After setting a franchise record for team payroll this past season, the Milwaukee Brewers have a tall task ahead of them going into the 2019 offseason. Faced with having two of their key cogs almost certainly jumping to the open market due to under-market mutual options, both Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal become free agents yet again after having gone through this rodeo in 2018.
Both players were frozen out of the spending spree that teams had gone on in the past few seasons, forcing the Moose to resign with the Brewers for his second stint and for Grandal to try and recoup some of his value after turning down the Los Angeles Dodgers’ qualifying offer of over $17 million and a four-year deal from the New York Mets that would have averaged around $17 million as well.
On the other side of this coin was the Brewers, who had come up one game short of making the World Series, falling in seven games to the Dodgers. Looking for big-time upgrades on small-market contracts, both Moustakas and Grandal became key signings for the Brewers late in the offseason when no teams decided to pull the trigger and offer each player what they had rightfully earned and deserved.
Both players should command around 15 – $20 million annually over three-plus seasons, which are two very hard pills for a small-market franchise to swallow. Already needing to plan ahead for the day that superstar and 2018 National League Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich needs a new deal, any kind of money maneuvering that can be done now by general manager David Stearns will help this team in the long run.
Outside of these two players, first baseman Eric Thames, who put together one of his best offensive seasons with the Brewers in 2019, has a $7.5 million club option that is on the table to be picked up. While this may seem like a pretty hefty chunk of change for an average defensive first baseman who has been relegated to right field or even the bench in the past, Thames has proved his value to this team and should be brought back at that price for 2020.
Starting pitchers Chase Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Lyles all either have pending team options (Anderson for $8.5 million) or are impending free agents (Gonzalez and Lyles) who have actually made a huge difference in 2019. Manager Craig Counsell uses his starting rotation differently than most in the league, usually capping his starters at four to five innings every night and turning the ball over to his bullpen, which he seems to trust a lot more than his rotation.
Anderson has been with the club since he was acquired as a part of the Jean Segura deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in January of 2016, and his contributions to this club have been up and down to put it nicely. At $8.5 million, this is a bit steep for 32-year-old who has been back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation, so this could go either way. Ultimately, the team would be smart to decline the option but to bring him back on a cheaper deal, something around two years and $10 million in total.
Reliever Matt Albers, catcher Manny Pina (team option for $1.85 million), and reliever/starter Drew Pomeranz make up the rest of the team’s decisions this offseason. Albers has been very inconsistent and should not return, Pina has taken a backseat to Grandal and his defensive prowess should be enough to get him back cheap for his option, and Pomeranz, who will be tough to resign due to his incredible value for how he pitched out of the ‘pen after the trade deadline, should be towards the top of this team’s list for need to resign players.
In terms of the team’s arbitration decisions, flamethrower reliever Josh Hader tops the list of most important players in need of raises. Having earned Super Two eligibility, which refers to a player being ranked in the top 22 percent of players in terms of accumulated service time that have spent between two and three full seasons on an MLB roster (active or injured).
All MLB players become arbitration-eligible after three seasons’ worth of time on an MLB roster, but the Super Two rule lets players reach this threshold before needing to be in the majors for three seasons. This helps super heralded prospects earn their going value quicker than having to wait for the full-time allotment.
While this rule benefits the players as a whole, teams like the Brewers have to fork up big bucks earlier on in a player’s career, which ultimately is how it should be; this rule helps protect players and get them the fair contract and compensation that they deserve, instead of their teams holding options and incentives over their heads in deals. The helpful aspect of these deals for franchises is that it operates on a year-by-year basis, so if a player were to decrease in value (like Travis Shaw did from 2018 to 2019), his value in arbitration can ebb and flow with his production.
Needing to get their bullpen back to the stout form that it was for 2018 should be second priority, and a lot of those improvements will actually come from within, which will help keep costs down. Getting Hader some help will be imperative for how well this team does in 2020, and with Corey Knebel coming back from Tommy John surgery, Corbin Burnes having spent a fair share of this past season at the team’s renowned pitching facility in Arizona, and the likes of Freddy Peralta and Alex Claudio finally finding their footing, this team has the internal pieces to shore up the vast majority of their holes.
What should be their first priority is bringing back their free agents, most importantly Grandal and Moustakas. Both players were integral to this team and have publicly talked about the want to be back, so the money aspect is the only part that is holding that up from happening. Giving Grandal a 3/$60M and Moustakas a 2/$35M would represent market values for both of these players, something that Milwaukee should understand is needed to pay if they want to become a constant contender in the uber-competitive NL Central division.