The Brewers went into the offseason with a strong team, but on the pitching heavy side. They spent their offseason trying to add more pop to the lineup without spending much money.
Major League Signings
- Andrew McCutchen, OF: one year, $8.5MM
- Brad Boxberger, RP: one year, $2.5MM (deal also contains 2023 club option)
- Pedro Severino, C: one year, $1.9MM
- Trevor Gott, RP: split deal
- Brett Sullivan, C/OF: one year deal; later traded to Padres
2022 spending: $12.9MM
Total spending: $12.9MM
- OF Jackie Bradley Jr. exercised $9.5MM player option; later traded to Red Sox
- OF Avisail Garcia declined his end of $12MM mutual option in favor of $2MM buyout
Trades and Claims
- Acquired IF/OF Mike Brosseau from Rays for RP Evan Reifert
- Acquired SP/RP J.C. Mejia from Guardians for C David Fry (originally announced as PTBNL or cash)
- Acquired OF Hunter Renfroe from Red Sox for OF Jackie Bradley Jr., IF David Hamilton and IF Alex Binelas
- Acquired C Victor Caratini and cash considerations from Padres for C/OF Brett Sullivan and OF Korry Howell
- Acquired C Alex Jackson from Marlins for IF Hayden Cantrelle and SP Alexis Ramirez
- Traded IF/OF Jamie Westbrook to Tigers for cash.
- Traded OF Dustin Peterson to Phillies for cash.
Notable Minor League Signings
- Jason Alexander, Trevor Kelley, Jonathan Davis, Rex Brothers, Abraham Almonte, David Dahl, Jonathan Singleton, Tyler White, Moises Gomez, Garrett Whitley, Jakson Reetz, Jose Urena (later selected to 40-man roster)
- Avisail Garcia, Eduardo Escobar, Manny Pina, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brett Anderson, Hunter Strickland, Luke Maile, Daniel Vogelbach, Daniel Norris, Daniel Robertson, Colin Rea, John Axford
The Brewers had an excellent regular season in 2021, going 95-67, winning the NL Central and making the postseason for a fourth straight year. However, they did it in a very slanted way, dominating on the hill but not hitting much. The pitching staff had an ERA of 3.50, third best in the majors, trailing only the Dodgers and Giants. The rotation had a dominant front three of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, along with solid contributions at the back end from Eric Lauer, Adrian Houser and Brett Anderson. The bullpen featured excellent hurlers like Josh Hader, Devin Williams and Brad Boxberger.
However, the offense wasn’t nearly as impressive. The team’s overall batting line was .233/.317/.396, producing a wRC+ of 91, or 9% below average, 23rd out of the 30 teams. This uneven attack was on display in the playoffs, when the Brewers faced off against the Braves. Milwaukee eked out the first game with a 2-1 victory, thanks to six shutout innings from Corbin Burnes. But they lost the next three games by scores of 3-0, 3-0 and 5-4. It’s tough for a dominant pitching staff to carry a team with six runs of support over four games. With Avisail Garcia, Eduardo Escobar, and Manny Pina heading into free agency at season’s end, there would be work to do in the offseason just to break even.
Of course, there wasn’t going to be a mountain of money to work with, as the Brewers have never been a high payroll team. Up until a few years ago, their highest Opening Day payroll was $104MM. They shot up to $123MM in 2019 but then back down to $99MM for 2021. (Figures from Cot’s Baseball Contracts.) The club’s president of baseball operations David Stearns has still managed to field competitive teams despite these limitations, which is why he’s attracted the attention of rival teams.
Early in the offseason, Stearns seemed to be a popular target of the Mets, as they looked to hire a new general manager or president. It was thought that there would be a chance the Brewers would let Stearns, a New York native, pursue the opportunity due to the fact that 2022 is the last year of his current contract. However, reports emerged in October that Stearns may have a vesting option for 2023. Whether that was a factor or not, the Brewers denied the Mets permission to interview Stearns for the job that eventually went to Billy Eppler. Further clarity on the contract situation came in February, when it was reported that Stearns is actually under control through 2023 but can opt out after this year if the Brewers win the National League pennant.
As the offseason began and business kicked off, the Brewers signed Trevor Gott to a split deal to bolster their relief corps. Jackie Bradley Jr. exercised his player option. Avisail Garcia declined his $12MM mutual option, taking the $2MM buyout and hitting free agency. The Brewers had a chance to issue a qualifying offer to Garcia but ultimately decided against it. He would later sign with the Marlins on a four-year, $53MM contract, with the Brewers getting nothing in return.
