With the moves made so far this offseason, it is pretty clear the Milwaukee Brewers are pretty set with most of their roster.
Sure, there is at least one big hole and always room for a significant trade, but if tomorrow was Opening Day, the lineup they would roll out would be competitive. Picked to win the National League Central? No, but they would be considered a contender.
After all, the Brewers have made the playoffs a franchise-record three straight seasons, even if in 2020 it was at 29-31 and fourth in the division.
The hot stove season has been off to a lukewarm start, so let’s take a spin around the Brewers’ roster to see where they stand.
The outlook: The combo of Woodruff and Burnes is formidable. When healthy, Woodruff has been ace-like. However, that flaw has kept him for being considered among the top pitchers in the NL. Burnes righted himself and was on the fringe of the NL Cy Young conversation, posting a 2.11 ERA in 2020 after an 8.18 mark the previous year. Lindblom disappointed with a 5.16 ERA and 1.279 WHIP in ten starts since returning from the Korean Baseball League, while Lauer was optioned to the alternate training site due to command issues in two starts. Peralta and Houser, meanwhile, haven’t been as effective as starters as they have been out of the bullpen. In order to contend, the Brewers need consistency out of the third and fourth rotation spots, whoever occupies them.
The need: The disjointed and shortened season that was 2020 is going to have to be pushed to the back of management’s thinking when it comes to Lindblom and Lauer, the only left-hander in the starting group. But it also can’t be forgotten. No prospects, including Alec Bettinger and Dylan File, are knocking on the door, so signing a veteran on a short contract — like the Brewers did with Brett Anderson in 2020 — is the most attractive option. A signing or two would also solidify depth as Lauer still has minor-league options remaining.
The outlook: This is the backbone of the Brewers. Hader is a strikeout machine with 380 in 223 2/3 career innings and a funky left-handed delivery. Williams burst onto the scene by striking out 53 in 27 innings and allowing just one earned run en route to being named NL Rookie of the Year. Suter is the Swiss Army knife of the pitching staff, being called on to make spot starts or get out of a late-inning jam. Rasmussen and Topa were late-season surprises and look to be a big part of the bullpen equation. Wahl struggled in a couple early-season appearances in 2020 after missing 2019 with a knee injury, then had arm issues after being optioned to the alternate training site. Black is out of options and could be released if the Brewers need room on the 40-man roster. Feyereisen and Perdomo have yet to prove themselves, while Bickford is also on a short leash.
The need: After nontendering Alex Claudio, the Brewers only have Suter as a lefty out of the bullpen. The fireballing Perdomo could be another, but he will have to prove he belongs. Suter could also be an option for the rotation, but the Brewers like him out of the bullpen. Peralta and/or Houser could also end up in a relief role if the rotation is bolstered. If either of those two end up not starting, they would give the bullpen length in addition to experience. It is unlikely the Brewers seek outside help, although a lefty could help.
The outlook: Yes, the Brewers have six catchers on their 40-man roster, which currently has only 35 slots filled. Narvaez was supposed to bring offense, especially the long ball, but only produced a .176/.294/.269 slash line with two homers in 40 games. His defense, which was in question when acquired from the Seattle Mariners, was not a weak point. Pina and Maile are defense-first receivers, with Maile likely heading to Triple-A despite signing a major-league contract. Nottingham and Freitas are offensive options, while Feliciano is probably a year or two away.
The need: Offense, pure and simple. The defense from Brewers catchers has not been questioned, so it was Narvaez’s lack of plate production that was confounding. Depending on what personnel is kept on the infield, Nottingham could be kept as the third-string catcher and be a right-handed platoon at first base.
The cast: Daniel Vogelbach
The outlook: After spending his first four seasons with the Mariners, Vogelbach bounced to the Toronto Blue Jays and then to the Brewers in 2020. Vogelbach has two issues. The first is he is a one-trick pony: All he does it hit homers. The left-handed-hitting slugger has 40 homers in 840 plate appearances, including going deep 30 times over 558 plate appearances in 2019. The second problem is Vogelbach is listed at 270 pounds and seems to be more of a designated hitter who is a defensive liability at first base.
The need: Vogelbach’s power is only one piece of what the Brewers desire at first base, they would like at least a solid on-base percentage. Vogelbach’s career slash line of .206/.332/.409 portends an ability to draw walks. He drew eight walks in 57 plate appearances while posting a .328/.418/.569 slash line after joining the Brewers. Finding a right-handed platoon who can play another position or two is needed.
