The Milwaukee Brewers had a somewhat controversial offseason, according to most Brewers fans, since the team didn’t sign a marquee free agent.
The free agent class this past winter boasted some great starting pitchers, such as Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The Brewers instead opted for Josh Lindblom and Brett Anderson. Free agency also had star third basemen like Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon, and Mike Moustakas. The Brewers instead signed Eric Sogard, Jedd Gyorko, and Brock Holt.
GM David Stearns once again opted for depth over star power, avoiding the big, long-term contracts for a group of one year deals with club options for a second year. In the future, this will help keep as much money available for a Christian Yelich extension and building the rest of team to make it competitive year after year in the future by not having any albatross contracts.
In the short-term, however, the Brewers are depending on these veterans that have signed one year deals, most of them coming off of bad/injury plagued seasons, to come in and produce at a high level. There’s some level of risk in that strategy, with a potentially lower team ceiling than if they had signed some of the higher profile players. But they don’t run the risk of those high profile players not playing up to their contracts towards the end of the deal.
That’s the risk/reward that Stearns has to grapple with every offseason. Last year, it worked out when Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas were both willing to sign one year contracts. This year, teams were willing to give both of them four year contracts, and the Brewers were not.
This year, there were no players the caliber of Grandal or Moustakas that were willing to take one year deals in Milwaukee. So they ended up getting guys like Justin Smoak, Eric Sogard, Brett Anderson, Jedd Gyorko, and most recently Brock Holt. While still a solid group of guys, they don’t individually put up the more eye-popping numbers of Grandal and Moustakas.
But star power and high profile players still do make a difference. As great as Christian Yelich is, he can’t do everything by himself. There needs to be at least one more player that can step up and provide a lot of production. Right now, that player looks like Keston Hiura.
Keston Hiura Will Make Or Break The Season
The Milwaukee Brewers are depending on Keston Hiura this year. They are depending on him to continue to improve as a big leaguer, avoid a sophomore slump, and protect Yelich in the lineup. If he can’t do that, it’s hard to see this team going anywhere in October. Many already have a tough time seeing the Brewers getting to October to begin with.
In his rookie season, Hiura hit .303/.368/.570 with 19 homers and 49 RBIs in 314 at-bats. Hiura’s power showed tremendous improvement in 2019 and he’s turning into more than just a guy with a high batting average. If he can keep up that hitting ability while also turning in above average power numbers, Hiura will become a star in this league for years to come.
With established hitters like Grandal and Moustakas now no longer in Milwaukee, someone else is going to have to protect Yelich in the order. Ryan Braun has the name power, but he’s not what he once was. Justin Smoak and Avisail Garcia are solid, but trusting them to protect Yelich is not ideal. Hiura is the best hitter the Brewers have to offer behind Yelich, and they cannot afford for him to have a sophomore slump.
If Hiura has an extended slump, opposing pitchers can simply pitch around Yelich, and then he’s no longer as impactful at the plate. Then if Yelich is no longer as impactful at the plate, this whole offense basically falls apart.
The 2020 season rests on the young shoulders of Keston Hiura. If he has a good season, then the Brewers are almost assured of making the postseason, and from there can make a run if they get hot at the right time. If he has a bad season, the offense will not be able to produce enough to compete for a division title or a wild card spot.
The Brewers are smack in the middle of their contention window. Anything other than a winning season will feel like a wasted opportunity, and the Brewers have placed a lot of faith in the hands of 23-year old Keston Hiura.
Only time will tell if the decisions the Brewers made this past offseason paid off. Based on the moves they made, Hiura will be more important to the team than ever before.