As the new year approaches, 2020 rosters are starting to take shape for teams around the league. The Cardinals have not changed much, subtracting Michael Wacha and Marcell Ozuna (maybe) and adding Kwang-hyun Kim. Clearly the team is betting on internal improvement in order to improve its win total next season. However, while the Cardinals have been quiet, the NL central has been one of the busier divisions in terms of transactions and rumors. The Brewers and the Reds have made a number of interesting changes, while nearly every star on the Cubs has seen his name flying around the rumor mill. Nevertheless, it appears that the Cardinals should be the preseason favorites to win the division, especially after winning it in 2019.
This article features the Milwaukee Brewers with articles highlighting the Reds, Cubs, and Pirates coming later.
Additions (Position, 2019 fWAR): Eric Yardley (RP, 0.1), Luis Urias (INF, 0.1), Eric Lauer (SP, 2.3) Justin Grimm (RP, 0.0), Omar Narvaez (C, 1.8), Ronny Rodriguez (UTIL, 0.2), Brett Anderson (SP, 2.0), Josh Lindblom (SP/RP, 2.50 ERA in KBO), Avisail Garcia (OF, 1.8), Jace Peterson (UTIL, -0.1), Ryon Healy (1B/3B, -0.1)
Subtractions (Position, fWAR): Hernan Perez (UTIL, 0.0), Yasmani Grandal (C, 5.2), Mike Moustakas (2B/3B, 2.8), Gio Gonzalez (SP, 1.4), Drew Pomeranz (RP, 0.8), Jordan Lyles (SP, 1.6), Matt Albers (RP, 0.0)*, Jay Jackson (RP, 0.0), Chase Anderson (SP, 1.2), Eric Thames (1B/OF, 1.9)*, Trent Grisham (OF, 0.6), Zach Davies (SP, 1.6), Travis Shaw (3B, -0.8), Jimmy Nelson (SP, -0.1)*, Junior Guerra (RP, 0.3), Tyler Saladino (UTIL, -0.4)
The Brewers have been one of the busier teams in the first few months of the off-season as they have begun re-tooling their roster for next season. This includes overhauling the rotation with Eric Lauer, Brett Anderson, and Josh Lindblom likely taking three spots that were vacated by Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles, Chase Anderson, and Zach Davies. The team did a good job here of replacing the outgoing production with some solid players like Brett Anderson and Eric Lauer. These two players should be at least average and finish the season around 1.5 to 2.5 WAR barring injury. It is Lindblom, however, that is interesting and could have a large impact on the rotation as he is a bit of a wildcard. He has dominated in Korea, winning the Korean version of the Cy Young in each of the last two seasons, but he is still 32 years old and it is hard to judge how success in Korea will translate to the majors. Either way, the Brewers did a good job of replacing the outgoing production in the rotation, but unless Lindblom has a very good season, it is hard to see these acquisitions as anything more than a slight improvement.
Also, with Grandal, Moustakas, Thames and Shaw all leaving the team, the Brewers starting infield will look much different. This is still a work in progress and the Brewers front office, led by David Stearns will likely make another move or two to address the current holes as Luis Urias and Keston Hiura each look to have spots, but the rest of the infield is wide open. However, currently, it is hard to envision the 2020 team being anything more than marginally better than the 2019 version.
Omar Narvaez was a good acquisition, but he does not play nearly enough defense to even come close to matching the outgoing Yasmani Grandal in terms of value added. Also, Luis Urias is a bit of a question mark. After once being touted as a top prospect, he has struggled to hit in the big leagues. The infield is incomplete right now, but it looks to be a lot weaker after losing Moustakas, Thames, and Grandal. Urias and Hiura are a tantalizing combo in the infield, but they each come with their own uncertainty. Urias has struggled to hit adequately with the Padres in 2018 and 2019 and Hiura’s solid debut was helped by an incredibly unsustainable .402 BABIP which helped hide his 30.7 K%. Hiura also struggled with the glove as he finished the season with a -4 DRS and a -18.9 UZR/150. However both of these players have significant upside, so there is a possibility that both players have strong seasons.
Narvaez was a good acquisition for a team that needs to replace one of the best catchers in baseball, and pairing him with Manny Pina gives the team an offensive and a defensive option at the position. The trade to acquire Narvaez followed the Brewers script as they have always shown a willingness to bet on offense and worry about defense later as they were willing to pair Travis Shaw and Mike Moustakas in the infield with one of them always playing up the middle. They are not going to replace Grandal’s production, but acquiring Narvaez should allow them to minimize his loss. Also, acquiring Avisail Garcia should help the lineup, but there will be a lot of competition for outfield spots. and he does not appear to be much more than a 2 WAR outfielder.
Another question for this team revolves around the future of Josh Hader. His name has been circulating in trade talks and it would be a big loss for next years team if they lost him, but trading him would likely net the team a strong prospect haul. This is something that they will consider as the off-season progresses as they appear to be unwilling to lower their high asking price.
When considering all of these moves, it is unlikely that the Brewers have improved significantly, or gotten significantly worse. They will likely remain a threat in the division next season, but it is unlikely that they will be the favorite to win the NL Central. This off-season seems to be centered on making the team more sustainable in the future as Urias, Lauer and Narvaez could all be longer term pieces as well as short term pieces. However, unless things break right for this team and Josh Lindblom breaks out, the Urias/Hiura combo plays to its ceiling, and the bullpen proves to be a strength, it is unlikely that the Brewers unseat the defending NL Central champion Cardinals.