Last winter, the Milwaukee Brewers made two very big offseason additions – signing Lorenzo Cain to an especially-massive-for-Milwaukee five-year, $80M contract, and trading some decent prospects to the Marlins for Christian Yelich.
Each move paid off … enormously. Cain had his best offensive season since 2015 and his second best year overall (5.7 WAR), and Yelich is going to win the NL MVP award.
With that said, there were MANY folks out there – including yours truly – who believed those moves were very good, but also scoffed at how the Brewers seemed to stop just short of a perfect offseason. Their lack of starting pitching, in particular, was striking. I still think they probably could have done more, but hindsight is 20-20, and, as it turns out, they didn’t need to do more.
Not only did the Brewers manage to tie the Cubs on the final day of the season, they beat the reigning NL Central champs in Game 163, dominated the Rockies in the NLDS, and are now just four wins away from the World Series.
All of that is probably enough to say they had a good offseason, but here’s one more feather in their cap, because why not just drink it all the horror today:
— Travis Sawchik (@Travis_Sawchik) October 12, 2018
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Brewers netted more additional wins above replacement from 2017 to 2018 than any other team in baseball, and by a substantial margin. Adding two guys (Yelich and Cain) who combined for 13.3 WAR certainly helps, but even their more marginal moves seem to have paid off. For example, Wade Miley and Jhoulys Chacin were fantastic additions to a rotation that needed them desperately.
Putting this simply: the Brewers were arguably the most improved team one year to the next, and their winter wheeling and dealing has to be credited for that.
HOWEVA, I will point out one issue with bowing down before the great and mighty Brewers for their improvements: it certainly helps in this kind of calculation when you have more room to improve, doesn’t it? Without a ton of realistic room to improve – if you, for example, had a 92-win team in 2017, as opposed to an 86-win team – it’s pretty difficult to do it. That isn’t to take away from the Brewers ability to execute well – they did that, clearly – but I think you have to keep this context in mind, given how differently each team in MLB was constructed at the time the offseason began.
In any case, it’s difficult not to applaud the Brewers efforts. They saw a window, spent aggressively (in terms of dollars and player-assets), and executed perfectly. Kudos to them. Now I hope it all comes back to bite them next summer.