don't forget about Tyler Thornburg, who despite struggles at Nashville has shined with the Brewers this season.

Should the Brewers hold on to what they've got, Lohse is a solid veteran presence and Gallardo could merely be experiencing a blip in the radar, so to surround those two with Peralta and a few rising young arms -- say, Thornburg and Hellweg -- is a course of action.

Then again, that's exactly what Milwaukee did this season, and look where it is now.

What we're saying is that it isn't a foregone conclusion that the Brewers will sell house at the trade deadline. In fact, they could even wait until winter. It would give Melvin more time to assess what's out there, and players like Gallardo, Lohse, Weeks, Ramirez and Aoki are all under contract next season.

It's just a matter of how badly some teams may want these players for the stretch run in 2013, and what they'd be willing to give up.

The bottom line is this -- the Brewers can't count on the amount of injuries and the caliber of players that suffered those injuries to happen again. They have a solid core of players on offense. They need help on the pitching front. They need to replenish their farm system. As of now, Milwaukee is set up to have a high draft pick in 2014, but as we know, high draft picks in baseball are far from a sure thing.

If the Brewers want to make a bid at rebuilding and trade some good players away this season, fine. But if they want to get solid value in return, it might be smart to only shop the bullpen.

Milwaukee and the rest of the league has varying views of Weeks, Ramirez, Gallardo and Lohse, so to trade such players for middle-of-the-road minor leaguers would be foolish. Considering Aoki's production and contract, he might not be worth moving, either.

It comes down to whether or not the Brewers want to attempt to remain competitive next season and ride it out with some inexperienced pitching and a thin farm system, just like this season, or make a run at being competitive few years down the road with a better field of prospects.

There's plenty of risk involved with both choices. Welcome to small market baseball.

Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.

You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .

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