The Milwaukee Brewers needed a lot to break their way in free agency this winter for them to be truly competitive for a title next season. Though much time remains for them to improve, and there’s surely more moves to be made, things haven’t played out in their favor so far.
It’s been a bit of an odd offseason so far for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Though they’ve signed a quite a few free agents to this point, none of their signings have been players who were considered the creme of the crop out of those who were available on the open market this winter. Their signings have consisted of low cost buys, with one decent sized contract in Avisail Garcia.
A few big names, such as Josh Donaldson, remain available, but there have been virtually no links between Milwaukee and the top players left of market either. Unless something is quietly in the works (which very well could be the case given David Stearns’ track record), it does not appear as if the Brewers will end up with any of the elite free agents.
Coming into the off-season, I argued that it was imperative for Milwaukee to be aggressive spenders in free agency if they wanted to position themselves as a serious contender for a World Series next season. With their options being limited on the trade market due to their weak farm system, I believed their best (and potentially only) path to getting significantly better was to land a major free agent. Unfortunately, it does not look like that will happen for them.
With teams spending incredible sums of money on players, the market has played out in an extremely unfavorable way for the Brewers.
A Change In The Free Agent Market
Milwaukee benefited from each of the past two off-seasons where teams, especially big market teams concerned about the luxury tax, were much more reserved in free agency than normal. It’s a big part of the reason why they were able to bring in impact talents like Lorenzo Cain and Yasmani Grandal, or re-sign Mike Moustakas last offseason on a very favorable one year deal. Those market forces were no longer in play this winter.
This free agency class, to date, has seen some eye-watering contracts given out. The top three free agents, in Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole, and Anthony Rendon landed multi-year contracts that will see them paid nearly $35 million per year. Zack Wheeler landed a contract that will see him paid about $24 million per year. Even mid-tier guys, like Madison Bumgarner and Mike Moustakas have landed multi-year deals that will see them paid significantly more money than they would have gotten on the market 12 months ago. Those are contracts that, in years and money, may have been too big of a risk for a team with Milwaukee’s limited means to incur.
Not taking a shot at one of those guys, however, could be devastating for the Brewers chances to compete for a title in the coming years. Even if there is considerable risk involved with those kind of contracts, Milwaukee would have been a much better team in the short-term with someone like Yasmani Grandal or Zack Wheeler in the fold. Both are high-level players that are capable of pushing a team to the next level.
Milwaukee could have also afforded, financially, to take a major shot at someone given their long-term payroll situation. The Brewers have virtually no money committed to anyone beyond 2022. Even if a worst case scenario happened with a major free agent signing, especially at the back-end of those contracts, it wouldn’t necessarily be something that would inhibit their ability to stay competitive in a major way. They still have more than enough long-term payroll space with to cope with any potential downside to those contracts.
Short Term vs. Long Term Success
With those impact talents going elsewhere, and their options being extremely limited to land those kinds of players in other ways, Milwaukee is in a worse position today than they would have been had they signed one of those players. Avoiding those contracts could prove prudent in the long run, but not landing a major free agent will be harmful to their chances of contending right now.
The Brewers can still competitive for the playoffs next season with the moves they’ve made so far. Garcia could be excellent signing. Josh Lindblom could be a solid arm. Brett Anderson could be serviceable enough as a back-end starter. However, they’ll need a lot of things to break in their favor if they’re going to do more than contend for a wild card spot given their current roster.
Things should get better before the winter is over, too. Given their payroll space, they could afford to make some trades involving big money players. They could also pull off a surprise signing or two, or pull off a sneaky trade for a controllable talent. Those moves could change the perception of what this team is capable of.
That said, the Brewers have a favorable three window left before Christian Yelich is eligible for free agency. They need to make the most of that. That means they must be willing to spend on this team.
We’ll see what their front office can pull off in the weeks ahead. Let’s just hope their lack of spending to date doesn’t come back to haunt them.