In mid-November, the Brewers swung a trade, acquiring Mike Brosseau from the Rays in exchange for minor-league pitcher Evan Reifert. The utilityman had shown some potential in his first couple of seasons, hitting .284/.343/.500 over 240 plate appearances in 2019-20 while playing all over the diamond. He slid from that level in 2021, ending up with a line of .187/.266/.347, 73 wRC+. Still, the prospect cost was minimal and Brosseau hasn’t yet reached arbitration. If he can bounce back to anywhere near his earlier production, he could be a bargain. With a projected infield of Willy Adames, Luis Urias (who wound opening the season in the injured list), Kolten Wong and Rowdy Tellez, along with a projected outfield of Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Tyrone Taylor, Brosseau would slot into the bench/utility mix with Jace Peterson.
After Manny Pina signed with the Braves, the Brew Crew needed to find a new catcher to pair with Omar Narvaez. They settled on Pedro Severino but he was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for the performance-enhancing substance Clomiphene. With just days until Opening Day, the club quickly pivoted and acquired both Victor Caratini and Alex Jackson to improve the depth behind the plate. Caratini showed some potential with the bat when he popped 11 homers in 2019 but fell off in the following two campaigns. With a $2MM arbitration salary and an additional year of team control, he’s another low-cost flier for the club.
Just before the lockout was set to kick in, the Brewers traded Bradley and a couple of prospects to the Red Sox for Hunter Renfroe. This served Milwaukee’s needs in a couple of ways. First, Bradley is making $9.5MM in 2022 and had a dismal season at the plate the year before. In 2021, he hit .163/.236/.261, with his 35 wRC+ being easily the worst in baseball among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances. (Kevin Newman’s 54 was next on the list). Renfroe was arbitration-eligible and eventually settled with the Brewers at $7.65MM, meaning he’ll be cheaper than Bradley and more productive with the bat. He hit .259/.315/.501 for the Red Sox last year, putting up a wRC+ of 114.
After the lockout, the club’s first move was to re-sign Brad Boxberger, returning him to a high-leverage role in the bullpen with Hader and Williams. The righty threw 64 2/3 innings in 2021, with a 3.34 ERA and 31.2% strikeout rate. Milwaukee also added veteran righty Jose Urena on a minor league deal and selected him to the big league club the next day. Urena, who can’t be optioned to the minor leagues, is on hand as a multi-inning relief option.
They then made their biggest signing of the offseason, adding 35-year-old Andrew McCutchen on a one-year, $8.5MM deal. McCutchen’s days of elite outfield defense are behind him, but he can still hit. Over the past two seasons, his slash line is .232/.331/.441, 106 wRC+. But he was especially effective against lefties, with a line of .290/.402/.603 in 2020-21, producing a wRC+ of 164.
While McCutchen is still a fine player, there were plenty of younger and more productive outfield options available in free agency this winter. Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, Starling Marte, Seiya Suzuki, Jorge Soler, Mark Canha, Michael Conforto (still unsigned), Eddie Rosario and others were all available. In the end, the Brewers avoided any big or lengthy commitments, settling on an Opening Day payroll of $132MM, a new franchise record but still in the bottom half of the league.
Milwaukee didn’t need to do much on the pitching side of things. Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta, Lauer and Houser all remained under club control. Top prospect Aaron Ashby is ready to replace Anderson — who hit free agency — as the top depth option for the starting staff. Milwaukee brought Boxberger back and never seemed to seriously consider dealing Hader even as his arbitration price continued to rise. The Brew Crew’s elite arms are back.
On the other side of the ball, Garcia, Escobar, Pina, Daniel Vogelbach (whom the club non-tendered) and Jackie Bradley Jr. have been replaced by Renfroe, McCutchen, Brosseau and Caratini. Whether those moves have improved the offense enough can be debated. What would certainly help is if some of the holdovers could have better results. Christian Yelich was mediocre in the past two seasons, when compared to his 2018-19 peak. Lorenzo Cain had three mostly lost years from 2019-21. Keston Hiura has failed to deliver since his exciting 2019 debut. The Brewers enter 2022 as a pitching-oriented team, but their chances of making a deep playoff run would be greatly enhanced if they can coax returns to form from some of those players.