By: Jay Kennedy
Predicting the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers
After a dismal 5-17 month of April in the 2015 season, the Milwaukee brass decided that drastic change was needed to rebuild the Brewers into a contender. On May 3rd, Brewer manager, Ron Roenicke, was released and replaced with Craig Counsell, a former baseball player of 16 years, a 2 time World Series winner, a Wisconsin native, and at the time, was serving as the special assistant to the Milwaukee general manager, Doug Melvin. Owner Mark Attanasio began discussions with general manager, Doug Melvin, about stepping down and taking another role within the organization. Melvin would become the Senior Advisor to the General Manager on August 11th. It was also decided that the Milwaukee Brewers would be torn down and rebuilt, much like the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs had done with their ball clubs. After an exhaustive search for a new general manager that would bring youth, new ideas, and a background of analytics to the position, 30 year old David Stearns, an assistant to the Houston Astros’ general manager, would be hired on September 21st.
Between Melvin and Stearns the following transactions were made:
- Milwaukee Brewers traded 3B Aramis Ramirez and cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates for RHP Yhonathan Barrios.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded CF Carlos Gomez, RHP Mike Fiers and other considerations to the Houston Astros for RHP Adrian Houser, OF Brett Phillips, RF Domingo Santana, and LHP Josh Hader.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded RHP Jonathan Broxton and cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for LF Malik Collymore.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded LF Gerardo Parra to the Baltimore Orioles for RHP Zach Davies.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded Neal Cotts to the Minnesota Twins for a player to be named later.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded RHP Francisco Rodriguez to the Detroit Tigers for C Manny Pina and 2B Javier Betancourt.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded RHP Cy Sneed to the Houston Astros for SS Jonathan Villar.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded 2B Luis Sardinas to the Seattle Mariners for LF Ramon Flores.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Adam Lind to the Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Herrera, RHP Daniel Missaki, and RHP Freddy Peralta.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded 1B Jason Rogers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for CF Keon Broxton and RHP Trey Supak.
- Milwaukee Brewers gave cash to the Boston Red Sox for 3B Garin Cecchini
- Rule 5 Draft Additions – IF Colin Walsh from the Oakland Athletics, RHP Zach Jones from the Minnesota Twins.
- Claimed Off Waivers – Junior Guerra from the Chicago White Sox, OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis from the New York Mets, 1B Andy Wilkins from the Texas Rangers, OF Eric Young, Jr. from the Atlanta Braves, LHP Sean Nolin from the Oakland Athletics.
- Signed Free Agents to a Minor League Contract With an Invitation to Spring Training – 3B Hernan Perez, C Rene Garcia, RHP Daniel Tillman, LF Alex Presley, 2B Jake Elmore, 3B Will Middlebrooks, LHP Cesar Jimenez, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Blaine Boyer.
- Gave a Non-Roster Invitation to Spring Training – RHP Hiram Burgos, OF Brett Phillips, LHP Josh Hader, C Adam Weisenberger.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded LHP Trevor Seidenburger to the San Diego Padres for LF Rymer Liriano.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded SS Jean Segura and RHP Tyler Wagner to the Arizona Diamondbacks for RHP Chase Anderson, 3B Aaron Hill, and SS Isan Diaz.
- Milwaukee Brewers traded LF Khris Davis to the Oakland Athletics for C Jacob Nottingham and RHP Bubba Derby.
How does this all sort out for the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers? With spring training upon us, rumors abound that C Jonathan Lucroy and RF Ryan Braun will be traded. It may be that the two will start the season with the Brewers, but if we have learned anything in the 4 months that Stearns has been the General Manager, he is not afraid to pull the trigger on a trade that will net Milwaukee quality prospects with which to stock the minor league teams. In fact, Jonathan Lucroy was curiously absent to this year’s “On Deck,” an annual event where the players, coaches, and even alumni meet and greet the Brewer faithful.
While we mull on that, let’s take a look at each position and the battles that are likely to take place for a spot on the 25 man roster.
