The Brewers have until the end of November to decide what to do with the 13 remaining players they have on the roster that are eligible for salary arbitration. They’ve already taken care of a couple of cases, picking up a team option for Jeremy Jeffress to avoid arbitration and outrighting Stephen Vogt off the roster.
For the remaining players, we’ll take a look at what they did during the 2018 season, what they’re expected to make in a hypothetical arbitration hearing, and whether the Brewers should tender them a contract or non-tender them. Today it’s a utility infielder who provided some memorable moments in the first half of the season.
INF Tyler Saladino
2018 Salary: $565,000
2019 projection: $1 million
For much of the year, the Brewers were desperate for offense from their middle infield. A month and change into the season, Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar weren’t providing much at second base, and Orlando Arcia was in the middle of a horrific slump that would get him demoted to Triple-A in an attempt to get back to basics.
That led GM David Stearns to send cash to the Chicago White Sox to acquire Saladino, who joined the team in Colorado on May 10th. After a few pinch-hit appearances, Saladino would make an impact in his first start, going 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI in a Brewers win. He would go on to hit home runs in his next two appearances -- a pinch-hit 2-run shot in the 9th inning to ice a game against Arizona and a solo shot in a start two days later, both in Brewers wins.
He would hit a third home run a week later at home against Arizona, and in his first 15 games with the Brewers he hit .324/.359/.622. It was a crazy hot streak reminiscent of Eric Sogard’s first few weeks for the Brewers in 2017, but unfortunately like Sogard, the success was ultimately short-lived. An ugly-looking ankle injury on May 29th against the Cardinals ended up putting Saladino on the shelf until July, but he still hit fairly well in the dozen games before the All-Star break once he returned, although the fluky power surge was largely over.
His production collapsed in the second half of July, though, hitting a horrific .143/.219/.179 -- a .397 OPS -- in 28 at-bats after the break, possibly playing a role in Stearns deciding to trade for Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop. Saladino was sent back to Triple-A once Schoop joined the team and didn’t return until September, when he was limited to pinch hit duty and went 2-for-14 in that role, with those two hits coming in his first two at-bats of the month.
The Case for Tendering
Saladino ended the year with a line of .246/.302/.398. In terms of value, Baseball-Reference says he was worth 0.4 WAR, FanGraphs 0.2 WAR, and Baseball Prospectus 0.6 WARP. That’s largely fine for a backup utility infielder, but the question is whether the Brewers should pay $1 million for that. It’s not much in the grand scheme of a payroll, and if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training they could cut him without paying the full million.
Saladino also has one option remaining, and while ideally you don’t want to give someone $1 million to spend much of the year in Triple-A, we know how much Stearns likes his role players and guys on the outer fringes of the roster to have options available to help roster flexibility and depth.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Depth is one thing, but not having a clear role is another, and with so many potential arbitration cases this winter, paring down redundant parts of the roster might be the smart way to go.
If the Brewers think Arcia can be solid enough -- and the way he finished the year provided some hope there -- and if Schoop fits into the team’s plans for 2019 (at least to start the year), is there much need for someone like Saladino? If Schoop is on the roster, is having Saladino and Hernan Perez both on the roster really necessary? There’s also potentially cheaper options that could fill a similar role for the league minimum, including former first round pick Jake Hager and Mauricio Dubon -- and that’s before you even get to the possibility of Keston Hiura making his debut sometime in 2019.
What Should Happen?
Saladino is a perfectly fine backup infielder, but as we saw with Sogard, guys like him are a dime a dozen and generally available on the waiver wire throughout the year. While he provided enough value to be worth the possible $1 million price tag this past year, it seems unlikely he’d get enough time to be much more than replacement level in 2019. It’s not necessarily his fault -- the team’s situation is just different than when he first came in, and there are multiple players in the upper levels of the organization who can provide the same skillset. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Saladino non-tendered before the end of November.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangrahs, and Baseball Prospectus