OPINION: Can Brewers Step Up In Wide-Open NL Central?
The Milwaukee Brewers did not have the type of big splash player acquisitions they have had in recent offseasons over the past couple months, but their limited additions may just be able to produce a fourth-straight playoff appearance.
The highlight of a rather lackluster offseason was the signing of second baseman Kolten Wong, a top-half of the lineup caliber hitter who also plays plus-defense. Wong projects nicely as a potential leadoff option for a Brewers team that finished 21st in on-base percentage (OBP) in 2020. His 2020 OBP of .350 would have been second-best on the Brewers last year, and his career defensive wins above replacement (WAR) of 7.4 is 36th among all active players in MLB.
Milwaukee also kicked the tires on a few veteran pitchers, including signing Brett Anderson to a one-year, $2.5 million deal and Jordan Zimmermann, Brad Boxberger, Luis Perdomo and Hoby Milner to minor league deals. If that group produces one to two back-end rotation players and some depth for the bullpen, the Brewers will be in good shape with a staff led by All-Star caliber hurlers Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes. Milwaukee also returns two reliever of the year winners in Devin Williams and Josh Hader to close out games.
The rest of the lineup will be rounded out by a who’s who of old and new faces. Lorenzo Cain is expected to be ready to play this year after opting out six games into 2020, rejoining an outfield of Christian Yelich and Avisail Garcia. Depth beyond those top three veterans is less certain, with prospects Tyrone Taylor, Corey Ray and Billy McKinney contending for a roster spot with recent trade acquisition Derek Fisher.
At first base will be some combination of Daniel Vogelbach and reportedly Keston Hiura, as the acquisition of Wong will bump Hiura out of his usual defensive alignment. Orlando Arcia returns at shortstop, and Milwaukee may have filled the gaping hole at third base with the re-acquiring of Travis Shaw last week. Shaw saw two of the best years of his career in 2017 and 2018 with Milwaukee, before completely losing his bat in 2019 and being demoted. In 2020 with Toronto, Shaw returned to a respectable batting average of .239, though his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .717 lingered below his better two years in Milwaukee of .862 in 2017 and .825 in 2018. While Milwaukee was reportedly in on negotiations with a proven commodity at third in Justin Turner, relying on Shaw puts the Brewers in a precarious position if he returns to 2019 form.
Nevertheless, with bats like Yelich’s and Hiura’s likely to return to form along with continued steady growth from Woodruff and Burnes, it is not hard to see why Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA simulation gave them a 54.1 percent chance of winning the NL Central as of last week.