(OPP – Other Positions Played) (OOO – Out of Options.
Catchers Age OPP Reason In Camp
Jonathan Lucroy 29 1B 2015 Starting Catcher
Martin Maldonado 29 1B 2015 Backup Catcher
Manny Pina 28 Trade, Detroit Tigers
Rene Garcia 25 Minor League Contract With Invitation
Josmil Pinto 26 Minor League Contract With Invitation
Adam Weisenberger 27 Non-Roster Invitation
Jacob Nottingham 20 1B Trade, Oakland Athletics
This may be the least difficult position to predict. With the Brewers likely to only carry 2 catchers on the 25 man roster, the incumbent, Jonathan Lucroy, will be the starting catcher with Martin Maldonado serving as the backup. Should Lucroy be traded, Manny Pina will most likely back up Maldonado. Jonathan Lucroy is highly regarded as one of the best catchers in the MLB and was just ranked #3 by MLB Network.
First Basemen Age OPP Reason In Camp
Chris Carter 29 LF Free Agent, Houston Astros
Andy Wilkins 27 3B Waivers, Texas Rangers
With Adam Lind and Jason Rogers no longer on the team, (both were traded), the Brewers signed Houston Astros free agent Chris Carter to a 1 year, $2.5 million contract to play first base. With Lucroy, Maldonado, and Garin Cecchini able to back up first, (more on Cecchini later), I am unable to come up with any scenario where Wilkins makes the team. If that is indeed the case, I believe that would make him a possible candidate for a trade. (Note: Andy Wilkins has been sent to the minor leagues.)
Second Basemen Age OPP Reason In Camp
Scooter Gennett 25 2015 Starter
Aaron Hill 33 3B, SS Trade, Arizona Diamondbacks
Jake Elmore 28 1B, SS Minor League Contract With Invitation
Colin Walsh 26 3B, LF Rule 5, Oakland Athletics
Hernan Perez 24 3B, SS Minor League Contract With Invitation
Yadiel Rivera 23 SS Minor League, 40 Man Roster
Who is going to play second base for the Brewers this season may be one of the most interesting topics going into spring training. Scooter Gennett was last year’s starter but struggled in the first half of the season. His seeming lack of concentration at times in running the bases or making a routine play would have to be a point of concern, long term. I could easily see Gennett named as the opening day starter but playing with a short leash. Also, what happens at shortstop could have a direct impact on who plays second base. As it currently stands, second base will be probably be given to Gennett and Aaron Hill, who will platoon with Gennett and act as a mentor to the younger Brewer players. Colin Walsh, a rule 5 selection from the Oakland Athletics, will make the roster as a backup infielder. General Manager Stearns has dropped Yadiel Rivera’s name a couple of times but I believe he would have to have an exceptional spring to avoid being sent down to the minors for more seasoning. (Note: Jake Elmore has been sent to the minor leagues. As of 3/28/16, there is still a battle for 2 reserve infielder spots. It appears that Scooter Gennett will be the opening day 2B.)
Shortstop Age OPP Reason In Camp
Jonathan Villar 24 3B, LF Trade, Houston Astros
Aaron Hill 33 2B, 3B Trade, Arizona Diamondbacks
Yadiel Rivera 23 2B Minor League, 40 Man Roster
Orlando Arcia 21 Minor League, 40 Man Roster
Whoever is named the opening day starter at shortstop is only a placeholder until the minor league phenomenon and the number one prospect in the Brewer system, SS Orlando Arcia, finally gets the call to come to the parent club. However, Stearns has made it clear that he will start the year at AAA Colorado Sky Sox. Therefore, barring a major shakeup in spring training, Jonathan Villar will be named as the starting shortstop. Trading for Villar was the very first move that David Stearns made after he was named the GM in Milwaukee. One could assume that Stearns was impressed enough with him to make the deal with Houston to bring Villar to the Brew Crew. Again, the early wildcard in all of this is Yadiel Rivera. Stearns has dropped his name enough in interviews that one would have to think that Rivera is under strong consideration for either the SS or 2B position. (Note: There is still a battle for 2 reserve infielder spots. It appears that Jonathan Villar will be the opening day SS.)
