If I’m in charge of the Milwaukee Brewers this offseason, I’m treating this club as though a four or five-year window exists to contend for postseason play. There are moves to be had that improves the club now and keeps young talent under control.
Arbitration-eligible (with projected salaries from MLBTR):
Write "tender" or "non-tender" after each of the following names. You can also trade a player before or after tendering a contract.
- Jared Hughes - $2.2 mil - tender
- Jeremy Jeffress - $2.6 mil - non-tender
- Stephen Vogt - $3.9 mil - non-tender
- Jonathan Villar - $3.0 mil - tender
- Jimmy Nelson - $4.7 mil - tender
- Hernan Perez - $2.2 mil - non-tender
- Corey Knebel - $4.1 mil - tender
Explain the toughest calls if necessary:
Vogt was a tough call because competent catching can be a challenge to find. However, $4 million for a backup with no arm and no guarantee with the bat? Too much. I’ve also soured on Perez quite a bit over the last year. Versatility is great, but Brewers need production.
Contract options (pick up or buy out)
Impending free agents (re-sign, let go or qualifying offer)
- Neil Walker: made $17.2 mil in 2017 (ineligible for QO) - let go
- Anthony Swarzak: made $900K in 2017 (ineligible for QO) - let go
- Matt Garza: made $12.5 mil in 2017 - let go
Elaborate if needed:
I’m a big fan of Walker, but he has limitations, will still be costly, and he’s likely to get multiple years and a higher salary with another club to start at second base. Swarzak settled down the Crew’s pen in 2017, but with a sizable pay raise coming, the Brewers can fill in with other guys.
Peruse the list of potential free agents and name one, two, or more that you would pursue, the maximum offer that you would extend to them, and a brief explanation.
#1: RHP Tyler Chatwood (3 years, $24 mil plus team option for $10 mil). Chatwood is the perfect under-the-radar candidate for the Brewers that will come at a better price for a franchise like Milwaukee. Chatwood’s numbers away from Coors Field the last two seasons have been very good. Chatwood owns the 2nd-best batting average against at .193 (behind Max Scherzer) and 5th-best road ERA (2.57) among qualified pitchers (tied with Stephen Strasburg). His fastball averaged 95 MPH in 2017 and he’ll be just 28 on Opening Day, giving him more room for development and improvement.
#2: SS Zack Cozart (3 years, $39 mil). Cozart has turned himself into a solid hitter over the last three seasons, peaking with a breakout campaign in 2017 (24 HR, .933 OPS). He has also been one of the highest rated shortstops defensively throughout his career, making him extremely valuable at a premier position (8th-highest fWAR at SS since 2015). Acquiring Cozart will be necessary due to one trade you’ll find below.
Propose a trade or two or several that you think sound reasonable for both sides, and the rationale behind them. Example:
#1: Trade Orlando Arcia, Corey Ray, Josh Pennington, Caden Lemons, and Trent Clark to Miami for Christian Yelich and Kyle Barraclough. Yelich has long been underrated by most, despite being the 4th-best NL outfielder in fWAR (11.4) since 2015. A solid center fielder who can play all three spots, Yelich owns a .369 career OBP and is under team control through 2022 at a very club-friendly price. Moving to Miller Park will give him a power boost, as will the fact that he is turning 26 in December with some peak years in front of him. Barraclough provides a quality power arm in the middle-to-back of the pen, boasting a 139 ERA+ over his first 163 innings pitched in MLB. Meanwhile, Arcia has value, the Marlins need a young shortstop, and some are willing to shoot for success now and worry about the position down the road.
#2: Trade Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, Marcos Diplan, Trey Supak, and Carlos Herrera to Tampa for Chris Archer and Nate Eovaldi. With Yelich in tow for the next half decade, it makes it easier to deal Brinson. Getting Archer provides a top-tier, 29-year-old starter ready to slide into the rotation. Plus, he’s under team control through 2021 and isn’t due to make more than $10 million until the final year of his contract. While his last two seasons may be considered average, a move to the NL will help - as should playing in a city that rallies around its team (unlike in Tampa). Archer is a high energy guy that fits right in. Eovaldi is another power arm with intriguing upside, both as a reliever and as a swing man who could make some starts in case of injury or performance.
2018 Opening Day 25-man roster
Starting Lineup vs. RH
- CF - Christian Yelich ($7 million)
- RF - Domingo Santana ($600,000)
- LF - Ryan Braun ($20 million)
- 3B - Travis Shaw ($600,000)
- 1B - Eric Thames ($5 million)
- SS - Zack Cozart ($12 million)
- C - Manny Pina ($600,000)
- P - Pitcher’s spot
- 2B - Jonathan Villar ($3 million)
C - Jett Bandy ($600,000)
1B - Jesus Aguilar ($600,000)
IF - Eric Sogard ($2.4 million)
OF - Brett Phillips ($600,000)
OF - Keon Broxton ($600,000)
- Chase Anderson ($4.75 million)
- Chris Archer ($4.5 million)
- Zach Davies ($600,000)
- Tyler Chatwood ($8 million)
- Brandon Woodruff ($600,000)
Closer: Corey Knebel ($4.1 million)
Stopper: Josh Hader ($600,000)
7th/8th: Kyle Barraclough ($600,000)
Mid relief: Jared Hughes ($2.2 million)
Mid relief: Nate Eovaldi ($2 million)
Mid relief: Jacob Barnes ($600,000)
Long man/Lefty specialist: Brent Suter ($600,000)
I’m sacrificing some future potential (six-plus years down the road) for a legitimate chance to win between 2018-2022. The bet comes from adding young, proven, controllable talent in Archer and Yelich, while betting on a three-year push from Cozart and Chatwood to improve both sides of the club.
Adding Yelich to the top of the order immediately improves the Brewers’ offensive output, while (even with a minor regression) Cozart adds plenty of offense to the shortstop position without sacrificing much defense - if any. With Braun needing days off, Phillips and Broxton pose a fine reserve/platoon options, with Sogard a capable utility man on the infield. If needed, Sogard could become a regular in the middle, taking over for Villar if he struggles again and filling in at short should Cozart miss time due to injury.
Pitching wise, the Brewers will consistently send out quality hurlers each night. The rotation has an interesting mix of youthful veterans with room to grow and some upside. Chatwood could easily be the best starter by year’s end, but Anderson is in the best stretch of his career (among MLB elite) since July of 2016 and Archer has ace potential that could flourish with this clubhouse.
This bullpen will still need Knebel and Hader to do the heavy lifting, but adding a couple more flamethrowers into the pen creates depth and options for Craig Counsell. Plus, Eovaldi and Suter are candidates to earn some starts when needed, and it keeps a fair amount of potential arms at the ready in the minor leagues.
As it stands, with each pre-arbitration guy earning $600,000 in this exercise, Milwaukee’s payroll for the 25-man roster would sit at $82.75 million. Tack on $4.7 million for Nelson on the DL and it’s still under $88 million. That would leave plenty of room for additions via trade during the season, extensions or multi-year contracts for current members, and more free agents once the next offseason hits.
Overall, this would add enough talent and depth to the MLB roster to allow the Brewers to be around the 90-win mark each season into the early part of the next decade. Can these four moves add seven or eight wins to Milwaukee’s 2017 total of 86? I’m willing to bet it would, and that 93 victories means at least one postseason game at Miller Park in 2018.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference