While the Brewers don’t figure to be NL Central contenders in 2016, they did make a fair amount of mid-level additions to the MLB club for the new season. The biggest name was free-agent first baseman Chris Carter, who was signed from the Astros on January 6 for one year and $2.5 million. Carter has been notorious for his style of play over his career, in which he’s amassed 109 home runs (106 in the past four years) against 669 strikeouts (628 from 2012-2015). His 33.4% career strikeout rate is nearly triple that of his 11.5% walk rate, and his career batting average and on-base percentage leave a lot to be desired (.217/.312).
Carter is also a notoriously poor defender, and in the National League he’ll be forced to play first base on a consistent basis, where he’s amassed a career -14 defensive runs saved in just over 2,000 innings. Carter’s power potential is undeniable, but his ability to get on base remains to be seen. On a cheap one-year deal, the Brewers risk is fairly low, but he’ll surely fall short of replacing 2015 first baseman Adam Lind, whose departure will be discussed shortly.
To fill in the spot voided by the trade of Aramis Ramirez, the Brewers inked former Red Sox and Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks to a one-year, $1.2 million deal in December of 2015. Middlebrooks doesn’t have the power or extreme strikeout rate that Carter does, but he’s also struggled to get on base in his MLB career, slashing .231/.274/.399 in four seasons. Middlebrooks has also been a poor defender at third base in his MLB career, with a DRS of -22 in nearly 2,500 innings at the position. Similar to Carter, Middlebrooks has decent potential with fairly low risk to the club, but his track record isn’t promising.
Another player who projects to get serious playing time in 2016 is Kirk Nieuwenhuis, claimed off waivers from the Mets in December. Nieuwenhuis’ MLB career has been inconsistent, batting .252, .189, .259, and .185 in his four big-league seasons, where he’s primarily been a backup outfielder. Nieuwenhuis saw a career-high 312 plate appearances in his rookie season (2012), but hasn’t topped 150 PAs in any season since. Nieuwenhuis looks primarily to be a fill-in until prospect Brett Phillips is ready to take over the center field role later in 2016 or at the beginning of 2017 – Brewers fans shouldn’t expect much.
In mid-November, the Brewers made a pair of moves on consecutive days, sending minor-league pitcher Cy Sneed to the Astros for infielder Jonathan Villar, and infielder Luis Sardinas to the Mariners for outfielder Ramon Flores. Villar has been a relatively average backup for the Astros in the past three years, racking up a career line of .236/.300/.353 and -6 DRS at SS in just over 1,300 innings. Flores has seen just 33 MLB plate appearances in his career, all in 2015 with the Yankees. In seven seasons in the minor leagues, he has put up a solid .363 OBP, so there’s some potential there. However, neither plays figures to get significant playing time in 2016.
In the 2015 Rule 5 draft, the Brewers selected a pair of players in the MLB portion of the draft, picking up IF/OF Colin Walsh from the Athletics and relief pitcher Zach Jones from Minnesota. Walsh is 26 years old, but spent the entirety of 2015 in Double-A, where he posted an impressive .302/.447/.470 line in 619 PA with 39 doubles and an incredible 124 walks against 131 strikeouts. While the success at a relatively low level of the minors isn’t very indicative of MLB potential, it shows that Walsh may be at least worth a look in a limited MLB role this season. Jones is much more questionable for the upcoming season, as he’s pitched just 27.0 innings above Advanced-A in his professional career, where he had an unimpressive 6.00 ERA at Double-A in 2015. Overall, Jones’ career MiLB ERA is below 2.00 at all other levels. so there may be something to be had but he’s largely unproven. The Brewers will have to keep these players on the 25-man roster or cut them in 2016, so there’s no real potential to develop anymore – they will either produce and stick with the club or struggle and be returned to their original teams.
Beyond these moves, the Brewers made a variety of signings that likely won’t see much MLB time in 2016. Infielder Jake Elmore, outfielders Alex Presley, Keon Broxton, and Eric Young Jr., utility man Garin Cecchini, and reliever Junior Guerra all saw limited MLB action in 2015 but will likely start the season in the minors. Additionally, the Brewers added a trio of catchers in Josmil Pinto, Manny Pina and Rene Garcia, infielders Andy Wilkins and Javier Betancourt, and pitchers Pat Misch, Trey Supak, Daniel Missaki, Freddy Peralta, Carlos Herrera, Daniel Tillman and Mitchell Lambson. None of these players are highly regarded as it stands now, but all are relatively young and hope to be key pieces of the current organizational rebuild.