Third Base Age OPP Reason In Camp
Aaron Hill 33 2B, SS Trade, Arizona Diamondbacks
Will Middlebrooks 27 Minor League Contract With Invitation
Garin Cecchini 24 1B, OF Trade, Boston Red Sox
Jonathan Villar 24 SS, LF Trade, Houston Astros
Hernan Perez 24 2B, SS Minor League Contract With Invitation
Last year’s third baseman, Aramis Ramirez, had let it be known that he was retiring at the end of the 2015 season. In what would seem a gesture of good will, the Brewers traded Ramirez to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team that gave him his start and who he spent his first 6 years with as a pro. For the remainder of the season it was third base by committee. General Manager, David Stearns, made some interesting acquisitions this offseason in regards to 3rd base. First, he traded with Houston to get SS/3B Jonathan Villar. Second, he purchased 3B Garin Cecchini, a once prized prospect with the Boston Red Sox, for cash. Third, he signed free agent, 3B Will Middlebrooks, another former Red Sox that had fallen on hard times, to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Finally, Stearns traded SS Jean Segura and RHP Tyler Wagner to the Arizona Diamondbacks for 3B, 2B, SS Aaron Hill, RHP Chase Anderson, and SS prospect, Isan Diaz. The Diamondbacks also reportedly gave the Brewers $5.5 million towards Hill’s 2016 salary. If one has followed the discussion involving second base and shortstop, then it will be easily understood the uncertainty that the Brewers have concerning third base as well. If one can assume that Villar will be the opening day shortstop and Gennett the second baseman, then I anticipate an all-out war for the right to start at third base. As I stated earlier, trading for Villar was the first move Stearns made and I have to believe it was for a reason. I think it can be safely stated that Villar will be a starter, where is anyone’s guess. Hill will either be utilized in a platoon at 2B with Gennett or may have to fight for the starting 3B job. That would pave the way for a great spring training battle between Garin Cecchini or Will Middlebrooks for the remaining infield roster spot. For now, bet on Garin Cecchini as the starting third baseman with Aaron Hill making the roster as a reserve infielder / platoon at 2B. (Note: Garin Cecchini and Will Middlebrooks have been sent to the minor leagues. Hernan Perez still has a chance to make the roster. Aaron Hill appears to be the opening day 3B.)
Outfield Age OPP Reason In Camp
Ryan Braun 32 RF, LF 2015 Starting RF
Domingo Santana 23 LF, CF, RF Trade, Houston Astros
Michael Reed 23 RF Minor League, 40 Man Roster
Rymer Liriano 24 LF, CF, RF Trade, San Diego Padres
Ramon Flores 23 LF Trade, Seattle Mariners
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 28 LF, CF, RF Waivers, New York Mets
Keon Broxton 25 CF Trade, Pittsburgh Pirates
Alex Presley 30 CF Minor League Contract With Invitation
Brett Phillips 21 LF, CF, RF Non-Roster Invitation
Eric Young, Jr. 30 LF, 2B Free Agent, With Invitation
The only starting outfielder to return is right fielder, Ryan Braun. However, there is recent talk of moving Braun to LF, his original outfield position with the Brewers. (Update: it is now official. As of 2/21/16, Ryan Braun has officially moved to LF). With the departure of the star center fielder, Carlos Gomez, to the Houston Astros at the trading deadline, the battle for centerfield is wide open. With the recent trade of Khris Davis to the Oakland Athletics, there is a corner outfield spot open. Braun has had back surgery this offseason and has a well-documented thumb problem. Couple that with a $21 million per year, 5 year contract, and that probably precludes him from a trade prior to the 2016 trade deadline. With that in mind, we will name him the left fielder. Here is where it gets very interesting. Domingo Santana was able to log a few games for the Brewers after coming up in the Carlos Gomez trade. He has struggled a bit at the plate in the majors but his numbers in the minor leagues have been very good. Keon Broxton and Rymer Liriano are like bookends, Broxton being a year older than Liriano. Both have spent more than a year at AAA, both exhibit rare speed, and both have the propensity to strike out. Starting in center field? I am giving the nod to Keon Broxton. Broxton is a 25 year old outfielder that came to Milwaukee by the way of the 1B Jason Rogers to the Pirates