MLB free agency is off and running. On paper the Milwaukee Brewers seem set in the outfield. Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun will patrol the outfield while Trent Grisham and Ben Gamel fill in as needed. There is, however, scuttlebutt about Ryan Braun playing first base at least part of the time. With Milwaukee declining the 2020 club option on Eric Thames, that might just be more reality than rumor.
With that in mind, David Stearns could be open to some of the options on the outfield market. There are a number of outfielders available. While none offer the cache and talent that Bryce Harper brought last offseason, there are a few capable outfielders in the mix. Some might even offer strong production at a bargain price.
Quite possibly the most talented and most hyped of the outfielders available is Yasiel Puig. Breaking out with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, it looked as if Puig would be a perennial All-Star. After the 2014 season, Puig’s production faded as did his star in L.A. He was constantly involved in trade rumors including one supposed deal the Brewers that had Ryan Braun going to the Dodgers for Puig plus prospects. Puig eventually did get shipped to Cincinnati just prior to the 2019 season and was traded again at the deadline to Cleveland.
Yasiel Puig brings intensity as well as a unique attitude to his play, for better or worse. It is safe to say that Puig is not a superstar, but he is a useful and talented outfielder as long as his antics can be reigned in. In 2019, he slashed .267/.327/.458 while posting a wRC+ of 101, and has only finished over 2.0 fWAR once since his stellar 2014 (in 2017 he posted 2.9 fWAR). Puig is an exciting and frustrating player to watch. He enters his age 29 season in 2020. Dreaming on Puig at this point in his career is likely foolish, but a team might just dare to sign him based more on his reputation than his output.
The Chicago Cubs traded for Nicholas Castellanos at the deadline in 2019, and all he did was deliver. During his two month stint in Chicago, Castellanos slashed .321/.356/.646 while launching 16 home runs and posting a wRC+ of 154. If that is the level of hitter Castellanos is, he will be in the MVP conversation annually.
More than likely, Castellanos is like the player demonstrated throughout his career in Detroit, which is actually quite good. If we isolate his numbers since he broke out in 2016, Castellanos is slashing .286/.336/.504 with a wRC+ of 121. That is a very good hitter. While he is a below average defender in the outfield, his bat plays. He will turn 28 just prior to the 2020 season beginning. Coming off his best season to date, he hopes to cash in.
When the Miami Marlins offloaded their outfield of Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton, and Christian Yelich to other teams, the St. Louis Cardinals got two years of service for four prospects including Sandy Alcantara. While Ozuna was decent, he was not the level of player he demonstrated with Miami in 2017 where he slashed .312/.376/.548. If he had put up those types of numbers in 2018 and 2019 with the Cardinals, he would be looking at a more substantial market in free agency going into 2020.
Instead he posted slash lines of .280/.325/.433 in 2018 and .243/.330/.474 in 2019 while playing below average defense. Marcell Ozuna looks like a 2-3 WAR player going forward. Heading into his age 29 season, there is still plenty in the tank, but 2017 looks to be more of an anomaly.
Quite possibly the best outfielder on this list, Brett Gardner is a model of consistency. Entering his age 36 season in 2020, he will be coming off a 3.6 fWAR campaign. He has posted 2.5 to 4.0 fWAR every season since 2012. Vastly underrated, the old man just gets it done. In 2019, he slashed .251/.325/.503 with a wRC+ of 115. He also blasted a career high 28 homers. There might be a bargain to be had in terms of years and dollars for the team that signs Gardner.
The Los Angeles Angels decided to decline the club option on Kole Calhoun for 2020. That might be good news for a team looking for a short term contract with a corner outfielder that bounced back from an awful 2018 season. During that season, Calhoun slashed .208/.283/.369. Another campaign like that in 2019, might have spelled the end for the former Angels’ outfielder. Instead he slashed .232/.325/.467 while posting 2.5 fWAR. He enters his age 32 season in 2020.
Avisail Garcia is 28 and will turn 29 in the middle of the 2020 season. In 2017 he had a breakout campaign. He slashed .330/.380/.506. He has not come close to that level of production since. he is a below average defender in the outfield. He did post a 112 wRC+ in 2019, so he can be productive.
While the 2020 free agent market for outfielders is thin there are players that can and will help the teams that the sign with. Beyond the names listed above, there are players with something to offer including Hunter Pence, Billy Hamilton, Alex Gordon, Corey Dickerson, Leonys Martin, Juan Lagares, Cameron Maybin, Adam Jones, and Lonnie Chisenhall. There are even a couple of former Brewers’ outfielders available who know how to get onto highlight reels in the form of Carlos Gomez and Keon Broxton.
The likelihood is that only the outfielders highlighted will be in the starting lineup for a team most games, and that is not a given for a couple of them. In reality, the crop of outfielders available is thin. Luckily the Milwaukee Brewers have good outfielders. If they wanted to improve the outfield in some way, there are only a few names where that could happen, at least in terms of free agency.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs