Make no bones about it, the Milwaukee Brewers are going for a World Series title in 2018. Their transactions this off-season prove it, their front office has backed up the idea of going for it, and it sounds like more is brewing in the offices at Miller Park.
Many outsiders believe the Brewers will need to add starting pitching to become true contenders, as the only three rotation spots that are set right now for Milwaukee feature Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Jhoulys Chacin, who was inked to a two-year contract earlier this off-season. Missing from the rotation right now is right-hander Jimmy Nelson, who was the team’s ace last year. Nelson is expected to be on the disabled list til sometime around June as he recovers from shoulder surgery according to Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson, who revealed the first initial timetable regarding Nelson’s health at the team’s annual fan fest ‘Brewers on Deck’ over the weekend.
With the way things look in the Brewers rotation right now, it is almost 100% guaranteed that young Brewers general manager David Stearns will find away to add to the group. One of Milwaukee’s biggest overall strengths is their tremendous depth in their organization, but the starting rotation is missing a bonafide ace. When you look at the bullpen, star closer Corey Knebel is nearly automatic, and electric left-handed pitcher Josh Hader has drawn comparisons to Andrew Miller, so it appears the bullpen is coming together nicely, with some moves still potentially coming there as well. Yesterday, the Brewers signed Matt Albers to a two-year contract to help fill the void of Anthony Swarzak, who signed with the Mets this winter. Albers, Jeremy Jeffress, Boone Logan, and Jacob Barnes will all be expected to provide important innings for the Brewers in the bullpen, and all four of these pitchers have had big league experience when it comes to saving games in their careers.
This all leaves the question, who can/will the Brewers realistically sign to shore up the rotation and bullpen? Based on the reports from around the league, it appears that the Brewers are setting their sights big, especially in the rotation. They have been linked to free agent pitchers Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn in one way or another, so you would have to think they will be able to land one of the four. The most attractive option for Milwaukee could be Darvish, mostly because Darvish was unable to receive the qualifying offer from the Dodgers this off-season due to being traded too them. If the Brewers wish to sign Arrieta, Cobb, or Lynn, they will have to forfeit a draft pick, something they already did to sign Lorenzo Cain to the biggest contract so far in free agency at 5-years, $80 million. Plus, if the Brewers sign either Arrieta or Lynn, their draft pick would go to a rival team in the Chicago Cubs or St. Louis Cardinals.
Those two reasons could very well be why the Brewers have entered the Darvish sweepstakes recently, and appear to be very aggressive at trying to pound out a deal with Darvish and his representatives. Many executives around Major League Baseball consider the Cubs to be favorites for Darvish, as they could sign Darvish as their replacement for Arrieta, and throw him into their rotation mix that already features Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood.
Let’s say the Brewers don’t land either of these 4 pitchers via free agency, which is certainly possible. Milwaukee will then likely become way more aggressive in the trade market, with Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer being the team’s top target. A Major League source states that the Brewers goal is to sign Darvish, and then also trade for Archer, which would cap off the franchises’ biggest off-season in history, and the biggest off-season in baseball this year.
Perhaps the Brewers most attractive trade chip right now is right fielder Domingo Santana, who is coming off a career-year that featured 30 homers and a .875 OPS. However, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic writes that the Brewers don’t see Santana as the odd man out in the outfield. The Brewers believe that Santana, Cain, and Christian Yelich, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins for four prospects last week, can come together and form one of baseball’s best outfielders. Two MLB executives also ripped Santana, stating that he is a “bad defender” and “not a winning player.” The defensive stats don’t lie, Santana doesn’t grade out well defensively. However, his offensive upside is still very high, and the Brewers consider Santana to be a mature player who wants to be great. Plus, with elite defenders like Cain and Yelich now aboard, it could be possible to hide Santana on defense in the outfield, while still having him put up a .830-plus OPS for years to come.
Milwaukee’s reluctance to trade Santana could mean that the Brewers are shopping outfielders Brett Phillips and Keon Broxton more heavily in trade packages. Phillips, who impressed in his short time in Major League Baseball in 2017, is under team control for 6 more seasons, while Broxton flashed his potential as a power/speed threat, by hitting 20 homers and swiping 21 bases. What will draw teams away from Broxton is his inflated strikeout rate, which is 37.8%, but still, a team in desperate need of a good defensive center fielder with 20/20 potential can be an attractive player to acquire.
