It has so far been a slow offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers and several other teams around Major League Baseball, but that comes as little surprise to manager Craig Counsell, who recently hosted a media session via Zoom. “We’re preparing. We’re having conversations, mostly with the coaching staff right now. We do have to fill in some players, for sure, but that generally happens later for us, anyway,” Counsell told reporters on Thursday, including Adam McCalvy. The skipper has been told to expect that the upcoming 2021 season will start on time when teams begin reporting to Spring Training in February, saying “[a]ll indications are that’s when we’re starting right now. That’s what we’re planning, and I think that’s what we have to plan for. If information becomes available that says that’s not possible, then we’ll adjust.”
One detail that has yet to be sorted out for the 2021 season is whether or not the designated hitter will return to the National League. Counsell confirmed that they’ve been told not to plan on having the DH, but he still thinks “there’s a decent chance they have it. I think we have to prepare for both right now.” If there is no DH, Craig did say that Daniel Vogelbach would receive consideration for playing time at first base. Vogelbach, who was an All-Star in 2019 with Seattle, hit .328/.418/.569 with four home runs in 67 plate appearances after joining the team midseason via waiver claim, but appeared in only two games at first base. Vogelbach has appeared in 90 games at the cold corner during his big league career and hasn’t graded out well, accruing -10 Defensive Runs Saved in 647.0 innings.
If there is a DH in 2021, Counsell has no indication at this time whether or not Ryan Braun will be up for consideration in that role. Counsell told reporters that he hasn’t talked to Braun at all about whether or not he’ll return for a 15th season with the Menomonee Valley Nine in 2021, but he did open about what not having the franchise icon back would mean for the team:
“It’s going to be different [if Braun retires], there’s no question. There at the end, it didn’t turn out the way I would have liked it to, necessarily, for him. But in another way, it kind of did. I mean, if this is the end, he played on three straight playoff teams in the last three years of his career. You know, when guys sign contracts like that, I think we often say, ‘Well we signed up for the first couple years and we know the last couple years might not be that good.’ And he was a part of — and part of leading — those three teams to the playoffs in his last three years. That’s ending your career on a really, really strong note, and something that’s really impressive in my eyes.”
While CC is unsure about Braun’s potential return, he is confident in a bounce back from the team’s current superstar, Christian Yelich. “I just know it’s going to be better. I know it’s going to be good. So, I feel really good about that. I don’t worry about it. I’m confident in it. Christian didn’t like how he played. He didn’t like what happened. It’s not going to happen again.” Hampered by a ballooning strikeout rate and a BABIP nearly 100 points lower than his career average, Yelich hit only .205/.356/.430 in 247 plate appearances. While that was still good for an above-avereage 112 wRC+, it was a far below his previous totals of 166 and 174 during his first two MVP-caliber seasons in Milwaukee. He did still rate in the 99th percentile in exit velocity and 98th percentile in hard contact rate this past season when he did manage to put the ball in play, and his expected wOBA was in the 88th percentile and 28 points higher than his actual wOBA, suggesting that Yelich dealt with a bit of bad luck this past season.
Counsell is content with the team’s catching depth and isn’t worried about having six catchers on the 40-man roster, saying that those decisions won’t have to be made until a long way down the road. He also touched on how the industry as a whole will have to consider how to bring their pitchers back up to working a full 162-game season worth of innings. Lastly, Counsell said that “I will get vaccinated, yes,” after getting asked about what he’ll do when it is his turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Referencem and Baseball Savant