The other rebuilding club in the NL Central is quite a bit further along than the Reds. Make no mistake, the Brewers will not be contenders this season. But they’re going to be a tough opponent as they continue to build their suddenly deep farm system and call up some of the fruits of their labor over the last year and a half. After trading Jonathan Lucroy, among others, there is plenty of fruit on the tree in Milwaukee. And some of it is starting to get ripe and will follow Orlando Arcia, who made his debut last season.
The Brewers led MLB with 181 (!!) stolen bases, 42 more than the second place Reds. And Jonathan Villar paced MLB with 62 by himself. They ran a ton and they were really good at it. It didn’t hurt that the Brewers were 3rd in MLB with a 9.9% team walk rate. This is where the Brewers are strong. They didn’t hit particularly well, and they are not the same old bashing Brewers that we’ve gotten used to over the years, but when they got on base, they were pests. They put pressure on pitchers by forcing them to pay attention to the runners and play aggressively on the bases. By virtue of them being my “local” team, I got to see them a lot last year. They play with the personality of their manager, Craig Counsell. They scrap and they claw to get everything they can. And they’re smart. With the talent that is coming up to play for them in the coming years, they could get competitive really soon.
They’re really out-manned in the pitching department. Their 7.37 K/9 last season was the lowest in the National League. They tied with the Padres for the 7th highest WHIP in MLB at 1.38. And their defense didn’t help much, with an NL worst UZR. The thing is, a lot of those guys aren’t really around, anymore…or will be on their way out. The weaknesses of this team in 2017 will be those bred by youth and players developing at the big league level. In some ways, not unlike the 2014 Cubs. The Brewers do not have the same level of talent coming that the Cubs had in 2014. None of their prospects are Kris Bryant or Addison Russell like. But they have a lot of really promising young players who will come up, make some mistakes, learn a lot, and be a genuine pain in the neck to play against.
2017 Is a Success If…
They trade Ryan Braun. And not just because I really hate the guy. But because they have to. He isn’t doing them any good by being there through the rebuild. It appeared that they were pretty close to moving him last season, and they will almost certainly work hard to do it again this season. If Braun stays healthy, he’s shown the ability to remain productive. That has some value. It’s unclear just how much he actually has, but it is certain that the David Stearns thinks he has quite a bit. With Braun under contract and the team not being close to competing, Stearns could wait. This year, the Brewers should start to transition to a point where winning is important. For them to get to that point, Braun probably needs to go. He will bring more back in return to contribute than he will as an aging left fielder.
They could also make a concerted effort to trade Matt Garza, Scooter Gennett, and Junior Guerra, among others. Guerra has the most trade value of any of them. Garza will be nearly impossible to move, unless he shows something resembling productivity over the first half of the season. In short, continuing efforts to keep stocking their already nice farm system is going to make this a successful season. They need prospects for their own use, or as we’ve come to know for the Cubs, as currency to add pieces when they’re competing.
2017 Is a Failure If…
The Brewers are in a good spot. They really can’t “fail” this season. This is a year where they will continue to build their farm while calling up some of their players and giving them looks at the big league level. They can see exactly what work their young players need and places where they need to reinforce the organization without the stress of trying to win right now. If you’re not competing and your fans don’t expect you to compete, this is the place you want to be. What could make 2017 a failure is if the Brewers fail to identify what their players can and cannot do at advanced levels and use next winter to improve with additional players or to work to continue developing their own guys. Long story short, 2017 is a failure if the Brewers aren’t making a step to compete in 2018.
Projected Record: 77-85
The Brew Crew is going to be a pain in the neck. I may have been a little generous with their win total, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them flirting with .500. They have some pieces already on the roster and some others that are going to be coming this year. They’ll actually be fun to watch, unless you’re playing against them. Later in the year, their talented youngsters should be up. And they will play hard. The place they will likely struggle is on the mound. They really need to add pitching. Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson haven’t been as productive as the Brewers could have hoped and even if they had, there is limited depth to their staff. If they set out to make additional trades this summer, expect them to target arms. But that’s the only thing holding them back right now. They’re headed in the right direction and at this time next year, they could be a really interesting sleeper pick.