We haven’t even mentioned Ryan Braun yet, who is coming off an injury plagued 2017 season that featured him landing on the disabled list twice with a calf injury, and then battling a wrist injury while the Brewers were pushing towards the playoffs. Last season was one of Braun’s worst defensive seasons in his career, which is part of the reason why the team will explore Braun splitting time at first base this spring. Braun to first base has been a popular idea among Brewers fans since Prince Fielder left for the Tigers 6 years ago, and this idea finally coming to fruition could spell trouble for first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who has the club’s best pinch hitter this past season, coming up in the clutch several times for manager Craig Counsell.
In just 311 plate appearances, Aguilar smacked 16 homers and drove in 52 runs with a .837 OPS, but what makes him expendable is the fact that he primarily only plays first base,and the Brewers love positional versatility. If Braun has a smooth transition towards learning first base in spring training, he will join Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Hernan Perez, and Stephen Vogt as the other players on the Brewers roster that could play first. Aguilar himself believes he could be a versatile player, and has been on record saying he can play the corner outfield spots and third base. Aguilar has been seen prior to games taking ground balls at third, and even had to play an inning there in game after Shaw was ejected and the Brewers had no one else available that could play there.
It seems like the Brewers plan is to play Braun against left-handed pitching at first base, leaving the right-handed pitchers for Thames. This is a wise decision, as Braun has absolutely destroyed lefties in his career, with a 1.017 OPS against them. Thames meanwhile, struggled majorly against lefties in 2017, posting a below league average .664 OPS against them, while his OPS against right-handers was all the way at .933, which is 65 points higher than Braun’s career OPS against them, meaning a Braun/Thames platoon could turn out very well. Both of them can also play the corner outfield spots, to tie into the Brewers positional versatility that is highly valued.
I get the perception that the Brewers are getting ready to transition Braun into a super-utility type role, especially if Santana is a Brewer come the start of 2018. Braun in a super-utility role would make several players on the Brewers expendable, including Aguilar, Phillips, Broxton, and Perez. This role would also help to manage Braun’s health greatly, while still giving Braun a chance to contribute to an organization he loves dearly for years to come.
The good news for the Brewers sake is that even with all the moving parts that still existent right now, they know for sure who will be their opening day catcher, shortstop, and third base. Manny Pina, who is fully recovered from a late-season thumb injury, will be Milwaukee’s catcher, and is looking to build on what was a career-year. Orlando Arcia is also locked in at shortstop, and he could hold the keys to igniting just how far the Brewers can go this year. He has became a tremendously better baseball player than he was when he first called up to the show in August 2016, but there are still some strides that Arcia will have to make to unlock his full potential.
Then at third base, the Brewers have their 2017 offensive MVP in Shaw, who slashed .273/.349/.513 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs in 606 plate appearances. What is even more impressive about Shaw’s 2017 campaign is that he was still able to be Milwaukee’s most productive player, even with his daughter Ryann dealing with a serious heart condition. Perhaps with a more clear mind in 2018, the ‘Mayor of Ding Dong City’ could have and even better season.
This leaves second base as the only question mark for the Brewers that was not already addressed. Speedy second baseman Jonathan Villar had a great 2016 season, and looked to be on the cusp of stardom in 2017. However, Villar’s strikeout woes bit him bad, and he eventually found himself watching from the dugout for much of the Brewers stretch run in September. Milwaukee has explored all avenues for second base help this off-season, but it seems likely that Villar and Eric Sogard will share time at second base this season. The Brewers were said to be interested in reunite Neil Walker, who finished the final two months of the season with Milwaukee, and while Walker could still re-sign with the Brewers, it appears that the organization is working on other things at the moment.
Circling back to the bullpen for a minute, it is unlikely the Brewers would pay the price required to sign Greg Holland, however, some realistic options to help shore up Milwaukee’s bullpen include Seung Hwan Oh, Jesse Chavez, and Drew Storen. Relievers J.J. Hoover and Ernesto Frieri have also been added into the organization on minor leagues as depth options, so look for them to potentially make an impact on the big league club.
