The Milwaukee Brewers offense was stagnant for much of the year. In what will undoubtedly be a challenging offseason, Stearns needs to find a way to bolster this lineup.
After trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain during the 2018 offseason, and then watching the Milwaukee Brewers sign both Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal prior to the 2019 season, this past offseason, we saw GM David Stearns take a different approach.
Rather than bolstering the roster with some well-established players, he went in the other direction, signing several inexpensive bounce-back candidates. However, and Stearns recently admitted this, that didn’t work out so well.
Avisail Garcia spent the year tinkering with his setup while posting a .659 OPS and an OPS+ of 79; the league average is 100. Meanwhile, Eric Sogard was coming off a decent 2019 season, but the underlying numbers told a different story, and regression in 2020 was certainly in play. Unfortunately, that’s what happened as Sogard recorded an OPS of .560 and an OPS+ of 52.
Justin Smoak’s 2019 season was the opposite of Sogard’s, his average and OPS weren’t great, but the underlying numbers had shown a player who was ready to bounce-back. But once again, that wasn’t the case. Smoak recorded a .642 OPS and was designated for assignment (DFA) at the beginning of September.
Brock Holt met a similar fate as he was DFA’d as well, and the Brewers’ trade for Omar Narvaez didn’t pay off either. When the Crew acquired Narvaez, his defense was in question, but not his bat with a .276 career average prior to this season. However, as we all know, that isn’t the Narvaez we saw in Milwaukee. He would total a .562 OPS with an OPS+ of 53.
The one bright spot was Jedd Gyorko, who, by the end of the season, was one of the few able to get on base regularly. While he is best suited for facing just left-handers, Gyorko ended up in a full-time role and putting together a career year with a .838 OPS and an OPS+ of 121.
Now, it’s not as if these new players got any help from the rest of the roster. Even Christian Yelich, Keston Hiura, and Ryan Braun all struggled mightily, not to mention that losing Lorenzo Cain didn’t help either.
All of this contributed to what was one of the most stagnant offenses in baseball. This season, the Milwaukee Brewers ranked 26th in team batting average, 24th in OPS, 26th in runs, and 22nd in total bases. Basically, pick an offensive category, and there’s a good chance that the Crew was near the bottom of baseball in it.
While yes, the Brewers were still able to make the playoffs for the third straight season – with some major help from the new playoff format – a feat that had never been accomplished before in franchise history, this is a team that has been trending downward since making it to Game 7 of the NLCS in 2018.
From a pitching standpoint, Milwaukee appears to be in a great position. They’ll have to figure out the back end of their rotation this winter, but with Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, they have two of the best young arms in the game. Then in the bullpen, they have Josh Hader and Devin Williams on the back end, and it looks like they’ve found some solid players as well in Justin Topa, Eric Yardley, and Drew Rasmussen, along with Corey Knebel.
But when it comes to the bats, while both Yelich and Hiura bouncing back in 2021 will provide a major boost, there is still retooling that needs to be done. And unfortunately, those answers aren’t in the minor leagues. That means Stearns is going to have to look to free agency.
Being a small-market team with Stearns at the helm, who will not overpay, the Brewers are never going to be the team that goes out and lands one of the top available players. Add in that we don’t know how the lost revenues from this season are going to affect spending in 2021, along with the fact that evaluating players on a 60 game season is much more challenging, and navigating free agency this offseason isn’t exactly going to be easy this offseason.
With that said, Stearns has to find a way to bolster this lineup. As I just mentioned, I’m not expecting Milwaukee to sign the biggest name out there, but it has to be players with better track records than those brought in this past offseason.
Stearns has often said that his goal is to make the Milwaukee Brewers a playoff contender year in and year out, which to his credit, he has done. They’ve gone to the postseason three straight years and missed the playoffs by one game in 2017. He’s truly done a fantastic job.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Brewers had gone 26 years without a postseason berth, however, expectations do and should change. This is a team that has Yelich; they have Hiura, along with two excellent starters and a dynamic back-end of the bullpen; now, it’s time to invest in some bats.