trade. Broxton is a speed demon that strikes out about 30% of the time but has shown a hint of power with the bat when he connects and has surprisingly high walk totals. If he shows some promise in spring training and makes better contact at the plate, you may see Broxton inserted into the starting lineup as the leadoff hitter. The competition in spring training for who becomes the leadoff hitter should light a fire under 2B Scooter Gennett, who did show an improvement in the last two months of the season. It should also give him the incentive he needs to keep his roster spot. At this point, Broxton’s prototypical size, (6’3”, 195 lb.) and age gives him the inside track over Rymer Liriano and Domingo Santana. Kirk Nieuwenhuis is an offensive liability and will not make the team, in my opinion, now that the Brewers have acquired Liriano. As I stated, I am giving the starting nod to Broxton in centerfield and predicting that the Brewers will start the season with only 4 outfielders on the team. The trading of Khris Davis opened up a corner outfield spot for Domingo Santana, a position that GM Stearns has said on more than one occasion this offseason that best suits Santana. That puts Liriano in the driver’s seat for the reserve outfielder spot. Cecchini, Villar, and Walsh are all able to play some outfield if the need arises. (Note: Ryan Braun is starting LF, Domingo Santana starting RF. Flores has made the team. Reed, Phillips, and Young have been sent to the minor leagues. Broxton, Nieuwenhuis, and Presley have a chance to make the team. Only two of the three will be selected. Liriano took a pitch to the face, needed surgery, and will start the year on the DL.)
Pitchers (Starters) Age Throws Position Reason in Camp
Matt Garza 32 R 1 Starter 2015 Rotation
Wily Peralta 26 R 2 Starter 2015 Rotation
Jimmy Nelson 26 R 3 Starter 2015 Rotation
Taylor Jungmann 26 R 4 Starter 2015 Rotation
Zach Davies 24 R 5 Starter 2015 Rotation
Chase Anderson 28 R Starter Trade, Arizona Diamondbacks
Tyler Cravy 26 R 2015 Call Up
Ariel Pena 26 R 2015 Call Up
Jorge Lopez 22 R 2015 Call Up
Jacob Barnes 25 R Minor League, 40 Man Roster
Hiram Burgos 28 R Non-Roster Invitation
If there is anything the Brewer organization has done right in the last couple of years, it is to either draft or pick up and then develop some intriguing young arms. Mike Fiers, a very good pitcher with a high strike out to walk ratio, was traded, along with Carlos Gomez to the Astros, and promptly threw a no-hitter a few weeks later. Taylor Jungmann was the biggest surprise of 2015, going 9-8 in his rookie season with a 3.77 ERA, 107 K vs 47 BB, on a 94 loss team that struggled offensively. Wily Peralta was hurt a good portion of the season but has ace of the rotation skills as does Jimmy Nelson. RHP Zach Davies was a nice pick-up in the trade that sent Gerardo Parra to the Orioles. He posted similar percentages as Jungmann did once he was called up. The biggest disappointments of the season for the 2015 Brewers were the ineffectiveness of both Matt Garza and the now departed Kyle Lohse. To say they had a bad year is an understatement. Lohse finished the year in the bullpen in long relief. Garza refused to go to the bullpen and eventually was sent home for the remainder of the year. Garza has at least $30 million left on a 2 year plus an option contract which makes moving him next to impossible. Quite frankly, I believe the new general manager will not have the patience for a “high maintenance” player such as Garza and may make him the 5th starter and also use him in long relief situations without a moment’s hesitation. If he begins the 2016 campaign much the same way he did in 2015, he may find himself released and Zach Davies, Tyler Cravy or Ariel Pena, taking his place. It should be noted that Cravy did struggle when called to the majors, going 0-8 in 7 starts. Many believed that Zach Davies had earned the 5th starting pitcher spot in the rotation but with the recent acquisition of Chase Anderson, it is more than likely that Davies will begin the year in AAA ball. My projected starting rotation: 1) Matt Garza, 2) Wily Peralta, 3) Jimmy Nelson, 4) Taylor Jungmann, 5) Chase Anderson. Ariel Pena is out of minor league options and is too good to allow him to walk. He will make the roster as a relief pitcher. (Note: The starting rotation is set. 1)Peralta, 2) Nelson, 3) Garza, 4) Jungmann, and 5) Anderson.)