The Brewers are hopeful that right-handed pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who was the team’s first free agent signing this off-season, makes the opening day roster. Gallardo, who was a Brewer from 2007-2014 before being traded to the Texas Rangers, signed a non-guaranteed one-year, $2 million contract with the team. The Brewers’ plan for Gallardo is to be in the bullpen as a long-reliever, and a long-reliever that can make spot starts when needed, sources said.
To recap, if the Brewers get their way with the rest of the off-season, here’s how the 25-man opening day roster could end up shaking out:
Catchers: Manny Pina, Stephen Vogt
Infielders: Orlando Arcia, Travis Shaw, Eric Sogard, Eric Thames, Jonathan Villar
Outfielders: Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Hernan Perez, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich
Starting pitchers: Chase Anderson, Chris Archer, Yu Darvish, Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin
Relief pitchers: Matt Albers, Jacob Barnes, Yovani Gallardo, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Boone Logan, Brent Suter
Remember, this is the projection if the Brewers get their way only. It’s very entirely possible they don’t land Darvish or Archer, but that appears to the goal right now for Brewers brass.
A couple over things to note:
- RHP Jimmy Nelson will begin the season on the season on the disabled list
- OFs Brett Phillips and Keon Broxton aren’t listed on the 25-man roster, because both of them have minor league options remaining, and it’s likely that Phillips would have to go Tampa Bay in any realistic Archer trade proposal that would involve the Brewers keeping Santana.
Brewers players on 40-man roster with minor league options remaining:
- SS Orlando Arcia (2)
- OF Christian Yelich (3)
- 3B Travis Shaw (2)
- 1B Eric Thames (1) Note: Option can not be used due to special clause in Thames’ contract that blocks the Brewers from optioning him to the minors
- OF Domingo Santana (1)
- RHP Chase Anderson (1)
- RHP Zach Davies (1)
- RHP Corey Knebel (1)
- RHP Jacob Barnes (2)
- LHP Josh Hader (2)
- C Jacob Nottingham (3)
- 2B Mauricio Dubon (3)
- OF Brett Phillips (2)
- OF Keon Broxton (1)
- RHP Brandon Woodruff (2)
- LHP Brent Suter (2)
- RHP Aaron Wilkerson (3)
- RHP Taylor Williams (2)
- RHP Jorge Lopez (1)
- LHP Tyler Webb (2)
- RHP Marcos Diplan (3)
- RHP Freddy Peralta (3)
- RHP Adrian Houser (1)
(Be sure to check out our page that breakdowns the Brewers multi-year payroll)
Now, let’s look at a rough projection of a lineup the Brewers could trot out on opening day:
1: Christian Yelich (LF)
2: Lorenzo Cain (CF)
3: Domingo Santana (RF)
4: Travis Shaw (3B)
5: Eric Thames/Ryan Braun (1B)
6: Manny Pina/Stephen Vogt (C)
7: Orlando Arcia (SS)
8: Jonathan Villar/Eric Sogard (2B)
9: Pitcher’s Spot
- You can expect Braun to serve as Milwaukee’s designated hitter in American League games
- Braun was not listed as a backup to Yelich on the lineup projection, but Braun expected to play both left field and first base this season, with Yelich also getting reps in center field. Also, Braun has batted third the majority of the career. It will be interesting to see if that holds up in 2018, and my early gut feeling is that it may not.
1: Yu Darvish
2: Chris Archer
3: Chase Anderson
4: Zach Davies
5: Jhoulys Chacin
LRP: Yovani Gallardo
LRP: Brent Suter
MRP: Jeremy Jeffress
MRP: Boone Logan
MRP: Jacob Barnes
SU: Matt Albers
SU: Josh Hader
CP: Corey Knebel
While of course this roster won’t be the perfect version even if everything goes the Brewers way the next couple of months, it should at least be on the general lines of the Brewers thinking.
If the Brewers managed to complete a trade for Archer and a signing of Darvish, it would be incredibly hard to find an off-season that tops this one in franchise history. We will just have to see what Stearns has next up his sleeve.
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