Brewers: Does Signing Bradley Jr. Move the Needle to NL Central Favorites?
By John Egan
After a pretty quiet off-season for most of the National League Central, The Brewers might now have edged past the St. Louis Cardinals as favorites for the division. You can thank signing Jackie Bradley Jr. for that.
Milwaukee signed the former Boston Red Sox outfielder to a two-year, $24MM contract with an opt-out after the first year. He’ll make $13MM of that in 2021.
David Stearns and the Brewers possibly added the best two combined free agent defenders of any team. Just over a month ago, Milwaukee was able to grab Kolten Wong from the St. Louis Cardinals. They signed him to a two-year deal with a third year club option. He will get $18MM guaranteed.
Milwaukee has also had other signings, but their two biggest names might just help them clinch the division.
By adding players like Wong and Bradley Jr, the Milwaukee Brewers now can take advantage of having an improved defensive ball club.
With Wong coming aboard and taking over as the primary second baseman, you now have a much better middle infield. Keston Hiura, who will also play second some games, has been moved to first base. His only downside has been his fielding issues. With that removed, you get to keep his bat in the everyday lineup and your defense is better.
Pitchers like Adrian Houser and Brett Anderson thrive off ground balls. Having Wong, Orlando Arcia and Luis Urias up the middle makes your team better. That adds wins to your season. Wong has won a Gold Glove the last two seasons.
It also helps those pitchers. That means more outs, less hits and more innings from your starters. That puts less pressure on your bullpen, and gives them a better chance to stay healthy and fresh for down the stretch.
In essence, the Brewers replaced Ben Gamel and Eric Sogard/Brock Holt with Wong and Bradley. That is a definite upgrade from last season. You also have this stat:
Once again, the Brewers will have depth and lots of money invested in the outfield position. It should pay off again like the last few years.
Some were probably scratching their heads on the Bradley Jr. signing, but people shouldn’t be too surprised. The Brewers have had “too much” outfield depth since 2018. So far, it’s worked in their favor.
Last year, people were surprised they signed Avisail Garcia to a $10MM a year deal. It turned out they really needed him. After Lorenzo Cain opted out and Ryan Braun had another string of minor injuries, the Brewers needed all the outfielders they could get. Garcia basically became the starting centerfielder after a week into the season and players like Ben Gamel, Mark Mathias, and Tyrone Taylor all had to step up during the 2020 season.
It is true that the Brewers have a lot of money and about half their team salary invested in four outfielders? Yes. But depth is always good. It came out that Lorenzo Cain has a minor injury and might not see a lot of Spring Training games.
Adding someone like Bradley Jr. also elevates your overall roster depth. He is a step above a player like Billy McKinney and Derek Fisher. Those aren’t bad players, but you now have any extra defensive piece and hitter that wasn’t there.
If Taylor keeps up his hot Spring Training, one of those players will probably not make the team because they do not have any minor league options. Taylor still does, so don’t be surprised if Fisher gets a chance to start, with Taylor waiting if the batting or fielding isn’t there.
Your top four outfielders are now Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Avisail Garcia and Jackie Bradley Jr. It’s hard to find another team in the NL Central that can currently compete with that. The Chicago Cubs might be close with Joc Pederson, Ian Happ, and Jason Heyward, but you probably still have to give the defensive edge and offensive power to the Brewers. Pederson will probably be a platoon player, too.
With another year of experience for their young pitching staff and key signings, the Brewers can now claim they are favorites in the NL Central.
The Brewers didn’t need to sign a high-priced starting pitcher to be competitive this year. Brett Anderson is a perfect and low-cost signing with their improved defense on the field. You still have Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes with years of control. There is hope that Josh Lindblom and Houser can have bounce-back years.
A fifth or six starter should be able to emerge from Freddy Peralta, Eric Lauer, Brent Suter or Jordan Zimmermann if needed. You can still add an arm at the trade deadline, too.
The Brewers also have possibly the best bullpen in the Major Leagues. Teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox have a great group of players, but it’s hard to beat Devin Williams and Josh Hader. If Brad Boxberger can also make the team and pitch solid, that means Milwaukee has three legit closers on their team.
You have power hitters in Yelich, Hiura, Garcia, Daniel Vogelbach and Travis Shaw. You have players that can get on base like Wong, Arcia, Urias and Cain. Omar Narvaez and Manny Pina are both reliable catchers and can also handle a bat.
The St. Louis Cardinals will be hard to beat and the Cubs are always competitive. It will be a fight like the last three seasons. Will they have to beat Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt a whole bunch with a solid pitching staff behind them? You betcha.
This Milwaukee Brewers team is dangerous, though. They should score plenty of runs, and now have a much better team on the field to prevent runs if they can’t pile up the runs every game. The team spent the money where they wanted to, have lots of youth to help carry them and still have a certain player named Christian Yelich to lead them to another division title.
The signings the past month has definitely moved the needle for Milwaukee.