Milwaukee Brewers Hot Stove primer
Baseball’s Hot Stove season is upon us and there’s no reason to think the Milwaukee Brewers won’t be active.
With a few holes on their roster, the Brewers could look to free agency, or perhaps the minors, to fill the gaps.
Below we give a position-by-position synopsis on where Milwaukee stands heading into the 2020 season and some potential additions.
One thing we can’t foresee is any trades the Brewers might make. And based on general manager David Stearns’ history, he’ll make at least one.
Before the 2016 season, with Milwaukee in rebuilding mode, Stearns made five significant trades, netting such players as Chase Anderson, Freddy Peralta, Manny Pina and Jonathan Villar. The following year he made two trades, including one with Boston in which the Brewers obtained Travis Shaw. In 2018, Stearns swung for the fences and acquired Christian Yelich, giving up three prospects to the Marlins. And last offseason, Milwaukee garnered Alex Claudio, Ben Gamel and Bobby Wahl in three separate deals.
Keeping in mind Stearns is likely to swing another trade or two, here’s how things stand for the Brewers this offseason:
Milwaukee dealt away Chase Anderson while Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Lyles are free agents. That leaves a rotation perhaps bereft of starters. Brandon Woodruff should be a lock. Zach Davies should join him, but he’s arbitration eligible and, according to MLBTradeRumors.com’s estimation, is in line to make $5 million in 2020. Adrian Houser split his time between the rotation and bullpen in 2019 (17 starts, 18 relief appearances) and could easily join the group. No other returning pitcher had more than eight starts for Milwaukee this past year.
The pitcher who had those eight was Freddy Peralta. He’s still only 23 and perhaps ready for a full-time starting role. Jimmy Nelson struggled in his return from injuries and is projected by MLBTR to make $3.7 in arbitration. He’s definitely a nontender candidate.
After that … there’s Corbin Burnes, who struggled mightily, but is still only 25. Brent Suter pitched well in relief coming back from Tommy John surgery and perhaps could be moved back into the rotation.
Down on the farm, there’s not much. Left-hander Trey Supak excelled at Double-A but got lit up after being promoted to Triple-A. Zack Brown, the team’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, posted a 5.79 ERA at San Antonio in 2019. Young guns like Aaron Ashby and Ethan Small need more seasoning.
That leaves free agency. Or, of course trades. But either way good starting pitching doesn’t come cheap.
Five free-agent starters received qualifying offers from their teams, meaning the club that signs any of those will lose a draft pick. Milwaukee will be somewhat lower in the draft, but it’s always a consideration. Those pitchers are Madison Bumgarner, Gerrit Cole, Jake Odorizzi, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler. Cole and Strasburg should command the most lucrative contract, and can the Brewers engage in a bidding war? Probably not. Wheeler and Odorizzi are fine but not top-of-the line starters and perhaps not worth the extra compensation.
However, the rest of the free-agent class isn’t exactly stellar. Hyun-Jim Ryu could command a nice deal, but he’s been injury prone and one has to wonder how he’ll do outside Los Angeles. Julio Teheran has some upside potential and will only be 29 this season (most of the free-agent class are 30 years or older). Left-hander Dallas Keuchel won’t have any draft compensation this year, although he’ll want a multiyear deal. Still, he could be worth it. Even without a spring training and missing half the year before signing with Atlanta, he posted a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts.
Other potential starters include guys like Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Tanner Roark. And, of course, there’s always Gonzalez and Lyles, with whom the Brewers are quite familiar.
Josh Hader is due a big raise in arbitration and one thing we probably can agree on is he won’t be nontendered and will get it. We’re not so sure about Corey Knebel, though. After missing all of 2019, Knebel is projected to get the same $5.125 million he made last season. The question is do the Brewers trust him to be healthy?
Alex Claudio and Junior Guerra are also arbitration eligible. The projections: $2.2 million for Claudio and $3.5 million for Guerra. It will be interesting to see what the Brewers decide.
Besides the potential starters listed above, all of whom could find themselves in the bullpen, other relievers on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster are Ray Black, Jake Faria, Deolis Guerra, Angel Perdomo, Wahl, Devin Williams and Trevor Williams.
There’s always a bounty of relievers available on the free-agent market. The biggest one, former Brewers left-hander Will Smith, was given a qualifying offer by San Francisco. Another lefty, Drew Pomeranz, excelled with Milwaukee after being acquired from the Giants … which of course means he’ll probably be commanding a decent contract on the open market. Another interesting name is right-hander Dellin Betances, who had some dominating years with the Yankees but pitched in just one game in 2019 due to injuries.
Yasmani Grandal bet on himself and it worked. Grandal had a big year for the Brewers and, as expected, declined his mutual option to enter free agency, where he will (once again) seek a lucrative multiyear deal. A good defender, Grandal, who just turned 31, hit .246/.380/468 with 28 home runs for Milwaukee. He should have his suitors this go-around, especially since he doesn’t have any draft-pick compensation attached to him.
The question for Milwaukee could be if not Grandal, then who?
The Brewers brought back Manny Pina, picking up his option. Of course, Milwaukee signed Grandal last year and relegated Pina, who will be 33 in June, to backup duties this past season. He hit .228/.313/.411 in just 179 plate appearances while throwing out a career-worst 25% of attempted basestealers.
