The Milwaukee Brewers have had a busy offseason (especially over the course of the past week), and they appear to be nearing the end of a surprisingly short rebuild.
Just last week, it would have seemed odd to count the Brewers as serious contenders for an NL Central pennant in 2018, considering the apparent strength of the rival Cubs and Cardinals. But the Brew Crew shocked the baseball world by acquiring Christian Yelich from the Marlins and signing Lorenzo Cain to a five-year contract within a span of two hours. They’ve since signed Matt Albers to a two-year contract as well, who’ll join lefty Boone Logan as veteran upgrades to the club’s bullpen.
But even after all those upgrades, Fangraphs still projects the Brewers to finish with a record of 77-85. That’s surprising on the surface considering the club’s 86-76 record in 2017 in combination with the team’s offseason moves thus far. But when taking an in-depth look at the club’s roster, they have some key holes that may hurt their ability to compete with more complete teams.
The club’s rotation is their most obvious issue. Jimmy Nelson, who took an enormous leap forward last season, will be sidelined until June while recovering from a torn labrum. Chase Anderson and Zach Davies seem like safe bets, but beyond them is a risky and seemingly low-ceiling group that includes Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo and Jhoulys Chacin. That’s not to say that the Cubs and Cardinals don’t have their own sets of question marks, but the Brewers’ rotation without Nelson could prove somewhat of a white-knuckle experience for fans.
It’s not as though the club can simply lean on its bullpen, either. Corey Knebel and Josh Hader will serve as an intimidating closer and fireman, respectively, but beyond them there’s plenty of uncertainty. The recently-signed Matt Albers isn’t a lock to repeat the figures of his career year in 2017, and Boone Logan is returning from a lat strain that sidelined him for the final two months of his contract with the Indians last season. The remainder of the club’s relief corps is a ragtag group that includes Junior Guerra, Jacob Barnes, Olivier Drake and the declining Jeremy Jeffress. The bridge to Hader and Knebel is a rickety one.
Milwaukee’s offense can probably be looked at as a strength, but it’s not without holes of its own. It remains to be seen whether Jonathan Villar can bounce back from an incredibly poor 2017 campaign during which he struck out more than 30% of the time and posted an on-base percentage below .300. The club will also count on 30-year-old catcher Manny Pina to sustain his sudden offensive breakout.
That being said, the Brewers lineup on the whole is intimidating, to say the least, particularly if the young Orlando Arcia takes another step forward, Travis Shaw keeps his foot on the gas and Ryan Braun remains mostly healthy. If things break right, their offense could end up being on par with those of the Cubs and Cardinals.
It’s time for the readers to weigh in. Sure, there’s some offseason left to go, and a pitching market that could certainly shift the division’s power balance once the dominoes begin to fall. But as things stand right now, do you think the Brewers are a playoff team?
(Poll link for app users)