The Milwaukee Brewers finished a distant second place in the NL Central in 2022. They were a full seven games back of the St. Louis Cardinals and missed out on the playoffs altogether.
One of the reasons for that was the Josh Hader trade mid-season, but there were several other flaws on this team prior to the Hader trade. After a hot start in April and May, the Brewers were below .500 combined in June and July, and were so again in August and September.
The offense lacked the clutch, situational hitting it needed and was overly reliant on the home run ball. The rotation was ravaged by injuries and there wasn't enough adequate depth to fill in. The bullpen turned into a blown save machine in the second half.
We're two months into the offseason now and there's just about six weeks until pitchers and catchers report for spring training.
The big step the Brewers need to make is to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals for the top spot in the NL Central. There's still plenty of offseason left, but let's take a progress report on how the Brewers have done this offseason and if they've done enough to this point to surpass the Cardinals in the NL Central.
Have the Milwaukee Brewers done enough this offseason to overtake the St. Louis Cardinals as favorites for the NL Central in 2023?
Let's take a look at these two squads position-by-position.
Both teams have made changes at catcher this offseason and both acquired a member of the Contreras family. The Cardinals signed Willson Contreras to a 5 year contract in free agency while the Brewers acquired younger brother William Contreras in a trade with the Braves and have him under team control for the next 5 years.
Which Contreras brother is better? Well, let's ask Willson.
"“The way he played in the minors was better than I did,” Willson said during a conversation with NBC Sports Chicago before Saturday’s game against the Cardinals. “The way that he manages himself with his emotions is better than I do, and that’s something that’s going to help him a lot. “That’s why I think he’s going to be better than I am.”"- Willson Contreras
Even Willson Contreras admits William is better, or at least is going to be better. Over the next five years, we'll likely see that come to fruition. Advantage at catcher goes to the Brewers.
Rowdy Tellez is coming off a 35 homer campaign, but Paul Goldschmidt is the reigning NL MVP. Advantage Cardinals.
With Kolten Wong now in Seattle, the Brewers are likely to go with a mix of rookie Brice Turang, Luis Urias, and light-hitting acquisitions Abraham Toro and Owen Miller at second base in 2023. Turang could get the bulk of the playing time and be solid, but it's an unknown. The Cardinals have Brendan Donovan, who just finished 3rd in NL Rookie of the Year voting with a near-.400 OBP. Advantage Cardinals.
Willy Adames just slugged a career high in home runs and is a Top 10 shortstop in the game. The Cardinals have Tommy Edman, who hits for a solid average and steals a good amount of bases, but the Cardinals were in the market for shortstop upgrades this winter and failed to land any of the big ones. Advantage Brewers.
The Brewers have Luis Urias and some more depth options in Toro and Miller, but the position hasn't improved. It certainly hasn't improved over Nolan Arenado, whom the Cardinals have the hot corner. Advantage Cardinals.
The Cardinals have a trio of Tyler O'Neill, Lars Nootbaar, and Dylan Carlson in the outfield, none of whom hit above .236 last season. The Brewers still have Christian Yelich in left field, and even though he's not in MVP form, he's put up better numbers than the Cardinals outfield has. It's a youth movement in the rest of the outfield for Milwaukee with Garrett Mitchell slated to get time and fellow prospects Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer not too far behind. Advantage Brewers.
Albert Pujols retired, leaving the DH duties in St. Louis now to Juan Yepez, who was a well touted prospect but hasn't fully put it together in the big leagues yet. The Brewers, meanwhile, have Jesse Winker as the everyday DH. He's coming off a poor season in Seattle but otherwise raked when he was with the Reds. Now healthy and back in the NL Central, Winker should see a rebound season in 2022. Advantage Brewers.
41 year old Adam Wainwright is going to run out of gas eventually, right? The rest of the Cardinals group includes Miles Mikolas, Jordan Montgomery, Jack Flaherty, and Steven Matz. Flaherty has dealt with injuries and hasn't returned to ace form.
I'd take the Brewers top guys of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Eric Lauer over that group any day. The Brewers still could use a little more depth behind them. Janson Junk will help in that regard, but they could use one more depth piece. Advantage Brewers.
The Brewers have retooled their bullpen this offseason, acquiring several options including Rule 5 pick Gus Varland, Joel Payamps, Javy Guerra, Elvis Peguero, Tyson Miller, Cam Robinson, and Abner Uribe. Most are middle relief help while the back end of the bullpen is still led by Devin Williams and Matt Bush.
The Cardinals have a strong bullpen, led by Ryan Helsley, Giovanny Gallegos, and Jordan Hicks. Williams and Helsley are both elite closers while Gallegos and Bush are similar in production as setup men. The Cardinals haven't made much in the way of additions outside of Rule 5 pick WIlking Rodriguez. The rest of their middle relief options are all coming off seasons with 4.00+ ERAs. I like the Brewers depth in the bullpen and their middle relief options a bit more. Advantage Brewers.
Overall, six position groups have the advantage going toward the Brewers while three of them go to the Cardinals. But some of the advantages for the Cardinals, such as first base and third base, are by a large margin and make up for the difference in some of the other categories. The areas the Brewers have advantages are a much slimmer margin.
The Brewers have upgraded at catcher and likely have upgraded at DH. They've downgraded at second base and there are still some question marks about the outfield and how they will produce in 2023.
Even with some of the positional advantages, I don't feel comfortable fully declaring the Brewers have done enough to pass the Cardinals in the standings. I'd like to see an upgrade at third base to at least shorten that margin of difference. I'd also like to see a bit more rotation depth and a quality setup option in the bullpen.
The Cardinals haven't done much this offseason outside of the Willson Contreras signing. The Brewers answered that move at catcher and have made other moves to help the team. Do those moves do enough to move the needle past the Cardinals? I don't think so quite yet, but with another addition to the starting lineup and some more pitching depth, I think they get there.