The Brewers originally had nine players eligible for arbitration this winter, up from eight a year ago, but the Brewers already took care of a couple of those cases by signing Chase Anderson to a multi-year contract and outrighting Carlos Torres off the roster.
As we get closer to the deadline, we'll take a look at the cases for each of the seven remaining players to see whether the Brewers should go forward in the arbitration process with them, or cut them loose now. Today it's a backup veteran catcher who provided some unexpected pop when he was in the lineup.
C Stephen Vogt
2017 Salary: $2.965 million
2018 Projection (via MLB Trade Rumors): $3.9 million
Catcher was one of the few positions the Brewers didn't really have a clear direction for heading into the 2017 season. In the first full year post-Jonathan Lucroy, most figured Andrew Susac or Jett Bandy would eventually grab hold of the everyday job. However, Susac got hurt early and his season never really recovered, while Bandy got off to a hot start but cooled off before also getting hurt. Manny Pina eventually took control, but the Brewers still needed a quality option behind him. GM David Stearns saw the opportunity to solidify the position halfway through the year, when the Oakland A's DFA-ed Vogt, who had been an All-Star the past two seasons.
Vogt made an impact early, homering twice in his second start as a Brewer and driving in all 3 runs in a 3-2 win over Miami. From there, he hit .254/.281/.508 in 45 games, hitting a total of 8 home runs and 7 doubles. Unfortunately, his contributions were limited for much of the second half after he hurt his MCL in a collision at home plate with Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl.
The Case for Tendering
Most of the time, you're just hoping your backup catcher isn't a black hole in the lineup. Vogt was much more than that with his .789 OPS for the Brewers, nearly 150 points higher than what it was in Oakland before he was let go. He also did it from the left side of the plate, giving him added appeal as a pinch-hitting option in matchup-heavy late-game situations. While he didn't walk much at all while with the Brewers, he has shown the ability to have patient, productive at-bats during his career (not surprising considering his time in Oakland).
Vogt was able to put up that impressive (for a catcher) OPS with the Brewers despite a BABIP of just .256, nearly 20 points below his career average. That led to his offensive numbers being lower than the past few years, but he was still a productive bat. He may be getting older, but there's still a chance he could rebound next year.
The Case for Non-Tendering
While Pina proved to be a defensive weapon behind the plate, Vogt -- well -- did not. The Brewers got used to having a defensive ace as the second catcher with Martin Maldonado, but even if Vogt wasn't trying to fill those large shoes (Maldonado went on to win his first Gold Glove with the Angels this year), he was still a disappointment defensively.
Vogt only threw out 4 of 31 attempted basestealers with the Brewers. That came after he was only able to catch 7 of 46 basestealers with the A's in the first half of the season. Combine the two, and his caught stealing rate of 14% was the lowest of his career. With a career average of 26%, you could argue it was just an off year, but Vogt will also be 33 years old in 2018, and that's a skill that can erode quickly for old catchers. Even looking past the numbers, if you watch Vogt try to throw out a runner this year, it looked like he had nothing on the throws down to second base. On top of that, he was behind the plate for 10 wild pitches and was charged with a passed ball in 38 defensive games.
Susac and Bandy can't stay in Triple-A forever, and an argument could be made that either could perform better defensively while providing more upside offensively.
What Should Happen?
In a year where there aren't that many difficult non-tender decisions to ponder, this might be the best chance of one happening. Vogt is an aging catcher who saw real signs of decline last year, and $4 million is bordering on more than you might like to spend on a guy only playing once or twice a week. With a couple of younger (and cheaper) options behind him that the team needs to find out about soon, it'd be totally understandable to see the team move on.
With that said, barring a big free agent signing or two, the Brewers' budget won't be a concern heading into 2018. With Ryan Braun, Eric Thames and Chase Anderson now the only guaranteed contracts on the books for the next few seasons and many players still in their pre-arbitration years, there's plenty of money to keep a veteran around to help a young team and pitching staff. You always need catchers in camp, and there will be time to sort out the depth chart behind Pina when the team reports to Arizona in the spring. At this point, it might make sense to bring him back with the possibility of letting him go if the younger players make the strides to pass him by.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs