Milwaukee Brewers: Top 5 Options to Use as Trade Bait If Struggles Continue

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | We're not giving up hope on the Milwaukee Brewers just yet. Last year on Aug. 19, they were 12 games below .500, and on Sept. 21, they were just 1 1/2 games out from the final wild card spot.

But as a team that has only won five games in the month of May through May 27, it's hard not to think about what may be best for the Brewers moving forward. Relief on the starting pitching front doesn't appear imminent, and even if Corey Hart's return boosts the offense, Milwaukee will only go as far as its starting rotation will take it.

The Brewers have five hitters above .300 and a bullpen that's improving every day with a 3.17 ERA in 2013. There are also some key contributors with expiring contracts, so should all hope be lost by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline -- keep in mind that was the feeling last season in Milwaukee -- it would be crucial for the Brewers moving forward to get something in return for these players, especially with one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball (via Keith Law of ESPN).

Or is it? (Face palm courtesy of Michael Hunt via JSOnline)

It's only late May, but if the proverbial ship has sailed and the Brewers find themselves in sell mode, there are five names who could find themselves in a different uniform in about two months.

A few might surprise you.

RHP: Francisco Rodriguez (5 G, 1 SV, 0.00 ERA)

For a guy who was hours away from being a free-agent for the second time this season just a few weeks ago, K-Rod has turned out to be a welcome addition to an already impressive bullpen. After closer Jim Henderson went down with a hamstring injury, Rodriguez came on to record the final out against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 24 to earn career save No. 295.

Last year, K-Rod was making $8 million, but that number is down to $2 million in 2013. His success as a closer throughout his career could make him a valuable commodity for a contender, especially if he is able to sustain a high level of play.

1B: Corey Hart (Career: .276 AVG, 154 HRs, 508 RBIs)

Let's face it -- with Corey Hart facing free agency at the end of the season with a $10 million expiring contract and Hunter Morris waiting in the wings, it's unlikely the 31-year-old returns next season. He's been on the disabled list with a knee injury all season, but he should return within the next few weeks, and if he can come out of the gates hot, that only increases his trade value. Obviously, knee issues over the past couple years are a bit of a red flag, but all Hart has done throughout his career is produce.

RHP: Jim Henderson (9 SVs, 0.92 ERA)

Big Jim didn't have to wait long to be handed the closer's role this season, and he's seized that job and ran with it. Henderson has yet to blow a save this year, but because this is the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers, he strained his hamstring and is currently on the DL. Assuming this is just a slight bump in the road and he is able to return soon, this shouldn't affect Henderson's value.

But why would the Brewers, who had so much trouble closing out games in 2012, want to part ways with Henderson? Well, it took him nearly ten years to reach the big leagues, and quite frankly, you can count the number of perennial trusted closer's in Major League Baseball on one hand. Considering the position Milwaukee is in, Henderson is unquestionably expendable.

LHP: Michael Gonzalez (0-2, 3.00 ERA, 13.0 K/9)

One of the several new additions to the bullpen this season that has paid off, Gonzalez had a rough start to 2013, but has since settled down and is in the midst of nine consecutive scoreless outings. He's also beginning to be much more effective against left-handed hitting, the main reason the Brewers brought him in. Teams are always looking for lefty help in the 'pen, and Gonzalez fits the bill. The 35-year-old is also a free-agent at season's end.

OF: Norichika Aoki (.307 AVG, 4 HRs, 12 RBIs)

This is a tough one. Aoki has been such a bargain for the Brewers, only making $1.25 million this season. There's no question he's outperformed his contract, and he's been excellent hitting leadoff, an attribute so difficult to find. Aoki is 31 years old, has a $1.5 million club option for 2014 and is arbitration eligible from that point onward. It would appear to be a no-brainer that Milwaukee picks that option up -- assuming he isn't traded.

Two outfield spots are locked down for the foreseeable future with Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez. Logan Schafer has patiently awaited an everyday role with Milwaukee, and his presence could make Aoki someone the Brewers try to deal. Still, with Aoki on board for at least another year, you're hard-pressed to find a better outfield than the one in Milwaukee. The price would have to be absolutely perfect to part ways with Aoki.

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 follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .

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