Closers / Set-Up Pitchers Age Throws Reason In Camp
Jeremy Jeffress 28 R 2015 Bullpen
Will Smith 26 L 2015 Bullpen
Jeremy Jeffress was a bright spot in what was otherwise a dismal year for the Brewer faithful. Jeffress was 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA, 67 K, 22 BB, in 68 innings. He has a nice fastball in the mid to upper 90’s and will probably get his share of situational save opportunities now that closer Francisco Rodriguez has been shipped to the Detroit Tigers. As good as Jeffress was, Will Smith was even better. Smith was 7-2 with a 2.70 ERA, 91 K, 24 BB, in just over 63 innings. There have been many teams that have inquired about the 26 year old left hander, but as of now, he remains a Brewer. If Milwaukee can somehow get to the 8th inning with a lead, they should be in excellent shape. (Note: Smith tore ligaments in his knee and will start the year on the DL.)
Relief Pitchers Age Throws Reason in Camp
Tyler Thornberg 27 RH 2015 Bullpen
David Goforth 27 RH 2015 Bullpen
Michael Blazek 26 RH 2015 Bullpen
Corey Knebel 24 RH 2015 Bullpen
Zack Jones 25 RH Rule 5, Minnesota Twins
Pat Misch 34 LH Free Agent, Minor League
Cesar Jimenez 31 LH Minor League Contract W/ Invitation
Chris Capuano 37 LH Minor League Contract W/ Invitation
Josh Hader 21 LH Non-Roster Invitation
Junior Guerra 31 RH Waivers, Chicago White Sox
Adrian Houser 22 RH Trade, Houston Astros
Damien Magnifico 24 RH Minor League, 40 Man Roster
Yhonathan Barrios 24 RH Trade, Pittsburgh Pirates (P, 3B, SS)
Daniel Tillman 26 RH Minor League Contract W/ Invitation
Blaine Boyer 34 RH Minor League Contract W/ Invitation
Ariel Pena 26 RH 2015 Call Up (OOO)
Sean Nolin 26 LH Waivers, Oakland Athletics (OOO)
Had the Brewer starting pitching been a bit better, namely Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, and the offense not have been so anemic aside from Adam Lind and Ryan Braun, the Brewer bullpen would have gotten more recognition. In fact, the Brewer bullpen was actually their strength. Consider these numbers: Thornberg, 3.67 ERA, 34 innings, 34 K, 12 BB. Goforth, 1-0, 24 innings, 24 K, 8 BB. Blazek, 5-3, 2.43 ERA. Knebel, 3.22 ERA, 50 innings, 58 K, 17 BB. The glaring weakness on this team is the lack of quality left handed pitchers in the starting rotation and out of the bullpen. Intriguing signings are Pat Misch, Cesar Jimenez, Sean Nolin, and Chris Capuano, only because they are the only left handers in camp other than reliever Will Smith and 21 year old prospect, Josh Hader. Misch last pitched in the majors in 2011 and finished the 2015 season playing for the Lamigo Monkeys in Taiwan. In his last game with the Monkeys, he did throw a no-hitter in picking up three wins in the Taiwan Series. Cesar Jimenez finished the year with the Brewers and did a decent job before becoming a free agent. Chris Capuano, a former Brewer, got pounded last year while with the New York Yankees. I would be surprised if more than one of the three made the 25 man roster. Based on past performances, if a left hand reliever other than Smith makes the team, the nod would have to go to Nolin. The Brewer bullpen has been one of Milwaukee’s best kept secrets and have the above average arms to carry the team. It is up to the offense and the starting pitching to get the game to the 6th inning and this bullpen is more than capable of notching the W. (Note: Thornberg, Blazek, Knebel, Capuano, Boyer, and Nolin have made the team. Pena is expected to be the last pitcher named to the squad, making a total of 12 pitchers on the 25 man roster. Jones and Barrios will start the season on the DL. The rest have been released or sent to the minor leagues.) (Note: RHP Carlos Torres was signed on 4/1/16, Corey Knebel was placed on the IR.)
