The first three months of the season have not gone as expected. The Brewers find themselves a top the National League Central with 82 games to go. They expect to have a hell of a time holding off the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs. The Brewers are in a peculiar position because 2017 was supposed to be a rebuilding year for them, or at least a bridge year for some top prospects to develop. They did not expect to be in the buyer’s position at the trade deadline.
But here we are. Milwaukee is 41-39 and one game up on the Cubs. Now the team is left wondering where they can improve and what pieces they can afford to sell off. The Brewers are going to look to improve at the deadline, the question is what spots on the roster will they be looking to improve exactly.
It is safe to say the corner infield spots are solidified in off-season acquisitions Travis Shaw and Eric Thames. Thames has struggled since April, but his OPS is still .935 and his Total Average (TAv) is at .318. He still has some of the best numbers in baseball and the Brewers will be hoping for another hot month out of Thames. Shaw has been the Brewers’ most valuable position player at 2.07 WARP. He is hitting for average, taking his walks, hitting for power, and playing solid defense. He isn’t going anywhere.
The Brewers just claimed Stephen Vogt off waivers from the Oakland A’s and he is apparently going to be taking Jett Bandy’s catching work, as Bandy was optioned to AAA in the corresponding move. Catcher could be one spot they look to improve. Pina and Bandy have come back down to earth after their hot start and Vogt has been terrible so far in 2017. Trades for catchers mid-season are tricky, as the Brewers learned last season in the Johnathon Lucroy trade. They might be better served looking elsewhere.
In the middle infield, Orlando Arcia is enjoying a solid sophomore season and the shortstop position looks to be his for good. He has been worth 1.72 BWARP, though mostly reliant on his defensive prowess. If Eric Sogard ever falls back to earth, the second base spot is somewhere the Brewers will be looking to improve. Jonathan Villar has had a hard time following up on his breakout 2016 season. He has played in just 59 games thus far due to a back injury, and had just a .626 OPS in the games he made it into. For now, the Brewers might be content riding the Sogard wave and hoping for a recovery from Villar when he gets back.
The crowded outfield may not need any additions, but a subtraction could be needed. Ryan Braun trade rumors have been floating around for years now. A more realistic trade asset may involve either Hernan Perez or Keon Broxton. Lewis Brinson was just sent down to Class-AAA, but he will need somewhere to play sometime next year at the latest. Perez or Broxton could be paired with a prospect or two and bring back something interesting to the Brewers, without taking too much off their major-league roster.
The pitching staff has the most opportunity for improvement. The Brewers all of a sudden have a solid 1-2 punch in Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson, who rank 19th and 9th respectively in ERA among starters with over 80 innings pitched. Matt Garza has been solid in his return but is nothing more than a decent number four or five at this point. The same can be said about Zach Davies, who is having an off 2017, but has had better results in the past. Chase Anderson’s injury increases this need for improvement.
If the Brewers want to go for it this year, they should look to acquire a C.C Sabathia/Zack Grienke style superstar starting pitcher rental. Johnny Cueto has an opt out after this season, and is already generating trade rumors a month ahead of the deadline. Cueto has had one of the worst halves of his recent career so he may come at a discounted price. Sonny Gray is another possible name, although his extra years of control almost guarantees he will be more expensive than Cueto.
Or this Brewers could go the more conservative route. They can trade for someone like Ervin Santana or Jason Vargas, two breakout starting pitchers whose respective teams are almost surely to be shopping. This would allow the Brewers to play for this season and still stay stocked for the future. With the team vastly outplaying what was expected of them to start the season, look for the Brewers front office to take the safer route if they do decide to acquire a starting pitcher.
The Brewers will almost surely acquire some bullpen help. As closer Corey Knebel has been everything they had hoped for out of Neftali Feliz, except there isn’t anyone to fill Knebel’s previous set-up role now. The bullpen, which looked like a strength in the first month or so of the season, has almost completely fallen apart. Jacob Barnes and Oliver Drake both sport ERA’s over 4.00 and their peripherals are not much better. Jared Hughes looks like the second best arm out of the bullpen. His K/BB percentage is 19.5 percent for the month of June and he has a 2.45 ERA od that same stretch. The teams bullpen is still the 13th most valuable bullpen in the league, but that is thanks mostly to Knebel, who has been worth more than Chase Anderson, in almost 50 less innings, according to WARP. The Brewers just need to add some depth behind Knebel. They have the dominant closer but they will not be sniffing a playoff spot if they don’t fill their holes in the bullpen.
Odds are, the Brewers are going to play it safe. Fans may be disappointed that they team didn’t go all in when they are (hopefully still) in first place. Look for the Brewers to add a bullpen arm or two and possible another starting pitcher to add some length to the rotation.