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MLB season preview: Rebuilding Brewers still playing for the future

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The Milwaukee Brewers lost 89 games last season, which honestly, isn’t as bad as things could have been. That’s only one more loss than the team that employs Mike Trout, so in that context, the Brewers didn’t do too bad.

In 2017, the question is whether the Brewers are ready to take a step forward, if they still have some tearing down to do or if they’ll just sit there in neutral. While the Brewers might be able to avoid the cellar, they’re almost certainly not getting any higher than fourth place in the competitive NL Central.

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It seems very much like they’ll start the season with Ryan Braun in their lineup, even though he’s a desirable trade chip. So you have to wonder whether he’ll be there by the end of the season. They could very well move pitcher Matt Garza too, if he shows that he can help a contender. Translation: The Brewers can still add to their rebuild in the year ahead.

If they do, the true way to measure Milwaukee’s season will be two-fold: How much did we see from next-gen players such as Jonathan Villar, Keon Broxton and Lewis Brinson and who else did the rebuilding Brewers add to their ranks? Because 2017 is more about the future than anything else.

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: Eric Thames, Travis Shaw, Neftali Feliz
Subtractions: Chris Carter, Tyler Thornburg, Martin Maldonado

The Brewers aren’t in a position where they are looking to spend a ton of money, so the offseason was focused on signing talented players who have fallen on hard times. All three of their additions fit the bill. Thames had a middling career in the majors before going over to Korea and hitting the snot out of the ball. Shaw looked like a useful player for the Red Sox in 2015, but slumped badly in 2016. Feliz was once upon a time a star closer, but injuries have held him back in the past. The Brewers didn’t spend a ton on the trio, but all could provide solid upside should they return to form. The decision to cut Carter seemed odd at first, but Milwaukee believes Thames could be an adequate replacement. While Thornburg put up a 2.15 ERA last year, there was no need for the Brewers to keep an elite reliever around when they aren’t going to win a lot of games. (Chris Cwik)

Jonathan Villar is one players Brewers fans can be excited about. (AP)
Jonathan Villar is one players Brewers fans can be excited about. (AP)

KEY PLAYER
Jonathan Villar had an outstanding first season with the Milwaukee Brewers, which also happened to be his first full season in the majors. He hit .285/.369/.457, smacked 19 home runs (almost doubling his lifetime total through 2015), drew 79 walks, and stole a league-leading 62 bases. He played 107 games at shortstop, and 42 at third base. Oh, and he’s also just 26. That’s all pretty wonderful, and there’s no reason to believe he isn’t for real. Enjoy him, because that’s one less thing the rebuilding Brewers have to worry about. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup
1. Jonathan Villar, 2B (.285/.369/.457, 19 HR, 63 RBI, 92 R, 62 SB)
2. Keon Broxton, CF (.242/.354/.430, 9 HR, 19 RBI, 23 SB)
3. Ryan Braun, LF (.305/.365/.538, 30 HR, 91 RBI, 80, 16 SB)
4. Eric Thames, 1B (NA)
5. Domingo Santana, RF (.256/.345/.447, 11 HR, 32 RBI)
6. Travis Shaw, 3B (.242/.306/.421, 16 HR, 71 RBI)
7. Orlando Arcia, SS (.273/.358/.631, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 8 SB)
8. Andrew Susac, C (.235/.316/.471, 1 HR, 2 RBI)

Rotation
1. Matt Garza (6-8, 4.51 ERA, 101.2 IP, 70 K)
2. Junior Guerra (9-3, 2.81 ERA, 121.2 IP, 100 K)
3. Wily Peralta (7-11, 4.86 ERA, 127.2 IP, 93 K)
4. Jimmy Nelson (8-16, 4.62 ERA, 179.1 IP, 140 K)
5. Zach Davies (11-7, 3.97 ERA, 163.1 IP, 135 K)

Eric Thames is back in the U.S. after smashing homers in Korea. (Getty Images)
Eric Thames is back in the U.S. after smashing homers in Korea. (Getty Images)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
Like the Phillies, the Brewers are a rebuilding team that could fare better than expected. They still have Ryan Braun, in addition to a decent array of veteran pitchers that should keep them in games. If they hit, they could easily finish in fourth place with around 75 wins. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
If they don’t hit, it‘s going to be a struggle. There‘s just not a lot of margin for error here, meaning the Brewers could just as easily challenge for the worst record in the NL. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Will Jonathan Villar be as good as last season?

The Brewers offer no shortage of fantasy storylines, including the repatriation of Eric Thames and the debut of 20/20 threat Lewis Brinson. But without question, the biggest Milwaukee dilemma facing the fantasy community is what to do with Jonathan Villar. That dude is coming off a breakout season that exceeded even the most bullish expectations. We knew Villar was weapons-grade fast — he posted multiple 40-steal seasons in the minors — so the league-leading stolen base total (62) wasn’t a total shock. Almost everything else he did last season was a surprise, however.

Power, in particular, hasn’t been part of Villar’s profile, yet he cleared the fence 19 times in 2016, thanks largely to a September surge (8 HR). Villar was also a career .261 hitter in the minors who managed to slash .285/.369/.457 last year. It’s unlikely he’ll produce another .373 BABIP, so we have to expect his batting average to slide. Let’s just hope you draft him in a spot where you can accept a fantasy line that looks something like this: 85 R, 12 HR, 60 RBIs, 50 SB, .260 AVG. (Andy Behrens)

BEST FOLLOW
Joba Chamberlain, most recently of the Cleveland Indians, has joined the Brewers, and he’s having a lot of fun getting to know his new teammates. He recently discovered that Scooter Gennett does card tricks.

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That’s not the only reason to follow him on Twitter, though. He loves interacting with fans, and answers a lot of questions. And he recently went on a long digression about board games. If you’re looking for the guy who’s most likely to tweet pictures of his teammates sleeping on the plane with funny captions, Joba Chamberlain might just be your man.

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
On May 28, the Brewers are giving away a Robin Yount bobblehead. While that would normally be cool enough, this is no ordinary Yount bobble. Nope. This bobblehead features the Hall of Famer riding on a dang motorcycle. It’s meant to evoke Yount’s ride around County Stadium after the Brewers fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1982 World Series. Following the final game, Yount hopped on a bike and rode around the field with his left arm held in the air. That makes for a pretty unique giveaway, if you ask us. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs
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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!