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MLB Team Roundup: Milwaukee Brewers

Corbin Burnes

Corbin Burnes

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

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Milwaukee Brewers

2022 Record: 86-76
Second Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 3.83 (12th in MLB)
Team OPS: .724 (10th in MLB)

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Aiming to claim back-to-back division titles for the first time since they joined the National League in the ‘90s, the Brewers were three games up on the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central standings when the 2022 trade deadline arrived on August 2. And then, well … let’s get to that later. Corbin Burnes, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, rolled to a 2.94 ERA in 202 innings and paced all NL pitchers in strikeouts with 243. Brandon Woodruff experienced some ups and downs but finished top-25 among all MLB starters in ERA (3.05) and delivered the highest K/9 (11.2) of his career. Eric Lauer, who was especially sharp in April and May, registered an overall 3.69 ERA across 29 starts. Devin Williams was one of the most reliable relievers in the majors, working to a 1.93 ERA with 26 holds and 15 saves. The gift that keeps on giving as a May 2021 acquisition from the Rays, Willy Adames popped 31 home runs alongside a team-leading 98 RBI. Hunter Renfroe, the only Brewers regular to post an OPS north of .800, finished one bomb shy of a second straight 30-homer campaign. Rowdy Tellez slugged a career-high and team-high 35 big flies. Tyrone Taylor had promising offensive stretches, as did Kolten Wong, and Garrett Mitchell put up a .311/.373/.459 slash line over his first 68 plate appearances at the major league level..

WHAT WENT WRONG

Josh Hader was traded to the Padres on August 1, concluding a five-and-a-half-year run in Milwaukee that produced 125 saves, a 2.48 ERA, and 541 strikeouts in 316 1/3 total innings. From the date of that transaction to the final day of the regular season -- as bullpen additions Taylor Rogers and Matt Bush both flopped -- the Brewers went 29-31 while falling out of contention for the NL Central division crown and then the third NL Wild Card spot. Freddy Peralta had two different stints on the injured list -- one of the 60-day IL variety -- because of lat and shoulder concerns. Christian Yelich, in the third year of a nine-year, $215 million pact, struggled to the second-worst OPS (.736) of his career and was abysmal defensively. Ignore the “Gold Glove finalist” nod. Andrew McCutchen looked his age -- he turned 36 years old in October -- as Brewers designated hitters collectively turned in just a .227/.306/.392 slash line in 705 turns at the dish. Lorenzo Cain was cut loose in mid-June despite being owed a guaranteed salary of $18 million. Aaron Ashby pitched well early on and landed a five-year, $20.5 million extension in July before struggling with injuries and ineffectiveness in the second half. Adrian Houser took a big step back from his breakout showing in 2021. David Stearns stepped down as president of baseball operations on October 27 and seems likely to join a new organization (Mets? Astros?) in the coming months.

FANTASY SLANTS

** Burnes went ninth overall in the average Yahoo draft this spring, and Woodruff wasn’t far behind with an ADP of 20. If not for Sandy Alcantara becoming baseball’s premier workhorse, Burnes might have been in position to claim the NL Cy Young Award for a second consecutive season. Woodruff missed around five weeks between late May and late June due to an ankle sprain and a flareup of Raynaud’s syndrome, but he pitched to a 2.38 ERA and 137/29 K/BB ratio in 109 2/3 innings from his return off the IL on June 28 to his final start of the season on October 3. Put plainly, Burnes and Woodruff should both remain top-10 starting pitchers leading into the 2023 fantasy campaign. Peralta is obviously far more difficult to project.

** What to make of Yelich? In his first couple of years (2018-2019) in Milwaukee, he batted .327/.415/.631 with 80 home runs, 207 RBI, 52 stolen bases, and 218 runs scored over 277 games played. It was a truly terrific two-year run of elite five-category fantasy production. But the soon-to-be 31-year-old outfielder has slashed just .243/.358/.388 in 1,393 plate appearances since, and his counting stats have fallen off accordingly. The batted-ball data from 2022 is actually somewhat encouraging -- Yelich was 89th percentile among all MLB hitters in average exit velocity and 90th percentile in hard-hit rate -- and yet the outlook as a whole is less than promising for a rebound to early-round form.

** Jackson Chourio is rapidly turning into one of the very best prospects in the sport. He’s only 18 years old and doesn’t turn 19 until next spring, but the dynamic Venezuelan outfielder flashed the stuff of a future fantasy superstar while posting an .879 OPS with 55 extra-base hits (20 homers) and 16 steals in 99 games this summer between Low-A Carolina, High-A Wisconsin, and Double-A Biloxi. Milwaukee might also have something in Esteury Ruiz, who was acquired from the Padres as part of the Hader deal. He recorded a whopping 85 stolen base hits in 114 minor league games this year.

** With the Hader era now over and Williams getting a taste of life in the closer role post-deadline, Milwaukee should have a fairly predictable bullpen depth chart in 2023. At least in the areas that matter to fantasy managers. Williams ran into a few hiccups in the closing weeks of the 2022 regular season, but the 28-year-old right-hander boasts a 1.84 ERA and 236 strikeouts in 141 2/3 innings since the beginning of 2020. He’s the guy now in the ninth, even if the Brewers bring add a few new faces to their relief corps.

** Luis Urías enjoyed a mini breakout in 2021 and was poised to possibly build on that in 2022 before a springtime quad strain cost him a full month out of the gate. That absence stunted his overall stat line, but he did manage to pop 16 home runs when healthy and he slashed .339/.427/.523 in his final 75 plate appearances. A former top-20 overall prospect when he was rising through the Padres’ system, Urias is still only 25 years old. Give him the post-hype-sleeper tag for 2023.

** Speaking of post-hype … Keston Hiura. He went on a power binge in August, following yet another string of demotions and promotions, before going homerless with a .167/.227/.283 batting line in 75 plate appearances between the start of August and the final day of the regular season on October 5. Now moving into arbitration eligibility, the 26-year-old former first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft could probably use a change of scenery.

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Key Free Agents: Andrew McCutchen, Omar Narvaez, Taylor Rogers, Jace Peterson

Team Needs: Better health, sure, but also more depth in all areas of the roster. Even in the pitching department, which has been viewed as the strength of this team in recent years. Knowing the legitimate payroll constraints of MLB’s smallest-market club, the easiest way to upgrade the offense would be a move for a DH. And there should be a number of intriguing DH types available via trade or free agency.