For the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans, the expectations for the 2017 season were low. For a team in the beginning steps of what looked like a major rebuild, the outlook for the season was not very promising. In fact, most major publications predicted them to finish last or second-to-last in the ultra-competitive National League Central Division.
However, after surprising even the most optimistic of fans, the Brewers found themselves in the midst of a playoff race, and ultimately finished second in the Central Division, nearly making the playoffs.
So, what moves can they make to build on their unexpected success in 2017?
With potential free agents in Neil Walker and Eric Sogard, second base is their greatest position of need. The Brewers will have to make a decision on whether they want to spend the money to bring back Walker, who is likely the top MLB free agent at his position this offseason. From a performance standpoint bringing Neil Walker back would be a no-brainer because he is the most experienced and talented of the Brewers’ options. His contact approach and his switch-hitting abilities allow him to play every day regardless of the pitching matchup.
However, from an economic standpoint, the price tag to resign him is significant and the Brewers’ front office may not want to spend the money to bring him back. Justin Turner is a comparable player to Walker in regards to age, position and performance. Turner recently signed a four-year, $16 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and this is likely the starting point for Walker’s upcoming contract negotiations.
If they choose not to resign Neil Walker, they can look at bringing back fellow free agent Eric Sogard. Sogard was claimed off of waivers from the Oakland Athletics early in the 2017 season and burst onto the scene with the Brewers. His performance with the Brewers was unexpected, and he played much better with the Brewers than he did at any point with the Athletics. However, after the hot start, his performance noticeably declined, and his statistical numbers began to regress back to their statistical means. Despite not being as good of a hitter as Walker, Sogard provides the ability to play multiple positions, and this can be very valuable for the team. His potential contract will also likely be more team friendly, a positive for him and the club.
The team also returns Jonathan Villar. Going into the 2017 season, Villar was expected to follow up on his successful 2016 season where he stole 62 bases and started every game. The Brewers hoped he would be a weapon for them at the top of their lineup and on the basepaths for years to come. However, he ended up bringing instability to the position, and this forced the Brewers to bring in Sogard and Walker. As Villar is still under contract for 2018, the Brewers can look to give him another opportunity, with very little downside, and hope he can play better than he did this past season.
For a small-market team the prospects of shelling out a substantial amount of money to one player is unlikely. For this reason, one should expect to see the platoon of Eric Sogard and Jonathan Villar occupying second base until the more heralded prospects in Isan Diaz, Mauricio Dubon and 2017 first-round pick Keston Hiura are ready to provide competition for the position in late 2018 and beyond.