The Milwaukee Brewers have three true major league free agents that are set to hit the open market after the conclusion of the World Series, as we explored earlier this week. But there may be another few other players on the team who will join them this offseason. Four members of the club have contract options for 2019, and some decisions will be easier than others:
RHP Joakim Soria
$10 mil mutual option ($1 mil buyout)
The Brewers picked up Soria from the White Sox prior to the July 31st trade deadline in exchange for Kodi Medeiros and Wilber Perez. He appeared in 26 games and tossed 22.0 innings while with Milwaukee, posting a 4.09 ERA that could’ve been the result of some bad luck. Soria posted a career-high (14.4%) swinging strike rate across his 60.2 innings with the Sox and Brewers, struck out batters at his highest rate (11.14 K/9) since 2009, and allowed one of the lowest hard contact rates (25.9%) of any pitcher in the majors this season. Soria’s FIP with the Brewers (2.95) was more than a run lower than his actual earned run average, and his FIP- for the whole season rates him as 42% better than league average.
Soria will turn 35 next season and though he’s showed no real signs of slowing down (including his steady velocity), there isn’t much evidence in David Stearns’ history as GM to suggest that he would seriously consider paying a reliever $10 mil. It’s worth noting, too, that the White Sox included enough money in the trade with Milwaukee to cover the cost of the option buyout. Soria remains an effective reliever and he would be a nice guy to have back, perhaps at a lower price if he’s still on the market later in the winter.
3B Mike Moustakas
$15 mil mutual option ($1 mil buyout)
Moose also came to Milwaukee in advance of the July 31st deadline, getting sent over by the Royals in exchange for Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez. He was a solid bat to add to Milwaukee’s lineup, but didn’t end up receiving the same boost offensively as other left-handed hitters who have come to Miller Park. Moustakas hit .256/.326/.441 with eight homers in 218 plate appearances, good for a 103 wRC+. He also came up small in Milwaukee’s NLCS loss to the Dodgers, batting .138 with a .366 OPS during the seven games.
Moustakas has a steady, if inconsistent glove at the hot corner according to the metrics; he was worth -1 Defensive Runs Saved and a -1.9 Ultimate Zone Rating while with Milwaukee, and for his career he’s at +8 DRS and +15.1 UZR in a little over 8,000 innings. An average glove and an average bat at third base probably don’t add up to $15 mil worth of value for the Brewers, especially when they have a similar (slightly better and more versatile) player in Travis Shaw who won’t make anything close to the price of Moose’s 2019 option. Moustakas is probably motivated to get another chance at free agency without a Qualifying Offer, too, after last year’s debacle.
RHP Jordan Lyles
$3.5 mil team option ($250K buyout)
Lyles began the 2018 season with the Padres and was claimed by the Brewers on trade waivers in early August. Looking to cut costs, San Diego simply let Milwaukee have the right-hander. On the year, the 28 year old swingman posted a 4.11 ERA in 87.2 total innings covering 35 appearances (8 starts). The former first-round pick and top prospect didn’t pitch a ton for Milwaukee down the stretch, totaling only 11 appearances and 16.1 frames through the end of the season. But he did so with a 3.31 ERA and excellent 22:9 K/BB ratio, generating swinging strikes at a rate (13.2%) that he’s never approached before.
Lyles is a pitcher that Stearns is familiar with from their days together back in Houston, and his pitch usage down the stretch could indicate that he has a shot at being another Derek Johnson special. Lyles increased his curveball usage by some 10% after getting picked up by Milwaukee, and a pitch he’s struggled with throughout his career suddenly graded out as above-average in 2018 according to the linear weights from Pitch Info. Given those reasons and how his profile as a multi-inning swingman fits within Milwaukee’s run prevention system, Lyles’ inexpensive $3.5 mil option might be something that the front office seriously considers exercising.
RHP Jeremy Jeffress
$3.175 mil club option
This one is a no-brainer for the Brewers. Yes, he struggled in the playoffs, but 2018 was the best season of Jeffress’ career. The 31 year old posted a 1.29 ERA across 76.2 regular season innings, striking out batters at his highest rate ever (10.45 K/9) while getting away from his sinker and leaning more heavily on his four-seam, splitter, and curveball. Jeffress’ 13.5% swinging strike rate was one of the best marks among qualified relievers as well as career-best, and he continues to keep the ball on the ground (56.4% GB rate) and avoid home runs (0.59 HR/9). FIP- rated Jeffress’ work as 33% better than league average this season.
Jeffress would theoretically be arbitration eligible this winter and projects to earn $4.8 mil through that avenue, but again the club-friendly extension he signed last offseason makes this decision a no-brainer. The Brewers will save some $1.7 mil from his arb projection by picking up the option, and that keeps his cheap 2020 option ($4.3 mil) intact, too. Barring something unforeseen, Jeremy will again play a prominent role in the bullpen when next season begins.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs