The short version of this essay: if you think the Brewers are – at present – a playoff caliber team, you are high.
Now, to elaborate.
General Manager David Stearns had Brewer Nation all abuzz in late January when he traded for outfielder Christian Yelich and signed free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain within a twenty-four-hour period. I thought signing Cain for a large sum of money was a mistake then, but I was willing to concede the decision if Stearns had the next trade up his sleeve, offering some combination of Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Brett Phillips or first basemen Eric Thames for a starting pitcher. If this was the case, picking up Cain would make sense, and I spent nearly every day in February checking the headlines for the next big name to don a Brewer uniform. A trade never transpired, leaving the Brew Crew with a gluttony of outfielders and a dearth of starting pitching. I’m sure Stearns tried, but to me, picking up Cain should only have been done if the next trade was already in the pocket. If not, the money would have been better-spent on pitching.
And it isn’t as if pitching couldn’t have been found for a reasonable cost. Yes, the likes of Arrieta or Darvish may have been too rich for a small-market team, but Minnesota snagged Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays for a minor-league infielder. Surely, the Brewers could have managed something along those lines.
Instead, the rotation is set – sort of – with Zach Davies, Chase Anderson, Jhoulys Chacin and Brent Suter, with Jimmy Nelson expected to return sometime midway through the year. Wade Miley, who starts the season on the disabled list, is a potential fifth before Nelson returns, but either way, this is likely not a rotation that’s going to beat the Cubs or even the Cardinals.
The Brewers are going to hit and hit well, but players are going to need to have career years if the Crew expects to be in the hunt for a playoff spot. My guess is that before it’s all said and done, a deal will be made for pitching, but this can only happen if the Brewers play well enough during the first half to make a mid-season trade viable. Can they hang in there long enough? If they do, how much more will they have to trade for a mid-season pitching rental than they would have for an off-season pitcher with a few years left on his contract?
Stearns has received accolades for many of his personnel moves since joining the Brewers in 2015, but he isn’t above making dumb decisions – perhaps not Doug Melvin dumb, but dumb all the same, most notably cutting second baseman Scooter Gennett last spring, who went on to tear up the league for Cincinnati, and trading first-baseman Garrett Cooper to the Yankees for Tyler Webb, who lasted all of two outings before being sent down to the minors. Unless Stearns finds a way to get some needed pitching, the signing of Cain may be added to the list.
In the meantime, my prediction: a disappointing 84 wins for the Crew this year, several games back from the wild card hunt.
I’ll still be there on opening day and hoping that come October I look like a fool.