While the rest of baseball continues to spend the winter chilling, the Milwaukee Brewers have turned up.
The Brew Crew made waves earlier in the week with reports they were linked to Yu Darvish and then Christian Yelich. Sure enough, the Yelich rumor was true and Milwaukee acquired the cost-controlled star outfielder Thursday night.
In a corresponding move, the Brewers also inked Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million deal.
It had some Cubs fans in a tizzy, and for good reason. Yelich may well be on the verge of superstardom and is owed only $58 million over the next five seasons if the Brewers pick up his 2022 team option.
That's a heck of a team-friendly contract for a small-market organization — getting five years of a guy's prime for well-under-market value.
Cain is also a very good player, but will make $22 million more than Yelich in the same five-year span, though he'll be ages 32-36 for that contract and has seen his defensive value in center field decline for four straight seasons.
It's adding two very good hitters to a lineup that already woke up Thursday morning as one of the best in baseball.
Here's what the Brewers' Opening Day lineup could look like (h/t Roster Resource):
There's no question the job of the Cubs' pitching staff has gotten harder in 2018 with those lineup additions, but this isn't the same kind of ground-shaking series of moves as when the St. Louis Cardinals cleared room in their outfield for Marcell Ozuna.
The Brewers should be a really good team in 2018, but here's why the flurry of moves shouldn't make the Cubs shake in their boots just yet:
That's the Brewers' projected starting rotation for Opening Day.
Right-hander Jimmy Nelson may be able to join those ranks given that he's reportedly ahead of schedule in his recovery from a shoulder injury. That would be a game-changer, but shoulder injuries are notoriously unstable and nobody knows how many starts Nelson could be penciled in for.
That rotation doesn't exactly scream out "October-worthy."
Zach Davies is a good starter — think a poor man's Kyle Hendricks — and Chase Anderson emerged in 2017 as the ace of the Milwaukee staff with a breakout season.
But beyond that, it's iffy. Junior Guerra regressed badly last season after a breakthrough in 2016; Yovani Gallardo has a 5.57 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over the last two seasons; and Jhoulys Chacin's track record is marred by inconsistency and injury.
Brent Suter is kind of the Milwaukee version of Mike Montgomery, so Suter very well could become a big part of the Brewers rotation if needed, but still, starting pitching is a clear weak spot. Josh Hader and Brandon Woodruff were two of the top pitching prospects in baseball before 2017, so they could be a factor as well.
There are so many question marks and very little in terms of track record for any of the options the Brewers have to start every fifth day.
The bullpen has one of the elite arms in the game at the back end (Corey Knebel), but the rest of the group features a young/inexperienced core that has added only journeyman Boone Logan this winter.
Milwaukee made it work and won 86 games with largely the same pitching staff in 2017, but they got career years out of all of their major guys and will need to do so again if they're gonna hang with the Cubs and Cardinals in the divison.
Yet the Brewers haven't done much to address that clear weakness. Chacin, Gallardo and Logan don't really qualify as making waves to improve in that regard.
The offense was already dynamic in 2017. Adding Yelich helps and Cain is a very good player, but the Brewers already had two very good outfielders — Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana — before Thursday's moves. Now, one of those guys is probably out, and that's likely Santana given Braun is owed at least $60 million more over the next three seasons.
As mentioned earlier, Cain's skills are already in decline and $80 million is a lot to commit to what was already an area of strength on the Brewers' roster when that money could've been better spent on adding an arm like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb.
Even if the Brewers make a trade for a starting pitcher with Santana as the headliner of the return package, it's a puzzling decision for a small-market team. Why pay an aging veteran (Cain) $16 million/season and then deal away an up-and-coming 25-year-old who is very cheap for the next four seasons and coming off a 30-homer, .875-OPS season?
Theo Epstein and the Cubs front office talk constantly about trying to mitigate risk and spend each offseason aiming to shore up weaknesses and add depth to combat the war of attrition that strikes down a team's pitching staff each year. The Brewers don't have that same approach here, at least not yet. (There are still plenty of moves the Brewers can make, so this winter's chess match is far from over.)
The Brewers aren't going anywhere anytime soon — these moves assured that — but they're still another arm or two away from being a true threat that will make Cubs fans wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
But even if Milwaukee does get to that point, that's a great thing for the Cubs in general. Last September was a whole lot of (stressful) fun for fans as the Cubs had a week straight of games against the Brewers and Cardinals to decide the fate of the NL Central.
Baseball is better when the Cubs are challenged in their own division as opposed to just rolling over the rest of the NL Central and locking a playoff spot up in the first week of September.
*pauses, thinks for a moment*
*realizes the year the Cubs won the World Series, they rolled over the division and locked up a playoff spot in the first week of September*
*realizes also that the Cubs were exhausted and drained by the time they even reached the playoffs in 2017, in part because of that stressful week against the Brewers and Cardinals*
On second thought, maybe Cubs fans should panic...
But hey, the silver lining to this whole Yelich move is — at least the Cubs could jump out to a 4-0 start to the 2018 regular season by opening the year in Miami.