Status: Trying to go one better
The Brewers lost Game Seven of the National League Championship Series in 2018 after a blistering second half and dramatic Game 163. The National League Central has got stronger, but Milwaukee will fancy their chances of playing postseason baseball again.
There were no potential MVPs added, though there was plenty of smart business at Miller Park, led by the free agent acquisition of switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal.
Catcher was a weak spot for Milwaukee last season and Grandal is elite at his position. An exceptional framer and middle of the order bat, he’s got a big role to play this season.
The other headline free agent deal saw third baseman Mike Moustakas return to the club. The Travis Shaw at second experiment worked relatively well, and we can expect to see much more of that this season with Moustakas playing the hot corner.
The Brewers had an outfielder surplus after the Cain and Yelich deals. Trades for Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton looked probable last winter, but they waited 12 months and potentially lost a lot of value.
Santana joined the Mariners with Noah Zavolas and Ben Gamel, a backup outfielder, switching leagues. Broxton was sent to the Big Apple to join the Mets. Milwaukee received Bobby Wahl, Adam Hill and Felix Valerio.
An already excellent bullpen saw two new additions this winter. Alex Claudio was acquired from the Rangers – he’s a bounce back candidate after a disappointing season. Jake Petricka arrived from the Blue Jays as a free agent.
Utility guy Cory Spangenberg signed, providing infield depth and occasional cover in left. Jonathan Schoop departed in free agency, joining the Twins, and Spangenberg is a capable replacement, though he struggled at the plate in 2018.
What to watch
Keston Hiura is the best second base prospect in baseball and will be in the Majors this year. He’s got middle of the order potential and it’s unlikely Milwaukee will wait another year to push his service time on while they’re contending. The line-up is deep as it is, but if Hiura can have one of those big rookie years, it will be a huge boost.
It’s unreasonable to expect anything like Yelich’s Bondsian second half. His OPS was a neat-looking 1.000 last season, which is quite a leap from his previous best of .859. Yelich’s talent meant his ceiling was high, but just how good he is in 2019 will have impact the Brewers’ ceiling. The line-up will be short of a big bat if Yelich returns to his Marlins numbers.
Starting pitching has become a cliché criticism of the Brewers. It’s unmerited, partly because they have an awesome bullpen, and partly because they’re pretty good. The rotation is still hard to predict after plenty of injuries last season, though. A breakout year or two will change how the Brewers are thought of and potentially ease the load on the relief group.
A deep line-up will have no problem scoring runs and they have enough good relievers that the bullpen we be solid at the very least. It’s a well-constructed, small market roster.
Winning 95 games again is a push, though they may not need that many to win the Central again. Plenty will have Milwaukee as outsiders for the division. They won’t mind that.