As the offseason begins to get underway for the Milwaukee Brewers, many decisions loom on the roster for this team in 2021. One area that is always a point of conversation is the arbitration-eligible group of players, who make up a significant part of the roster. The arbitration-eligible players are the group of players who have accumulated between just under 3 years of MLB experience and up to 6 years of experience who will need a new contract for the next MLB season. Going into next season, the Brewers will have eleven eligible players to negotiate with. This group of players made just over $21 million before the salary reductions for the 2020 season (with adjustments, they made closer to $8 million). In a full 2021 season, they could make around $34 million. How much they actually make will be determined in negotiations between the team and player, and if necessary, before an independent arbitrator who will determine a salary.
Earlier this week, MLB Trade Rumors released their projections for the 2021 season. The group of Brewers was led by Josh Hader, who is projected to receive up to $6.8 million in 2021. Because of the uncertainty of how arbitration will be handled this season, MLB Trade Rumors released three sets of projections this offseason. The first set uses the reduced stats to determine increases, the second projects the 60 game stats to 162 games, and the third uses the 162 game projection and reduces the raise to 37.5% of normal. For more details on how the projections were obtained, check the article from MLB Trade Rumors on how they calculated their projections.
One note on the arbitration-eligible players. While Brent Suter is also eligible, he signed a two-year deal before the 2020 season, covering his first two years of arbitration. His original salary for 2020 was $950K, and he’s set to make $1.55 million in 2021. He will be eligible again for the 2022 and 2023 season.
(Note: The adjusted salaries below assume players made 37.5% of their original salary, as the exact numbers are not available.)
SS Orlando Arcia
2020 Original Salary: $2.2 Million
2020 Adjusted Salary: $825,000
2021 Projection 1: $2.7 Million
2021 Projection 2: $3.8 Million
2021 Projection 3: $2.7 Million
Difference: $500,000 - $1.6 Million
While he entered 2020 as a question mark on this team, ready to be replaced by Luis Urias, Arcia redeemed himself a bit with a stronger 2020 season. He played in all but one game, posting a batting line of .260/.317/.416. His batting average was the highest among players who played in 40+ games on the team, and his slugging percentage was second highest. As a result, he’s looking at a modest bump in arbitration this offseason. It’s hard to see the Brewers parting with him at this point, especially since a replacement isn’t there yet. It is a place where they could save some money, though.
LHP Alex Claudio
2020 Original Salary: $1.75 Million
2020 Adjusted Salary: $656,250
2021 Projection 1: $2 Million
2021 Projection 2: $2.3 Million
2021 Projection 3: $2 Million
Difference: $250,000 - $550,000
Though Alex Claudio’s 2020 numbers don’t look the best, the small number of appearances for a reliever affected that, and he was actually solid in 2020. He did post a 4.26 ERA and 4.09 FIP, but most of that came in one game, where he allowed 3 runs to the Pirates. 14 of his 20 appearances were scoreless, and he saw improvements in his K/9 (increased from 6.4 to 7.1) and BB/9 (decreased from 3.5 to 2.8) rates in 2020. He’s not going to be the Brewers most reliable reliever, but at a potential salary of $2 million, it’s a decent price to pay for a solid left-hander. However, it’s also worth remembering that Claudio was non-tendered last season and then re-signed. So, this isn’t a lock by any means.
OF Ben Gamel
2020 Original Salary: $1.4 Million
2020 Adjusted Salary: $525,000
2021 Projection 1: $1.7 Million
2021 Projection 2: $2.1 Million
2021 Projection 3: $1.7 Million
Difference: $400,000 - $800,000
Thrust into a more regular role after Lorenzo Cain’s opt-out, Gamel had a rough season in 2020. Overall, his numbers weren’t much different, as he batted .237/.415/.404 in 40 games for the Brewers. However, using him as a more regular player exposed him a bit more, and it showed at the plate. As a bench player, Gamel still has a role on this team, so a tender is reasonable for him. However, his salary is creeping up a bit, and this is a spot where the Brewers could try to save some money. His fate might end up being tied to what happens to Ryan Braun, if he does come back and if the Brewers bring him back on a smaller salary. If Braun does return, Gamel could be a casualty of that. Even if he doesn’t, there’s no guarantee Gamel returns. If more options than usual are available on the free agent market, the Brewers could look to one of those to save some money in 2021. (It’s also worth noting that Gamel does have a $2.55 million option for 2021 on the contract he signed prior to last season, but which his arbitration projections below that, it’s likely that option will be declined, and the Brewers can then still tender him a contract if they choose to.)
LHP Josh Hader
2020 Original Salary: $4.1 Million
2020 Adjusted Salary: $1.538 Million
2021 Projection 1: $4.5 Million
2021 Projection 2: $6.8 Million
2021 Projection 3: $5.1 Million
Difference: $400,000 - $2.5 Million
There is no question of if Josh Hader will be tendered. He absolutely will be. Even though his numbers jumped a bit in 2020 (3.79 ERA, 4.03 FIP, 14.7 K/9 compared to 2.62 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 16.4 K/9 in 2019), he’s still one of the most reliable relievers in the game, and will absolutely get a contract. There are two questions pending for Hader. The first is exactly how much he will make. He could easily see a bigger bump, but the reduced season could also keep his salary lower. The other question is if the Brewers will keep Hader around. As his salary continues to build, it is harder to fit that in to the Brewers budget. If the right trade comes around this offseason, Hader could be on the move.
