Milwaukee Brewers – Stick or Twist?

Welcome to BF&N, Craig Batho…

2018 was a gigantic step in the right direction for the Milwaukee Brewers, who were very much stripped down for parts over the three previous years.

Seeing Jean Segura, Jonathan Lucroy, and Carlos Gomez, among others was a fairly painful process. But the Brew Crew emerged as a surprise package for the 2017 season, one win away from a wildcard berth. There’s also a huge possibility that if the Cubs didn’t invest in Jose Quintana, and Jimmy Nelson was able to avoid injury, the Brewers would have outlasted them for the division lead. When this is combined with arguably the best farm system in all of baseball, it’s easy to be excited about the future.

After a down year, Ryan Braun has still got legitimate line-up value, and is virtually impossible to trade given his MVP contract is until 2020. In 2016 Braun proved that he still has value when healthy, garnering an impressive .305/.365/.538 in 2016. 2017 however, was an injury plagued season that showed his totals suffer. He’s still a lock in for corner outfield and the three hole, given that he’s a year removed from 91 RBI’s on a team with less talent than 2017.

After a putting up ridiculous numbers in Korea, Eric Thames continued them for the first month of the league, hitting a franchise record 11 home runs in April. Sadly these numbers simmered to a total of 31 on the year, but he seemed to be good for morale, and fitted in with our concept of utility, playing both corners of the outfield as well as first.

Travis Shaw provided potentially this biggest shock, The Mayor of Ding Dong City (best nickname in baseball  (don’t rub it in, mate. Ed.)) mustered 101 RBI including a walk off bomb against the Cubs, which was possibly the highlight of the season. All the experts said that his lefty fly ball approach would find new life in Miller Park, and they proved to be spot-on.

Orlando Arcia proved that he has the potential to be a top 5 defender in the short stop role, whilst rapidly improving his hitting. He average climbed to .277 from the back of the order, whilst claiming 14 stolen bases. He could jump to lead-off in 2018, filling a huge need.

It’s easy to look at the big name free agents and available trade pieces and go crazy. But it’s worth remembering that 4 more wins sees the Brewers hit 90 on the year. That could be realistically done in- house, if Braun can stay healthy and Nelson returns to the hill with the same fire as last season.

A look over the garden fence might tell us to have a push this offseason.

The Cardinals’ ability to join the pennant race are fading, as talks with Josh Donaldson among other big pieces were unfruitful. They’d previously placed some hope in garnering Giancarlo Stanton, but the Yankees, and Stanton’s love of the big city, put paid to that idea. The Pirates offloaded ace Gerrit Cole and more recently Andrew McCutchen to the Astros and Giants respectively, and could, in this writer’s opinion,  finish below 4th place Cincinnati, who will offer resistance in stints, but nothing to be concerned about just yet.

With that in mind, the Brewers are the only threats to Chicago, is it our duty to challenge them? They have a young core and if managed right (they have Epstein at the helm, they will be) should be playoff bound for the next decade. So Milwaukee might as well seek to contend now, right?

It has been a slow market for everyone, but 2018 sees the Brewers very sheepishly dip a toe into the buyers’ market. Jhoulys Chacin, who went for a 3.89 ERA, and a 1.270 WHIP, is the only major league addition thus far. He offers solidity and will slow down the carousel that was the bottom of the rotation last year, and fill the void of Junior Guerra, who didn’t back up his 2.89 ERA year in 2016. Moves like this aren’t flash, but keep the budget low, so we can try to sign Shaw and Arcia long term.

Our biggest needs are 2B, SP, RP, and CF, probably in that order. Up until the addition of Neil Walker close to the halfway point, the Crew were dead last for second base production in 2017. Walker is now available, and showed a willingness to play at first and third also, a selling point to Craig Counsell  who loves utility. We’ve also been linked with the trade of Whit Merrifield from the slowly depleting Royals. Merrifield is the only player we’ve been linked with that I’m excited about the prospect of signing. He’s young, hits for average, swipes over 30 bags, and has cheap team control. The only problem is that Kansas City know this, and it would most probably require a Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader, Brett Phillips type trade piece, which GM, David Stearns, seems unprepared to do.

A top end starter would really jump the Brewers into the pennant race, and there appears to be a healthy amount of options. Yu Darvish will undoubtedly go to a big market team for big market money, and after his lacklustre contract year, Milwaukee should probably let them take the gamble.

I’ve begrudgingly liked Jake Arrieta in recent history, his Cy Young year made him look like an older brother in a little league game, he was truly unstoppable in 2015. 2016 saw him regress, which was always  likely, but none of this is a problem to me. The problem is if he looks for more than four years, we may end up with Matt Garza Mark II, who the Brew Crew picked up past his prime and kept past his sell by date. Arrieta seems likely to have 2-3 years with his ERA in the mid threes, but after that he’s a mystery. If I wake up one morning to having signed Jake, it’s a deal where I’d have to check the contact before fist-pumping.

The center field hole can be in house. Phillips, Corey Ray and Brinson are the club’s 3 best prospects, and all can play anywhere in the outfield. They’re all expected to be 5-tool guys, and whilst there’s some decent options circulating (Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain), last year saw 86 wins with the more than serviceable Keon Broxton, who’ll play consistently good defence and show glimmers of power on and off. Why trade this away for more expensive options?

Ultimately, the Cubs are all in, and could sustain a decade of playoff ball under Theo Epstein. But we are likely to garner more wins now our division is weaker. I think it’s unlikely to see us make a huge splash in the off season, but that’s a good thing – the Brewers can compete without.

It’s almost time! Baseball Prospectus 2018 lands on 9th February. Order through Amazon right now!

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