The outlook: Hiura could evolve into an offensive force. As a rookie, he hit .303 with 19 homers and 49 RBI in 84 games (348 plate appearances). He flashed more power in 2020 with 13 homers in 59 games (246 plate appearances). His biggest flaw offensively is striking out. He whiffed 107 times as a rookie and followed that up with an NL-worst 85 in 2020. Defensively, Hiura is shaky, with 22 errors and a .953 fielding percentage, almost 30 points below league average. Urias has more value at other positions and Mathias is strictly a utility player.
The need: If you chalk up Hiura’s .212 batting average to the chaos of 2020, there is no need from an offensive perspective. Over a full season, Hiura will be a major threat in the middle of the Brewers’ lineup. How much offseason work is going into improving Hiura’s defense is unclear, but if he remains a liability, he might need to change positions, possibly even move to first base. If the defense approaches league average, Hiura could be among the elite offensive second basemen in MLB.
The cast: Orlando Arcia, Urias
The outlook: Since debuting as a 21-year-old in 2016, a lot has been expected out of Arcia, particularly defensively. Arcia’s defense has been solid, but not dazzling, possibly because of the Brewers’ shifting. The knock on Arcia has been his propensity to strike out, with 375 of them in 1,865 plate appearance. Conversely, he has 421 hits. Urias was acquired before the 2020 season to challenge Arcia and be a better offensive option.
The need: Arcia showed better offensive production in 2020 with a .260/.317/.416 slash line when compared with his career .244/.295/.366 mark. He also reduced his strikeout rate from 20.47% to 16.93% and had slightly better plate discipline. Urias wasn’t as much of a factor in 2020 as anticipated after starting the season with COVID-19. Arcia has twice signed contracts to avoid being nontendered, so this is a make-or-break season for him offensively. A utility infielder could be signed as another challenge to Arcia.
The cast: Urias, Tim Lopes, Mathias
The outlook: This is the biggest hole in the lineup. For 2020, the Brewers signed a bunch of veterans, with the hope of any one of the candidates being productive. None were. Urias made 20 of his 31 starts at third base, but profiles more of a middle infielder. Lopes and Mathias are borderline candidates to make the 26-man roster.
The need: The 2020 methodology clearly didn’t work as the Brewers cycled through the likes of Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko and Brock Holt. There also isn’t an option close to being ready in the minors. With the Brewers’ budgetary limits, they are more likely to go after a risk-reward option such as Jake Lamb.
The cast: Christian Yelich
The outlook: After winning back-to-back batting titles in 2018-19 at .326 and .329, respectively, Yelich looked lost in 2020. The 2018 NL MVP and 2019 runner-up hit a measly .205 in 2020. The power was still there with 12 homers in 58 games.
The need: It is difficult to point to one reason why Yelich struggled in 2020. He got off to a 1-for-27 start and pressed to get himself going. After winning back-to-back Silver Slugger awards and posting an OPS of 1.000 and 1.100, his plummet to .786 has to be chalked up to an anomaly.
The outlook: Cain finally won a Gold Glove in 2019, but his body took a beating that season and limited him to 141 games. He appeared healthy to start the 2020 season and was off to a good start when he decided to opt out after the Brewers had games postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak by the St. Louis Cardinals.
The need: The positive aspect of Cain cutting his 2020 season short was he should be at peak health for 2021. The negative is entering his age-35 season and not having the reps at the plate. Cain was an All-Star in his first season back with the Brewers in 2018 and has been the primary leadoff hitter when healthy. Having a productive Cain return to the top of the Brewers’ lineup is key to solving the team’s 2020 offensive woes.
The outlook: In his first season with the Brewers, Garcia also struggled offensively. Garcia put up a .238/.333/.326 slash line against his career .271/.324/.422 mark. Yes, you read that correct. His slugging percentage was lower than his on-base percentage in 2020. Could his woes come from having to primarily play center after Cain opted out? Possibly.
The need: Garcia was set to be the third piece of what the Brewers were hoping would be the one of the best all-around — offense and defense — outfields in MLB. His poor 2020 showing comes just a year after a .282/.332/.464 line, including 20 homers, in 2019 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Garcia should be a candidate to hit in one of the top three spots in the lineup. As with Taylor, McKinney can play any outfield spot. McKinney has also seen time at first.
Whether it is through trade or free agency, the Brewers need to find a solution at third base. Chalking up 2020 as an aberration — but also realizing why it went so bad — and having players bounce back to even their normal production will do a lot to cure an ailing offense. The bullpen, even without any additions, should be among baseball’s best, while the rotation could be interesting with a veteran arm.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images