MLB hot stove: Three things the Brewers still must do this offseason after adding Yasmani Grandal
The Brewers have a new catcher in Grandal. Here's what else they must accomplish before spring training
Something unusual happened late Wednesday night. A contending MLB team actually made an attempt to improve. There hasn't been much of that this offseason (or even last offseason) as clubs continue to freeze out veteran players and free agents. It was refreshing.
Wednesday night the Milwaukee Brewers Yasmani Grandal, who gets $18.25 million guaranteed. That is slightly more than the $17.9 million qualifying offer he rejected earlier this winter. Grandal passes Ryan Braun ($18 million) to become the club's highest paid player in 2019.
Realistically, signing Grandal was the single biggest upgrade the Brewers could've made this offseason. The Manny Pina/Erik Kratz tandem held their own last season, but Grandal is one of the most productive catchers in the game thanks to his power and pitch-framing ability. Check out the 2019 Steamer projections:
- Pina and Kratz combined: 0.4 WAR
- Grandal by himself: 3.1 WAR
Grandal is a significant upgrade for a ballclub that won 96 games and went to Game 7 of the NLCS a year ago, but also needed to play a Game 163 tiebreaker to get their division title. The Cubs are still formidable and both the Cardinals and Reds have improved. The NL Central could be the sport's toughest division in 2019, so every win matters, and the Brewers just added several at catcher.
Milwaukee is not done, however. Almost certainly not, anyway. Remember, it wasn't until January 25 last offseason that GM David Stearns made his two blockbuster moves, signing Lorenzo Cain and trading for Christian Yelich within the span of a few hours. I'd bet the farm on Stearns pulling another move or two out of his hat before spring training begins.
Truth be told, the Brewers don't have many clear areas of weakness now that they've addressed the catcher position. There is always room for improvement, don't get me wrong. Milwaukee just has fewer obvious holes than most. Here's what's left on Stearns' offseason to-do list.
1. Find a second baseman
The Jonathan Schoop trade was a disaster. . The Brewers sent Jonathan Villar and two quality prospects to the Orioles for Schoop at last year's trade deadline hoping he would fill in at second base through 2020. Instead, he hit .202/.246/.331 in 46 games and was benched down the stretch and into the postseason. The Brewers non-tendered Schoop after the season rather than pay him north of $10 million through arbitration.
The Schoop mistake leaves the Brewers without a defined second baseman going into 2019. The best in-house second base candidates include career utility men Cory Spangenberg, Hernan Perez, and Tyler Saladino. With all due respect, none of those three players should be starting for a team with World Series aspirations, which the Brewers clearly have. With Grandal signed, second base is now the club's biggest weakness.
. Their top 50 ranks:
The Brewers also have the option of signing a shortstop (Jose Iglesias? Freddy Galvis?) and moving him (or Orlando Arcia) to second base, or they could sign a third baseman (Mike Moustakas?) and shift Travis Shaw to second base full-time. Remember, Shaw moved to second base last year when Schoop wasn't cutting it. The Brewers could commit to that plan full-time.
It's worth noting the Brewers have an elite second base prospect coming in Keston Hiura, the ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft. Huira hit .293/.357/.464 with 34 doubles and 13 home runs in 123 games split between High Class-A and Double-A last season. He figures to at least reach Triple-A in 2019, if not make his MLB debut later in the season.
Hiura's presence means the Brewers are likely seeking a one-year stopgap at second base only. A large multiyear contract that blocks Hiura doesn't make a whole lot of sense, unless it's someone like Gonzalez, who can play pretty much anywhere. Either way, the Brewers have a need at second base. It is their most glaring weakness on the position player side following the Grandal signing.
