Before the season started, the Brewers were expected to be a disaster. After trading Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers at the trade deadline last year, the clubs signified they didn’t intend to be competitive by hiring a new GM, David Stearns, to overhaul the entire organization. And he did it, trading away veterans to bring back prospects and signing stopgap solutions like Chris Carter to fill holes around the diamond.
But a funny thing happened. The Brewers weren’t awful. They weren’t good, certainly, but the rebuilding club managed to perform well above expectations, and is close to finishing the year with fewer than 90 losses. In a sign of good things to come, perhaps, they’ve already begun integrating their young players and could be a contender to break .500 as early as next year.
When it was over:
The pithy answer is to go back to the Carlos Gomez trade, but the truth is that the Brewers’ season was lost during a dismal April. They struggled out of the gate to an 8-15 record and lost seven of their last eight games for the month. It was the pitching that let them down. The Brewers posted a 5.68 ERA in April, giving up 38 homers in 23 games and walking 103 batters in 198 innings.
Taylor Jungmann, who had been counted on to provide rotation stability after a solid 2015, had a 9.15 ERA through his first five starts. He’d go on the DL, and wouldn’t reemerge until recently. Wily Peralta (7.40 ERA) and Zach Davies (8.78) also struggled out of the gate, and Chase Anderson (5.44) was little better. Eventually, that rotation righted itself, but it would take time. And by then, it was too late.
What went well:
So much! You guys, so much went well. Davies proved he was a perfectly good mid-rotation starter. A 31 year old minor league and Mexican League veteran, Junior Guerra, was a welcome surprise with a 2.81 ERA over 20 starts. Tyler Thornburg emerged as an elite reliever while Jeremy Jeffress closed games, and then supplanted him after Jeffress was traded. And Carlos Torres proved to be one of the best free agent values of the winter.
On the offensive side of the ball, Ryan Braun stayed relatively healthy and very productive. Domingo Santana improved on his rookie season. Former Astros prospect Jonathan Villar, acquired in a small deal during the offseason, had an .819 OPS and stole 59 bases to lead the National League. Keon Broxton, also part of a minor offseason deal, hit .242/.354/.430 in a part time role. And the Brewers’ top prospect, Orlando Arcia, got a 50 game taste of the Majors.
Jonathan Lucroy bounced back from concussion problems to demonstrate that he was one of the top three catchers in baseball, and was dealt (with Jeffress) at the trade deadline to Texas for a strong return. Aaron Hill proved good enough in limited playing time to draw interest from the Red Sox. And Will
Harris Smith recovered from injuries to warrant a strong return from the Giants. Basically, everything the Brewers hoped would happen, happened.
A second opinion:
For a 'bad' team that may lose 90 games this season, this year's iteration of the Milwaukee Brewers were actually sort of fun to watch. Chris Carter might lead the National League in home runs and Ryan Braun turned in one of the finest seasons of his career at age 32. Instead of filling the roster with re-tread veterans like a typical rebuilding team, David Stearns threw a bunch of young-ish, post-hype players at the wall to see who would stick in an MLB role. As a result, fans were treated to breakout campaigns from the likes of Keon Broxton, Jonathan Villar, and most surprisingly, #2016BrewersAce Junior Guerra. Combine that with a revitalized farm system that features some interesting near-MLB talent like Josh Hader and Lewis Brinson, and there is some reason to be optimistic about a more competitive on-field product in 2017.
What’s in the future:
The Brewers effectively strip mined their team to the point where the only players making honest to God money are Ryan Braun and Matt Garza. Expect that to continue for the near future, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they picked up a few flappable veteran castoffs from other clubs. They may look into dealing Wily Peralta, Chris Carter, or Carlos Torres next year if the price is right, but there’s no rush. And they’ll spend much of next year consolidating their gains in 2016 and gradually introducing more young players like Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, Jorge Lopez, Brett Phillips, Josh Hader, and Jacob Nottingham to a team that’s already got a lot of burgeoning talent.