2015 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Milwaukee Brewers.

The Big Question: Are they good enough?

It is an overly straightforward question — one you’d be asking about any team in any division this time of year. But it’s also the only thing worth asking about a club that spent 153 days in first place last summer and then wound up eight games back of the division-champion Cardinals with a final record of 82-80.

Jonathan Lucroy earned his first All-Star nod and finished fourth in the 2014 National League MVP balloting after producing a .301/.373/.465 slash line in 153 games (including 133 starts behind the plate). He’s only 28 years old, so there may be even better production ahead. Carlos Gomez, who’s 29 years old, boasts an .838 OPS, 47 home runs, and 74 stolen bases in 295 games over the last two seasons and plays great defense in center field. Ryan Braun is no longer a perennial MVP candidate, but offseason cryotherapy seems to have solved his chronic right thumb discomfort and he should be capable of a bounceback at age 31. That’s an ultra-talented core of relatively young stars, and they’re the first three hitters (Gomez, then Lucroy, then Braun) in the Brewers’ batting order.

But as you move down the lineup, the player snapshots get less and less impressive.

Aramis Ramirez has watched his OPS drop from .901 to .831 to .757 over the last three seasons and he turns 37 years old in June. He’s owed $14 million in the final year of a four-year, $46 million deal. Adam Lind had a productive final two summers in Toronto, but consistency and health have both been big issues. His defense at first base is dreadful. Khris Davis possesses good raw power and Miller Park is a power-friendly place, but the 27-year-old outfielder delivered a rough .299 on-base percentage in 549 total plate appearances last season and he batted .186/.253/.314 with two home runs over his final 30 games as the Brewers completed their late collapse. Those are the next three hitters in Milwaukee’s batting order, and it’s rounded out by Scooter Gennett (who has regressed in predictable fashion) and Jean Segura (who we’ll talk more about below).

This was a top-heavy group last year and it killed them down the stretch. It’s top-heavy again in 2015.

What else is going on?

  • The starting rotation is a mixed bag — lacking a true ace but potentially pretty good if everything goes right. Matt Garza had a 3.64 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 163 1/3 innings last year. He needs to log his first 200-inning season since 2010. Kyle Lohse is 36 years old and doesn’t miss many bats, but it feels like we can pencil him in for another sub-3.50 ERA, 30-start campaign. That is what he’s done for four years straight. Wily Peralta has the arsenal of a front-line starter and greatly improved his control in 2014. It’ll be huge for the Brewers if he takes another step forward at age 26. Mike Fiers has teased this club before, but it’s hard to argue with the excitement over his 2014 numbers: a 2.13 ERA, 0.879 WHIP, and 76/17 K/BB ratio in 71 2/3 frames. Jimmy Nelson carries quite a bit of promise after dominating Triple-A.
  • It’s rare that a team will make it through a full season needing only five starters, and the Brewers are severely lacking in organizational rotation depth. Yovani Gallardo was entering his contract year, so Milwaukee’s cost-conscious front office shipped him off to the Rangers this winter in exchange for three minor leaguers. The Brewers don’t have any prospects in Baseball America’s Top 50 and the two guys that cracked the Top 100 are position players — outfielder Tyrone Taylor (ranked 93rd) and middle infielder Orlando Arcia (ranked 94th). An injury or two in the rotation will be very problematic.
  • Back to shortstop Jean Segura. He made the National League All-Star team in 2013 and boasted a .325/.363/.487 slash line with 11 home runs, 27 stolen bases, and 54 runs scored in 92 games at the break. But his production fell off a cliff in the second half of the 2013 season and he was a mess throughout 2014. Personal tragedy struck last July when Segura lost his nine-month-old son to a sudden illness. Segura is still young and remains the crown jewel of the Zack Greinke trade, but right now he looks like nothing more than a base-stealer — and his success rate in that department hasn’t been all that great.
  • After an entire offseason of dancing, the Brewers finally re-signed closer Francisco Rodriguez to a two-year, $13 million free agent contract on February 26. K-Rod converted 44 saves last season and should have plenty left in the tank at age 33. But, again, there’s an issue of depth in the Milwaukee bullpen. Jonathan Broxton seems to alternate good years and bad years, left-hander Will Smith struggles mightily against righties, and Jim Henderson is still trying to regain his form following right shoulder surgery.

Prediction: If the Brewers have good luck with the health of their rotation and get something unexpected from a down-lineup hitter, they can hold relevance all year in the National League Wild Card race. But it’s hard to see them challenging for the National League Central championship when the division houses four other good teams. I don’t think enough will go right for Milwaukee in 2015. Fourth place, NL Central.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.