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 the team's supersub who set a new career high for playing time this past season.
UTIL Hernan Perez
2017 Salary: $545k
2018 Projection (via MLB Trade Rumors): $2.2 million
Difference: +$1.655 million
Perez is another first-time arbitration eligible player this winter, and as such, is in line for a pretty significant raise. He's proven to be a valuable piece for the Brewers, allowing them to carry an extra pitcher at times due to his defensive versatility. He saw an increase in usage in 2017, playing in 136 games and racking up 458 at-bats, but an argument could be made that he was overexposed -- he saw his fWAR cut in half compared to 2016 after hitting .259/.289/.414 following a 10-point drop in his BABIP.
The Case for Tendering
Before this year, you could've joked that Perez can play any position on the field except catcher and pitcher. He crossed the latter off this year, taking the mound for a scoreless inning during the dinger bloodbath in Washington that proved to be the last stands for Michael Blazek and Wily Peralta.
While plenty of utility players could be slotted at any position, many of them shouldn't be used at at least one spot -- but that's not really the case for Perez, who has graded out to be a solid defender for his career just about everywhere. The only exception is shortstop, where he has a -37.3 UZR in 101.1 career innings, but that's still a tiny sample size when you're talking about defense (a little more than just 11 full games).
That's valuable, even if it doesn't show up or is accurately depicted in your WAR metric of choice. He even hits decent enough for a bench player and has good pop for a guy who's typically an infielder, having hit 27 home runs and driving in 107 over the past two seasons (covering 259 games).
Last year, the Brewers were willing to give Scooter Gennett roughly $2.5 million to be a backup second baseman with no positional versatility (before ultimately waiving him at the end of the spring). Perez basically does everything the Brewers hoped they could train Gennett to do for a lower projected price.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Perez has developed nicely during his time in Milwaukee, but there's a reason he was generally thought of as a potential AAAA player and the Brewers were able to pick him up on waivers. He's much better suited as a platoon (or at least part-time) guy, rather than the virtually-full-time player he's been.
While most of his power has come against right-handed pitching, he still struggles to hit righties well. Not a lot has been made about Perez's platoon splits -- likely because he's not expected to play every day -- but he hit just .239/.271/.403 with a .285 wOBA and 70 wRC+ against right-handed pitching in 2017, compared to .316/.342/.447 with a .332 wOBA and 101 wRC+ against lefties.
Most of the time, you'd be fine with Perez's overall production for a bench player, and he's still decent value for about $2 million. But his salary will only go up from here, and with the Brewers rich in young outfielders, that money might be better spent elsewhere -- or at least on an option that might hit a little more (like, say Eduardo Nunez). If Craig Counsell is going to use his supersub as frequently as he has, it's fair to expect a little more production from whoever is playing that role.
What Should Happen?
With Brett Phillips and Lewis Brinson expected to be more regular contributors on the 2018 team, it probably goes without saying that Perez's days of filling in in the outfield should be much more limited. With that could come a reduction in overall playing time, barring injuries or ineffectiveness (looking at you, Jonathan Villar). That might work out for the benefit of the team, though, considering Perez seemed to be much more effective in 2016, when he played in 13 fewer games.
Perez popped up on MLB Trade Rumors' non-tender candidates list, but it's hard to see that happening when he still comes at a relatively low cost and the team has limited payroll obligations to worry about. He's still a useful piece, and as hard as it is to quantify intangibles, he's also always seemed to be a "glue guy" in the clubhouse and one of the guys who have always managed to keep things positive during the dog days of the season.
Should he play a little less? Probably. Are there better options out there? Possibly. But it can't hurt to tender him a contract and maybe settle on a deal for about $2 million until that better option comes along.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs
Should the Brewers tender or non-tender Hernan Perez?
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