Milwaukee Brewers, (86-76)
Additions: Matt Albers, Christian Bethancourt, Lorenzo Cain, Jhoulys Chacin, Ji-Man Choi, Nick Franklin, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hoover, Boone Logan, Wade Miley, Christian Yelich
Subtractions: Lewis Brinson, Matt Garza, Taylor Jungmann, Andrew Susac, Anthony Swarzak, Carlos Torres, Neil Walker, Wei-Chung Wang
The Milwaukee Brewers undoubtedly had one of the most exciting offseasons of any MLB team this winter. They made a massive splash on Jan. 25, acquiring outfielder Christian Yelich from the Marlins for a package that included arguably the Brewers’ top three prospects: outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison and infielder Isan Diaz. Just hours later, they signed former Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain (who was drafted by and broke into the majors with the Brewers) to a five-year, $80 million deal. Yelich and Cain figure to even further boost a lineup that was already one of the National League’s best in 2017, tying for first in homers (224) and leading the league with 128 stolen bases while posting a strong .751 team OPS.
While Cain and Yelich are both great players, it seems reasonable to wonder how much they really improve the Brewers. The addition of Yelich pushes Eric Thames, who posted a 125 OPS+ with 31 homers last year, out of the everyday lineup. It will also likely limit the playing time of franchise icon Ryan Braun, who posted a 111 OPS+ with 17 homers in 425 plate appearances in a down year last year, and breakout performer Domingo Santana, who hit for a 126 OPS+ with 30 home runs. The arrival of Cain pushes center fielder Keon Broxton, who had 20 homers and 21 steals last year, off the big-league roster, and Broxton was likely to be replaced by Brinson — the No. 7 outfield prospect and No. 27 prospect in baseball overall accrding to MLB Pipeline — sooner than later anyway.
The Brewers also restocked their bullpen after they surprisingly non-tendered right-hander Jared Hughes, one of their most durable relievers last year, and lost righty Anthony Swarzak in free agency. They added 35-year-old right-hander Matt Albers, who has been inconsistent throughout his career but had a career year for the Nationals last year, and 33-year-old Boone Logan, who will be hoping to bounce back after an injury-riddled campaign with the Indians last year. Albers, who posted a 1.62 ERA and 0.85 WHIP over 63 appearances in 2017, is likely to team up with lefty Josh Hader to form the setup committee for closer Corey Knebel, who was dominant as he handled Milwaukee’s ninth-inning duties for the first time last year. Logan, who has limited left-handed hitters to a .234/.311/.361 line over 12 big-league seasons, will miss the first six weeks of the season with a triceps strain but is expected to serve as a lefty matchup option for manager Craig Counsell once he returns. The club also added veteran right-hander J.J. Hoover, who could make the Opening Day roster after throwing eight scoreless innings this spring, on a minor-league deal.
Meanwhile, the Brewers didn’t do much to address their most pressing needs this offseason. Their rotation depth was a concern, particularly with Jimmy Nelson coming off shoulder surgery — the Brewers are hopeful that he can return around June, but his timetable is still rather uncertain. They added a trio of B-list free-agents in order to try and address those concerns, signing Jhoulys Chacin to a two-year deal, Yovani Gallardo to a non-guaranteed one-year deal, and Wade Miley to a minor-league contract. There are substantial concerns about all three, however.
Despite the fact that Chacin was one of the few starters ever to find sustained success at Coors Field just after the turn of the decade, he hadn’t been good for several years before bouncing back with a 3.89 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 32 starts for the Padres last year, and many believe his success may have been largely due to the fact that he made half his starts in PETCO Park. Gallardo and Miley, meanwhile, were two of the worst starters in the majors last year, posting ERAs over 5.00 and WHIPs over 1.50. While they both have the ability to throw extended innings, it’s difficult to imagine either making significant contributions to a playoff club at this point. One thing’s for sure — they won’t be making contributions to the Brewers any time soon, if at all. Miley will stay in the Brewers organization as he rehabs from a groin tear, but he’s expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Gallardo was informed that he won’t make the Brewers’ Opening Day roster and is likely to be released from his current contract, though it’s possible that the Brewers could re-sign him to a minor-league deal.
The bullpenization of the league has lessened the importance of having a great rotation, but it’s fair to wonder whether Milwaukee’s starters beyond Nelson and Chase Anderson — Zach Davies, Brent Suter, and Brandon Woodruff will follow Anderson in the rotation to open the season, while Junior Guerra is also likely to start games this year — are good enough to carry them to a postseason berth. Since guys like Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb were still on the market when the Brewers added Cain and Yelich, it’s reasonable to question whether their resources could have been better allocated.
The Brewers’ second-base position is also still a question mark; if they can get quality production out of Jonathan Villar, Eric Sogard, or Hernan Perez, they’ll be fine. All three have been extremely productive at various points — Villar posted a 117 OPS+ with 62 steals in 2016, Sogard posted a .331/.438/.485 slash line over the first half last year, while Perez hit .266/.299/.443 with 10 homers over that same stretch. But if all three of Villar, Sogard, and Perez go cold like they did during the second half of last season, the Brewers will be in trouble.
It’s once again going to be tough for the Brewers to supplant the Cubs as NL Central champions this season, especially after Chicago retooled its rotation with the additions of Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood. But they’re already strong contenders for an NL wild-card spot, and if they boost their pitching staff as the season goes on it wouldn’t be too surprising to see them make a deep run in October.