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The Brewers ended their strange offseason by not signing Alex Cobb

The Brewers are seven-eighths in, which is confusing.

MLB: Spring Training-Cleveland Indians at Milwaukee Brewers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another installment of Dude on Internet Spends Other People’s Money. You might remember past episodes, such as “C’mon, Twins” and “No, Seriously, C’mon, Twins.” I didn’t write anything about them signing Lance Lynn because that’s not my beat. My beat is complaining that half-in teams aren’t spending money, so I probably wrote something about how the Orioles were fools for not buying another pitcher, and then they signed Alex Cobb.

This offseason has been confusing for me and my pea-brain in so many ways. and I need your help to sort this all out.

But for now, I’m back on my old beat, and the topic du jour is the Milwaukee Brewers, who had a fantastically bizarre offseason. Not a bad offseason, as far as they go. Not an unproductive offseason. It was an unconventional offseason.

Start with the state of the Brewers before this offseason. They weren’t supposed to be interesting last year (except to this intrepid columnist, he says, with just the right amount of self-importance), and they ended up contending all season. They sputtered toward the end, regressing ever so slightly to the mean, but the Brewers were watchable, young, and sustainable. They had every right to think they would contend, and they had room in the budget to spend. The only question was what they would need.

If I were given the job to prioritize the Brewers’ needs, it would have looked something like this:

  • At least one starting pitcher (especially with Jimmy Nelson missing time to start the season)
  • Reliever(s) who didn’t walk four batters for every nine innings they pitched
  • Another infielder if confidence was low in Jonathan Villar, perhaps
  • Maybe a second free agent starting pitcher?
  • Depth on the bench
  • Depth in the bullpen
  • A bigger mustache on Bernie Brewer
  • Like, we’re talking outrageously big
  • There would have to be four team employees to follow him around, holding his new mustache up, and there would have to be special monorails installed to help him get down the slide
  • More outfielders

If there was a strength of the Brewers — a deep, abiding strength — it was with their outfield. Even if they wanted to shift Ryan Braun to first base more and give Eric Thames rest against left-handed starters, they still had the depth to make it a strength. The outfield was not why the Brewers didn’t make the postseason last year, and they were between the Nationals and Cubs in collective WAR for the outfield. That included the part-time contributions of players who struggled, like Kirk Nieuwenhuis.

But when there’s an opportunity to trade for a young, under-contract all-star like Christian Yelich, it’s always wise to explore it. If the Yankees have the chance to get another 6’13 outfielder who could hit 50 home runs, they should take it and worry about the rest later. So it goes for the Brewers and Yelich. The opportunity was there, he’s a perfect fit for the lefty-aiding Miller Park, and the roster is much improved. This trade was not a part of their strange offseason, at least not in isolation. “Contending team gets good player” isn’t much of a headline.

With Yelich on the roster, now they had something of a logjam. Even with Lewis Brinson going to the Marlins, there was Ryan Braun, Yelich, and Domingo Santana (a breakout star of 2017) in the outfield, with Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips as depth. Even if they wanted to play Braun at first more against lefties to spell Eric Thames, they would have too many players for too few starting spots. That’s a fine problem to have.

Then they gave up a draft pick and scores of millions to sign Lorenzo Cain, giving them a fourth center fielder.

“Contending team gets good player” isn’t much of a headline, but “contending team gets good player who plays the same position as the last good player they got,” is trending in a different direction. Again, it’s a happy problem to have a logjam like this. Yelich is overqualified in left field, but it’s in the same way that Manny Machado is overqualified for third base. No one will complain when they’re chasing down baseballs all over the place.

But it starts getting weird after that. Braun is now a first baseman, which displaces Thames, unless Braun sticks in the outfield, which displaces Santana. There are absolutely no at-bats for Phillips, which is fine if the plan is to get him more at-bats in the minors, and it pushes Keon Broxton to a reserve outfielder’s gig that he’s probably more suited for, so there are things here that will make the Brewers more comfortable. They’ll get some combination of Braun/Santana/Yelich/Cain into most of their lineups, and that’s a good thing.

It was a very strange allocation of resources, especially when the rest of the offseason was spent rummaging through the thrift stores for the back end of the rotation. Wade Miley was one of baseball’s worst pitchers last year, at least in terms of volume of poor starts. As an NRI, he’s unremarkable. As part of a premeditated strategy, he’s surprising. But if he falters, there’s always Yovani Gallardo, who has a chance to give the Brewers what the Giants got from Matt Cain over the last three years. Which is to say, nothing they actually want, save for a little nostalgia.

The most impressive rotation addition this offseason for the Brewers was Jhoulys Chacin, who stumbled down a pit of ineffectiveness and injury in the seasons that followed his marvelous 2013 season. The Padres made a smart signing and helped resurrect his career, but he never stopped being risky. He struggles with his command; he has serious durability concerns; his sub-4.00 ERA was something of a mirage according to FIP, and even then, it came at Petco Park.

This isn’t to suggest that Chacin was a bad signing for the Brewers. On the contrary, it was a sensible move to shore up the back end of the rotation. It just needed to be complemented with something more. Something much more. Something that didn’t leave them overly reliant on Jimmy Nelson returning from a shoulder injury at 100 percent. Something that wasn’t Wade Miley.

There were options. If they wanted to keep a draft pick after giving one up for Cain, there was Yu Darvish. If they didn’t want to spend a lot of money, there was Tyler Chatwood. If they didn’t mind about the draft pick, they could have signed Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, or Jake Arrieta. If they wanted to exchange all of that outfield depth and get a pitcher who wouldn’t cost much money at all, they could have been in the Gerrit Cole chase, or they could have pestered the Rays and Royals about Chris Archer and Danny Duffy, respectively.

Instead, this is apparently the offseason: Take a strength, make it much stronger, and hope that the rest works out. Miley and Gallardo have been pitching this spring like a scorpion the team is carrying across the river, and the Brewers have to be a little nervous. Maybe they’ll figure it all out at the trade deadline, and they’ll have the luxury of a healthy Nelson when they get there.

In an offseason where there were all sorts of starting pitchers available for a wide range of prices and commitments, it sure seems strange that a seven-eighths-in team wouldn’t go all in. It might work. But if it doesn’t, it’s not going to take a lot of hindsight to write the postmortem.