MILWAUKEE -- Fifty years ago, the Seattle Pilots took the field for their only season with visions of finishing in third place. They finished last, filed for bankruptcy and moved to Milwaukee the following year to become the Brewers.Five decades later, the franchise finds itself in a different place. Unlike
MILWAUKEE -- Fifty years ago, the Seattle Pilots took the field for their only season with visions of finishing in third place. They finished last, filed for bankruptcy and moved to Milwaukee the following year to become the Brewers.
Five decades later, the franchise finds itself in a different place. Unlike their most recent playoff teams in 2008 and '11, this Brewers club didn't lose a free agent the likes of CC Sabathia or Prince Fielder. Instead, a team that played the Dodgers to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series is returning most of its core, including NL MVP Christian Yelich and a crop of emerging pitchers, from Corbin Burnes in the early innings to Josh Hader late, who should benefit from the experience afforded by the team's deep playoff run in the coming year.
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For many, that means the vision for the 2019 Brewers is to win at least one more game.
World Series or bust.
"I'm glad our fans have high expectations," general manager David Stearns said. "They are good players, and good players deserve high expectations. We had a very good year last year; we went deep into the playoffs. Whenever you have a year like that and you bring back the majority of your team, and make a couple of additions -- which we have -- expectations are going to be high. That's something to embrace, and we'll continue to do that."
Stearns' additions were headlined by the surprise signing of catcher Yasmani Grandal, not to the sort of multiyear deal expected going into the offseason, but a one-year contract that guarantees $18.25 million and gives Milwaukee the frontline catcher it has lacked since trading Jonathan Lucroy at the height of his ability amid an organizational rebuild.
The other additions were tactical rather than sensational. Stearns traded for reliever Alex Claudio, who will supplement Hader as manager Craig Counsell's left-handed relief options, and Bobby Wahl, a hard-throwing right-hander whom the Brewers believe has a high ceiling. Stearns traded Keon Broxton to the Mets for Wahl, and another outfielder, Domingo Santana, to the Mariners for Ben Gamel, who provides a left-handed outfield bat, more club control plus some flexibility afforded by a Minor League option. The Brewers signed free agent right-hander Jake Petricka for the bullpen and infielder Cory Spangenberg as a utility man and potential platoon second baseman.
And that's it. The rest of the roster will look familiar.
"I feel like the expectations that you have personally as a player and as a team are always going to exceed those on the outside, no matter how lofty those are," said Yelich, who along with Lorenzo Cain represented Stearns' big winter splashes a year ago. "We understand what we are capable of. We've just got to build on it. We can't take any steps back. We've got to grow as individual players and as a team. I think we are all going to do that."
Travis Shaw said it even more plainly: "We expect to get to the World Series."
"This is the window we're in right now," Shaw added. "We have a nice little window right here where everyone is under control and we can go for it here the next couple of years. That's what everyone is shooting for.
"We're there. There is no reason to think we can't get further. The front office realizes it. It has made the acquisitions the last two years to better us. To put us in position to be the best team in the National League. We were one game short of that last year. We had the most wins in the regular season, so they are pushing all the right buttons. We've just got to continue to play well and stay healthy. It's a long season, but I think we are in a good spot."
One player offered a dissenting opinion. Grandal played the past four seasons for a Dodgers team that has won six consecutive NL West crowns and reached the World Series each of the past two years only to lose to the Astros in 2017 and the Red Sox in '18.
Now he joins a team just coming into high expectations.
"I think we just need to get away from the label of 'World Series or bust.' It's just a label," Grandal said. "For us, it's going to be just playing on a daily basis and figuring out how we need to win a game. If we do that, we're going to be successful at the end of the year. In L.A., every year is 'World Series or bust', and people didn't really understand the fact that we won the division five, six years in a row. For an organization to be able to accomplish that, for a chance to get to the postseason, is huge.
"Forget about people saying we need to go back and repeat what we did. We're capable of doing it, we know we can do it, and now just go out and play."
They will begin play soon. Brewers pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Wednesday.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.