Why the Brewers could tumble down the standings if their offseason doesn't change course
Milwaukee may not be done unloading payroll either
The offseason is a little more than a month old and, to date, no team has lost more off its 2019 roster than the Milwaukee Brewers. They've lost two of their best players, Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas, to free agency, as well as trade deadline pickup Drew Pomeranz. Midseason addition Jordan Lyles may also depart as a free agent.
Here is a quick recap of the notable players the Brewers have added and subtracted five weeks into the offseason:
LHP Alex Claudio (non-tendered)
IF Luis Urias (traded with Padres)
RHP Zach Davies (traded to Padres)
RHP Eric Yardley (claimed on waivers from Padres)
LHP Gio Gonzalez (now a free agent)
C Yasmani Grandal (signed with White Sox)
OF Trent Grisham (traded to Padres)
RHP Junior Guerra (non-tendered)
RHP Jordan Lyles (now a free agent)
2B/3B Mike Moustakas (signed with Reds)
RHP Jimmy Nelson (non-tendered)
LHP Drew Pomeranz (signed with Padres)
IF Travis Shaw (non-tendered)
1B Eric Thames (now a free agent)
That's an awful lot of talent going out and not much coming in. There might be more talent on the way out too. Closer Josh Hader and center fielder Lorenzo Cain are available in trades, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and ESPN's Jeff Passan. Passan says the Brewers have "at least a willingness to discuss anyone not named (Christian) Yelich" as they reshape their roster.
All that talent going out leaves the Brewers with holes all over the roster. With Moustakas and Shaw gone, incumbent shortstop Orlando Arcia is penciled in as the starting third baseman, and his bat is way light for the position. Manny Pina and either David Freitas or Jacob Nottingham will be tasked with replacing Grandal behind the plate. The rotation depth chart looks like this:
- RHP Brandon Woodruff
- RHP Adrian Houser
- LHP Eric Lauer
- LHP Brent Suter
- RHP Freddy Peralta
- RHP Jake Faria
- RHP Corbin Burnes
Give GM David Stearns a truth serum and I think he'd tell you he'd like to add two starting pitchers this winter rather than rely on Suter (returning from Tommy John surgery), Peralta (fastball-heavy approach fits better in the bullpen), or Burnes (got hammered as a starter last year) on Opening Day. Ideally those guys would be depth and backup plans, not primary pieces.
On the offensive side, the Brewers averaged 4.75 runs per game this past season, roughly league average, and they've already lost their third (Grandal), fourth (Thames), and sixth (Moustakas) best hitters from 2019 in terms of OPS+. The currently batting lineup looks something like this:
- CF Lorenzo Cain
- RF Christian Yelich
- 1B Ryan Braun
- 2B Keston Hiura
- LF Ben Gamel
- C Manny Pina
- SS Luis Urias
- 3B Orlando Arcia
- Pitcher's spot
Having Hiura all season will help -- the 23-year-old hit .303/.368/.570 in 84 games after being called up in May -- and I am a believer in Urias, but gosh, there are a lot of soft landing spots in that lineup. Without any further additions, opposing pitchers won't have to sweat much once they get through the 1-2-3-4 hitters. Fortunately, the offseason is young and there's time to add a bat.
All the departures this winter have freed up considerable payroll space. Last year the Brewers set a new franchise record with a $122.5 million payroll on Opening Day. Their projected 2020 Opening Day payroll is currently $71.6 million according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. That means Milwaukee has lots of money to spend this winter, right? Not necessarily.
The Brewers are expected to reduce payroll next season, reports USA Today's Bob Nightengale, and it's unclear exactly how much they have to spend this winter. The team's Opening Day payroll was $91 million in 2018 and as low as $63 million as recently as 2017. There's a reason Hader and Cain are on the trade block: they're expensive and money is tight this offseason.
Keep in mind the Brewers subtracted those players this offseason from a roster that won 89 games in 2019 and was probably closer to a true talent .500 team given their plus-3 run differential. Milwaukee clinched a postseason spot with five days to go in the regular season and had to settle for a wild-card spot. They were a bubble team this year. Now they're something less than that.
The calendar just turned to December and that is good news for Stearns & Co. because they have their work cut out for them. They have to replace Moustakas and Grandal, add a starter or two, maybe find another outfielder, and add depth all around the roster. As currently constructed, the Brewers might only be the fourth best team in the NL Central, and their margin for error is tiny.
"We certainly intend to be competitive once again next year," Stearns told reporters, including Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel, following Monday's non-tender deadline. "We think we have a quality team and we'll continue to complement and add to that team throughout the rest of the offseason. We've got a lot of offseason left. There is a lot of movement yet to happen."
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