There currently are 12 new players on the 40-man roster for the Milwaukee Brewers, signaling a major turnover only one year removed from winning a spot in the Wild Card round of the National League playoffs. While President of Baseball Operations David Stearns seems to always be relying on analytics and statistics to build his roster in the new era of baseball, this much turnover represents more than just a shift in thinking.
Money has always been an issue for the Brewers, as they currently are a part of one of the league’s smallest markets. While the franchise is locked into a television deal that helps funnel more income into the team, that amount still does not allow them to play with the big dogs in terms of being able to offer $100+ million deals to free agents.
Team owner Mark Attanasio has given Stearns the keys to run this team as well as an apparent blessing to raise the payroll if it can be justified and proven wise, which the last two years have shown as good reasons why.
While the ulterior motives behind this massive player movement have yet to officially be confirmed, it looks as though the money savings is the real reason behind Stearns being one busy man this offseason. Through multiple trades and free-agent signings, the Brewers have seen a lot of their incumbent players leave the team, while new players have been packing their bags to come and join the team, many for their first time.
As it currently stands, only staff ace Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser remain from last year and look to have spots in the team’s 2020 starting rotation. To help fill out the other three spots, a dip into the MLB free agency pool, a trip back into the KBO player postings, and a trade with the San Diego Padres have all helped fill out these final three spots.
Brett Anderson was signed to a one-year deal this offseason, and he marks the first of two left-handers that have been added this offseason to the team’s rotation. Lacking good starters that were not also right handers, the Brewers went out and signed the former Oakland Athletics hurler, who has dealt with his fair share of injury-plagued seasons across his career.
Expectations should be tempered for Anderson, as 2019 marked his healthiest season to date in the major leagues, which helped drive his price down on the open market. While he will, based on history, visit the injury list at some point in the 2020 season, the hope here is that Anderson’s veteran performance can hopefully justify the investment that the team made, and if his injuries show up again in a big way, then the team can cut him loose after one cheap season.
Back in 2017, the team signed Eric Thames by way of South Korea, and he went on to hit 72 home runs across his three seasons with the team before he became a free agent this winter. While Josh Lindblom took a similar path as Thames, having played in the MLB before going overseas to refine his craft, his story places him in a different level of importance for the Brewers moving forward.
Penciled in as a new starter for the team moving forward, Lindblom’s three-year deal looks like a steal on paper, one that a small-market franchise like the Brewers absolutely would be all over. If Lindblom can even replicate 50 percent of the success that he had while pitching in the KBO, then this deal becomes one of the team’s best deals that they put together this offseason.
Expectations for Lindblom should be tempered a bit, as a transitional period back into the speed and rules of the MLB can be tough, but Lindblom’s success overseas looks to be no joke. If he can produce on the level of a no. 3/4 starter in the rotation, then the Brewers will have made a very nice addition, with a low cost to them.
The third and final recently-acquired starter this offseason was by way of trade with the Friars, as they sent incumbent starter Zach Davies and toolsy, young outfielder Trent Grisham to San Diego in return for lefty Eric Lauer, utility infielder Luis Urias, and either a player to be named later or cash.
Lauer is not much of a needle mover at this point, but in the right situation, the lefty can benefit from how manager Craig Counsell utilizes his starting rotation. If Lauer is only going to give five innings per start on a regular basis, then his stuff can play a bit harder and faster earlier on in the game, helping to maximize his impact every five days.
For positional players, the Brewers were tasked with trying to replace the value of catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Mike Moustakas, who both signed lucrative four-year contracts elsewhere. With Grandal going to the American League and becoming the starting backstop for the now-contending Chicago White Sox and the Moose staying in the NL Central and signing with the Cincinnati Reds, the Brewers needed to look elsewhere for upgrades.
Starting with Urias, the Brewers now have six new infielders, one new outfielder, and one new catcher to throw into the mix for their active roster for 2020. Besides Urias, the team signed Mark Mathias to a free-agency deal (formerly of the Cleveland Indians), they gave Ryon Healy a one-year deal to see if he is able to regain his form after recovering from his hip injury, they claimed Ronny Rodriguez off of waivers from the Detroit Tigers, they brought back Nerd Power (Eric Sogard) on a one-year agreement for middle-infield depth, they signed Justin Smoak to split time at first base, Omar Narvaez projects to be the team’s starting catcher now, and they gave Avisail Garcia $20 million over two years to be their fourth outfielder, which seems a bit steep.
Urias is the biggest get of the bunch, as the former top-60 prospect was playing a bit out of place for the Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr. having taken over as the team’s starting shortstop. While Urias has experience at every infield spot besides first base, he profiles more to be a second baseman or shortstop, but could easily become the everyday third baseman moving forward.
His bat plays super well, and while his speed is there, his efficiency on the basepaths does not paint the same picture. Smooth with the glove and a player who will provide above-average defense, Urias is a high-upside investment for this team moving forward.
Both Mathias and Rodriguez should not be looked at as more than depth pieces, although Rodriguez is an intriguing utilityman that could fill the role vacated by Hernan Perez. Healy is still recovering from an injury and most likely will not be fully up to speed come Opening Day, and Sogard’s production will likely regress in 2020 after a stellar campaign that ended with helping get the Tampa Bay Rays to the postseason.
The most intriguing signing for the infield belongs to Smoak, who had a down year at the plate but still was an All-Star in 2017 for the Toronto Blue Jays. If he can manage to hit north of .205, which is what he produced last season, and he is able to use the short right-field porch to his advantage, then 30 long balls are certainly not out of the question for 2020.
Narvaez is looked at as one of the better offensive catchers in the game, but his defense puts him way towards the bottom. While they were spoiled with the improved defense and surging offense that Grandal produced, the team will need to learn to adjust to how Narvaez catches, which will include seeing him cost the team runs at certain points.
While a difficult aspect for a team to deal with, Narvaez’s defense is improving, and with how much emphasis this team puts on that element of the game, it would not be surprising to see him gradually improve as the season progresses on.
Garcia, who is coming off of a pretty good season with the Rays, joins another former member of the Rays – Sogard – in Milwaukee. Garcia is an excellent option to be able to fill in in the outfield, helping provide Ryan Braun time to play first base or take time off to ail whatever he is dealing with that day.
The theme of this ongoing offseason is that of flexibility, more specifically that of players having the capabilities to fill multi-positional roles. Smoak looks to be the lone new position player addition that is one dimensional in terms of positions, as all of the rest, including Narvaez (who could slide over to first base in a pinch if needed), have that desired element in their wheelhouse.
Stearns and the team’s front office raised some eyebrows this offseason by their willingness to be included in rumored deals for top-tiered players, but not sign any of them. Their common approach of going after high-upside players continued again into this winter, and the results, while still obviously unknown, could produce a Brewers squad that is juiced up on one-year deals for players looking to prove their worth down the road.