Brewers splash

Welcome to the 2021-22 offseason, Milwaukee Brewers fans.

Although we love general manager David Stearns’ tendency to make the most of his under-the-radar signings (see Boxberger, Brad or Peterson, Jace), we’d like to see a move (or several moves) that would make headlines across baseball and help the Brewers defend their NL Central title in 2022.

No offense to J.C. Mejía or Mike Brosseau, of course.

Here are four splash moves Milwaukee could (and, maybe, should) do this winter:

1. Add a big name to corner infield via free agency

Milwaukee’s middle infield is set with shortstop Willy Adames and second baseman Kolten Wong. But the corner positions have been a question nearly every offseason the past few years.

At first base, Daniel Vogelbach (59 games), Keston Hiura (49) and Rowdy Tellez (46) saw the most action last season. Both Vogelbach and Tellez return to the Crew. We’re not ruling out a bounce-back year for Hiura, but we also thought that’d happen last summer after a fluky ’20 season.

Freddie Freeman, the 2020 NL MVP, is a free agent, as are former Brewers rivals Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

Freeman has spent his entire career with Atlanta and will likely re-sign there, especially after winning a World Series title last month. But it’s worth exploring. He batted .300/.393/.503 with 31 home runs and 25 doubles in 159 contests. On all accounts, Freeman is an MVP player and even better clubhouse presence. It’s worth a phone call at the very least.

Rizzo and Bryant, two key members of that 2016 championship Cubs team, were both shipped off during Chicago’s fire sale at the deadline.

Rizzo batted .248/.433/.440 with 22 homers last season. He posted his worst OPS (.783) over a full season since 2013, his first campaign as an everyday starter in the big leagues. Still, though, he might be a more consistent option than Tellez or Vogelbach, who tend to be a bit streaky at the plate.

The versatility of Bryant would be a big asset to manager Craig Counsell, who loves players who can effectively play several positions. Bryant played six different positions for Chicago and San Francisco last season – third base (55 games), left field (48), right field (39), center field (19), first base (12) and shortstop (1). He had a solid year at the plate, smacking 25 bombs and hitting .265/.353/.481.

It’d also be fun just to spite Cubs fans.

2. Trade star closer Josh Hader

Ok, ok, ok. We don’t want Hader to leave. Not at all. But let’s explore this option.

Hader’s trade value arguably will never be higher than it is right now. He’s under team control for two more seasons and before hitting the open market at age 30. Hader has been named the NL Reliever of the Year three times (’18, ’19, ’21) and just had another outstanding season, setting career bests with a 1.23 ERA, 1.69 FIP and 0.5 HR/9.

Just about every contending team would be willing to pay the kitchen sink to have Hader in its bullpen. Milwaukee needs a replenishing of its farm system (MLB.com ranked the Brewers’ system the sixth-worst in baseball in August), and the team could do so by making just one move.

If Hader is traded, the Brewers still have an exciting, young arm in Devin Williams who could take over the closing role. Williams had three saves in 2021.

3. Trade for first baseman Matt Olson

As we discussed above, the Brewers need a first baseman. Olson, a former first-round pick by Oakland, is under team control for two more seasons and would be an immediate upgrade in Counsell’s lineup. In 156 games, Olson smacked 39 home runs for the A’s and batted .271/.371/.540 (.911 OPS). He ranked in the 87th percentile or better last season in average exit velocity, hard hit percentage and walk rate.

The price for Olson will be high. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the A’s are “shooting for the moon” in trade talks. Adding Olson’s bat to an already talented offensive bunch is tempting, no matter the pieces needed to make it happen.

4. Sign a big-name outfielder in free agency

If there’s anything we learned about Nick Castellanos this year, it’s that he homers often – signaled each time by a flurry of Twitter memes. He crushed 34 dingers for Cincinnati to be exact, along with 38 doubles, 100 RBI and a .939 OPS en route to being awarded his first career Silver Slugger.

The Brewers have an opening in right field after the departure of Avisail Garcia. Castellanos could fill it. He’s not great in the field, having posted a negative dWAR in seven straight years. Garcia, meanwhile, posted the best SABR defensive index on the Brewers last season. However, the big increase in offensive production from Castellanos would be worth the slight dip in defensive ability.

If Castellanos signs elsewhere, former New York Mets All-Star Michael Conforto could fit the bill. Conforto had a down 2021 (.729 OPS) but has hit .259/.365/.459 (123 OPS+) over the last three seasons combined.

Longtime Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, who spent last year with Chicago and Atlanta, is also on the market. He’s struggled the last two seasons on offense (.721 OPS) but can play both corner outfielder positions and did hit 18 dingers in 2021. Pederson, who crushed two pinch-hit homers against Milwaukee in the NLDS, would be a nice addition if the Brewers wanted to give one of their younger outfielders like Garrett Mitchell or Tyrone Taylor in the lineup.