After finding themselves deep in the NL playoff race until the last day of the season, one of the more intriguing storylines of the offseason would be to see how the Milwaukee Brewers would follow up their surprisingly successful 2017 season. Going into last season, most analysts had low expectations for the Crew, and they projected them to finish near the bottom of the NL Central division. However, despite the projections, the Brewers found themselves leading the division for a majority of the season. Although they came up short, this unexpected success came as a surprise to nearly everyone who followed the team.
Going into this offseason, most realistic fans did not expect the Brewers to make a splash in free agency. Instead, most predicted that they would fill their second base and starting pitching needs modestly by signing some lesser-heralded players, in order to bide time for their talented prospects to be ready.
However, these expectations quickly went out the window after the Brewers decided to cash in on their deep farm system and low payroll by trading for outfielder Christian Yelich, and by signing the top free agent outfielder, Lorenzo Cain. With these moves the organization decided they were ready to accelerate their rebuilding process, and they were trying to win now.
For small market teams, success is a calculated process that generally goes in cycles. Unlike many of the larger market teams, it is important to consider the present and the future when considering to make a major move. With these obstacles considered, the acquisitions of Yelich and Cain do not mortgage the Brewers’ future. In fact, both of these players are under team control through 2022, and, because of it, their championship window is just opening.
In order for the team to build on these major moves, and establish themselves amongst the National League’s elite teams, it is clear that the Brewers will need to seriously consider acquiring one of the top available pitchers on the market.
Overall, this free agency season has been one of the wackier ones in recent memory. In fact, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in two weeks, and the top four free agent pitchers have not signed yet! These four pitchers, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb have all been linked to the Brewers on a variety of levels.
Considered the top two pitchers in this free agent class, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are the most expensive options, and it remains to be seen whether the Brewers are looking to spend that much money on one player.
At the moment, it has been reported that the Brewers have an offer out to Darvish. Although the details of this offer have not been released, it is likely that it would be a major investment, and the Brewers have not had much success signing pitchers over the age of 30.
In fact, in recent years the acquisitions of Jeff Suppan, Kyle Lohse, Randy Wolf, and more recently, Matt Garza, have all ended up poorly for the club. If a small market team invests large amounts of money in these players and they end up flopping, it will have a lasting economic impact on the franchise.
This is why the Brewers should remain cautious when trying to sign one of these top two pitchers. However, if the Brewers truly believe that this is the move that can make them World Series contenders, they should go all-in because both of these pitchers have extensive experience pitching in the playoffs.
If they decide to pass on Darvish and Arrieta, the next two pitchers to consider are Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. Both of these pitchers are likely number-three pitchers on a pitching staff, and will not headline a rotation. However, they would be welcomed additions to the Brewers pitching staff, who are down its top pitcher in Jimmy Nelson for a good portion of 2018. The price to acquire one of these two is likely to be less, but the Brewers would not be getting the quality they would be if they signed Darvish or Arrieta.
For a small market team financial flexibility is an important aspect to consider and is one that many of the large market teams do not have to worry about. It will be interesting to see what kind of splash, if any, general manager David Stearns and company decide to make regarding their need pitching needs.
If free agency is not the route the Brewers decide to go, there are a couple of pitchers that the Brewers have interest in trading for from teams that are looking to rebuild. Most notably, it has been publicized that the Brewers have reached out to the Tampa Bay Rays about the availability of pitcher Chris Archer. If the Brewers choose to acquire the 29-year-old, Archer would be their ace for the foreseeable future. Because of his age and controllability, the price to acquire him would be costly.
Similarly, the acquisition of Marcus Stroman from the Toronto Blue Jays would be enticing. However, the price to acquire him would be very similar to the haul required for Archer. If the Brewers are looking at a cheaper trade alternative, they could consider Patrick Corbin, a left handed pitcher from the Arizona Diamondbacks who they have also been interested in.
If the Brewers are interested in making a major trade, they do have an excess of outfielders after they acquired two this offseason. It has been well-reported that the Brewers have been dangling Keon Broxton, Brett Phillips, and Domingo Santana in potential trades for major league pitching.
Ultimately, the best case scenario for winning would be for the Brewers to sign Darvish, or to go all-in and trade for one of the two pitchers on the market. However, both of these moves require immense investments in the form of money or players, and it will be interesting to see what moves David Stearns decides to make. As a fan, my hope is that the Brewers make one of these major moves and turn themselves into a major contender, but being realistic makes me think that a major acquisition for a small market team is unwise. Either way, this offseason has injected life into the Brewers fan base, and it will be exciting to see what kind of success the team can have in 2018.