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Tom Oates: Ever-changing Brewers roster could be completely different in a week

July 25, 2016

MILWAUKEE — On July 22 of last year, the Milwaukee Brewers used the following lineup in a game against the Cleveland Indians:

Gerardo Parra in right field, Jonathan Lucroy at catcher, Carlos Gomez in center field, Adam Lind at first base, Aramis Ramirez at third base, Khris Davis in left field, Jean Segura at shortstop, Scooter Gennett at second base and Kyle Lohse on the mound. Later, the Brewers used Ryan Braun and Shane Peterson as pinch hitters, Hector Gomez as a pinch runner and Michael Blazek, Jonathan Broxton and Neal Cotts as relief pitchers.

The Brewers team that took the field against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday at Miller Park bore little resemblance to that club. Exactly one year and one day later, only three of the 15 players they used against Cleveland — Braun, Lucroy and Gennett — remain on the major league team.

The rebuilding project that began with the trade of Ramirez the day after that game against the Indians has generated wholesale changes in Milwaukee’s clubhouse. By dealing veterans for young prospects or tradeable veterans, the Brewers for the last year have been sacrificing the present to build for what they believe is a bright future several years down the road.

But even though the Brewers were a rare bullpen meltdown from beating the Cubs on Sunday and winning a series against the team with the best record in baseball, the tearing-down process isn’t complete. The arrow is still pointing outward, with more moves to be made before the real roster reconstruction can begin.

With the non-waiver trade deadline coming up next Monday and Milwaukee out of playoff contention, trade talks involving the Brewers are certain to ramp up this week. Based on their hyper-activity during the past two trading periods — last July under former general manager Doug Melvin and during the offseason under new general manager David Stearns — we can expect more significant changes in the next seven days. The team that suffered a hard-to-stomach, 6-5 loss to the Cubs on Sunday could look very different by this time next week.

Stearns has made it known the Brewers are in a selling — or at least heavy listening — mode, so the trade noise, which has been going on for weeks, will soon become deafening. Stearns already traded veteran third baseman Aaron Hill to Boston for two minor leaguers. Others mentioned prominently on the league-wide most-likely-to-be-traded lists are Lucroy, Braun, first baseman Chris Charter and relievers Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith and Carlos Torres.

Although Stearns won’t be forced by expiring contracts to move anyone of significance and could wait until the offseason to begin wheeling and dealing, it would be a shock if there isn’t some movement in the next week. Look at the change that has already taken place since the Brewers decided a new generation of players was needed to get the team back into contention.

Of the 25 players on the roster prior to the Ramirez deal, only 10 remain. In the last year, the Brewers traded their starting first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, left fielder and center fielder along with one starting pitcher and their closer. Of last year’s five preferred starters, only Jimmy Nelson and Matt Garza remain, and Garza would be trade bait if he was pitching more effectively.

With more than two months left in the current season, the Brewers have already used 41 players, including 23 pitchers. That number could soar if some veterans are traded by the Aug. 1 deadline.

The roster turmoil is even more dramatic if you go back to the day — May 4, 2015 — that Craig Counsell replaced Ron Roenicke as manager. In the 14-plus months since Counsell took over, the Brewers have had 70 players on their 25-man big league roster. That’s not turnover, that’s a turnstile. It also is a necessary step for a team overhauling its roster.

Having been through the uncertainty that many Brewers players will face this week during his own playing career, Counsell knows what to expect. He is adamant it won’t affect his players, who have been reasonably competitive and entertaining since May 1. In fact, he doesn’t even feel the need to address it with them.

“If you’re in that position, one, you’ve been around and you understand what it’s all about,” Counsell said. “It’s not new. You’ve seen other people go through it. And, two, you’re performing at a high level. And if you’re performing at a high level, it’s because you know how to eliminate distractions. This is just one distraction among many that come up for players. These guys are really good at knowing where to put distractions. That’s how you perform at a really high level. (You) have the ability to eliminate the noise and focus on the stuff that’s important.”

Which, of course, is playing the games. But the front office has a different game to play. It must maximize the team’s return on players who aren’t likely to be around when the rebuild is complete.

At this point in the process, it would almost be a disappointment if the Brewers don’t make some moves this week. For the team’s fans, the future can’t get here fast enough.