2. Add a starter
The Brewers do not appear to be as concerned about their rotation as outsiders (i.e. me).They very nearly bullpened their way to the World Series after all ---- and, to be fair, they are not short on rotation candidates heading into 2019. The club's current rotation depth chart looks something like this:
- Jhoulys Chacin
- Chase Anderson
- Zach Davies (limited to 13 starts by shoulder trouble in 2018)
- Jimmy Nelson (hasn't pitched since September 2017 following shoulder surgery)
- Brent Suter (likely to miss 2019 following Tommy John surgery)
- Junior Guerra
- Brandon Woodruff
- Corbin Burnes
- Freddy Peralta
Even with Suter out and Davies and Nelson uncertainties, the Brewers have some pretty good rotation depth, with some very promising youngsters in Woodruff and Burnes poised to assume larger roles going forward. Those two were especially impressive in the postseason, combining to allow five runs in 21 1/3 innings..
That said, rotation depth is one of those things you'd rather have and not need than need and not have. Remember, the Brewers are not looking to play a 162-game season in 2019. They're looking to play straight through the end of the October. Woodruff has never thrown 160 innings in a season, Burnes hasn't reached the 150-inning plateau. Go into the season with them as starters and their workloads will have to be managed, and fatigue could be factor come the postseason.
Yankees righty Sonny Gray, and if they checked in on Bumgarner, I'm guessing they also checked in with the Indians about Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer. It costs nothing to ask and have a conversation. Stearns wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't at least check in., so, clearly, Stearns and Co. are thinking about adding another starting pitcher. A good one at that, too. They've been connected to
Dallas Keuchel is far and away the best free agent starter on the market and hey, maybe the Brewers can get him at a discount a la Grandal. If not, Miley and fellow lefty Gio Gonzalez remain unsigned, and both finished last season with the Brewers. Miley was quite effective for Milwaukee and reportedly looks good during offseason workouts.
Other potential low-cost free agent starter options include Clay Buchholz, Jeremy Hellickson, Derek Holland, Francisco Liriano, Martin Perez, Drew Pomeranz, and Ervin Santana. Some are more desirable than others, of course. The 30-year-old Pomeranz strikes me as a solid bounce-back candidate for the coming season provided he's healthy, which he wasn't for much of 2018.
Point is, when you're a contending team like the Brewers, bringing in another starting pitcher is never a bad idea. Davies and Nelson come with injury concerns and Woodruff and Burnes figure to have workload limitations. As tempting as it is, ignoring the rotation and rolling with Woodruff and Burnes behind Chacin, Anderson, Davies, and Nelson seems like one of those plans that sounds great in December and January and makes you wonder what you were thinking in June and July. I'd like to see the Brewers bring in another starter. If not a Bumgarner type, then at least a depth guy like Miley.
3. Continue improving the margins of the roster
Stearns is especially good at this. He brought in Spangenberg as a utility guy and traded a competitive balance round draft pick for ground ball machine Alex Claudio. The Brewers also traded away outfielders Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton and replaced them with Ben Gamel. Santana and Broxton are out of minor league options, which means they can't go to Triple-A without passing through waivers. That limits roster flexibility. Gamel has an option for 2019.
The Brewers have a strong roster and that can sometimes work against a team. For example, why would an outfielder with big league time like, say, Cameron Maybin or Austin Jackson, sign with Milwaukee as anything other than a last resort? They know they'd be far down the depth chart and unlikely to see much MLB time. Trades and waivers are the easiest way to accumulate depth and Stearns has done well so far. Just continue improving the roster however possible. Eighth reliever, fifth outfielder, spare infielder for Triple-A. There are always ways to get better, so keep doing it.
The Schoop trade didn't work out at all, meaning the Brewers came into the offseason with glaring holes at catcher and second base. Grandal addresses the former. Now the Brewers have to address the latter. They could also use another starting pitcher, the higher caliber the better (always), and should continue adding depth, which is a Stearns specialty.
As good as the Brewers were a year ago -- they finished with the NL's best record! -- they needed an MVP caliber season from Yelich, eight straight wins to close out the regular season, and a Game 163 tiebreaker to get there. Plus several Cubs players had unexpected disappointing seasons. A lot of things went Milwaukee's way last year.
The Brewers are very good and I expect them to again be one of the top teams in baseball in 2019. There's room for improvement though, and ways to increase that margin of error. The Grandal signing was a great step in that direction. The biggest step the Brewers could've made this winter, realistically. Expect more steps to follow in the coming weeks.
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