Watching Sportscenter in the wee hours of the morning today was like watching a YouTube compilation of little kids opening their favorite Christmas gifts. This is what happens when a three-time All-Star and former World Series champion signs for six years and $155 million with the Chicago Cubs, of all teams.
Free agent starting pitcher Jon Lester inked that deal with the Cubs overnight, joining new catcher Miguel Montero (acquired via trade from Arizona earlier on Tuesday). Add that to new manager Joe Maddon, and the team 90 miles south that has lost 464 games over the last five years suddenly looks a lot better.
Needless to say, this news did not go over well – and has not gone over well – with Brewers fans on social media and local talk radio today.
It’s interesting, because Adam McCalvy and Tom Haudricourt had reported just hours before this news that the Brewers were going to stand pat, at least for a few days, as they continue to evaluate what happened down the stretch as the team collapsed and missed the playoffs.
Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio told the two beat reporters that "We decided we were going to try to make good decisions case by case, and we made them. So we picked up Yovani Gallardo's option. Picked up Aramis Ramirez's option. I think (general manager) Doug Melvin moved quickly to get the first-base situation solved. It was getting frustrating to have no answer there, and frankly, frustrating to have no power left-handed bat.
"But we're still asking ourselves that question. Again, when you have a tough season, sometimes you make moves just to make moves. I think we've seen some teams do that. ... But I don't want Doug and the baseball guys to make moves just to make moves."
In fact, the Brewers offseason began last summer.
- July 31: Acquired Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra from Arizona for minor leaguers Anthony Banda and Mitch Haniger. Parra hit .268 with a .318 on base percentage and compiled a -0.3 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 46 games for the Brewers down the stretch.
- Aug. 31: Acquired reliever Jonathan Broxton from Cincinnati for minor leaguers Kevin Shackelford and Barrett Astin. Broxton only appeared in 11 games for the Brewers, going 0-1 with a 4.25 earned run average in 10 1/3 innings with 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Broxton, owed $9 million this season, is now the team’s closer.
- Oct. 10: Team announces that hitting coach Johnny Narron and first base coach Garth Iorg would not be retained, but manager Ron Roenicke would return for 2015.
- Oct. 23: Team hires Darnell Coles as hitting coach.
- Oct. 30: Team picks up option on Yovani Gallardo.
- Nov. 1: Acquired first baseman Adam Lind from Toronto for reliever Marco Estrada. Lind hit .321 with six homers in 96 games for the Blue Jays last year. The nine-year veteran is a career .273 hitter with a .327 OBP. He has hit 20 home runs or more four times.
- Nov. 3: Aramis Ramirez picks up his half of a mutual option, securing his return in 2015.
Throw in the fact that Rickie Weeks was allowed to walk away, clearing the path for Scooter Gennett to play every day, and this team, in reality, has made "moves" – at least those that appear on the official transaction wire.
But, of course, such moves are not Jon Lester.
Then again, not every team is capable of doing that. The Cubs decided to lose for a long time in order to make that kind of signing.
The rest of the National League Central isn’t waiting around, either.
The Pittsburgh Pirates (oh, them), a playoff team the last two years, re-signed starter Francisco Liriano, who has gone 23-18 with a 3.20 ERA since joining the Pirates at the start of 2013.
There is a thought that retaining Liriano will help the Pirates keep fellow starter Edinson Volquez, who went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA last year, his first in Pittsburgh.
No one is quite sure what is happening in Cincinnati just yet as the injury-plagued Reds slumped to 10 games under .500 last year, and reports say they are at least entertaining calls on closer Aroldis Champman and starter Johnny Cueto.
Oh, then there are the defending division champions, who moved swiftly following the death of outfield prospect Oscar Taveras. Back on Nov. 17, the Cardinals traded pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to Atlanta for Jason Hayward and Jordan Walden.
Heyward could be scary for Brewers fans. He’s still just 24 years old, already owns a Gold Glove, and has shown some power but has yet to put it together.
So, now, as we head into the final two months of the offseason before pitchers and catchers report, what do the Brewers do? What can they do?
As Melvin has correctly pointed out on several occasions already this offseason, the every day lineup and starting rotation is full. So, if you’re going to add, you need to subtract.
And in that case, who goes?
The Brewers’ brass may still be wondering how they can once again start fast but recapture the late-season magic of 2012 and 2013, but in reality, that question may remain unanswerable until the season.
- Why? Because it can't be answered until these questions are:
- Is Ryan Braun’s thumb truly healed?
- Is Jean Segura the All-Star, franchise shortstop the team thought he was in the early part of 2013 or the guy who has hit .248 over his last 219 games (since June 25, 2013)?
- Will the soon-to-be 37-year-old Ramirez hit more than the four homers he hit after July 1 of this year?
- Will a 36-year-old Kyle Lohse continue to produce at such a high level?
- Will Matt Garza stay healthy?
While the Brewers will likely add to their bullpen heading into the spring, it’s possible that they feel the answers to these questions are "yes" – and trust that it will be enough to get them to the postseason.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.