Editor’s note: Baseball is back and Yahoo Sports is previewing all 30 teams over the next month. This year’s previews will focus on fantasy and reality, as our MLB news staff and our fantasy baseball crew come together to assess each team before opening day. Next up, the Milwaukee Brewers.
In case you didn’t pay attention to baseball in 2018, you might have missed this: The Milwaukee Brewers are good. Really good, in fact. Like, made-it-to-the-NLCS-and-pushed-the-Dodgers-to-seven-games good.
And the Brewers’ offseason moves have them looking even better.
The Brewers won the NL Central last year with their potent bullpen and an MVP performance from Christian Yelich. After adding Yasmani Grandal as their new catcher and re-signing Mike Moustakas and moving him to second base, the Brewers’ lineup is stacked.
The only question mark is the starting pitching, where there’s no eye-popping ace. However, it’s mostly the same group that got it done last year, so doubting the Brewers at this point might be futile. The bullpen — led by the versatile Josh Hader and closer Corey Knebel — can more than pick up the slack.
The Brewers are deep, versatile and dangerous, whether we’re talking about reality or fantasy. And they might just be the best team in the NL Central.
Brewers’ offseason grade
The Brewers made upgrades, some unexpected. They weren’t, for example, the team you expected to sign Grandal. But they also didn’t do a ton to upgrade their starting pitching, which seems to be their only weakness. As we said above, they have proven they can win with what they have, but it still would have been a way to improve the team’s path to victory in a tough NL.
There have been rumors lately that they’re interested in signing Craig Kimbrel, which could make that daunting bullpen even better and perhaps even lessen the importance of their starters, so watch for that.
Our grade: C+ — But a Kimbrel signing would definitely change that. - Mike Oz
Brewers’ projected lineup and pitching staff
Who will be Milwaukee’s best fantasy buy?
The Brewers have productive, proven vets at nearly every position, so we generally have a pretty decent idea of the appropriate fantasy price for each player. Jesús Aguilar may have been a revelation last year, but he won’t surprise anyone in 2019. Still, this squad offers a few well-priced fantasy commodities. It’s tough not to love catcher Yasmani Grandal at his current Yahoo ADP (144.4). Grandal is going 90 picks later than J.T. Realmuto and 85 picks later than Gary Sánchez, but his end-of-season value could easily top either backstop. Let’s remember that he’s hit at least 22 homers in each of the last three seasons and he’s moving to a friendlier hitting/power environment. - Andy Behrens
What is Milwaukee’s biggest fantasy question?
Again, we don’t have many burning questions with this collection of reliable veterans. It’s fair to wonder, however, if Christian Yelich can possibly approach last season’s value. We’re drafting the reigning MVP in the middle of the first round (ADP 8.3), almost as if another 36 homer-110 RBIs-118 run-22 steals-.326 campaign is guaranteed. And maybe it is. There’s little doubt that Yelich is going to rake; he’s likely to again approach 100 runs and RBIs, assuming good health. But he’s always been a line-drive/ground-ball hitter and we can’t reasonably expect him to produce another HR/FB rate like last year’s (35.0). Most projection systems have him slipping back into the mid-20s in home runs. Hopefully fantasy owners will be content if he simply delivers a 100-25-100-18-.310 sort of season.
We should probably also question Aguilar’s potential in 2019, since he was so ordinary in the second-half last year (11 HR, .245/.324/.436). Fantasy owners aren’t paying a silly price for his services, however (ADP 82.0). It’s also worth noting that Aguilar always hit for power in the minors, including a 30-homer season at Triple-A in 2016. He may not match last season’s value, but he’ll remain a power asset. -Andy Behrens
Brewers’ prospect to watch
Every prospect analyst agrees that second baseman Keston Hiura can hit. The only question is how soon will be allowed to show off those skills in the majors? He’s the type of hitter who could move quickly, so a jump straight from Double-A wouldn’t be all that surprising. If the Mike Moustakas experiment at second doesn’t work out, the Brewers already have a strong replacement waiting in the wings. - Chris Cwik
Things that MUST go right for Milwaukee
1. Rotation comes together: The Brewers pitching staff finished top five (3.73 ERA) last season despite not having a true ace. The setup looks similar entering 2019, meaning Counsell and company will need to piece things together effectively. On the plus side, they should have enough depth to field a competitive rotation. Despite losing Wade Miley in free agency, the Brewers have Jhoulys Chacín, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Junior Guerra, and a a returning Jimmy Nelson in the mix. On the down side, that group doesn't figure to chew up innings. They better, or the bullpen will be taxed again.
2. Mike Moustakas fits in at second: To make room for Moustakas' return, the Brewers will shift him to second base full time in 2019. It's a big change for a 30-year-old who's played almost exclusively at third base during his professional career. It's a defensive sacrifice that Milwaukee is willing to make because of Moustakas' offensive production, and one they might be able to mask some by using shifts and hopefully striking out a lot of batters. At least, they better hope so.
3. Ryan Braun is productive: Heading into his age-35 season, it's clear Braun's best years are behind him. Last season, he slashed .254/.313/.469 in 447 plate appearances with 20 homers, 25 doubles, 64 RBIs and 59 runs scored. Honestly, those aren't bad numbers, but they might be the baseline for what Milwaukee will need from him to keep the offense fully functional. If Braun can't reach those marks, they might have to weaken their bench by playing Eric Thames and Hernán Pérez more in his place. - Mark Townsend
If this team had a walk-up song, what would it be?
The biggest thing for the Brewers this year is just keeping that same energy from 2018 that got them to the NLCS. Yelich, Cain, the bullpen, Jesus Aguilar — if they can all be like their 2018 selves, the Brewers will be good.
As Three 6 Mafia would tell you, the Brewers just need to “Stay Fly.” - Mike Oz