Milwaukee Brewers 2019 offseason priorities
Once the baseball skidded underneath outfielder Trent Grisham’s glove and Washington grabbed a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning of the 2019 wild-card game, dreams of a repeat appearance in the NLCS for Milwaukee quickly faded away, and the Brewers were ousted into the offseason. It can’t get here soon enough. So, what are the biggest unknowns Milwaukee will need to solve these next few months? The Brewers’ first priority should be building star outfielder Christian Yelich an indestructible kneecap, but after that’s finished …
1. Re-sign catcher Yasmani Grandal
Milwaukee signed Grandal to a one-year deal worth $18.3 million last year with a mutual option for 2020. Here’s some breaking news about mutual options: they are rarely exercised. Coming off one of his best offensive seasons, Grandal will likely (ok, definitely) test the open market for a raise. The Brewers should give it to him. In his debut campaign with Milwaukee, Grandal set career bests in hits (126), RBI (77), walks (108), on-base percentage (.380) and OPS (.848) while playing in 153 games, the most of any big-league catcher. Grandal’s defense wasn’t always spectacular, but his bat proved worth the occasional miscue and is definitely worth the price tag this offseason. The other options? Manny Pina hit just .228 and turns 33 in June while prospect Jacob Nottingham had a Triple-A slash line of .231/.313/.355 in 83 games. The free-agent market will be filled with players older than Grandal (31), like Jason Castro and Alex Avila.
2. Bring in an ace
One glance at the comment section of the FOX Sports Wisconsin Facebook page will tell you this is what fans are clamoring for the most. Brandon Woodruff looks like he’ll be a star for years to come, but after that? It gets a bit hairy. Milwaukee has been a bit lucky with its starting rotation the past two seasons -- Jhoulys Chacin pitched out of his mind in 2018 (reminder: he was the NLCS Game 7 starter!) before coming back to Earth and being waived this season, and Jordan Lyles -- now an impending free agent -- was that unexpected guy to rise in 2019 after a trade-deadline deal. Long story short: the Brewers need an ace to rely on. Not knowing the trade market, we do know the top man on the free-agent market will be Houston starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, who led the league with a 2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts and 13.8 K/9 in 2019. He could be looking at offers starting at $30 million per year, so if he’s out of the Brewers’ price range, there are other options. Stephen Strasburg could opt out of his deal and become a free agent. Madison Bumgarner, perhaps the best postseason pitcher of all time, is also hitting the market. Names like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi aren’t exactly aces, but would be a bit cheaper. Milwaukee could also bring back Wade Miley, who posted career bests with the Brewers in 2018 before going to Houston this season and logging a 14-6 record, 3.98 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 167 1/3 innings. He’d be a solid addition. If the Brewers want an undisputed ace, though, Cole is their guy.
3. Re-sign infielder Mike Moustakas
Similar to Grandal, Moustakas has a mutual option for next season with Milwaukee and is expected to decline. But also like Grandal, that doesn’t mean Moustakas won’t be in a Brewers uniform next season – he did come back for 2019 despite being a free agent, after all. Despite ending the season on a bit of a September slump, the 31-year-old mashed his way to a .254/.329/.516 slash line with 35 homers (his second season of 30+ dingers). Losing Moustakas to free agency wouldn’t be as big of a loss than if Grandal wasn’t brought back, but even in the days of juiced baseballs, it’s hard to find 30 homers paired with solid defense in the hot corner.
4. Who’s on first?
Jesus Aguilar never lived up to his All-Star 2018 campaign and was traded away to Tampa Bay. So, Milwaukee is left with two players on roster that can play first base in Eric Thames and Tyler Austin. Thames, who smashed 25 homers and gave the position stability in September, has a club option for 2020. And Austin might be dismissed. Veteran utility man Howie Kendrick suddenly is an intriguing free-agent option. He came out of nowhere this season and registered a career-best .344/.395/.572 slash line -- at age 35 -- and would add a solid right-handed bat as well as postseason experience to Milwaukee’s lineup. Plus, Kendrick can play second and third base, giving manager Craig Counsell a bit of flexibility. There is potentially another option – Ryan Braun. The Brewers ditched that plan this year, but with Trent Grisham emerging it will once again be a crowded outfield with Braun, Grisham, Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Moving a 36-year-old Braun to first wouldn’t be the craziest idea, and Milwaukee would have all offseason to figure it out and get him acclimated.
5. Pay closer Josh Hader
“Haderade” is about to get paid. Milwaukee’s star reliever qualifies for a “Super Two” designation, meaning he’s played just enough to be eligible for arbitration despite having less than three years of MLB service. Hader’s numbers were elite this past year – 2.62 ERA, 37 saves and 16.4 K/9, but hitters took advantage of a few too many fastballs left low in the zone and smacked 15 home runs (1.8 per nine innings). Regardless, Hader is still one of baseball’s best relievers (his career numbers: 2.42 ERA, 0.850 WHIP, 4.5 H/9 and 15.3 K/9) and will require a monster raise from his $687,000 salary in 2019.
6. Figure out Travis Shaw’s role moving forward
Another decision Milwaukee has to make will be whether or not it offers Shaw another chance. Shaw batted .258 with 63 home runs across his first two years in Milwaukee (2017-18), but a wrist injury paired with a slow start derailed his season. The 29-year-old was optioned twice to Triple-A San Antonio and hit an abysmal .157, including a horrendous .128/.293/.191 slash line after the All-Star break. This decision might come down to purely dollars and cents. Shaw was paid just over $4.6 million this season and is once again eligible for arbitration. Due to rules of arbitration, Milwaukee can reduce his salary by a maximum of 20%, meaning the lowest it can pay Shaw is $3.7 million in 2020. Is that worth taking a chance on a guy who is one year removed from back-to-back 30-homer seasons? Milwaukee might opt to nontender the struggling infielder instead.