Milwaukee Brewers' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024

Feb 24, 2024; Peoria, Arizona, USA; Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Jackson Chourio (11) high fives
Feb 24, 2024; Peoria, Arizona, USA; Milwaukee Brewers center fielder Jackson Chourio (11) high fives / Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers are defending NL Central winners, but this is a far different club from the one that won 92 games in 2023. That team’s best pitcher is in Baltimore, its second best is recovering from shoulder surgery, its ace closer has a sore back, and the projected 2024 star hasn’t played a minute of major league ball.

Oh, and the team’s 2023 manager is now running operations for their biggest geographic and divisional rival.

The good news is there’s not much that can go any more wrong than what’s already happened.

Milwaukee Brewers' 2024 Best-Case Scenario

None of the above means the Brewers are in a hopeless situation entering 2024. This is, after all, the NL Central we’re talking about, where everybody’s in contention because nobody stands out. So while it takes a bit of imagination to project new manager Pat Murphy leading the Brewers to a divisional repeat, that could happen.

The best-case scenario begins in the hospital recovery room, with closer Devin Williams coming back by mid-June from the surgery performed to correct recurring back problems. Williams is probably the game’s best closer, so his absence is a big deal.

Brandon Woodruff, sidelined last season to shoulder surgery, has deemed himself a lost cause for 2024, so that really turns up the heat on a rotation that also lost Corbin Burnes in a trade with Baltimore. Burnes’ replacement is supposed to be veteran Jakob Junis, but Junis was scratched from his final spring start with shoulder soreness. The Brewers need him to bounce back quickly.

Milwaukee added two components over the winter designed to beef up an offense that was only 17th in run production last season. The headliner is Jackson Chourio, signed over the winter to an eight-year, $82 million deal despite the inconvenient truth that he has yet to step foot on a big league diamond.  Rated the No. 2 prospect in all of MLB entering 2024, Chourio produced an .805 OPS in Double-A and Triple-A last season.

If the Brewers are to leave their mark in 2024, Chourio has to be a front-runner for Rookie of the Year.

The other addition of promise was first baseman Rhys Hoskins, signed as a free agent. Hoskins was released by the Phillies after missing all of 2023, but his reputation as a power bat includes a 30-homer, .794 OPS season for the 2022 National League champions.

Milwaukee’s latest effort to plug a long-standing gap at third base is personified by rookie Joey Ortiz, the team’s No. 5 prospect. Ortiz, who came over from Baltimore in the Burnes deal, hit .321 at Triple-A last season.

If the Brewers can put a productive Hoskins, Chourio and Ortiz together with their returning assets – chiefly catcher William Contreras, shortstop Willy Adames and veteran outfielder Christian Yelich – they’ll have a core of a competitive offense in their division.    

Then it becomes a question of whether the starters – Freddy Peralta, Wade Miley, Colin Rea and journeymen Junis and Joe Ross – can produce consistently.

Milwaukee Brewers' 2024 Worst-Case Scenario

The list of ‘what-ifs’ in Milwaukee is lengthy and potentially debilitating. What if Williams doesn’t come back, or doesn’t come back effectively? What if the Junis ‘soreness’ turns out to be serious, and what if he can't cover enough innings? What if Chourio finds major league life to be tougher than was projected? What if Hoskins finds that the torn ACL he suffered in his left knee last spring has robbed him of some or all of his best asset, his power?

Even if all of those concerns are ill-founded, legitimate questions remain. Absent Woodruff and Burnes, the Brewers’ rotation looks problematic at best. Peralta’s all right, but Miley – now the projected No.2  starter – has never filled that big a role in his 13-season career. At age 37, he made only 23 starts and pitched just 120 innings last season, his career averages being 24 and 134 respectively. He's currently injured.

Behind Miley, Rea, Ross and Junis are also being asked to step up big-time. Rea made 22 starts good for 125 innings last season, Ross hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2021, and Junis largely worked out of the bullpen last season in San Francisco after making 17 starts in 2022.

The Brewers led the majors in fewest runs allowed per game last season, but that was largely the work of Burnes, Peralta and Williams, two of whom won’t be around this April. This revamped rotation has a whiff of disaster around it.

Most realistic scenario for 2024 Brewers

Give Chourio a .300 average, 25 home runs and the Rookie of the Year Award, give Hoskins 25 more homers and 100 RBI, give Yelich something approaching his MVP season of 2018, give Ortiz a .290 breakout season and competent defensive play at third, and give Peralta 15 wins and a 3.00 ERA. What do you have then?

You have a plausible NL Central contender. But while all those individual performances are plausible, the likelihood of all of them coming through is slim.

And even if they do, the pitching questions on any day Peralta doesn’t throw are substantive. The best guess is that by May 1, Murphy is scrounging around the waiver wire, the minors, or his own bullpen looking for anybody who can make a decent five-inning start. In that event, mid-pack in the NL Central will be looking pretty optimistic, and the date of Williams’ return will be functionally irrelevant.

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