The Milwaukee Brewers announced a notable deal earlier today, extending their highly respected and locally grown manager Craig Counsell through the 2023 season. But with Spring Training drawing nearer (there is only about five weeks left until pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale), the team that Counsell is set to manage on the field in 2020 still has some needs that have yet to be filled. During this afternoon’s presser to announce the extension, however, David Stearns assured the assembled media that he doesn’t plan on being finished for the winter just yet.
“I’d be surprised if we’re completely done,” Stearns was quoted as saying. “We’re always seeking improvement. There are still players available; there are still trade discussions. We remain active on all fronts. Time will tell if anything comes to fruition.”
When asked if he expects more transactions this winter, Counsell responded with a resounding “yes.” He further added “I always expect that. Yeah. Every day of the year. As long as there are players out there, we’ll be pursuing them.”
At present, the most glaring hole on the roster is at third base. If the season began today, the Brewers would likely go with a platoon of Eric Sogard and Ryon Healy at the hot corner, which would be less than ideal for a club with designs on competing in 2020. Josh Donaldson remains as the lone “big fish” on the free agent market, but with several reports stating that he has multiple four-year offers in hand and is seeking a guarantee in excess of $100 mil, it does not seem likely that the Brewers are involved. Lower-tier options at the position include Todd Frazier, Wilmer Flores, Brock Holt, and Matt Duffy, among others.
Interestingly enough, however, Stearns indicated that free agency may not be the route that he pursues in order to further upgrade his roster:
I asked Stearns with the FA market picked over if it's more likely that a trade would be made to make further impact on roster: "I think that's a fair assessment."— Tom (@Haudricourt) January 8, 2020
Trade rumors regarding top reliever Josh Hader have been rampant throughout the winter, and much of that speculation has focused on the Yankees as a partner, with Miguel Andujar as part of the package coming back in return. Brian Anderson of the perennially rebuilding Marlins could be another possible target, as could Kyle Seager of the Mariners (if Seattle is willing to eat some of his contract). The Brewers seem really into buy-low candidates this winter, which could also mean they take a hard look at someone like Johan Camargo, especially if Atlanta winds up re-signing Donaldson. There have been rumblings surrounding Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant, but both of those players are likely out of Milwaukee’s price range in terms of the money they’ll make in 2020 and beyond as well as the prospect cost that it would take to land them.
Additionally, the Cream City Nine could use some more certainty in their bullpen as well as proven depth for the starting rotation. Swingmen like Colin McHugh, Andrew Cashner, or Robbie Erlin might be of interest, but beyond maybe Brandon Kintzler, the late-inning relief market is pretty well dried up by this point. Alex Wood and Ivan Nova are the two most prominent starting pitchers that remain available. The trade market has been rather slow this winter compared to offseason’s past, but some speculative pitching targets include starters Matthew Boyd, Robbie Ray, Chris Archer, Caleb Smith, and Jon Gray as well as relievers Ken Giles, Mychal Givens, and perhaps even Brad Hand.
Unfortunately, it might be difficult for the Slingin’ Stearns to swing a trade for anyone impactful without subtracting from his current MLB roster. As mentioned above, Hader’s name has been bandied about plenty so far this winter. Young MLBers like Corbin Burnes or Freddy Peralta could perhaps be dangled, though it is difficult to discern their value after uneven (or in Burnes’ case, downright awful) performances in 2019. Shortstop Brice Turang is Milwaukee’s lone top-100 caliber prospect according to most outlets, though farmhands like Tristen Lutz, Mario Feliciano, Aaron Ashby, and Drew Rasmussen could hold some appeal to potential suitors.