Mark Attanasio, the principal owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, David Stearns, the new general manager, and manager, Craig Counsell, have not minced words in informing the fan base of their intentions and the direction they are taking with the 2016 Brewers. The fans have prepared themselves for a 100 loss season. However, AS THE ROSTER CURRENTLY STANDS, I am predicting that even the casual fan will have reason to cheer this upcoming season. The diehard fan can excite themselves with trades, acquiring prospects, and developing prospects and can see beyond a won-loss record. I believe David Stearns has been shrewd in putting this year’s team together and if a couple of his gambles pay off, there will be enough “Joy in Mudville.” If the five Brewer starters can get to the 5th inning in decent shape, I am predicting close to a .500 record for Milwaukee. (That should raise some eyebrows!) A .500 record won’t win the National League Central Division but it would make the entire Brewer organization and their fans more comfortable with the path the owner and the general manager have taken. It also means that the Brewers should be real contenders in 2017, provided they can find a leadoff hitter and the “next generation” catcher. That is how much faith I have in the Brewer pitching as a whole. I say this, IF, and that is a big if, the Brewers will approach .500 if Matt Garza isn’t the liability he was last year, the Brewers don’t lose 17 games in the month of April, and the Brewer starting lineup hits at least their career averages. The 2016 Brewers have a chance to be a success in terms of moving in the right direction to ultimately a competitive team in the toughest division in baseball and even in financial terms considering the possible savings in salary during the rebuilding process. It has been reported that despite the fact that this is expected to be a “down” year, ticket sales are only off 7%. Give the faithful a ray of hope and they will still be the 2nd or 3rd most attended home games in the division, the fans will still buy the food and the merchandise, and Miller Park and its tailgating experience will still be one of the most talked about venues in all of baseball. After all, it’s still the off-season and EVERYONE is still a contender! Climb in, we are going back…. to the future! Go Brewers!
81-81, 4th in the division, behind 1) Chicago Cubs, 2) St. Louis Cardinals, 3) Pittsburgh Pirates. Cincinnati Reds in the cellar.
The Brewers will be open to trading RF Ryan Braun and C Jonathan Lucroy if the offer is to David Stearns’ liking. Stearns will continually be looking to add quality left handed pitching to the 25 man roster and to the minor league system. Milwaukee is also in need of quality catching prospects in the minor leagues.
PROJECTED 25 MAN ROSTER – 2016
- 2B Scooter Gennett
- C Jonathan Lucroy
- LF Ryan Braun
- RF Domingo Santana
- 1B Chris Carter
- CF Keon Broxton
- 3B Aaron Hill
- SS Jonathan Villar
- SP Wily Peralta
P1 Wily Peralta
P2 Jimmy Nelson
P3 Matt Garza
P4 Taylor Jungmann
P5 Chase Anderson
RH Jeremy Jeffers
RH Carlos Torres
RH Michael Blazek
RH Tyler Thornberg
RH Ariel Pena
LH Sean Nolin
LH Chris Capuano
C Martin Maldonado
OF Kirk Nieuwenhaus
OF Ramon Flores
IF Colin Walsh
IF Yadiel Rivera