Ask Milwaukee Brewers fans what their expectations for the 2017 season were, and most would have said somewhere between 65-75 wins.
The team was supposed to be “rebuilding” and waiting for the talent in their loaded farm system to make it to the big leagues before making a playoff push.
But the big league roster flourished, and the team gelled together better than ever — putting the team in a playoff race with just weeks remaining. And although the team struggled down the stretch and finished with an 86-76 record, a few games short of a playoff run — hopes are higher than ever around Milwaukee.
Notable Returning Pitchers: Chase Anderson, Jacob Barnes, Zach Davies, Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, Corey Knebel, Brandon Woodruff, Jimmy Nelson.
Notable Returning Position Players: Stephen Vogt, Orlando Arcia, Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Eric Sogard, Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Lewis Brinson.
Notable Losses: Neil Walker, Anthony Swarzak, Matt Garza.
Free Agent Signings: Yovani Gallardo, Jhoulys Chacin, Boone Logan.
The Brewers finally got rid of Matt Garza’s contract this offseason, freeing up even more cap space. But David Stearns continues to stand by his rebuild through the system, rather than bringing in top dollar free agents.
Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, and Lance Lynn, all are top dollar starters that could fill the void as the ace of the staff until Jimmy Nelson returns. However, all wanted more than Stearns was willing to spend.
So instead he opted to save the money and bring back former Brewer Yovani Gallardo to compete for a spot in the bullpen, Boone Logan to bring a veteran lefty presence to the bullpen, and Jhoulys Chacin to bring another solid arm with a plus slider to the rotation.
This means the team will lean on Chase Anderson and Zach Davies to anchor the rotation and hope for second year starter Brandon Woodruff to pick up where he left off in 2017. Meanwhile the bullpen will hope Corey Knebel, Jacob Barnes, and Josh Hader can continue to eat up innings in relief.
Offensively the Brewers were carried by sluggers Eric Thames and Travis Shaw during the first half of the season, but Thames production dwindled as he hit only eight home runs after the midsummer classic.
Meanwhile, shortstop Orlando Arcia’s bat woke up in 2017 and right fielder Domingo Santana’s ability to hit for average and power became a big asset. Contributions from pesky second baseman Eric Sogard and catchers Many Pina and Stephen Vogt also made many forget about the struggles of Jonathan Villar.
But the biggest question as the team hits spring training is what to do with all of the outfield talent. Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips, and Lewis Brinson are all battling for time in the big league outfield. Meanwhile, Corey Ray and Monte Harrison aren’t far from the bigs with the Carolina Mudcats.
Where Do They Go From Here?
Does the team think about moving Braun at the deadline? Can Arcia Continue to put up numbers at the plate? Can the rotation hold up without Jimmy Nelson? Do you keep Josh Hader in the bullpen? Can Jonathan Villar bounce back this season? These tough questions linger as Stearns plans for not only 2018, but for the future as well.
Braun has made it clear he will not be traded unless it is to the Dodgers, and that currently isn’t an option. So as long as Brinson and Phillips continue to grow as every day players, I think your best bet is trying Braun in a platoon at first base with Thames despite his early career struggles in the infield.
Arcia was a favorite of many in 2017. The youthful shortstop hit .277 with 15 home runs all while dazzling defensively. The energy he brings to the field every game is something hard to find in the league. Not only does Arcia have a bright future ahead of him defensively, but I also see him continuing to hit for average and more power as he matures.
Jimmy Nelson was one of the biggest surprises of 2018 and could have been key down the stretch had he not gotten hurt. No doubt he will be missed for the first half of 2018 while he rehabs, but the combination of Anderson, Davies, and Woodruff isn’t awful, while Chacin who went 13-10 with the Padres in 2017 may surprise some with his deceptive stuff. Management will have to hope this staff has no issues bridging the gap.
Josh Hader was by far one of the most exciting Brewers to watch in 2017. A 96-99 mph fastball mixed with a devastating slider for lefties is must see TV, which allowed him to sit perfectly in a late inning relief role. Being that as a reliever he could pitch almost every day, I think this is where Hader needs to stay unless he is able to develop a third pitch.
Lastly, If I said Villar was not a disappointment in 2017 I’d be lying. For much of the year he was barely batting over .200 and had his blunders defensively and on the basepaths. I think a lot of these struggles stemmed from the pressure he put on himself after his outstanding 2016. Now i’m not saying he will be able to repeat what he did in 2016, but it’s not out of the question for him to bounce back and hit .260 and swipe 25 bases.
As February lingers and pitchers and catchers get ready to report to Arizona for the spring ahead, hopes should still be high despite very few changes being made personnel-wise. Craig Counsell will once again have depth on his roster and plenty of young talent to choose from. If the Brewers don’t once against find themselves chasing a wild-card spot, I think most around the league would be shocked.