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Brew Crew Ball Mailbag #20: Saying goodbye to the Jon Singleton era

Answering questions for this week’s mailbag

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles - Game One Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of the Brew Crew Ball Mailbag!

The Brewers got involved in the free-agent market this month, signing Wade Miley and Brian Anderson to one-year deals. The roster is starting to take shape with the start of spring training looming.

With that, let’s dive into your questions for this week.

wiguy94 asks:

With Brewers reported to be one of the teams interested in a LHRP, which of these 4 are the Brewers most likely to get and which one will be the best of the bunch next year.
Chafin, Moore, Britton, Smith

Smith. His 3.97 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 2022 do not stand out, but he was quietly excellent with improved peripherals after a midseason trade to the Astros. Earlier this month, Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors broke down the improvements Smith made to his pitch mix and command down the stretch.

While other teams chase Chafin and Moore or salivate over Britton’s bounce-back potential, I could see the Brewers being intrigued by an overlooked Smith and swooping in with an offer.

With rumors that Baltimore has some interest in Houser (I recall reading it somewhere can’t remember where) should the Brewers try and flip Houser to Baltimore? Any possible trade suggestions? Houser and a lower top 30 prospect for Santander is mine.
I’m particularly high on Santander. I think if he was traded to the Brewers you could see an offensive explosion out of him next year. Plus he’s a switch hitter who hits both sides well.

Flipping Houser or Eric Lauer for Santander is one of my dream trades. He hits the ball hard (11.6% barrel rate) while making contact at an above-average rate (18.9% strikeout rate). While I wouldn’t classify him as a lefty-killer, he has a 117 wRC+ against southpaws and a 104 mark against right-handers since becoming a regular in Baltimore’s outfield in the latter half of 2019.

The potential holdup would center around how highly the Orioles view Santander. If they see signs of an imminent breakout in his underlying metrics, a package headlined by one of those starters may not be enough to get it done, even if the Brewers include a top-30 prospect. On the other hand, Baltimore may think Santander’s defensive limitations make him unlikely to improve upon his career-high 2.5 fWAR from last season. In that case, it looks like a fair deal that allows both teams to address areas of need by dealing solid players from organizational depth.

Brew Crew Buster asks:

Do you think the Brewers, consider the success of the Cleveland Guardians and the rules changes, are purposely shifting to an offense focusing on higher on base potential and more speed?
Or is this just a happenstance of getting younger?
Do you think they work with returning hitters to also adjust their approach?

I don’t think the Brewers are encouraging their existing big-league hitters to alter their approach. I believe they changed their draft strategy a few years ago, and the products of that shift are starting to emerge.

The Brewers have been dreadful at developing homegrown hitters in the David Stearns and Matt Arnold era. In particular, they have not found success with the high-risk, high-reward profiles they previously targeted in the early rounds of the draft, including Corey Ray, Tristen Lutz and Joe Gray Jr. These players failed to curtail their high strikeout rates, which has stalled their development.

The organization has since pivoted to selecting more contact-oriented profiles with better hit tools. One could cite Brice Turang, their 2018 first-round pick, as the first example, but the pattern emerged with the selections of Sal Frelick, Tyler Black, and Eric Brown Jr. in the past two years.

While some of these players could translate raw strength into more pop if they learn to elevate the ball, they do not profile as power bats. Rather, their games are built on excellent plate discipline, advanced bat-to-ball skills, and speed, giving them a higher floor and less risk than previous early-round picks. The Brewers are trying to avoid the player development pitfalls that plagued their minor-league pipeline for much of the past decade. All eyes will be on Turang and Frelick when they make their big-league debuts this year.

jorgejuliomachado asks:

What do you think the plan was with Jon Singleton or why they even added him in the first place?

The Brewers saw enough in Singleton’s Triple-A performance to convince them that he can be a productive big-league hitter moving forward. Had they not added him to the 40-man roster, another team likely would have selected him as a low-risk power bat.

The November 15 deadline for protecting Rule 5-eligible players was during the infancy of the offseason. At that point, nobody—including the front office—knew what course the following months would take. Singleton gave the Brewers coverage with his left-handed power at first base and designated hitter in the event that their subsequent moves transpired differently.

