My first thought upon hearing that the Brewers had traded for Christian Yelich was, “Holy crap!” My first thought upon hearing that the Brewers had signed Lorenzo Cain was, “Holy crap!” But after mulling it over a little bit and thinking about how it impacted their roster, I was like, “Holy crap, that’s a lot of outfielders.”
Which is why, despite adding two big-time performers, the statistical projections for the Brewers in 2018 were only nudged slightly upward. Wait, how is that even possible? Well, for one, Ryan Braun is only set for 416 plate appearances, 150 of which come as a DH. Huh? I’m honestly not sure what exactly goes into that, but I’m guessing it’s a glomming of actual DH figures from interleague play, pinch-hitting, and other randomness.
In order to better balance their team and complement the big offensive additions they just made, the Brewers are going to need to add at least one starting pitcher. The natural conclusion many of us had after the deals were announced was that young outfielders Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, and Brett Phillips would immediately be shopped for controllable pitching.
Broxton is pushed even further to the fringe than Braun, as he’s projected for only 112 plate appearances. That’s a precipitous drop from the 463 he logged last season, though he only had 0.7 fWAR to show for it. Given the logjam, Broxton seems like a good bet to be dangled in a trade.
The same is true for Phillips, who debuted last year and put up 1.0 fWAR in only 98 plate appearances. As good as that is, the 23-year-old is still on the outside looking in with the three stars in the outfield under contract for at least three more years apiece.
Santana is the one young outfielder projected to maintain regular playing time in the face of the changes, but USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes that he “now appears certain to be dealt for pitching.” Online chatter inevitably involved Chris Archer and Danny Salazar, though a deal for either would take more than just Santana.
We now go to Jon Morosi for the most obvious take of the year so far (just kidding, JP, you know I love you):
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 26, 2018
Though Ken Rosenthal agrees that the Brewers are likely to trade from their outfield depth (subscription required) to acquire pitching, “breaking up a potential Yelich-Cain-Santana outfield would deprive the Brewers of the chance to build a powerhouse offense.” That could mean moving Braun to first base from time to time in order to accommodate his new teammates, so we’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.
That the Brewers would try to swing another trade isn’t surprising. Rosenthal’s brief discussion of the team’s ability and willingness to add payroll via free agency, however, caught me just a bit off-guard.
The team’s Opening Day payroll of $63 million last season was the lowest in the majors. The addition of Yelich put them at $75.1 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, and Cain likely will push them into the $90 million range, depending upon the structure of his contract. The Brewers now would appear unlikely to sign free-agent right-hander Yu Darvish, to whom they made an offer, according to sources. Even a lesser pitcher such as righty Alex Cobb might be a stretch, sources say.
For the sake of clarity, those numbers above are looking at raw payroll. Cot’s Contracts actually has the Brewers at just under $110 million in aggregate AAV, roughly $87 million below the competitive balance tax threshold. I can only imagine that the failure to sign one of the top pitchers at this point would be a directive of owner Mark Attanasio, since [Brewers, don’t read this] they could conceivably add Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and Alex Cobb and still maintain plenty of breathing room.
They’ve got loads of financial flexibility going forward too, with a projected $169.169 million under the threshold in 2021. But let’s not focus on that for now. Better yet, let’s not draw the Brewers’ attention to it, since I’m sure they’re not already totally aware of this publicly-accessible data that they don’t have their own more accurate versions of.
The real question is where the Brewers choose to go from here. Holding onto Santana probably rules them out for Archer or Salazar, and we saw above that they’re unlikely to sign a top-flight starter. So does that mean targeting someone like Jake Odorizzi, Danny Duffy, or Patrick Corbin? I would think longer control of the former two makes them more attractive, with Duffy’s set contract perhaps giving him the edge.
I’m really just spitballing here, but the main thrust is that the Brewers appear to be far from done when it comes to improving their team for 2018. Exactly how they do that, and what other moves the Cubs make, could go a long way toward determining the NL Central.