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Milwaukee Brewers 2024 outlook: A lot of changes in the offseason but Brew Crew could still contend

Milwaukee Brewers
Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

While the Milwaukee Brewers won the NL Central for the second time in three seasons, they’re not exactly expected to repeat this year. It’s been a rough winter for the Brew Crew, and it started by seeing Craig Counsell depart for the division-rival Chicago Cubs. It’s always difficult to quantify just how much of a role the manager plays in today’s game, but the Cubs did their best by offering Counsell a five-year, $40 million deal, making him the highest-paid manager in baseball.

It should also be noted that Counsell is the Brewers’ winningest manager in franchise history at 707-625, good for a .531 winning percentage, which equates to an 86-win season year after year. Outside of his first full year as skipper in 2016, the Brewers had finished either first or second in the Central every year from 2017-2023 with Counsell at the helm. Milwaukee made the postseason five times in his tenure, and had made the postseason just four times in the previous 45 years, which comes out to once a decade on average.

Pat Murphy is the team’s new manager, with former All Star Rickie Weeks signing on as associate manager. Murphy had been the Brewers’ bench coach since 2016, and his big-league experience as manager is limited to the half-season he served as the interim manager with the San Diego Padres in 2015 after they fired Bud Black. Murphy went 42-54. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also served as manager for one game, a 9-1 loss to the Oakland A’s.

There were plenty of transactions during the offseason involving the Brewers, but the 2024 season in Milwaukee is really going to test the systems that the club has put in place. The team is known for brewing up pitchers and getting performances on the mound out of nowhere. They’re going to need to work some of that patented magic to remain in the conversation this season.

Milwaukee Brewers additions and subtractions

milwaukee brewers
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The Milwaukee Brewers have had one of the busiest winters in all of baseball, trading Mark Canha to Detroit, ace Corbin Burnes to Baltimore, and Adrian Houser to the Mets. They also lost Carlos Santana, Victor Caratini, and Andrew Chafin in free agency. Those six players combined to put up 10.1 WAR last season, with Burnes leading the way with 3.4. Still, that’s a collection of veteran talent that was solid in their time for Milwaukee last year.

The big additions for the club have been left-hander DL Hall and third baseman Joey Ortiz from the Burnes trade, and the signing of free agent first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in March of last year while playing for the Philadelphia Phillies and missed the 2023 season.

If you take a look at the WAR that the team is losing (8.6) and compare it to what they’ve brought in (8.7), then you see a 0.1 WAR increase, even with the subtractions from last year’s squad. They won 92 games last season, but with the losses of their top two pitchers, Burnes in a trade and Woodruff to injury, then there are certainly questions about just how good this club will be in 2024.

Milwaukee Brewers 2024 team outlook

Milwaukee Brewers
Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The projections over at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus see the Milwaukee Brewers fairly similarly, with BP seeing a 79.5-82.5 season ahead of the Crew, and FG just rounding up to an even 80-82. That’s a 12-win drop-off from last season. Part of it is because the St. Louis Cardinals are projected to be better this season, while Milwaukee is dealing with a bit of a transition.

Yet, if you’re looking for optimism, Milwaukee is also projected to be right in the thick of things. The best projection on St. Louis is at 85 wins, which isn’t an insurmountable deficit. On the other hand, the Pittsburgh Pirates, projected to finish last, are a 73-win team. Over at BP, the Brewers are right in the middle of both club, six games ahead of Pittsburgh and six back of St. Louis. FanGraphs has it even tighter, with those teams being just three games away in either direction.

That could end up being right where Milwaukee wants to be. Right now, predicting this team is pretty tricky. They’ve added Hoskins to the 24th-ranked offense by wRC+ (92), but Hoskins also missed all of last season, so he’s hardly a sure thing. How will their typically reliable pitching staff perform without the top two pitchers atop the rotation? The answers to these questions will likely determine the fate of the Brewers this year.

The underlying theme of the winter, even with big names headed elsewhere, has been the eight year, $82 million contract that 20-year-old Jackson Chourio signed. MLB Pipeline has him as MLB’s No. 2 prospect, and ZiPS has him launching 17 homers and swiping 35 bags in his rookie season. If he comes out and takes the game by storm, then Milwaukee could have a shot at the division once again.

Milwaukee Brewers player to keep an eye on in 2024

milwaukee brewers
Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

With the departure of Burnes, all eyes will be on DL Hall and Joey Ortiz. Hall has mostly been used in relief in his two stints in the big leagues, but Milwaukee plans to use him as a starter this season. In 191/3 innings in relief last year he posted a 3.26 ERA and struck out 28.4% of the batters he faced. If he’s anything close to that pitcher with a larger workload, the Brewers may be in good shape.

But it’s Ortiz that will be interesting to watch. He was with the Orioles from April 27-29, May 14-24, and June 15-23 last season, getting a total of 34 plate appearances, batting .212 with a .206 OBP, and holding a 17 wRC+. It wasn’t a great debut, but it also came in three small servings. Now with Milwaukee, he’ll be given some room to run.

Last year in the minors, Ortiz hit .321 with a .378 OBP, nine homers and 11 stolen bases, and held a 121 wRC+ in Triple-A. It wouldn’t be fair to expect him to repeat that level of production in his first full season in the big leagues with a brand new club, but if he can be something close to league average, then Milwaukee may have something brewing with this lineup. It’s an interest mix of veterans and young guys, and the young guys have a history of success in the minor leagues.

The projections may not be all-in on the Brewers, but when you’re playing in the NL Central, you always have a shot.

Jason Burke covers MLB for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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