2016 Preview: Milwaukee Brewers

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
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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 2016 season. Next up: The Milwaukee Brewers. 

The NL Central may be the most polarized division in baseball. Three of its teams – the Cubs, Cardinals, and Pirates – could each realistically win 90-plus games. The other two – the Reds and Brewers – very likely won’t reach 70 wins. The Brewers, like the Reds, are rebuilding, so while they won’t outright say they intend to lose, losing helps the team build towards a better future. A 68-94 finish last season earned them some more international spending money and the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft. A similarly putrid finish will provide the same rewards for 2017.

During the offseason, the Brewers traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers for minor leaguer Javier Betancourt and a player to be named later. With Rodriguez out of the picture, Will Smith was in line to either share or completely take ownership of the closer’s role, but he suffered a freak injury on Saturday. He was standing on one foot taking off his shoe after appearing in a minor league game, but the shoe didn’t come off and he twisted his knee in the process. The official diagnosis is a torn LCL, which may require surgery.

As a result, Jeremy Jeffress is the favorite to assume the closer’s role to open the season. Jeffress, 28, was a former starting pitching prospect in the Brewers’ system. After moving him to relief work in the minors, the club traded him in December 2010 in the Zack Greinke deal, and got him back in April 2014, signing him as a free agent. Jeffress has closer stuff, flashing a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s along with a curve about 15 MPH slower. In 68 innings last year, his longest stay in the majors, he finished with a 2.65 ERA and a 67/22 K/BB ratio over 68 innings.

The Brewers also traded shortstop Jean Segura and pitcher Tyler Wagner to the Diamondbacks in exchange for cash, major leaguers Aaron Hill and Chase Anderson, and minor leaguer Isan Diaz. The trade was mostly about dumping salary for the Diamondbacks, but the Brewers were able to finagle Diaz, who was ranked #11 in their minor league system by MLB Pipeline. Diaz, who plays middle infield, is only 19 years old but hit .360 with 13 home runs in 312 plate appearances in rookie ball last year, so he is quite projectable for the Brewers.

Jonathan Villar, acquired in a low-key November trade with the Astros, will handle everyday shortstop duties. Villar had his best year as a big leaguer last season, hitting .284 with seven stolen bases in 128 plate appearances. He won’t have the position for long, though, as prospect Orlando Arcia will overtake the position soon enough. He’s the Brewers’ #1 prospect, coming off a season in which he hit .307 in 129 games at Double-A Biloxi. As long as Arcia shows competency against Triple-A competition early in the season, he’ll earn a mid-season call-up.

Chris Carter joined the squad on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. Which, all things considered, is a pretty good value. He hit 24 home runs with a .734 OPS for the Astros last season, considered a down year by his standards as he bashed 37 dingers with a .799 OPS in 2014. It’s a pretty good gamble for the Brewers – if Carter has a rebound first half of the season, the club can try to trade him for younger players ahead of the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline.

Jonathan Lucroy is also likely to be moved by the deadline. The Brewers drew some interest in the backstop over the offseason, but a deal never materialized. Lucroy logged only 103 games last season due to injuries and hit a lackluster .264/.326/.391 with only seven home runs. He finished fourth in NL MVP balloting the year before with an .837 OPS, 13 home runs, and a major league-best 53 doubles. Lucroy has a club option for 2017 at an affordable $5.25 million, so he’s quite the affordable option for a contending team in need of catching help.

Veteran Ryan Braun has moved back to left field from right field. He played in 140 games last season – his most since 2012 – and put up All-Star numbers, hitting .285/.356/.498 with 25 home runs, 84 RBI, 87 runs scored, and 24 stolen bases. At 32 years old, one wonders how much longer he’ll be a 20/20 threat, but if he did it at 31, he can do it at 32.

The starting rotation is largely uninteresting. Wily Peralta will get the honor of pitching on Opening Day after putting up a 4.72 ERA and a 60/37 K/BB ratio in 108 2/3 innings in 2015. Jimmy Nelson will be the most interesting starter to watch as the 26-year-old was considered a top prospect two seasons ago. Behind those two are Matt Garza, Taylor Jungmann, and Chase Anderson. With all due respect, that’s a snoozefest.

A lot could go right for the Brewers, but they will still have trouble cracking 70 wins.

Prediction: 67-95, fourth place in the NL Central.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.