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Milwaukee Brewers add Jackie Bradley, Jr., more defense to NL Central

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Spending money? Again? Teams can do that?!

MLB: Game One-Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

As far as 2B is concerned, there’s little doubt that Kolten Wong has established himself as the single most dominant defender at the position in recent years. Since the start of the 2018 MLB season, no player in the game has accumulated more defensive value than Wong at the position, per FanGraphs, as he’s far and away the leader in UZR, UZR/150, and Def.

The Milwaukee Brewers waited late into the offseason to sign him, but sign him they did despite some pretty solid in-house options already around.

As far as CF is concerned, Jackie Bradley, Jr. long ago established himself as one of the very elite defenders in the game at the position. With a Gold Glove under his belt, he anchored the Boston outfield alongside Mookie Betts, and since the start of the 2018 MLB season has been rated the 6th best CF defender out of the 34 big leaguers who have played at least 1000 innings there, per FanGraphs’ Def.

Despite the presence of Lorenzo Cain above him on that elite CF defender list, the Milwaukee Brewers have now signed Bradley, Jr., too.

Bradley’s 2-year, $24 million contract with the Beers was announced Thursday, marking the second time in recent weeks Milwaukee has bucked the early trend set by the NL Central this winter and actually spent money on good baseball players to try to win baseball games. Milwaukee’s thaw of that ice also saw them add pitcher Brett Anderson, while St. Louis burst right through it with their huge splash addition of former Colorado Rockies star Nolan Arenado (as well as reunions with Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright). Similarly, the Chicago Cubs emerged late as a team with a smidgen of money to spend, adding the likes of Joc Pederson, Jake Arrieta, Jake Marisnick, and Brandon Workman on big league deals after previously crying poor for most of the offseason.

Bradley, Jr.’s addition to Milwaukee is interesting in several fashions. Already regarded well by Def last year, the Brewers have now added elite defenders at both 2B and CF, doing so while also gettin Cain back (who opted out of the 2020 season). Add-in that Luis Urias and Orlando Arcia are expected to be in the middle-infield mix, too, and Milwaukee has seemingly built quite the immovable object up the middle for this season. Perhaps that’s an preemptive strike against a return to NL-style play (meaning no DH) and the announced deadening of the ball, two developments that could well lead to more balls put into play than last year’s dingerfest.

From a broader perspective, though, it’s yet another indication that the Brewers are still serious about contending in an NL Central that still looks quite wide open. Arenado’s addition to St. Louis likely has them the clear frontrunners on paper, while Chicago’s additions merely helped dig them out of the hole they created by letting Kyle Schwarber walk and trading Yu Darvish for what maybe, maybe could be some 2025 help. Still, both those clubs held on to enough other talent to appear the cream of the division crop, a level Wong and Bradley, Jr. help Milwaukee climb into now, too.

That’s a three-headed tier of ambitious clubs who have actively tried to make their clubs better at times during this winter, even if Chicago took major steps back before doing so.

Then, there are the Reds, a club whose subtractions from the 2020 season have never once been truly replaced. That’s not to say there aren’t still some very, very good pieces and players on these Reds, it’s merely that they now have yet another spotlight pointed on the fact that they spent an entire offseason doing nothing to concretely augment a club that was finally, mercifully poised to (maybe) contend. And, once again, it’s a clear spotlight that the One Thing holding it all back is a commitment to actually spend money on the club by its owners.

Milwaukee got better today. Milwaukee’s roster got reassurance today that their ownership group is still going to do what it can to make them better when options are out there, something they’ll likely still do if the club needs help during the 2021 season. That’s the kind of sporting chance you’d expect every owner of every sporting club to provide for their players, especially if the club had an excruciatingly long void since they last won anything of note. One NL Central club got that endorsement again today, while another has been asked to simply wait around and hope once more.