Milwaukee Brewers: Too many outfielders IS a problem

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 1: Manager Craig Counsell
ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 1: Manager Craig Counsell /

The Milwaukee Brewers are loaded with Major League caliber outfielders and it’s a real issue they must address before too long.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Milwaukee Brewers and manager Craig Counsell this season will be how he divvies up the playing time amongst all their MLB-caliber outfielders. And, perhaps, the second biggest challenge will be finding enough quality starts out of their pitching staff in order to stay in contention for a playoff spot. Although it may not seem like the two are related, there’s a direct connection.

Going into the year, general manager David Stearns surprised the baseball world by electing to keep four outfielders on the Major League roster who have proven they deserve playing every day; Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana. Not to mention utility man Hernan Perez who likely played his best defense last season at either of the corner outfield positions.

That list doesn’t even include last year’s starter in center field, Keon Broxton, who was unhappily optioned to Triple-A, nor Brett Phillips who appears to have a bright future as a Major Leaguer.

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Counsell did help the outfield rotation somewhat by moving Braun to first base against left-handed hitters, but that creates a whole separate problem at first where the Brewers again are overloaded at the position.

Regardless, throughout the first week-plus of the season, it appeared Counsell was going to typically go with Yelich in right, Cain in center and Braun in left against right-handed pitchers. When a lefty was starting, Braun moved to first, with Yelich flipping to the other corner outfield spot and Santana sliding into right.

Unfortunately, that means Santana, who hit .278 with 30 home runs and 85 RBI’s last year, is relegated to being a mainstay on the pine, something he certainly can’t be happy about. Of course, I’m sure Counsell would get him the occasional start against a righty by having one of the other outfielders sit, but that would mean more musical chairs with the defensive positioning.

But sitting Cain and Yelich proved to be more difficult than anyone could’ve imagined (in a good way), as they both got off to red-hot starts with their new club.

Cain has cooled down as of late, but is hitting .294 with one home run, four RBIs and three stolen bases already. He’s also the only natural center fielder on the team and one of the best defenders so it’s difficult to replace him even if he’s not ripping the cover off the ball.

Yelich got off to an even hotter start than Cain, batting .385 in his first six games before missing the last two due to a right oblique injury. The injury isn’t considered serious and he hasn’t even been placed on the disabled list yet, however, it has given Santana three straight starts after sitting the previous two games.

Advocates of the Brewers’ outfield depth might point to this injury situation as one of the reasons they should continue to carry multiple Major League level outfielders. However, it’s asinine to hold onto more mouths than you can feed just in case there’s an injury. That’s playing scared and good teams don’t do that.

Unless the Brewers are going to rely on multiple and consistent smaller injuries to their trio of outfielders throughout the season (which is unlikely) or one major one, the quadruplet of outfielders will quickly become tired of their inconsistent playing time (or at least the one who’s sitting the most).

When Yelich returns, he’s likely to resume his position flip-flopping back and forth between left and right field and setting the table for the heart of the Brewers’ batting order.

But even upon his return, the Brewers organization has a deeper issue with playing time that stems from the demotion of Broxton to Triple-A. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he’s better than any of the four outfielders Stearns chose to keep on the Brewers roster, however, he unquestionably deserves a spot in the MLB, somewhere.

In 2017, Broxton was Milwaukee’s primary starter in center field and was a daily highlight-reel with his defensive gems. Although his hitting was inconsistent, batting only .220 on the season, he’d at least make a quality fourth outfielder on a team somewhere.

What exacerbates the problem is Milwaukee’s awful starting pitching this season. Although it’s still extremely early and it’s a very small sample size, the Brewers’ starting pitching has the worst ERA in the league at 6.10. For a team with playoff aspirations, that number will not get them very far at all.

If Stearns was able to construct a trade involving one of the surpluses of outfielders he has and secure a caliber starting pitcher, that would go a long way to helping the Brewers become legit contenders for a playoff spot.

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This is not new news for Stearns who has certainly done his due diligence by exploring all avenues to improve his team, only to be unsuccessful in finding a starter he and his team like. Unfortunately, as the season wears on, the players’ patience will wear thin. And that puts the Brewers’ great clubhouse rapport in jeopardy, the last thing anyone wants.