It’s the middle of January, yet the so-called “hot stove” remains frozen with the winter temperatures. As pointed out by the boys of Cespedes Family BBQ a few days ago, there are still more than 120 Major League free agents that remain unsigned and only a little over four weeks until pitchers and catchers start to report for Spring Training. It seems that front offices around the league have been collectively waiting out the free agent period in an effort to reduce prices, but we’ve got to be close to reaching the point on the calendar when we’ll start seeing a flurry of activity before camp begins. Right?
With so many of the top players still available, rumors continue to circulate about where they all may land for the upcoming season. Ken Rosenthal explored this topic and others in his piece for The Athletic yesterday, and within the post he touched on a couple of notes regarding our own Milwaukee Brewers.
While discussing the Mets’ quest for help at second base, Rosenthal tells readers that Neil Walker spurned an extension offer from the team last spring that would have kept him from reaching the open market this winter. Walker remains available and his name hasn’t generated much in the way of rumors in the last few months, but according to Rosenthal, the Brewers are still interested in a potential reunion with the 32 year old.
Walker missed some time with injury last season but turned his eighth consecutive campaign of above-average offense and his seventh straight of at least 2.0 fWAR. The switch-hitter batted .265/.362/.439 with 14 home runs in 448 plate appearances last season while posting a career-best 12.3% walk rate. He spent time at first, second, and third base and was especially effective after an August trade to the Cream City, posting an .843 OPS in 38 games to finish out the season. He was believed to be seeking a four-year contract at one point this winter, but it seems likely that he’ll ultimately be forced to settle for a shorter-term pact.
Rosenthal goes on to reiterate Milwaukee’s previously reported interest in Lorenzo Cain while also noting that the club is “continuing to explore a number of trade and free-agent possibilities.” Per Rosenthal:
Signing Cain would almost certainly be accompanied by the Brewers packaging an outfielder, possibly Brett Phillips, for either pitching or second-base help - or both, depending upon who else they included in the deal.
While Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, and to a certain extent Lewis Brinson, have all been floated as potential trade candidates this winter, Phillips’ name hasn’t come up all that much during the offseason. The 23 year old was considered the centerpiece of the 2015 Doug Melvin trade that sent Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston, and he showed quite well during his MLB debut in 2017. The left-handed batter posted a .276/.351/.448 slash with 4 home runs and 5 steals in 98 plate appearances, earning his way into regular playing time down the stretch during a pennant race. Even more impressive than his bat was his defense in center field, most notably his 80 grade arm. Statcast clocked one of his outfield throws at 104 MPH and he registered four outfield assists in just 177.0 innings in center.
Rosenthal closes his musings on the Brewers with a totally outside the box idea that no one has ever thought of before. Should the Brewers to wind up bringing Cain into the fold and subsequently deal Phillips, Rosenthal suggests that against left-handed pitchers the team could eventually trot out a lineup that features LoCain in left, Brinson in center, Santana in right, and - get this - Ryan Braun at first base! “Actually,” Rosenthal says, “that might be too outside-the-box: Braun has never played first base as a professional.”
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs