In what’s becoming something of an annual tradition, the Milwaukee Brewers have made a late addition to their roster.
Last year, it was utilityman Brock Holt. Two years ago, a reunion with third baseman Mike Moustakas. This year, it’s longtime Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., who according to multiple reports reached agreement Thursday on a two-year, $24 million contract.
Bradley has the right to opt out after one year and $13 million, allowing him to become a free agent again after this season.
The deal is pending a physical so it hasn’t been confirmed by the team.
Milwaukee’s starting outfield was all but locked with Christian Yelich in left, Avisail Garcia in right and Lorenzo Cain back in center field after opting out of the 2020 season. Behind that trio, former high draft picks Derek Fisher and Billy McKinney were battling for a backup job this spring along with Tyrone Taylor, who saw playing time for the Brewers last September.
The Brewers faced a similar situation heading into the 2018 season, when the team signed Cain to a five-year, $80 million contract the same day it acquired Yelich in a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins. At the time, Milwaukee also had a robust corps of outfielders including Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana as well as prospects Taylor and former first-round pick Corey Ray.
It was the same story last season after Milwaukee signed Garcia to a two-year deal, adding him to a group that included Braun, Cain, Yelich and Ben Gamel. The Brewers planned to give Braun regular action at first base to make room in the outfield but than plan was scuttled when the National League added the designated hitter following its pandemic hiatus.
As he has in the past, manager Craig Counsell dismissed the notion there wouldn’t be enough playing time to go around.
“We don’t have any fourth outfielders,” Counsell said. “We’re going to have a lot of starting outfielders and we’re going to have to figure out how that works. That’s kind of how I’m viewing it. But there is playing time, absolutely.”
Bradley turns 31 on April 19 and is regarded as a top defensive center fielder. He had spent his entire eight-year career in Boston and hit.283 with seven homers and 22 RBIs during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He had a .364 on-base percentage and an .814 OPS in 55 games last season.
His career numbers include a .239 batting average, .321 on-base percentage. 732 OPS, 98 homers and 376 RBIs. He won a Gold Glove in 2018 and led the American League in assists by a center fielder in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Adding Bradley does provide a way to help manage the workload for Cain, who turns 35 next month and played just four games last season before opting out. The Brewers are taking a slow approach with him during spring training and with Bradley on the roster, could utilize a similar approach with Cain that they used with Braun over the past few years; minimizing his playing time during the regular season with structured off days in order to keep him fresh down the stretch run.
Counsell, though he couldn’t comment specifically on Bradley, was adamant his addition wouldn’t mean shifting Cain elsewhere on the diamond.
“Lorenzo’s our center fielder,” Counsell said.
Bradley has played center for 781 of his 873 career games, though he has made infrequent appearances at the other corner outfield spots. Cain has played center in about 90% of his career games, though he also has made 157 appearances in right field.
Bradley and Yelich are left-handed hitters, while Cain and García bat from the right side.
On the field
Adrian Houser worked a scoreless inning in his spring debut, but Eric Lauer gave up back-to-back home runs in the first of his two innings as the Brewers fell 5-1 to Cleveland at American Family Fields of Phoenix.
After Lauer (1-1) walked former teammate Ben Gamel to lead off the second, Yu Change hit the next pitch to left to make it 2-0. Mike Freeman followed with a home run on Lauer’s next offering.
“The home runs, nobody likes that, but I thought it got better as it went,” Counsell said. “The velocity of the fastball was better today. I thought he finished well, five straight outs, two strikeouts. Overall, I was happy with Eric’s outing. I thought we continue to go in the right direction. It’s just getting Eric out there. We’re building him up. That’s what’s most important for us to do at this point and I think we took another step toward that today.”
Lauer retired his next six batters in order but Chang struck again in the fourth, hitting his second homer of the game on a 2-0 offering from Clayton Andrews while Freeman gave Cleveland a 5-0 lead when he drove in Josh Naylor on a sacrifice fly in the sixth off Ethan Small.
Aaron Ashby turned in another impressive outing, striking out all three batters in the fifth inning on nine pitches. He also struck out three batters in his first outing of spring last week against the White Sox.
“His two innings have been very impressive,” Counsell said. “He clearly keeps going in the right direction. It’s an exciting player for us to keep watching.”
Milwaukee scored its lone run in the seventh when Corey Ray walked, moved to third on consecutive singles then came home on a groundout by Dustin Peterson. The Indians held the Brewers to just three hits. Yelich went 0-for-2 in his second spring start, as did regulars Wong, Keston Hiura and Garcia.
Around the horn
Right-hander Brandon Woodruff threw a live batting practice as he works toward making his first Cactus League start. Woodruff had been slowed by a sore back. ... Right-hander Freddy Peralta and left-hander Josh Hader will remain at the Brewers’ complex and throw in a simulated game Friday, Counsell said. It will mark the first game action for Hader this spring and the second outing for Peralta, who struck out three during a scoreless inning against the Diamondbacks earlier this week. ... Cain’s progress in getting back into game shape after sitting out last season is going a little slower than the team planned, but Counsell said at this point it’s not something the team is worried about.
— Associated Press contributed
Here’s everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
Here's everything you need to know as Milwaukee Brewers kick off spring training in Arizona
WHO'S ON THIRD
After Keston Hiura moved to first base to make way for Kolten Wong, third base remained the only position without an obvious starting candidate.
The Brewers brought Travis Shaw back on a minor-league contract, hoping he can return to the form in 2017-18, when he hit 63 home runs with 187 RBI. While Luis Urias (above) and former top-prospect Daniel Robertson are likely to get a shot at winning the job, too.
Acquired last winter in a trade with Seattle, Omar Narváez (above) was supposed to give the Brewers a much-needed offensive boost while admittedly being a work-in-progress behind the plate. Instead, Narvaez was one of many Brewers hitters to struggle last season but surprised the Brewers’ coaching staff and front office with his defensive improvements. He’s back again in 2021 but will have to battle for a job with the likes of Manny Piña, Jacob Nottingham and Luke Maile.
With Brett Anderson returning on a one-year deal, the Brewers will open camp with all five spots of their starting rotation seemingly filled. But as history has shown, it’s rare to get through an entire season with just five starters. So who’s waiting in the wings if and when the Brewers need a replacement? Eric Lauer (above) and Freddy Peralta will try to earn spots in the rotation this spring, as will former UW-Stevens Point standout Jordan Zimmermann, who is in camp on a minor league deal.
PLAYERS TO BE NAMED LATER
It was a quiet offseason for the Brewers, but they weren’t unique in that regard. Across baseball, trades and signings seemed to be few and far between as players and teams both waited out a winter of uncertainty. Now that camps are open, there’s a greater likelihood of trades and with more than 100 free agents still unsigned, the Brewers’ roster could have a new face or two before the season gets underway.
WILL IT LAST?
Baseball is back, but for how long? That might be the single biggest question this spring, not just for the Brewers but baseball as a whole. The pandemic still rages on and though vaccinations are on the rise, one infection can quickly become an outbreak that leaves an entire team sidelined indefinitely. Players resisted requests and suggestions to delay the start of spring training, and the regular season, by a month believing they proved last year they can complete a season safely. But the margin for error is still slim and another full-blown shutdown of spring training, which would ultimately impact the regular season, remains one large outbreak away.
SPRING TRAINING ROSTER
Teams are allowed to have up to 75 players in major league camp at any given time and the Brewers go into camp with all 40 of their roster spots filled along with 20 non-roster invitees. Once the regular season begins, active rosters will revert to the original 26-player limit that was planned for 2020 before the pandemic suspended operations. Teams still are allowed to add an additional player to the active roster for doubleheaders and can have a taxi squad of up to five players — including one catcher — on all road trips. Rosters will expand again in September, but only by two spots for a total of 28.
Pitchers (31): Brett Anderson, Clayton Andrews*, Aaron Ashby*, Alec Bettinger, Phil Bickford, Ray Black, Zach Brown*, Corbin Burnes, Jake Cousins*, J.P. Feyereisen, Dylan File, Josh Hader, Blaine Hardy*, Adrian Houser, Thomas Jankins*, Eric Lauer, Josh Lindblom, Hoby Milner*, Freddy Peralta, Angel Perdomo, Drew Rasmussen, Miguel Sanchez*, Ethan Small*, Brent Suter, Justin Topa, Quintin Torres-Costa*, Bobby Wahl, Devin Williams, Brandon Woodruff, Eric Yardley, Jordan Zimmermann*.
Catchers (6): Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry*, Luke Maile, Omar Narvaez, Jacob Nottingham, Manny Pina.
Infielders (11): Orlando Arcia, Zach Green*, Keston Hiura, Tim Lopes, Mark Mathias, Jace Peterson*, Daniel Robertson, Travis Shaw*, Brice Turang*, Luis Urias, Daniel Vogelbach, Kolten Wong.
Outfielders (11): Lorenzo Cain, Dylan Cozens*, Derek Fisher, Avisail Garcia, Tristen Lutz*, Billy McKinney, Garrett Mitchell*, Corey Ray, Pablo Reyes*, Tyrone Taylor, Christian Yelich.
* — Non-roster invitee
Manager Craig Counsell’s coaching staff will have a different look in 2021. Third-base coach Ed Sedar has transitioned into a new, advisory role while longtime bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel’s contract was not renewed by the team after last season.
Sedar will be replaced on the staff by Quintin Berry, who had been the Brewers' minor-league outfield and base-running coordinator for the last two seasons after concluding his 13-year playing career serving as a player/coach with Class AAA Colorado Springs in 2018.
Néstor Corredor and Adam Weisenburger will replace Hanel and Robinson Diaz as the team's bullpen catchers.
The rest of Counsell's staff will remain intact moving forward, including hitting coaches Andy Haines (above left) and Jacob Cruz. Chris Hook and Steve Karsay will handle Milwaukee’s pitchers and bullpen, respectively, and Pat Murphy returns for a sixth season as Counsell’s bench coach.
Jason Lane, the Brewers’ first base coach last season, returns, too, though Counsell planned to decide during spring training where Lane and Berry would be used in games this season.
Manager — Craig Counsell (7th season). Bases — Quintin Berry (1st season), Jason Lane (5th season); Bullpen — Steve Karasy (3rd season); Bench — Pat Murphy (6th season); Hitting — Jacob Cruz (2nd season); Andy Haines (3rd season); Bullpen catchers — Néstor Corredor (1st season); Adam Weisenburger (1st season).
CACTUS LEAGUE SCHEDULE
The Cactus League schedule underwent a last-minute adjustment earlier this month with the elimination of split-squad games. The Brewers will play 27 games in Arizona — 14 at American Family Fields and 13 on the road — and wrap up their exhibition slate with a pair of contests against the Rangers at Globe Life Park on March 29 and 30 before returning to Milwaukee ahead of their April 1 regular-season opener against the Twins at American Family Field.
February: 28 — @ Chicago White Sox. March: 1 — at Diamondbacks; 2 — vs. Athletics.; 3 — at Padres; 4 — vs. Cleveland.; 5 — at Rockies; 6 — vs Cubs; 7 — OFF; 8 — vs. Angels; 9 — vs. Giants; 10 — at Athletics; 11 — vs. Royals; 12 — at Cubs; 13 — vs. Rangers; 14 — at Mariners; 15 — vs. Padres; 16 — at Dodgers; 17 — OFF DAY; 18 — at Angels; 19 — vs. Diamondbacks; 20 — at Reds (7 p.m.); 21 — vs. Mariners; 22 — vs Cleveland; 23 — vs. Dodgers; 25 — at Giants (8 p.m.); 26 — vs. White Sox; 27 — at Royals; 28 — at Reds; 29 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas); 30 — vs. Rangers (Arlington, Texas).
(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all games start at 2:10 p.m. local time prior to March 14 and 3:10 p.m. after, due to Arizona not observing Daylight Savings Time)
IF YOU GO
Unlike previous seasons, fans will not be able to watch the team’s workouts, which take place on the complex’s ancillary fields. That means no opportunities for kids — little and big alike — to get autographs and pictures. The team store at American Family Fields will be open and the team announced last week that a limited number of fans — up to 23% of capacity at the 10,000-seat stadium — will be allowed to attend games when Cactus League play gets underway.