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Milwaukee Brewers 2020 arbitration estimates released

That’s even more guys than last year!

Wild Card Round - Milwaukee Brewers v Washington Nationals Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Brewers are firmly within the competitive window of The Christian Yelich Era, and as such the franchise has seen payroll increase dramatically over the past few years. In 2017, Milwaukee’s first winning season under the David Stearns regime and the year before Yelich arrived, the club opened with a payroll that was just a hair over $60 mil and ranked lowest in baseball by season’s end. The Yelich and Lorenzo Cain additions helped boost Opening Day payroll to almost $91 mil for the following season, and then deals for Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal pushed wages up past $120 mil in 2019, setting a new franchise record for player spending.

The Brewers just wrapped up their third-straight winning season and second consecutive postseason appearance, and for the 12th time in the last 13 years, they drew more than 2.5 million fans through the gates. As such, it’s quite plausible that the team will continue to push their spending levels upwards in 2020. That process will start with salary arbitration, and the considerable quantity of eligible players that Milwaukee currently has under team control. MLB Trade Rumors has developed their own system for accurately predicting arbitration salaries, and each year shortly after the end of the regular season they release their forecasts for the following campaign. Those figures were released earlier this week and include 16 Brewers who will be arb-eligible this coming winter.

Here are what the algorithms came up with:

RHP Chase Anderson

2019 salary: $6,000,000
2020 projection: $10,300,000***
Difference: +$4,300,000

Anderson started the year in the bullpen but quickly became a fixture in the starting rotation, as he has been since arriving in Milwaukee prior to 2016. His ace-like 2017 season now looks like a career outlier, but Anderson continues to chug along as a solid starter who provides roughly league-average run prevention. He has beaten his peripherals throughout his career and did so once again in 2019 while pitching to a 4.21 ERA in 139.0 innings pitched, covering 32 appearances (27 starts). Anderson gets an asterisk as an arb-eligible player, because he has a club option for $8.5 mil for 2020 that comes with a $500K buyout. If the team chooses to retain him, it would be via the option.

RHP Corey Knebel

2019 salary: $5,125,000
2020 projection: $5,125,000
Difference: $0

Knebel has been an All-Star and a dominant closer during his parts of four seasons with Milwaukee, but he went under the knife in spring and missed all of 2019 while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. As such, he is projected to receive the same salary as he drew during his year on the shelf. Knebel has started throwing off flat ground again and should be ready to return to active duty sometime in 2020. This is his third winter as arb-eligible after qualifying as a Super Two, and he’ll be eligible for free agency after 2021.

RHP Zach Davies

2019 salary: $2,600,000
2020 projection: $5,000,000
Difference: +$2,400,000

Davies returned from a disappointing and injury-filled 2018 season to post the lowest earned run average of his career in 2019, pitching to a 3.55 ERA in 31 starts while eating up the most innings — 159.2 — of any hurler on the team. This will be the soon-to-be 27 year old’s second go-round through arbitration and he can become a free agent after 2021.

3B Travis Shaw

2019 salary: $4,675,000
2020 projection: $4,700,000
Difference: +$25,000

Shaw was a fixture in the cleanup spot and one of the team’s primary run producers during 2017-18, but no one could have predicted just how sharply his production fell off this season. Shaw spent time on the IL and was optioned to the minors twice, and in 270 plate appearances with Milwaukee, he hit .157/.281/.270 with seven home runs. Stearns suggested that the club will have to take a long look at how Shaw fits in going forward, which indicates that a non-tender is a legitimate possibility. This would be Shaw’s second time in arbitration.

LHP Josh Hader

2019 salary: $687,600
2020 projection: $4,600,000
Difference: +$3,912,400

The blown save in the NL Wild Card game leaves a bad taste in the mouth for 2019, but on the whole Hader turned in another dominant campaign. He twirled 75.2 innings of 2.62 ERA baseball, striking out batters at an even greater rate (47.8%, 16.41 K/9) than he did last season. In his first year as the team’s full-time closer, he also set a franchise record for left-handers with 37 saves. Home run issues notwithstanding, Hader has clearly established himself as one of the top relievers in baseball since his debut in 2017, and he is projected to receive a handsome raise in his first arbitration season after qualifying as a Super Two.

RHP Jimmy Nelson

2019 salary: $3,700,000
2020 projection: $3,700,000
Difference: $0

After spending parts of 2017, 2018, and 2019 rehabbing from shoulder surgery, Nelson finally returned to a major league mound this summer. Unfortunately his performance was nothing close to what it was pre-injury, showing diminished velocity and lackluster command en route to a 6.95 ERA in 22.0 innings. He battled some elbow problems upon his return and eventually transitioned to a full-time relief role while back on rehab assignment in the minors, and showed some life in the bullpen. He didn’t get much work in September and his future is an open question. If he is brought back, this would be his final time as arbitration-eligible.

RHP Junior Guerra

2019 salary: $2,225,000
2020 projection: $3,500,000
Difference: +$1,275,000

Guerra transitioned to a full-time relief role in 2019 and became one of the most valuable members of the bullpen, appearing in 72 games while compiling an NL-leading 83.2 relief innings with a 3.55 ERA. When needed, he worked multiple-innings, pitched in the middle of games, in high-leverage in the late innings, and he recorded 20 holds along with three saves. Guerra has proven to have value both in the rotation and in the bullpen and could continue as a versatile piece for the foreseeable future; this will be his second go-around in arbitration after qualifying as a Super Two last year, and he isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2022 season.