Front offices must prepare for numerous scenarios and have contingency plans if targeted players end up elsewhere. There was a version of Milwaukee’s offseason plan that featured a larger role for Singleton, but it was probably not the preferred plan. With the way the roster came together—namely, the addition of Jesse Winker and the continued presence of Rowdy Tellez at first base—there was ultimately no need for him.

Duhawk Steve asks:

Reports on Jesse Winker’s health have bee very positive. This has led some to think that maybe he isn’t a DH only. Prior to last season he was basically a -6 OAA player. Bad, but not unplayable bad. There were 8 OF last year with greater than 700 innings and less than -6 OAA. Knowing that injuries may change things, how many games would would predict for Winker in the OF (for comparison, McCutchen played 50)?

A team that values positional flexibility as the Brewers do is unlikely to relegate any player strictly to DH duties. Winker has always been a poor defender, but as you pointed out, he posted career-worst defensive metrics across the board last year. The knee and neck injuries for which he since underwent surgery almost certainly hampered his mobility.

Your McCutchen comparison is spot-on. DH will be Winker’s primary position, but he should also see semi-regular time at both outfield corners. Christian Yelich is not suited for full-time defensive duties himself and figures to trade positions with Winker throughout the year. The Brewers project to have somewhat of a rotating door in right field, and Winker is likely part of that mix as well. 40 to 50 games sounds realistic.

Mtcunning3 asks:

How hopeful are you that the Brewers will turn Contreras into a serviceable defensive catcher? And what do you think his positional split will look like this year between C and DH?

Omar Narvaez once graded out as one of the worst defensive catchers in the sport. The Brewers transformed him into a glove-first catcher after multiple organizations surrendered hope of reforming his performance behind the plate. Expecting a repeat of such an extreme turnaround wouldn’t be wise, but I think Charlie Greene and Walker McKinven can at least turn Contreras into a respectable receiver.

The Brewers likely see some flexibility with Contreras between catcher, DH, and even some first base. This flexibility affords them the ability to adjust his positional split based on how other players (namely Victor Caratini and other right-handed hitters) perform. That said, I believe they see him primarily as a catcher, so my first guess is roughly 110 games behind the plate, 30 as a DH, and days off and pinch-hit appearances scattered throughout the rest of the year.

nullact asks:

We have starting pitcher depth, but does it really protect us from losing a starter to injury? We think we could have a more productive lineup, but are we really a better team than last year?

If the Brewers lose any of their five best starters for an extended period, the replacement will be a downgrade. However, this year’s replacement options are more likely to be respectable fill-ins than Jason Alexander and Ethan Small were last season.

Depending on how the rotation shakes out, at least one of Aaron Ashby or Adrian Houser will begin the season in the bullpen as the next man up. Janson Junk and Tyson Miller, both of whom have limited big-league experience but more encouraging profiles than Alexander and Small, are next on the depth chart.

I think this team is marginally better than last year’s. The main difference is that the Brewers will not be forced to give as many innings to downright terrible pitchers.

retired janitor asks:

Opening day and Burnes is taken out after 5, with a one run lead.
Who pitches the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th?

Some combination of Javy Guerra, Peter Strzelecki, Matt Bush, and Devin Williams. You could also throw Hoby Milner in there in the event of a left-on-left matchup to finish off an inning.

The roster lacks a proven setup man but features a collection of promising arms with limited track records. For that reason, I expect Craig Counsell to return to a more fluid style of bullpen management that will feature most relievers pitching in various innings and situations throughout the season. Guerra, Strzelecki, Bush, Williams, Jake Cousins, Joel Payamps, and Elvis Peguero all figure to be part of the high-leverage mix.

@TaylorKlopatek asks:

Junk and Peguero are intriguing additions to the pitching depth, but this roster would be better with Renfroe. I don’t see any combination of Milwaukee’s incumbent right-field options matching his 118 wRC+ from the last two seasons and his 30-homer power. Adding (or, in this case, retaining) a bat of that caliber would have elevated the Brewers’ offseason from a solid one to an excellent one, in my book.

Thanks for your questions this week! Pitchers and catchers report in just a couple of weeks, and perhaps the Brewers have another move up their sleeves before then.