It’s the first day of MLB free agency! This could be one of the more interesting free agencies for the Milwaukee Brewers over the last few years. The team has a number of issues on the roster and it’s not quite clear how a few of them will be addressed. The staff at Brew Crew Ball is taking a look at every position, starting with the infield.
While the Brewers have obvious holes at catcher and third base with Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas headed to free agency, they also have decisions to make at first base and shortstop. The team also has able-bodied players to put at all four positions.
The best-available catcher is an obvious and familiar name: Yasmani Grandal. Grandal is one of the best combinations of defense and offense you’ll find in the game at this moment. While Milwaukee was able to get him on the roster with just a one-year deal, it’s unlikely any team gets Grandal on another team-friendly contract. Last season, he was second among all catchers with a 5.2 WAR, fourth in wRC+ at 121 among catchers with at least 200 PAs, and first in FRM (Framing runs above average) with 17. Despite being very effective in 2019, Yaz turns 31 in just a few days. Historically, catchers hit a steep decline in performance after age 30 and Milwaukee used him A LOT in 2019, which couldn’t have helped things. Yaz isn’t your everyday catcher though, he’s a potential future Hall of Famer and a difference maker, worth the risk for any team looking for help behind the plate. Thankfully for Milwaukee, not a lot of competitive teams need a catcher.
The next best free agent catcher might just be Travis d’Arnaud. d’Arnaud has historically been a pretty unreliable catcher, dealing with injuries and irregular performances. Last season, the New York Mets finally gave up on their long-time catcher. He eventually landed with the Tampa Bay Rays and put together one of the seasons of his career, slashing .263/.323/.459 with a 107 wRC+. He’ll be 31 before the season starts and should be cheap compared to Grandal. d’Arnaud can also play first base to split time with Eric Thames (if the Brewers pick up his option).
Next would be the aging, but still somehow reliable Robinson Chirinos. Chirinos was sixth among catchers with 200 plate appearances with a 113 wRC+ for the Astros and ninth in WAR at 2.3. He is a worse framer that Grandal or d’Arnaud with a -5.6 FRM, but still solid defensively. He is 36 in June and has never put up a WAR better than 1.9 before 2019.
Finally, there are several defensive specialists, like old friends Martin Maldonado and Jonathan Lucroy. But the Brewers already have a pretty solid version of that in Manny Piña, who was locked up when the Brewers picked up his option.
The Brewers have a few options at first base this offseason: pick up Eric Thames’ option, move Travis Shaw over to first base (which would require a third baseman), move Ryan Braun to first to clear playing time for Trent Grisham, promote an unproven player from the minors, or sign a free agent.
If David Stearns does choose to move on from Thames and get a free agent to help the team, there are a couple solid options on the market. The top option would be Jose Abreu. Abreu was 14th in WAR among qualified first basemen in 2019 at 1.9 — the same as Eric Thames — and 14th in wRC+ at 117. He did manage to slug 33 homers with his .284/.330/.503 slash line. Abreu has seen a decline in performance the last few seasons, but has been a reliable run producer for the Chicago White Sox since 2014. He’s not the best defender and would probably be better served with an AL team.
There’s also Yonder Alonso, who has had an up and down career. Last season, he split his time between Abreu’s White Sox and the Colorado Rockies. He slugged 10 homers with a .199/.296/.346 slash line. That got a lot better when he was with Colorado, where his slash line was .260/.357/.479 in 85 plate appearances. His best season was 2017, where he played for the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners. In 521 plate appearances, he hit 28 homers with a .266/.365/.501 line. He’s also a lefty, meaning Miller Park would favor him pretty strongly.
The rest of the pool is pretty bad. There’s Matt Adams, Lucas Duda, Ryon Healy and similar names.
The Brewers do not need help at second base. Despite his defensive short comings, Keston Hiura has that spot locked up in Milwaukee. Really, the Crew needs a utility player that can help with second base. The talent pool in that regard is lacking, with names like Josh Harrison and Howie Kendrick.
Orlando Arcia is one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Even Gold Glove caliber defense can’t make up for that. He is still only 25, but the team is hurt by his lack of production.
If Stearns and company decide to move on, or even challenge him for playing time, there are some options on the market. Jose Iglesias would likely be the best player to fill the need. He has averaged 2 WAR per season since 2013, and put up 1.6 in his time with the Reds last season. His 84 wRC+ isn’t amazing, but dwarfs Arcia’s 61. Add in his 8 DRS and 5.9 UZR, both of which were higher than Arcia’s, and he’d be an improvement in all aspects.
There’s also Didi Gregorius. Didi put up a 0.9 WAR last season in just 82 games. He was injured for the first half of the season, but prior to that, he was one of the best offensive shortstops in the game. He hit at least 20 homers very season between 2016 and 2018. Gregorius might get a pretty substantial contact for the player he’s been in the past, but if Milwaukee can snag him, he’d be a definite upgrade with the bat. Oh, and he’s a lefty. Not that Milwaukee really needs any more of those, but it’s always a good thing for any bat coming into Miller Park.
Jordy Mercer is another ok option, although he’d serve better as a utility player. The remaining players are so-so at best, so that’s your shortstop possibilities.
The Brewers might lose Mike Moustakas to free agency. That could create a huge hole in their offense. While they are reportedly looking at bringing Moose back, there are a few versatile options to make it work. First, they could move Ryan Braun back to first. Now that a few of you are upset, how about trying Travis Shaw at third again. I think we all know that the team needs a contingency plan for Shaw and cannot rely on him to correct his performance. So, what free agent options are there.
Let’s start with Moose. Moustakas was important to the Brewers, but he wasn’t an amazing third baseman when compared to what the rest of the league is working with. He was 19th in WAR at 3.0 and 15th in wRC+ at 113. He tied for 6th in homers with Eduardo Escobar at 35 and was sixth in ISO at .262. His stats were basically the same place when it came to defense.
Meanwhile, the second best third baseman in baseball in 2019 is on the market in Anthony Rendon. Rendon put up a 7.0 WAR, only behind Alex Bregman’s 8.5. A 7 WAR was also good enough for 7th in all of baseball. Reports are that Washington is already offering a $210 mil+, 7 year contract to come back. While the Brewers MAYBE could do that, it would be basically their entire free agency budget, lock them up financially for a few years, and lock in a player for past their prime, which Stearns doesn’t seem keen on doing. Stearns does love to shock us though, he did so with Yelich and Cain in the 2017-18 offseason and Yaz in the 2018-19 offseason. I don’t imagine that shock will be getting the best offensive player available.
After Rendon, the next best option would be the aging Josh Donaldson. Donaldson tied for wRC+ with Rafael Devers (7th among third basemen) and his 4.9 WAR is 8th among third basemen. He would have ranked third in WAR for Milwaukee this season. While Donaldson’s .259/.379/.521 slash and 37 homers were great, he was also amazing on defense. His 15 defensive runs saved was only behind Matt Chapman (18) and nearly doubled the third base defender. His range does leave a bit to be desired as shown by the 2.4 UZR. He is 34 and might want a two-year guarantee, but aside from a few injuries, he’s shown to be pretty reliable.
Then there’s Todd Frazier. Frazier had a 1.9 WAR off of his .251/.329/.443 slash line. He also was worse than Moose was defensively in 2019. He should be relatively cheap at 34 after he lost his 40-homer power.
After that, it’s basically the same heap we had to pick from for second base and shortstop. No one who stands out beside the best offensive free agent in baseball.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs