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Milwaukee Brewers headed for free agency

One player has already re-signed, and there figures to be interest in bringing back a couple others.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Baseball offseason will begin in earnest this week, as tonight the decisive game 7 of the World Series will take place between Houston and Los Angeles. After the conclusion of the series, the major league and minor league players that are eligible will be able to file for free agency. Heading into this winter the Milwaukee Brewers were scheduled to have four players test the open market, but one has already agreed to a new contract with the club:

INF Eric Sogard

Sogard joined the Brewers on a minor league contract last winter after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury. He wound up getting called up in mid-May and would become an important contributor to the ball club, spending most of his time at second base and shortstop while batting a career-best .273/.393/.378 (108 wRC+) across 299 plate appearances. Sogard doesn’t offer much power or speed, as he clubbed only 3 home runs and swiped 3 bags. But he is a high-contact hitter who showed incredible plate discipline in 2017, striking out just 12.4% of the time while drawing a base on balls in 15.1% of his plate appearances.

Sogard’s left-handed bat, defensive versatility, and veteran leadership were all valued highly by the organization. Mutual interest in a return helped to spur his re-signing to a one-year, $2.4 mil contract (up to $3.05 mil with incentives) late last week, and he figures to reprise his role as a utility infielder next season.

Likelihood of returning: 100%

INF Neil Walker

The Brewers grabbed Walker in an August trade with the Mets in exchange for relief prospect Eric Hanhold. Walker was expected to pick up some of the slack at second base and he did just that, hitting .267/.409/.433 (125 wRC+) with 4 home runs during his 38-game run with Milwaukee.

After playing last season on a $17.2 mil qualifying offer, Walker plans to hit the open market for the first time in his career this winter. On the whole this season, the switch-hitter batted .265/.362/.439 (114 wRC+) with 14 home runs in 448 plate appearances between New York and Milwaukee. The 32 year old will be seeking a multiyear deal as a free agent, but if the interest isn’t there he would be a nice player to have back on a short-term, 1 or 2 year contract to help shore up second base.

Likelihood of returning: Moderate

RHP Anthony Swarzak

Swarzak was the Brewers’ major trade deadline acquisition, picked up from the White Sox in exchange for Ryan Cordell. He contributed significantly to Milwaukee’s bullpen down the stretch, logging 29.0 innings across 29 appearances while posting a 2.48 ERA and 70 DRA-. The 32 year old enjoyed the finest season of his career in 2017, compiling a 2.33 ERA and 67 DRA- with 10.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 during 77.1 innings with Chicago and Milwaukee.

Given Swarzak’s age, prior track record, and the general volatility of relief pitching, this may be the only chance he has in his career to score a multiyear guarantee on the open market. So while he has indicated that he would like to return to Milwaukee, he’s not likely to sell himself short as a free agent.

Likelihood of returning: Moderate

RHP Matt Garza

The Brewers signed Garza to a 4-year, $50 mil free agent contract prior to the 2014 season that wound up being quite ill-fated. Garza pitched well during his first season in Milwaukee, posting a 3.64 ERA and 88 DRA- across 163.1 innings pitched. But after that it was all downhill. Injuries and poor performance plagued Garza in each of the final three seasons of his deal, including a 4.94 ERA and 116 DRA- in 114.2 innings in 2017. He had a nice stretch of starts during the middle of the summer, but he struggled mightily in August and was pulled from the rotation in September.

It was once believed that Garza would have a $5 mil team option for 2018, but once the confusing language in his contract was sorted out it was discovered that that was not in fact the case. So for the largest free agent commitment in franchise history, the Brewers received a 4.65 ERA in 528.1 innings pitched covering four seasons. Garza himself doesn’t appear to believe that there will be much interest in his services on the market this winter and will contemplate retiring and going home to spend more time with his wife and their six children.

If this is it for Garza, it closes the book on a distinguished 12-year career that saw him post a 4.09 ERA (101 ERA+) across 1710.2 innings with the Twins, Rays, Cubs, Rangers, and Brewers. He was part of Tampa Bay’s pennant-winning 2008 squad, capturing that year’s ALCS MVP, and he threw the franchise’s first no-hitter back in 2010.

Likelihood of returning: None

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus