Perhaps the most understated point of the offseason for these Milwaukee Brewers is the longevity present on the current roster. Many Brewers fans are upset with the front office for failing to make a big splash in the pitching free agency market, typically under the argument that since the club “went big” in acquiring outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich the club was to be expected to make another move to improve the pitching rotation. While the front office has stated that they will not turn in their 2018 roster until Thursday morning, meaning that there remains time for a big deal to acquire pitching (and GM David Stearns does like the “out of camp” move thus far), the general angst about pitching is misplaced for several reasons. I’ve already addressed the quality of the rotation (at length), and here I would like to emphasize the long view of this current roster.
After the 2020 season, franchise cornerstone Ryan Braun will shift from a guaranteed contract to a $4.0 million buyout of a mutual option. But, even if Braun leaves the team for 2021, the club is hardly at an end of an era. Seventeen players with likely roles for the 2018 club remain under contract as the clock strikes 2021:
|Three Year Brewers||2021 Contract|
|OF / 1B Ryan Braun||2021 mutual option ($4.0M buyout)|
|OF Lorenzo Cain||2-years / $35.0M remaining|
|OF Christian Yelich||1-year / 1 club option|
|RHP Chase Anderson||2nd club option|
|SS Orlando Arcia||Two arbitration years|
|RHP Jacob Barnes||Two arbitration years|
|1B Jesus Aguilar||Two arbitration years|
|C Jett Bandy||Two arbitration years|
|RHP Corey Knebel||Final arbitration year|
|OF Domingo Santana||Final arbitration year|
|RHP Zach Davies||Final arbitration year|
|3B Travis Shaw||Final arbitration year|
|LHP Josh Hader||Unknown (arbitration)|
|LHP Brent Suter||Unknown (arbitration)|
|OF Keon Broxton||Unknown (arbitration)|
|RHP Junior Guerra||Unknown (arbitration)||OF Brett Phillips||Completely unknown|
Granted, some of these players might not be expected to stick with the club for this extended period of time. There are always trades, in the first place, which could knock some of these players off this list. Additionally, role depreciation could also knock others off the roster (here Jesus Aguilar, Jett Bandy, Keon Broxton, and Junior Guerra figure most prominently). Someone’s career could always derail in an unexpected way, as well, be it via injury or mechanical issues. But the basic point is that if the majority of these players have solidified MLB roles for 2018, they also build an outline for a 2021 club.
Imagine the Brewers pick up Ryan Braun’s option for 2021:
|1B||R. Braun||J. Aguilar|
|CF||L. Cain||K. Broxton|
|RF||D. Santana||B. Phillips|
|SP||C. Anderson||B. Suter|
|RP||C. Knebel||J. Hader|
|RP||J. Barnes||J. Guerra|
It’s easy to dream on prospects reaching the MLB and filling out this roster, especially given David Stearns’s recent comment that the club’s pitching depth is one reason the club soured on free agency options. But, even the development of prospects is not the point here; the point is that the last two offseasons have helped to open a path for a 2017-2018 offseason that improves the club for the short- and long-terms.
What is new about this? The current window opening for the Brewers is much more similar to the 1978-1982 Brewers than the most recent Brewers contender. In 2008, for example, the Brewers featured a well-controlled core of prime bats without much of a pitching staff structure extending beyond Yovani Gallardo. The 2011 and 2014 Brewers showcased different looks, contending as various contractual windows closed for the team. Once again, there was never enough congruence between the batting and pitching cores. This is what is new about the 2018 Brewers: they exhibit a core club that can compete in a mediocre National League, while also building for the future with an extensive window. Granted, there will be injuries, trades, and depreciation to knock out some of this depth, but the overall look of the club is one that is completely new to the Brewers.
If fans are angry about the starting pitching, perhaps they can be excused, for watching a Brewers club whose strength is pitching instead of batting (this is new territory for the organization!); if fans are angry about the lack of impact moves after acquiring Cain and Yelich, perhaps they can be excused, for watching a Brewers club that is ready to open a true three year window (and likely five year window) is also new territory. 2018 is a new frontier for the organization.