The 2017 regular season has come-to-a-close. The Milwaukee Brewers fell just short of a playoff spot, finishing 86-76, one game behind the Colorado Rockies for the second wild-card spot.
The Brewers vastly outperformed their pre-season expectations. They competed with the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs for the National League Central title through mid-to-late September. They finished three games better than the St. Louis Cardinals and eleven games better than the Pittsburg Pirates. This coming after most expected the Brewers to finish no better than fourth place in the division. They were a few late-season heart-breaking losses away from making the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the offseason for the Brewers is here, which means it’s time to start talking about potential free agent targets.
The Brewers are in a unique place. The team arrived as a contender a year or two before their expected window. They have an opportunity to build on a young core before they have fully developed.
GM David Stearns will certainly be looking to bolster an already solid bullpen, add some depth to the position player side of the roster, and (hopefully) an impact starting pitcher to place alongside Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, the injured Jimmy Nelson, and the various young prospects expected to eventually join the Brewers rotation.
The Brewers likely won’t be in on big-money starting pitchers such as Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. They are much more likely to go after a more cost-efficient impact arm such as Alex Cobb. Cobb has yet to turn thirty-years-old. The oft-injured right-hander is coming off the healthiest year of his career, throwing a career-high 179.3 innings. He was worth 3 WARP and posted a 3.66 earned run average. Cobb was worth over 4 WARP in back-to-back years in 2013-2014 before injuries limited him to just twenty-two innings over 2015 and 2016 combined. A long-term contract for Cobb would be taking on some risk that Brewers front office may not want at this point in their rebuild. If they opt for the gamble, they might strike gold and acquire an ace at a discounted price who is still at a relatively young age.
Jhoulys Chacin offers a cheaper alternative without the upside that Cobb offers. The San Diego Padres gave Chacin his first full-time starting pitching role since 2013 and he took full advantage of it. He was worth 2.9 WARP, the best of his career, posting a 3.89 earned run average. Chacin featured a ground ball percentage over 50 percent, a home run per nine under 1.0, and a deserved run average at 4.13. He has also yet to turn thirty, he’s a few months younger than Cobb. Chacin is probably a more realistic option for the Brewers. He is unlikely to get a deal longer than two years due to his lack of a track record. Chacin would give the Brewers flexibility in filling out the rest of the roster.
The Brewers already have their closer in Corey Knebel. The fact that they are already set at the top of their bullpen, and potentially have another dominant arm in Josh Hader, the Brewers have an opportunity to build a super-bullpen of their own. There are plenty of middle-of-the-road options to fill the Brewers bullpen. Addison Reed is one of the few true difference makers the Brewers have the opportunity of acquiring. Reed has been one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the league over the last three seasons. Reed would not be cheap. If the Brewers are keen on turning the back-end of their bullpen into a three-headed monster, Reed is the answer. The Brewers might be better off acquiring not one, but two lesser options in order to build some depth in their bullpen, such as Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Juan Nicasio, or Mike Minor.
With the unreliability of Jonathan Villar, the Brewers are in need of some kind of stability at the second base position. They need look no further than the player who manned the position for most of the last month-and-a-half of the season, Neil Walker. Walker just finished up 149 plate appearances with the Brewers in which he posted a .409 on-base percentage. Up until this season, Walker had been worth over 3.0 WARP in three straight seasons. The Brewers are not in need of a difference maker on the offensive side of the ball. Walker is a perfect complement to the already formidable Brewers offense.
It is unrealistic to assume David Stearns and company will be able to fill every hole. It would be impractical to operate as if their window is closing. It is just now opening. At the same time, there are moves to be made for this team. It would be foolish for the Brewers front office to decide against building on an incredibly successful 2017 campaign.
All we can say right now is that it’s going to be an interesting offseason in Milwaukee.
Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez, USAToday Sports Images