COMMENTARY | As the official title of Moneyball suggests, baseball is an unfair game, and that doesn't ring truer for many more teams than the Milwaukee Brewers.
That has changed a bit since Mark Attanasio became the franchise's owner just under a decade ago, but money is still at a premium for one of baseball's smallest markets. Far more often than not, it will be teams in larger markets with lucrative television deals and owners with bottomless pockets battling each other for the most high-profile free agents each winter while the Brewers sit back -- and wait.
Wait they did this winter.
Midway through January, the Brewers remained the only team in baseball that had yet to sign a free agent to a major league contract. It was concerning, as Milwaukee had its needs, especially when it came to first base.
In fairness, once the Brewers missed out on re-signing Corey Hart, there wasn't much out there on the open market in regards to first base, as it was Ike Davis of the New York Mets earning the most buzz as a possible acquisition via trade.
On Jan. 17, the first domino toppled over when Milwaukee signed Mark Reynolds with the intention of making him the starting first baseman. It was, for all intents and purposes, like signing a right-handed version of Juan Francisco, but, nevertheless, it was a significant addition.
Just three days later, Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin were at it again, bringing back a familiar face in Lyle Overbay. Again, not a groundbreaking move by any means, but some sort of platoon at first base of Reynolds and Overbay still looks better than what the Brewers suffered through in 2013, even if it was the equivalent of placing a Band-Aid on a mortal wound.
It gave us a good indication of how Milwaukee felt about first-base prospect Hunter Morris, as well as Francisco, who like Reynolds is a strikeout machine with seemingly limitless power.
So with that, the Brewers were done -- right? Not so fast.
They went out and signed a couple of once-promising prospects, Jeremy Hermida and Pete Orr, to minor league deals. And who knows? Perhaps one of them latches on as the 25th man. Don't forget about middle infielder Irving Falu (signed to minor league deal), left-handed pitcher Wei-Chung Wang (Rule 5 draft) and left-handed pitcher Will Smith (Norichika Aoki trade), all of whom were acquired in December and have an opportunity to contribute at the big league level.
Oh. There's also that Matt Garza guy.
One of the most surprising free agent signings of the winter, the Brewers signed the 30-year-old Garza to a 4-year, $50 million contract in a move that undoubtedly bolsters their starting five. Garza isn't ace material, but it eliminates the uncertainty that would have come with the No. 5 spot in the rotation and makes everyone in Milwaukee's rotation better as a result.
The right-hander is a fiery competitor, and while Garza has had some recent arm issues, he keeps his team in the game each and every time out. His comfort level rises in the NL Central division, which means you can expect Garza's ERA to dip lower than his career 3.84 mark this upcoming season.
Not only was Attanasio willing to fork out more money than many expected, but unlike Lohse, Milwaukee was able to acquire Garza prior to the start of spring training and avoid losing a draft pick. The rotation, barring injury, should be out in full force come Opening Day.
But guess what? The Brewers still weren't done.
The move wasn't met with much reaction, as Milwaukee has done it before (twice), but it signed reliever Francisco Rodriguez to a 1-year, $3.25 million deal.
Many forget that after the Brewers brought K-Rod on board last May, he sported a 1.09 ERA in 25 games before being traded to the contending Baltimore Orioles. While he struggled a bit with Baltimore, it was still a successful 2013 campaign for the 32-year-old. He will bolster the backend of Milwaukee's bullpen, even though it will likely lose Donovan Hand in the process and gives Melvin the veteran relief pitcher he desired.
It doesn't end there. With the Brewers' pitchers and catchers set to report to Maryvale for spring training on Saturday, they made what might be their final legitimate splash of the offseason, reportedly committing $3.2 million to a 16-year-old Dominican infielder (via Kiley McDaniel of Scouting Baseball).
That infielder is Yirver Gilbert Lara, and, really, there's no way of telling if he will amount to much of anything for the Brewers. But the initiative to explore the international market while attempting to improve a dry farm system is intriguing, and quite frankly, a risk that needs to be taken.
So there you have it. The Brewers improved their first base situation, albeit not as much as they would have hoped, and made noticeable improvements both in the rotation and the bullpen.
And unlike many other teams around the league, they didn't need the Winter Meetings to do so.
Maybe the Brewers didn't reel in someone like Masahiro Tanaka, Robinson Cano or even Corey Hart, but they did what a small-market team needs to do -- wait out the storm, watch the asking prices dwindle and see who is left standing in the end.
Without giving up much of anything (besides money), Milwaukee bettered itself in several ways, especially in areas of need. Certainly, almost every other team in baseball feels the same, but the way the Brewers have done it is unique and effective, and because of that, they have gone from a team expected to miss the playoffs to one with a legitimate shot at returning to October 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_.
- Sports & Recreation
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Mark Attanasio
- Matt Garza
- Mark Reynolds