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Milwaukee Brewers arbitration estimates for 2018 released

MLB Trade Rumors has come out with their annual salary arbitration estimates, and several Brewers are in line for big raises

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers had the lowest payroll in the league in 2017. Unlike years past, it wasn't a case of ownership holding the pursestrings tight and refusing the spend at the major league level. Instead, it was largely due to the organization's rebuilding effort and a slew of young pre-arbitration players filling out the 25-man roster.

That's about to change.

Not only have there been signs the team will spend more this offseason, quite a few of the players are due for raises in arbitration -- including a handful of guys heading into the process for the first time in line for a significant pay bump.

MLB Trade Rumors released its annual arbitration projections today, listing nine Brewers: Jared Hughes, Carlos Torres, Jeremy Jeffress, Stephen Vogt, Chase Anderson, Jonathan Villar, Jimmy Nelson, Hernan Perez and Corey Knebel.

Here's a quick look at the cases for each. Put them all together, and the Brewers' payroll could rise by $18.576 million on arbitration salary increases alone in 2018:

RP Jared Hughes

2017 Salary: $950k
2018 Projection: $2.2 million
Difference: +$1.25 million

Hughes ended the year with a 3.02 ERA in 59.2 innings, striking out 48 batters. He struck out nearly 20% of the batters he faced, his highest mark since his debut season of 2011. Punching out 2 full batters more per 9 innings than he did last year, Hughes provided a solid option for Craig Counsell in the middle innings, often bridging the gap between the starter and the back end of the bullpen in the 5th or 6th inning. He was also Counsell's go-to guy in groundball situations, inducing a grounder on 62.2% of balls put into play against him in 2017.

RP Carlos Torres

2017 Salary: $2.175 million
2018 Projection: $3.3 million
Difference: +$1.125 million

Torres will be 35 next year and put up a 4.21 ERA that might actually be a bit lucky if you consider his FIP was 4.89. After being last year's Jared Hughes, Torres reverted back to the volatile form of himself in 2017 that got him cut by the Mets. His strikeout percentage plummeted from 23% to 17.4% this year, while his walks increased from 8.9% to 10.3%. He did only allow 21% of his inherited runners to score (7 of 33, a better rate than last year's 7 of 25), but unfortunately worked himself into trouble more often. The only pitcher to do more damage to the Brewers' win probability (Torres' WPA was -0.96) this year was Oliver Drake (-1.25).

RP Jeremy Jeffress

2017 Salary: $2.1 million
2018 Projection: $2.6 million
Difference: +$500k

The modest projected increase for Jeffress is likely due to his work in Texas, where he was dreadful before coming back to Milwaukee. He had a 5.31 ERA before the deadline deal that brought him back "home," and after that he posted a 3.65 ERA, helping solidify the middle innings. Jeffress' control was an issue at times during the second half, but like Hughes, it often turned out to be effective wildness, especially when it came to getting opponents to ground out. He had a 65.3% GB% in the second half with the Brewers.

C Stephen Vogt

2017 Salary: $2.965 million
2018 Projection: $3.9 million
Difference: +$935k

Vogt brought some offense to the backup catching spot, something that was lacking when Jett Bandy's bat fell off after a good start to the year. Unfortunately, Vogt missed a good chunk of the season after Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl slid into him at home, causing a sprained MCL. He ended up hitting .254/.281/.508 with 8 home runs in 45 games with the Brewers. While that's some valuable production from a lefty-swinging catcher, Vogt also proved to be a defensive liability down the stretch when Manny Pina was battling a number of ailments. He'll be 33 next year, and those defensive issues may be enough to cause the Brewers to think long and hard about if they want to tie up nearly $4 million with him.

SP Chase Anderson

2017 Salary: $2.45 million
2018 Projection: $5.4 million
Difference: +$2.95 million

One of this year's breakout stars, Anderson turned from a middle-of-the-rotation piece to Ace Chanderson. Despite missing more than a month with a strained oblique he got from swinging the bat, Anderson still put up a 2.74 ERA in 25 starts, striking out 8.5 batters per 9 innings and cutting his walks down from last year. While the underlying numbers show he may not be a true "ace," he was one of the Brewers' most dependable starters in 2017 and will likely be paid as such next year, seeing his salary possibly more than double in 2018.

2B Jonathan Villar

2017 Salary: $554k
2018 Projection: $3.0 million
Difference: +$2.446 million

This is where it's probably helpful to remind everyone that first-year arbitration guys almost always get a pretty substantial raise, regardless of what they did in the previous year. It's about making up for being underpaid for the first three years, when players provide valuable production despite making pennies on the dollar. That's the case for Villar, who despite being a sub-replacement level player in 2017, did put up 3.1 fWAR in 2016, and as such will see a raise of at least a couple million dollars. He was so bad in 2017 that there might be some talk of non-tendering him, but the early thought is the Brewers will give him another chance to start fresh in 2018 and turn it around.

SP Jimmy Nelson

2017 Salary: $547k
2018 Projection: $4.7 million
Difference: +$4.153 million

It should come as no surprise that Nelson figures to get the biggest raise out of any of the arbitration-eligible players. Despite the shoulder injury that casts some cloud of doubt over his future and will keep him out a significant part of 2018, Nelson wasn't just the Brewers' best pitcher in 2017 -- he was one of the best in the National League. He finished the year with a 3.49 ERA despite a sky-high BABIP of .340 -- because of that, his FIP was much lower at 3.05, a mark that ranked 5th in all of baseball, behind only Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. He was better than everyone else, including likely NL Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. The projection likely would've been even higher if Nelson could have finished the year, had a few downballot Cy Young votes thrown his way and had a healthy outlook for 2018.

UTIL Hernan Perez

2017 Salary: $545k
2018 Projection: $2.2 million
Difference: +$1.655 million

A lot of Perez's appeal for the Brewers is he can cover multiple positions fairly competently for a bargain basement price. That will start to change in the neary future, but even if he's making a couple million dollars per year, he can still be a valuable supersub -- provided he isn't overexposed. The Brewers gave him a career-high 458 at-bats in 136 games this year and saw him hit .259/.289/.414 after his BABIP dropped from .302 in 2016 to .289 this year. That dropoff contributed to his fWAR falling from 1.2 to 0.6 this year. It probably goes without saying that he shouldn't get spot starts in the outfield instead of Brett Phillips or Lewis Brinson in 2018, but that's a topic for a different day.

RP Corey Knebel

2017 Salary: $538k
2018 Projection: $4.1 million
Difference: +$3.562 million

Behind Nelson, this is probably the second-least surprising raise among the arby guys. Knebel took the leap from solid reliever to All-Star closer this year, stranding 92% of baserunners, striking out 40.8% of the batters he faced, and closing out 39 games while putting up an ERA of 1.78. While the Brewers have shown a willingness to trade off closers while they're hot to maximize their value, it looks like their thinking on Knebel is different, at least for the time being. This will be his first year of arbitration eligbility, but he could get very expensive in a hurry if he can duplicate that kind of production in 2018 and beyond.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, salary numbers courtesy of Cot's Contracts