UTIL Ryon Healy
2020 Original Salary: $1 Million
2020 Adjusted Salary: $375,000
2021 Projection 1: $1 Million
2021 Projection 2: $1 Million
2021 Projection 3: $1 Million
Ryon Healy barely played in the majors this season, so making any judgments based off those numbers will be difficult. He appeared in just five games between the regular season and postseason, going 1-for-10 in those plate appearances. However, the Brewers did keep him around all season, and he was on the postseason roster (though that may have been a low bar to clear). While this appears to be a non-tender case, if the Brewers saw something in Healy at the alternate training site, he could end up being a surprise tender this offseason.
RHP Corey Knebel
2020 Original Salary: $5.125 Million
2020 Adjusted Salary: $1.922 Million
2021 Projection 1: $5.125 Million
2021 Projection 2: $5.125 Million
2021 Projection 3: $5.125 Million
Corey Knebel is another interesting case that the Brewers will have to consider. Overall, his season wasn’t strong, as he posted a 6.08 ERA and 6.44 FIP, and dealt with a hamstring strain during the season as well. However, after the hamstring strain, he was better, posting a 2.70 ERA with eight strikeouts and four walks in his last 6.2 IP (he did make the postseason roster but did not pitch in the series). He’s still not quite back to where he was pre-injury, but signs are improving. The question is if he did enough to justify receiving the same $5.125 million salary in 2021. Since he is still recovering from injury, his salary will likely not see an increase next season. It will also be his last season as an arbitration-eligible player, as he is expected to be a free agent in 2022. This will be a tough call, and after Jimmy Nelson’s nontender last offseason, it’s really hard to say which way the Brewers will lean. If the Brewers are looking to save as much as possible, Knebel could easily be a casualty of that.
C Omar Narvaez
2020 Original Salary: $2.725 Million
2020 Adjusted Salary:
2021 Projection 1: $2.725 Million
2021 Projection 2: $3.1 Million
2021 Projection 3: $2.9 Million
Difference: $0 - $375,000
Omar Narvaez’s 2020 season was so rough that one projection for MLB Trade Rumors put him with no salary increase in 2021. He batted just .176/.294/.269 in 2020, and his play didn’t inspire much confidence in anyone. For many positions, numbers that low would be an easy non-tender, but for Narvaez, his position at catcher might give him some safety. He has two years of control left, and the Brewers only have Nottingham in the minors right now. Adam McCalvy does see Narvaez as a strong candidate to be tendered, so it looks more likely than not that he’ll be back.
C Manny Pina
2020 Original Salary: $1.85 million
2020 Adjusted Salary: $693,750
2021 Projection 1: $2.1 Million
2021 Projection 2: #2.3 Million
2021 Projection 3: $2.0 Million
Difference: $150,000 - $450,000
Since the decisions for Manny Pina and Omar Narvaez could be related, I put them next to each other in the list of arbitration eligible players. Pina also struggled a bit in 2020 but was the better of the two catchers offensively, batting .231/.333/.410 before a knee injury ended his season. Pina has just one year of control left, and there’s also the possibility of Jacob Nottingham getting a spot as one of the catchers looming. Pina is another player that the Brewers could go either way with. While bringing him back would make sense for continuity at the position, the Brewers could also decide to go a completely different direction here. However, with Nottingham not inspiring a lot of confidence, and no other catcher ready in the minors, it seems likely at least one of Narvaez and Pina will return, and possibly both. It’s also possible the Brewers cut them both and look for a new catcher on the free agent market going into 2021.
UTIL Jace Peterson
2020 Salary: $100,000
2021 Projection 1: $800,000
2021 Projection 2: $900,000
2021 Projection 3: $700,000
Difference: $600,000 - $800,000
Joining the team midseason after starting on a minor-league deal, Jace Peterson’s stats were about what you would expect from a utility player. Over 26 games, he batted .200/.393/.356, so while the batting average is low, the OBP is good for a player in this role. He’s also the kind of utility player that manager Craig Counsell loves to have on the bench, able to play anywhere in the infield and even a bit in the outfield. A pre-arbitration player wouldn’t be making much less, so a tender here seems reasonable.
DH Daniel Vogelbach
2020 Salary: Pre-Arbitration
2021 Projection 1: $1.4 million
2021 Projection 2: $1.9 million
2021 Projection 3: $1.4 million
In his short time with the Brewers, Daniel Vogelbach has made himself known. In his 19 games with the team, he posted a .328/.418/.569 batting line, hitting four home runs and driving in 12 runs. Projected out to a “full” 60-game season, he would be among the team leaders in those categories. If the DH sticks around for at least 2021, tendering Vogelbach is an easy decision. If it doesn’t, this becomes a tougher one.
RHP Brandon Woodruff
2020 Salary: Pre-Arbitration
2021 Projection 1: $2.3 million
2021 Projection 2: $4.5 million
2021 Projection 3: $2.3 million
Brandon Woodruff is the other guaranteed tender on this team. He led the rotation in 2020 and is one of the strongest starters this team has going forward. He led the team in innings pitched at 73.2 and games started at 13, and posted a 3.05 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and led the team with 91 strikeouts compared to just 18 walks. Woodruff is an easy decision, the question is just how much he will make. He has one of the widest set of projections, going from $2.3 million to nearly double that at $4.5 million. Whatever he ends up getting, he deserves it and this is an easy call to make.
The deadline for the Brewers to tender contracts is December 2nd. We may see a few contracts signed in advance of that date, and we could also see some other decisions made before it. The main concern with the list is how arbitration will judge the 2021 season, and if players will get similar contract increases, or if there will be smaller increases. There’s also still the looming prospect of the 2021 season and how much revenue will be affected. That could result in more non-tenders than usual. Overall, it’s a more uncertain arbitration class than ever, and all possibilities are in play right now.