Brewers change face of NL Central race

January 26th, 2018

Roll out the barrel, indeed. Looks like the Milwaukee Brewers have got the blues on the run.

The Brewers are adding , and in the near future probably also a very good starting pitcher through a trade or free agency. You know they've gotten into the heads of the Cubs, Cardinals and every other contender.

The Yelich trade alone did that when it was announced. But then it was reported that Milwaukee also agreed to a deal (five years, $80 million) to reunite themselves with Cain, the center fielder it traded to Kansas City to acquire Zack Greinke before the 2011 season.

It's fair to say an outfield of Yelich, Cain and should get everyone's attention, including Theo Epstein.

To be fair, the Brewers have had Epstein's attention for a long time. They led the National League Central at the All-Star break last season and recently have been one of the teams joining the Cubs in the pursuit of (while at least monitoring the market).

It's not clear if the Brewers still have a move in them as significant as Darvish/Arrieta after adding about $23 million to the payroll in Yelich and Cain. But never count out owner Mark Attanasio when he senses opportunity.

He showed that by importing and Greinke when the lineup was fueled by Prince Fielder and Braun, both in their primes. It would be like Attanasio to seize this chance to sign one of the two big arms on the market.

The good news for the Brewers, of course, is he doesn't have to. Milwaukee has an outfield surplus to use in trading for pitching, even though top prospect , the center fielder acquired from Texas for , was the centerpiece of the four-for-one deal that landed the discontented Yelich from the Marlins.

, previously penciled in to start in right field, joins center fielders and as possible trade pieces. Stearns has built a deep roster across the board, so he would be able to entertain a variety of possible packages if he decided to go the trade route in adding one more starter.

The current rotation features Chase Anderson, , newcomer and some combination of , and . Lefty is a candidate to move into the rotation, if he's not deemed more valuable in the bullpen, and Jimmy Nelson says he's ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery.

Every team in the Major Leagues wanted Yelich, a pure hitter at age 26 who comes with a highly attractive contract ($43.25 million over the next four seasons, plus an option for 2022). The Brewers paid a very high price to get him -- kind of like they did to land Greinke back when Doug Melvin was running the front office for Attanasio.

That trade set up the Royals for their back-to-back pennants in 2014 and '15, with Cain, and pitchers Jake Odorizzi and going to Kansas City. This one looks just as rich in talent.

In addition to Brinson, the Marlins are getting , center fielder Monte Harrison (who looked great in the Arizona Fall League) and right-hander Jordan Yamamoto. There's a boldness to the trade, especially when compared to the conservative, disciplined nature Stearns showed at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last season.

The Brewers surprisingly pushed the Cubs into September, finishing only game behind Colorado for the second NL Wild Card spot. They may have gone to the postseason had Stearns paid the price required to land or another starting pitcher -- or, yes, maybe just if Nelson had not damaged his shoulder diving into first base at Wrigley Field -- but Stearns felt the price was too high.

The difference this time is that Stearns and Attanasio are convinced that the Brewers can do more than just grab a Wild Card spot. They believe that a Cubs team missing Arrieta and is catchable, and they might just build off the momentum of last season's 86 victories by winning 96 and an NL Central title this time around.

What if Milwaukee did find a way to sign Darvish or Arrieta? Or trade for Chris Archer, or ?

We just might have ourselves another great NL Central race between the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals.

There's no need to get ahead of ourselves, however. Adding Yelich and Cain is plenty enough to digest for one day.

When Team USA came off the ropes repeatedly to steal the gold medal from Puerto Rico at the World Baseball Classic, it was the highlight of Yelich's career. He was one of Jim Leyland's favorite players on the team, delivering consistently at the plate while playing a solid left field.

Then Yelich returned to Miami, where the team's reality has only occasionally matched its promise. He was solid in 2017 (.282/.369/.439), but look for him to reach another gear with the Brew Crew.

Yelich will thrive at Miller Park, which was never the case at Marlins Park, for whatever reason. His slugging percentage last season was .391 at home, .484 on the road; for his career, it's .396 at home and .465 on the road. The upward mobility is impossible not to notice.

We may have seen the best of Cain in 2015, when he was third in the American League MVP Award voting. He's entering his age-32 season, but is a career .290 hitter who could be useful either as a leadoff man (career-high .363 on-base percentage last season) or in the middle of the order, perhaps protecting Yelich.

Both Cain and Yelich are gritty players and strong clubhouse guys. Everything you'd want to plot a divisional overthrow.

Zing boom tararrel.