One of the deals in Stearns’ first year as GM was to acquire catcher Jake Nottingham. He’s had a couple of brief stints in Milwaukee the past couple of years but hit just .231/.313/.355 at Triple-A in 2019. He turns 25 in April. The other catcher on Milwaukee’s 40-man roster is David Freitas, who had a good year with San Antonio but turns 31 in March and has a career major-league slashline of .200/.268/.288 in 143 PA.
Mario Feliciano was the Carolina League MVP in 2019, but Single-A is a long way from the majors. Perhaps he makes it to Milwaukee at some point in 2020, but it’s hard to see that being in March/April.
The free-agent market offers a number of veteran stopgaps, including Alex Avila, Jason Castro, Travis d’Arnaud and Yan Gomez, among others.
Grandal or bust? (Or trade?)
Milwaukee made the decision to decline the option on Eric Thames’ contract, making him a free agent. He could return on a cheaper deal, but he was only scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2020.
As far as other first baseman on the Brewers’ 40-man roster there’s, um, uh … Travis Shaw? Shaw could well be Milwaukee’s third baseman, or, being arbitration eligible, he could be nontendered coming off a slump-ridden season.
Milwaukee did pick up left-handed hitting Chad Spangberger in the deal with Toronto for Anderson. However, he hit only .237/.308/.399 in Double-A (.247/.313/.451 vs. right-handed pitchers).
If you’re thinking free agents (beyond Thames), there’s Jose Abreu, who was given a qualifying offer by the White Sox. Abreu, who turns 33 in January, hit .284/.330/.503 with 33 home runs last season and has hit 25 homers in five of his six years (he his 22 playing in only 128 games in 2018).
Beyond Abreu, it’s the ol’ veteran stopgap type, such as Matt Adams, Mitch Moreland or Justin Smoak. It’s also a position ripe to be filled via trade.
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say Keston Hiura will fill this position for Milwaukee in 2020.
Orlando Arcia presumably will be back for another year as the starter, but he’s coming off a year in which he not only once again struggled at the plate (.223/.283/.350 although he tied a career high with 15 HR) but also dipped defensively, according to most advanced statistics. He’s also arbitration eligible, projected to make $2.7 million according to MLBTR.
Top prospect Brice Turang is still a couple of years away and utility man Tyler Saladino is the only other shortstop type currently on the 40-man roster.
In addition, there are only four free-agent shortstops, all of whom will be 30 or older: Didi Gregorius, Jose Iglesias, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jody Mercer. The left-handed hitting Gregorius enjoyed his time with the Yankees and their short porch, hitting 97 homers in five years, including 20+ three times. He was limited to 82 games due to injuries in 2019 but still hit 16 homers. Iglesias is known more for his glove, although he did hit 11 homers last year. Hechavarria and Mercer are now part-time players.
Mike Moustakas hits the market again trying to land a multiyear deal. He’s hit 101 home runs over the last three year, including 35 for the Brewers last year so presumably someone will bite … of course, that’s what people thought after a 2018 season in which he hit 28 homers and all he could get was a one-year deal (with a mutual option) from Milwaukee – to play second base. The left-handed hitting Moustakas would be a welcome site back in the Brewers’ lineup but, as is often the case, it will probably come down to cost and other suitors.
Shaw is the only other third baseman currently on the 40-man and after hitting .157/.281/.270 over 270 PA, it’s a legitimate question to wonder what he can offer in 2020 – or if he’s even on the roster. MLBTR projects his salary at $4.7 million.
Once thought of as possibly the third baseman of the future, left-handed hitting Lucas Erceg has stalled out in the minors over recent years. In 2019, he hit .218/.305/.398 with 15 home runs for Triple-A San Antonio.
Anthony Rendon is the big fish in free agency. He, of course, got a qualifying offer from Washington. Josh Donaldson also got a qualifying offer from Atlanta.
Beyond those two and Moustakas … it’s … well …. Let’s just say Asdrubal Cabrera and Todd Frazier are the big names. So … yup. Moose call, anyone?
The outfield at least seems set with Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Ben Gamel, Grisham and Christian Yelich. If Braun does move to first base, perhaps Tyrone Taylor, who is on the 40-man roster and was called up in September, could serve as the fifth man.
Also, Gamel is arbitration eligible and projected to earn $1.6 million in 2020. That’s not a hefty salary, but it’s also not a rookie or minimum deal either.
Down on the farm there’s 25-year-old Corey Ray. However, the team’s minor league player of the year in 2018 struggled last year, hitting just .188 in 53 games in Triple-A.
If Milwaukee is looking for a fourth or fifth outfielder in free agency, there’s plenty of veterans available. A starting upgrade? The big name is Marcell Ozuna, who was given a qualifying offer. Nicholas Castellanos is interesting because he’ll be just 28 next season and has hit 23+ homers in each of the last three seasons. He hit .289/.337/.525 with 58 doubles and 27 homers last year for the Tigers and Cubs. Defense, though, is not his strong suit.
After that, it’s players like Corey Dickerson, Jarrod Dyson, Avisail Garcia and Yasiel Puig … and a bunch of guys who you probably don’t want starting.