MLB Free Agency has officially begun, and the Milwaukee Brewers figure to be active players on this year’s market. The Brewers have a talented core of controllable ballplayers in place thanks to the deft dealings of Doug Melvin and David Stearns over the past few years, and the franchise will enter 2018 with increased expectations after narrowly missing out on the postseason this past year. With just over $61 mil in commitments projected for next year, the Brewers will be able to make a splash or two this winter if they so choose.
Over the past few days we’ve discussed the former Brewers on the market, as well as the top starters and relievers that are available. Today we will take a look around the infield diamond.
The options on the market for catchers isn’t exactly enticing this season. At the top of the list is old friend Jonathan Lucroy, who struggled through a good chunk of 2017 with Texas before getting dealt to Colorado midseason. Following the trade, Luc put up a sterling .310/.429/.437 slash in 145 plate appearances down the stretch to re-establish some of his free agent value. His defense isn’t what it once was (especially in the pitch framing department) but he ought to be able to get a multiyear deal to start somewhere in 2018.
Beyond Lucroy, there’s Alex Avila who posted solid offensive numbers but was abysmal defensively in 2017; Welington Castillo, who clubbed 20 home runs with an .813 OPS last season while grading out well behind the plate; Chris Iannetta, who performed outstandingly in Arizona on both offense and defense; and Miguel Montero, who fell out favor with the Cubs for his issues throwing out runners behind the plate and then never got going offensively once he was picked up by the Blue Jays.
Eric Hosmer leads this year’s class of first baseman, coming off the finest offensive season of his career after batting .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs in 671 plate appearances. He hasn’t graded out that well at first base and has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career, mixing in three replacement-level or worse season in with three seasons of at least 3.2 fWAR. He only recently turned 28, though, and some believe he may still have further upside. Because of that, Hosmer figures to command a contract well in excess of $100 mil. He’s been given a Qualifying Offer.
After Hosmer is Carlos Santana, who began his career as a catcher but has spent most of his time at first base and DH in recent years. He turns 32 next April but has a lengthy track record of above-average offensive performances and graded out well defensively in 2017. Next is Logan Morrison, who was once thought of as a failed prospect who couldn’t fulfill his former promise - until he clubbed 38 home runs with a 130 wRC+ in 601 plate appearances with the Rays in his age-30 season. Both players can confidently seek at least three-year deals, though Santana comes with a QO attached. Yonder Alonso, Lucas Duda, Mark Reynolds, and Adam Lind represent further options on the market.
The market for second basemen is also a bit underwhelming, with recent Brewer Neil Walker representing perhaps the top option on the market. The switch-hitter is really best utilized as the strong side of a platoon these days, and has battled some injuries the past two seasons. He’s never graded out particularly well at second base, but it passable there and has also looked okay enough at first and third base. The 32 year old has never posted a below-average offensive season in his eight full years in the big leagues, and last year hit .265/.362/.439 with 14 home runs in 111 games. This is Walker’s first foray into free agency and MLB Trade Rumors is a bit bearish on his market, pegging him at 2 years and $20 mil.
Eduardo Nunez represents another option at the keystone, though he’s also seen significant time at shortstop and third base and could also be signed to play either of those positions. He’s not the greatest with the glove, but he’s posted three straight seasons of above-average offense and the 30 year old batted .313/.341/.460 with 12 homers in 114 games with the Giants and Red Sox in 2017. He projects for a 2-year deal at a slightly lower rate than Walker. A few old timers like Howie Kendrick, Jose Reyes, Brandon Phillips, and Chase Utley are also out there as well.
At the hot corner, another Royal sits atop the market. 29 year old Mike Moustakas missed most of 2016 after tearing his ACL, but returned strong in 2017 with a .272/.314/.521 slash and a Royals’ record 38 home runs in 148 games. He doesn’t walk much and didn’t grade out well at third this year, but historically he’s been a solid defender there. Moose got a Qualifying Offer, but that doesn’t figure to hold back his market much as he’s forecasted to receive a 5-year deal in excess of $80 mil.
Todd Frazier is the next best option, and he’s coming off four consecutive season with at least 27 home runs and five straight years with no less than 147 games played. His batting averages have plummeted over the past few years as he’s begun to hit the ball more in the air, but he’s still posted 4 straight years of above-average offense and is a well-regarded defender at the hot corner. The soon-to-be 32 year old is a quality player but won’t command near as much money at Moustakas. Nunez, Yunel Escobar, Trevor Plouffe, and Jhonny Peralta are among the other third baseman available.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, only one shortstop ranks among their top-50 free agents on the market this winter: Zack Cozart. He’s provided an excellent glove at the six for the Reds for the last seven years, but until this season was your run-of-the-mill no-hit middle infielder. That is, until he joined the Fly Ball Revolution. Cozart slugged 24 dingers in 2017 while posting a career-best .297/.385/.548 slash. But given his track previous track record and surprising age-32 offensive breakout, the Reds didn’t even feel comfortable issuing him a Qualifying Offer. Not many teams appear to be on the lookout for shortstops this winter, and Cozart could expand his market if he’s willing to play second or third base. Even with limited options, Cozart should be able to score a nice multiyear guarantee. Nunez, Alcides Escobar, JJ Hardy, Ruben Tejeda, Erick Aybar, and Stephen Drew are other shortstop capable players out there.
The Brewers already have most of their starting infield spots spoken for, but could stand to make an addition as second base. A reunion with Neil Walker is a possibility, and Eduardo Nunez represents another attractive multi-positional option. If the team decides against tendering an arbitration contract to Stephen Vogt, backup catcher could be another position of need to address over the winter.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs