Today's Free Picks for
Posted on March 13
Milwaukee under 83½ -120
The Brewers are going to need to win 84 games (6 games over .500) for us to lose this wager and we’ve gone over it 40 times and cannot fathom how that is going to happen. Milwaukee went 89-73 last season but this is not the same team, not even close.
Let’s start on a positive note. In the next days or so, the Brewers will announce that they have inked superstar outfielder Christian Yelich to an insanely team-friendly extension that will pay him “in the neighborhood” of $215 million through 2028. This is great news, as Baseball Twitter had gone nearly four or five hours without ripping itself apart over the game’s current economic structure. Optimists will claim this is a huge win for small-market teams everywhere, highlighting that Yelich is now primed to serve as the face of the franchise for what remains of our short collective time on earth.
Now the negatives. Fresh off of earning universal praise as last offseason’s darlings, the Brewers have bled talent at a Federal government-esque pace since October. This is especially true on offense, which figures to retain just over half of its starting lineup from a year ago. Gone are Yasmani Grandal, Mike Moustakas, Eric Thames and Travis Shaw, all lost to free agency. In their places, David Stearns and co. have signed or traded for an eclectic group of cheap hitters who offer little in the way of collective upside, but who should allow (or will force) Craig Counsell to get creative when he fills out his lineup card.
Avisaíl Garcia is chief among them, signed to a two-year deal to help prove to Ryan Braun that, no really, he needs to move to first base. Justin Smoak is here now, his brief Toronto resurgence looking more like a dead-cat bounce than a sign of greatness to come. The Brewers also traded for Omar Narváez to replace Grandal, and while their offensive output may look similar, there’s a Mercedes-to-Kia-level decline when it comes to stealing corners. Jedd Gyorko, Brock Holt, Eric Sogard, and Ryon Healy have all been added to fight for playing time and roster spots, too. They should conspire to prevent newly acquired post-prospect Luis Urías from seeing the light of day until July or August at the earliest. A full season of Keston Hiura could help offset some of the loss in firepower, as could a bounceback season from the suddenly almost-34-year-old Lorenzo Cain. We’ll give the 2020 Brewers this: they are definitely deep. So are pits, though.
The Rotation (gulp)
While you could argue that Milwaukee simply “diversified risk” in their lineup, even the most ardent Brewers fans will have a hard time arguing the rotation got better (though they’ll definitely still try). A quick, depressing recap. Since the end of last season, the Brewers have:
Lost Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Lyles to free agency
Traded Zach Davies and Chase Anderson
DFA’d Jimmy Nelson
To replace those arms, the Brewers have:
Signed Josh Lindblom, Brett Anderson and Shelby Miller (lol)
Traded for Eric Lauer
Yes, seriously, that’s it. If this was all bottom-of-the-roster churn and Milwaukee was just hoping for 30-or-so starts from the group above, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But at present, Lindblom, Anderson, and Lauer figure to comprise 60 percent of the Brew Crew’s entire starting rotation. You’ll now recall that Lindblom was last seen stateside getting shellacked as a member of the Pirates, Anderson misses about 160 games a year to injury, and Lauer was average at best even in Petco. It’s a group that lacks a high ceiling or floor, a crawl space of fringy major league talent. Factor in that neither of Milwaukee’s top two starters, Brandon Woodruff and Adrian Houser, have ever topped 130 innings pitched in a season, and the concern grows. Sure, maybe Corbin Burnes will turn it around this year. Maybe Brent Suter comes back healthy. Maybe the newly extended Freddy Peralta finally translates his Great Stuff™ into results or maybe none of that happens. Hell, even if only one or two best-case scenarios occur for this group, the Brewers are still going to be putting a lot of strain on their bullpen. It’s a strategy that’s worked reasonably well for them in the past, but let’s not forget that bullpens are as trustworthy as a Canadian Goose with a “pet me” sign around their neck.
That bullpen, by the way, lost a ton of talent, too. Out went Drew Pomeranz, Matt Albers and Junior Guerra, and here to replace them is … David Phelps? Josh Hader remains great, especially now that he’s Logged Off, but it’s tough to see where his help is supposed to come from. Jeremey Jeffress is also gone. Corey Knebel won’t be back for a few months, at least. Alex Claudio was re-signed, but he was terrible last season. If Peralta or Burnes makes the rotation that solves one problem, but creates another in leaving this group mighty thin.
It’s all good though, because the Brewers are choosing to head into 2020 with this roster, you see. Per owner Mark Attanasio, payroll has never prevented Stearns from going out and signing a player he wanted. There’s nothing that [Stearns] didn’t do this offseason that he wouldn’t have done if we’d have had a different budget number,” Attanasio said this spring. “He’s always free to come to me and say, ‘I want to “fill in the blanks”. I want to acquire “fill in the blank” I’ve never said no.” We suppose it’s just a coincidence that, in that very same press conference, Attanasio casually mentioned that the Brewers operated at a loss last season. We gotta tell ya, Mark, after looking at your team’s offseason moves, fans gotta be at a loss for words. We, on the other hand will thank you at the window when the season ends.
The Brewers were a fun team loaded with (mostly) likable players. They were a great underdog to root for, a fun story, an example of how a “small market” team could hang with the big boys. For the short term, at least, that looks over now. Despite an offseason transactions list that’d have Jerry Dipoto calling the doctor after four hours, the Brewers clearly got worse. Their lineup is weaker, their rotation is thinner, their bullpen deceptively threadbare. Yes, they have impressive offensive depth, but it’s come almost entirely at the expense of upside. Thanks to a self-declared profit gap and what is now the worst farm system in the game, they can’t bank on much in-season improvement for a change. Yelich and Hiura are great. Woodruff and Hader are great. There’s a foundation to build on, but the house that sits atop it looks awfully wobbly. The Reds are better now. The Cubs and Cardinals at least stood pat. There won’t be a ton of easy wins in this division. Sadly, the Brewers may represent a bunch of them. No chance this team goes over 83½ wins.
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Milwaukee under 83½ -120 (Risking 6 units - To Win: 5.00)