UTIL Hernan Perez

2019 salary: $2,500,000
2020 projection: $3,000,000
Difference: +$500,000

The ability to play all over the diamond while doing just enough with his bat allowed Perez to serve as the team’s primary utilityman during 2015-2018, but his offense cratered this season and he lost his grip on that role. Perez was DFA’d midseason before returning later in the summer, and his .228/.262/.379 slash line and 8 home runs in 91 games amounted to his worst offensive season as a Brewer. If Perez is brought back, this would be his final year of arbitration eligibility.

SS Orlando Arcia

2019 salary: $565,700
2020 projection: $2,700,000
Difference: +$2,134,300

2019 marked the second year in a row that Arcia lost hold of the everyday shortstop role. He posted the lowest wRC+ of any qualified player in the big leagues this past season; since his big league debut, Arcia owns the third-worst wRC+ in all of baseball (min 1,500 PA), and also the worst wRC+ in the history of the Milwaukee Brewers (in 1,500 PA). He tied a career-high with 15 homers this year but batted only .223/.283/.350. For the third time in four seasons, he was valued with a negative WAR (-0.4) from Fangraphs. Stearns told reporters that the team needs more production out of the shortstop position going forward, casting some doubt on Arcia’s future. This is his first time qualifying for arbitration.

LHP Alex Claudio

2019 salary: $1,275,000
2020 projection: $2,200,000
Difference: +$925,000

During his first season in Milwaukee, Claudio led the league with 83 appearances and posted a solid 4.06 ERA. Unlike his previous work in Texas, though, Claudio wound up settling in as more of a lefty specialist and totaled only 62.0 innings. The southpaw didn’t fare well when he was given opportunities to face righties and pitch full innings early in the year, and the three-batter rule that is scheduled to be put into place next year takes away his obvious role in the bullpen. Claudio would have one more year of arbitration eligibility left after 2020.

C Manny Pina

2019 salary: $1,750,000
2020 projection: $2,200,000***
Difference: +$450,000

This was Pina’s first year of being relegated to a backup role after the team signed Yasmani Grandal, but he was still quite a valuable member of Craig Counsell’s squad. In 76 games and 179 plate appearances, Pina totaled a .228/.313/.411 slash with seven homers while drawing quality marks in regards to his defense and pitch framing. Like Anderson, the club holds an option over Pina for 2020; if picked up, he would earn $1,850,000, so that’d be the most likely way that Milwaukee retains him.

OF Ben Gamel

2019 salary: $567,700
2020 projection: $1,600,000
Difference: +$1,032,300

Gamel’s versatility and left-handed bat served the team well as fourth-outfielder, appearing in 134 games across left, center, and right while accruing 356 plate appearances. He saw his role diminish a bit down the stretch with the emergence of Trent Grisham, but he still checked in with a .248/.337/.373 slash and seven homers for an 87 wRC+. This is Gamel’s first time qualifying for arbitration eligibility.

UTIL Cory Spangenberg

2019 salary: $1,200,000
2020 projection: $1,500,000
Difference: +$300,000

When Spangenberg signed with Milwaukee last winter, he looked ticketed for a roster spot in a second base platoon. But after the late signing of Mike Moustakas, Spangenberg ended up spending most of the year in the minor leagues. He did receive a call-up for the stretch run and appeared in 32 games, playing at second, third, shortstop, and in the outfield. But he batted only .232/.277/.358 in 102 plate appearances for a 60 wRC+. If the team chooses to part ways with Perez, though, Spangenberg and his left-handed bat could fit well in a utility role next year.

1B Tyler Austin

2019 salary: $568,600
2020 projection: $1,200,000
Difference: +$631,400

Austin made the Brewers his third organization in 2019 when he inked a minor league deal in August, and he played a part-time role down the stretch in September. He hit .200/.370/.450 in 27 plate appearances with one memorable home run against the Cubs on September 8th. Altogether, he hit .188/.296/.409 in 89 games including his stints with the Twins and Giants, and this would be his first time as an arb-eligible player.

UTIL Tyler Saladino

2019 salary: $887,500
2020 projection: $1,000,000
Difference: +$112,500

Saladino started the year in the minors but eventually got some run as the regular shortstop for Milwaukee, though he was unable do much with the opportunity. He hit grand slams in back-to-back games but otherwise managed only a .123/.197/.215 batting line in 71 plate appearances. This would be Saladino’s second run through arbitration.

LHP Brent Suter

2019 salary: $568,300
2020 projection: $900,000
Difference: +$331,700

Suter spent most of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery before returning to action and winning reliever of the month in September thanks to a 0.49 ERA in nine appearances and 18.1 innings pitched. The soft-tossing lefty is first-time arbitration-eligible as a Super Two player this winter and his versatility figures to make him an important part of the staff next season.

If all 16 players were to return to Milwaukee at their projected arbitration salaries in 2020, that would be more than an additional $18 mil of payroll compared to what those players made in 2019. The contract options for Anderson and Pina mean that the added spending won’t be quite that high, however, and several other players profile as possible non-tender candidates. The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players this year is December 2nd.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs
Salary information courtesy of Cot’s Contracts, Arbitration projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors