The Milwaukee Brewers have five 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. David Stearns and company have five contract options to deal with for 2020, and some decisions will be easier than others:
C Yasmani Grandal
$16 mil mutual option ($2.25 mil buyout)
When Grandal was on the free agent market last season, he stated that his goal was to “keep the line moving” in terms of escalating salaries for his brothers behind the plate. That’s why he was amenable to the a one-year deal with a mutual option that he inked with Brewers, which pushed his salary to $18.25 mil when accounting for the buyout. Grandal was easily the best player to don the tools of ignorance in Milwaukee since Jonathan Lucroy left, appearing in 152 games while batting .246/.380/.468 for a 121 wRC+. He set a club record for catchers with 28 home runs and posted the only season with 100+ walks in franchise history by someone not named Prince Fielder. Milwaukee pitchers raved about working with Grandal, too, and he once again ranked among the game’s elite pitch framers. It is widely expected that Grandal will decline his half of the option and become a free agent after making what looks like a winning bet on himself last offseason. He’ll be unencumbered by the Qualifying Offer this time around, and the Brewers will really have to open up the pocketbook if they want to keep him.
2B/3B Mike Moustakas
$11 mil mutual option ($3 mil buyout)
Mike Moustakas is a good major league ballplayer, and he had another typically Moose-like campaign in 2019. He was more effective in the first half than he was down the stretch, but altogether Moustakas ended up with a .254/.329/.516 triple-slash in 584 plate appearances, which is basically right in-line with what he’s done over the past five seasons (.264/.325/.491 since 2015). He found his power stroke again after a brief outage down the stretch in 2018, bashing 35 dingers this year along with a career-best .262 ISO.
The front office clearly likes Moustakas for more than just what he brings on the field. Slingin’ Stearns and his brain trust made the unusual decision to spurn multiple second base options last winter and instead sign Moustakas and move all of his 6 foot, 225 lb frame to the keystone, a position he had never played in the big leagues. It all worked out swimmingly as Moose was able to make the plays he needed to in 40 starts at second base before moving back over to third to make room for Keston Hiura and relieve the slumping Travis Shaw. After another useful offensive season and with newfound positional versatility, most believe that Moustakas will decline his half of the mutual option and hit the open market again for the third straight winter. The way free agency has gone the last few years, it seems like the only sought-after players are superstars and underperforming advanced-stat darlings who appear to have untapped upside. That has created a blind spot on the market for good-but-not-great veteran players like Moose. After languishing until late in the winter each of the last two free agent sessions, will Moustakas finally receive that elusive multiyear deal?
RHP Chase Anderson
$8.5 mil team option ($500K buyout)
We hoped it was a breakout in 2017, but Chase Anderson’s career year now looks like an aberration. Fortunately, the baseline that he has established as a league-average starting pitcher is still quite useful. Unfortunately, that means that the extension that Chase signed after 2017 no longer looks like the same bargain that it appeared to be at the time. Anderson started this year in the bullpen but quickly moved back into the rotation after Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta faltered, and he wound up finishing second on the team with 27 starts (among 32 appearances) and 139.0 innings pitched. As we’ve become accustomed to seeing from Chase, he posted a solid earned run average (4.21, 95 ERA-) while once again beating his FIP (4.83) because he gives up a bunch of home runs (1.49 HR/9) but limits baserunners overall (1.27 WHIP, .266 BABIP). Anderson saw a bump back up in velocity to his 2017 levels and posted the second-best DRA- (99) of his career.
Heading into his age-32 season, Anderson seemingly falls into the same good-but-not-great category that Moustakas is part of. The Brewers will have to decide if his steadiness and familiarity with the org means he’s worth his $8.5 mil option, because if the market is anything like it has been the past two winters, Stearns could potentially use that money to sign multiple similarly-skilled starting pitching options from free agency.
(Note: If Anderson’s option is declined, he would still be eligible for arbitration. But with a projected salary of $10.3 mil via that route, the declined option would almost surely be followed by a non-tender).
1B/OF Eric Thames
$7.5 mil team option ($1 mil buyout)
After losing the first base gig to Jesus Aguilar last season through injury, Thames was right there to take the job back as Aguilar massively underperformed in 2019 and was eventually traded. Eric finished with 459 plate appearances across 149 games, batting .247/.346/.505 with 25 home runs for a 116 wRC+. He has been a three-true-outcome king since returning from Korea prior to the 2017 season, and that rang true again this year as he walked 11.1% of the time, punched out at a 30.5% clip, and posted a .258 ISO. Thames is a productive hitter who has come through with several clutch moments over the last three years, and he’s an affable presence in the clubhouse and among the fans who is open about his love for beer, wrestling, and comic book movies. The gentle giant is a tremendously fun player to watch and root for, but unfortunately, his limitations as someone best suited for the strong side of a platoon at first base or DH limit the amount of value that today’s front office execs place on someone like him.
C Manny Pina
$1.85 mil team option ($150K buyout)
Of all the option decisions that the club needs to make this winter, Pina is arguably the easiest. After spending 2017 and 2018 in timeshares behind the plate, Manny willingly moved into the backup job for 2019 after the signing of Grandal. Even in a greatly reduced role (38 starts), Pina was quite effective on both sides of the plate. He recovered from a slow start to finish with a .228/.313/.411 slash line and seven home runs for an 87 wRC+ that was a touch above-average compared to the typical catcher across baseball (85 wRC+ in 2019). He didn’t throw out quite as many runners on the bases this year as he has in the past (25%), but he still received excellent marks for his receiving, framing, blocking, and game-calling behind the dish. If Grandal walks, the team would probably feel fine entering 2020 with Pina slotting back into a more heavily-used timeshare. If they find a way to bring Yaz back or acquire another clear starter at catcher, Pina would still be very worthy of his modest price even as the backup.
(Note: Like Anderson, Pina is also arb-eligible if his option is declined. His projection is $2.2 mil, so if the Brewers do decline the option, it will likely be followed by a non-tender.)
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs