The Milwaukee Brewers Have Done Well to Boost Their Offense
It’s been an interesting offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers. The team has publicly made a point of reducing payroll and moving away from key players that were headed to for free agency following the 2024 season. Most recently they sent former Cy Young award-winning pitcher Corbin Burnes to the Baltimore Orioles for a small package. Many of their moves have revolved around reduction, specifically in the pitching department while replacing them with cheaper budget moves aimed to carry them from year to year at the moment. This thought process has focused primarily on the starting pitching side of things, but it has extended now to the offense finally. Not long ago the Brewers signed first baseman slugger Rhys Hoskins to a two-year deal and more recently signed slugging catcher Gary Sánchez to a one-year contract. Despite all the circumstances surrounding the path of the Brewers currently, their offense is now better off than it was a month ago.
Hoskins, 31 in March, found himself a free agent for the first time after spending the first seven years of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. Since his debut in 2017, Hoskins quickly developed a reputation as a fearsome slugger with a keen eye at the plate. He has four seasons with 20 or more home runs and has a pristine 13.5% career walk rate. 2024 will be a redemption tour for Hoskins after he lost the entire 2023 season due to an ACL tear suffered in Spring Training. The injury came at an unfortunate time for Hoskins as he was a year away from free agency and looking for a way to set himself up for a nice payday, preferably with the Phillies. From his debut in August 2017 through the 2022 season, Hoskins ranked among the National League leaders in home runs (fourth, 148), RBIs (fourth, 405), extra-base hits (fourth, 304), walks (fifth, 388), total bases (seventh, 1,195) and doubles (eighth, 149).
It stands to reason that he would have been able to continue that production in 2023 had he been able to play. Unfortunately, the injury forced the Phillies to pivot in their plans and they ultimately decided to move Bryce Harper to first base, a position he quickly grew accustomed to, leaving Hoskins expendable once the season was over. Needing a new home, he now heads to the Brew Crew where he can have an impact.
First base was a necessity for the Brewers. Heading into the season, left-handed hitting Jake Bauers was projected to earn the bulk of playing time. He isn’t particularly an offensive threat at the plate and now appears penciled in for a bench spot with an ability to play first and some outfield. The Brewers instead will replace him with Hoskins who, in 2022, ranked in the 70th percentile or above in nearly every offensive category, including expected wOBA (75th), barrel rate (78th) and chase rate (81st). He has a career .846 OPS and a slugging percentage of just below .500 and has averaged 36 home runs per 162 games. Additionally, Hoskins brings a career OPS of .921 against left-handed pitchers, something the Brewers have struggled with in recent years.
Defensively, Hoskins isn’t exactly the best defender out there. In terms of Outs Above Average he’s posted a mark of -11 and has -7 DRS. He is often graded as a poor defender, but the offense he brings to the table seems to be a palatable trade-off once he’s slated into the middle of the order. Hoskins may tend to strike out a little more than league average, but his ability to draw walks helps offset it along with his ability to club dingers and hit for a respectable .240 AVG.
The deal is worth $34 million, with Hoskins set to earn $12 million in 2024. Furthermore, he has the ability to opt out after the 2024 season, earning a $4 million buyout in 2026. However, he could earn up to $48 million over a potential three-season should he stay and have a mutual option for 2026, which could still become a $4 million buyout. Either way, the Brewers are paying Hoskins well, but it doesn’t handcuff them in the future.
Speaking of increasing offensive output on a budget, the signing of Gary Sánchez is a solid move for the Brewers, even if he doesn’t necessarily fit a specific spot on the roster.
Sánchez, 31, has been a consistent slugger since becoming a full-time big leaguer in 2016 with the New York Yankees. While he has struggled in most other aspects of hitting, the power has always been part of the package. He has reliably been on a pace to hit 20-30 home runs per season and owns a career .469 SLG. Due to the outlying struggles, Sánchez had a difficult time finding a job in 2023 after playing 128 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2022.
He started the year in the minors with the San Francisco Giants before opting out once it was clear he wasn’t going to get a roster spot. He then landed with the New York Mets where he was brought up to the big league team for a short time, three games to be exact, before he was placed on waivers. He then landed with the San Diego Padres where he ended up sticking for the rest of the season and turned in a solid season. In 75 games, Sánchez slashed .218/.292/.500 with 19 home runs and 46 RBI for the Friars, accumulating 2.5 WAR and 115 wRC+.
There had been interest from the Padres as well as the Pittsburgh Pirates, but nothing came to fruition for either team. Sánchez now aims to squeeze as much playing time as he can out the Brewers. On paper, he appears to mainly slot in as a backup catcher and part-time designated hitter. The Brewers already have a much better all-around catcher in William Contreras and have a slew of left-handed hitting players looking for reps as the DH, namely Christian Yelich. Defense was never Sánchez’s strong suit, but he has shown growth over the past couple of seasons. He was credited with 7 DRS in 2023 and received positive grades in 2022 with the Twins. His pitch framing also improved to be considered to be a positive over the past two seasons as well as his ability to block pitches and frame. Still, he’s not exactly the top option for an everyday role in that department.
As a DH, he can at least fit in nicely in a platoon situation if needed, despite having fairly neutral platoon splits in his career. Last season, Sánchez was a menace against left-handed pitching where he hit .267/.304/.680 against with a 162 wRC+. He struggled against righties but has held his own historically. He adds some limited versatility, but his bat is a boost for the Brewers who are looking to improve their offense across the board with a growing crop of position players. With a reported $7 million price tag, it seems like a bargain compared to what he can provide with extended playing time.
Will the signings of Hoskins and Sánchez make the Brewers into a championship-caliber team in 2024? I don’t believe so. While they do a lot to help stabilize the lineup with some power bats, the Brewers concerns remain with their starting rotation. With the subtractions of Adrian Houser, Brandon Woodruff, and Corbin Burnes, the Brewers will have to hope they can maintain a dominant rotation with the pieces that remain and the cheap deals they’ve signed. The Brewers have a history of success, and they will have to rely on that history if they want to make it far into the playoffs.
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