This might sound crazy, but the Milwaukee Brewers should sign another outfielder.
The Brewers shocked the baseball world last off-season when they acquired two outfielders on the same night. NL MVP favorite Christian Yelich was added in a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins. Lorenzo Cain signed a five-year deal as a free agent to return to the Brewers, the team he began his career with.
Nobody thought the outfield was an area of need for the Brewers. They were set with Ryan Braun in left and Domingo Santana in right, and top prospect Lewis Brinson was the favorite to take over duties in center field. Suddenly adding two outfielders did not seem to make much sense. Ultimately, Cain and Yelich proved the skeptics wrong by leading the team to its first NL Central title since 2011.
This off-season, the outfield once again does not seem like an area of need. However, the Brewers should once again acquire another outfielder. And once again, it should be an outfielder who began his professional career with Milwaukee. That player is Michael Brantley.
The Milwaukee Brewers should sign Michael Brantley
Brantley was drafted by the Brewers but has spent his entire MLB career to this point with the Cleveland Indians. He is coming off of his most productive season in the last three years. The 31-year-old hit 17 home runs and finished with a 124 wRC+ and .359 wOBA. For his career, Brantley owns a 114 wRC+ and .339 wOBA. He has consistently been an above-average hitter when healthy.
Brantley has always excelled at putting the ball in play. He struck out only a mere 10.7% of the time over his career and only 9.5% this past season. He also made hard contact at a career-best 37.1% rate, a huge jump from his previous best of 33.9%.
Why Brantley is a Fit
As things currently stand, the Brewers have Yelich and Cain as everyday starters with Santana and Braun set to split time. At this stage in his career, Braun cannot be counted on to play regularly. Santana spent much of the 2018 season in Triple-A, and he was a tick below league-average (97 wRC+) in the big leagues. Adding more of a sure thing in Brantley would be a boost.
The left-handed Brantley would make a great platoon partner with Braun in left field, allowing Yelich to move to right field full time. Brantley was excellent against right-handed pitching in 2018, posting a robust 138 wRC+. Braun was noticeably better against lefties than he was against same-handed pitching in 2018 with a 125 wRC+ against lefties and 95 wRC+ against righties. A Brantley and Braun duo in left could be a highly productive tandem.
Furthermore, the Brewers would have the option of rolling out a Brantley-Cain-Yelich outfield with Braun playing first base whenever Jesus Aguilar needs a day off. This could be preferable to keeping Eric Thames as the backup first baseman. Thames struggled down the stretch in 2018 and is somewhat of a question mark heading into next season.
Health has been a concern for Brantley in recent seasons. He played in just 11 games in 2016 due to shoulder surgery, and he then played in only 90 games the following year. However, he did suit up in 143 games this past season and was highly productive. If he joins the Brewers, he may not need to meet that total. Splitting time between Braun and Brantley would allow the team to effectively manage the health of both players.
An added benefit is that Brantley did not receive a qualifying offer, meaning he will not cost the Brewers a compensatory draft pick if they sign him. That brings us to the question, what will it cost to sign Brantley?
What a Potential Contract Could Look Like
MLB Trade Rumors projects that Brantley will sign a three-year, $45 million contract. This is doable for the Brewers, especially if they non-tender Jonathan Schoop who is projected to make $10 million in arbitration. They could also look to trade Thames ($6 million) in an effort to free some payroll space.
It’s possible that due to his health issues, Brantley could be had on a two-year deal. Perhaps a vesting option for a third year would be included that activates if he can stay healthy. The Brewers are currently paying Cain an average annual value of $16 million, so they likely wouldn’t have any reservations about giving $15 million to Brantley for two or three seasons.
Seeing the Brewers add another outfielder would surprise most, but Michael Brantley is actually a pretty good fit. The veteran left fielder would slot perfectly into Milwaukee’s lineup and provide a boost for an offense that was rather average (99 wRC+) in 2018. He adds depth and prevents the Brewers from relying too heavily on question marks in Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana. Furthermore, he could be had on a contract that won’t break the bank. Brantley should be one of Milwaukee’s top targets this winter.
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