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2020-21 MLB Free Agency Preview: Infielders

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Milwaukee has improvement needs all across the infield

MLB: ALDS-Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers were not a very good team offensively in 2020. What was supposed to be a powerful 1-2 combination in Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura underperformed significantly. Milwaukee’s two biggest surprises, Jedd Gyorko and Daniel Vogelbach hit well. Nonetheless Gyorko’s option was declined, and Vogelbach still has question marks. David Stearns has indicated that he will be looking at how to improve the offense, and what better way than addressing those needs with free agents that play on the dirt?

Catcher

The catcher position was one of the black holes on this team in terms of offense, especially once Manny Pina went down to injury. What was supposed to one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, Omar Narvaez, turned into one of the worst hitters in the game in 2020 (wRC+ of 59 in 126 plate appearances). Narvaez is certainly in line to turn things around in 2021, but in case the Brewers were looking to upgrade, there are interesting names to consider.

J.T. Realmuto

The likelihood of Realmuto coming to Milwaukee is remote, but he might be the best free agent in this market. Realmuto would certainly move the needle for Milwaukee with his impact offensively. He is consistently a 4.5-5.7 fWAR player. Plus he is real good pals with Christian Yelich.

Players generally do not choose who they will sign with based on their friendship with another player. Nonetheless it does not hurt that Yelich and Realmuto have such a relationship. Would Mark Attanasio open his wallet to sign what is arguably the best backstop in the game? Again, I would not bet on it, but he would certainly be a huge boost to the Brewers.

Yadier Molina

A Molina to Milwaukee scenario is probably more unlikely than Realmuto, and money would not be the issue. Molina will turn 39 in July. While his reputation across baseball remains high, he has been a below average hitter for 3 of the past 4 year. On top of that, he is not the defender he once was. He would certainly provide leadership, but Manny Pina is probably a better catcher right now.

James McCann

McCann is really interesting. He will turn 31 in June, and he has turned himself into one of the better hitting catchers in baseball. Over the past two seasons across 587 plate appearances, McCann slashed .276/.334/.474 with 25 homers. That is exceptional at the catcher position. He is also really good defensively. McCann was in the 88th percentile in framing for 2020, and he has always thrown out would be base stealers at a high clip. MLBTradeRumors.com predicts that his contract will be 2 years/$20M.

If the Brewers’ front office feels that Narvaez’ offensive output was more than just an aberration, there are not many other upgrades for the Brewers to look at. Kurt Suzuki might work, but he is 37 years old. Wilson Ramos and Robinson Chirinos were not that good in 2020. Mike Zunio, Tyler Flowers, and Jason Castro are a few other names that could be looked into.

First Base

The Brewers brought Daniel Vogelbach to Milwaukee, and he might very well be their first baseman for the next few seasons. Unfortunately he is not a great defender. First base is the one position that does not have a lot of quality in free agency, but there are a few interesting names.

Carlos Santana

MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Santana would be playing in a Brewers uniform in 2021 with a 1 year/$6M contract. If the Brewers could get the 2019 version of Carlos Santana with such a contract, it would be one of the best signings of the 2020-21 offseason. In 2019, Santana blasted 34 homers and slashed .281/.397/.515. Santana is a very patient hitter, which is something the Brewers’ lineup could have utilized in 2020. Santana is 35 years old, but this is the type of signing David Stearns would make.

Mitch Moreland

Mitch Moreland might be another player Stearns would be interested in. Moreland has slugged over .500 each of the past two seasons. Coming to San Diego in a trade with Boston at the trade deadline, Moreland helped the Padres reach the playoffs. He is also 35 years old, but he might cost less than even Santana.

Eric Thames

Might bringing an old friend back into the fold be a win-win for everyone. Thames struggled as a Washington National. He was only able to produce a 67 wRC+ in 140 plate appearances. Might he have another good season in the tank? We certainly love him in Milwaukee, and his personality is well suited for that clubhouse.

C.J. Cron

Cron has been a good major league player since he entered the league in 2014. He has posted above 100 wRC+ every season he has played except one. Unfortunately he went down with an injury to his patella tendon and had to have season ending surgery in August. At this point, I could find nothing about a timetable for a return to baseball, but it is not out of the question he would be back by the start or near the start of the season. Cron would make an ideal platoon mate with Vogelbach.

Second Base

It could be said that the Brewers are set at second base with Keston Hiura and/or Luis Urias. However both young players still have much to prove. While it is unlikely Milwaukee would take playing time away from Hiura and possibly even Urias, there are some intriguing names at the keystone.

D.J. LeMahieu

Quite possibly the best hitting free agent available, LeMahieu is as versatile as they come. While he could play second base, he would likely spend his time at third and first base respectively if he were to sign in Milwaukee. There is just this tiny issue. He is going to be kind of expensive. MLB Trade Rumors predicts his contract value at 4 years/$68M.

Kolten Wong

Wong is the 2020 National League Gold Glove Award winner at second base. He is a really good defender. While he has plenty of big hits against Milwaukee, he really is a league average hitter posting above 100 wRC+ just twice in his career. Milwaukee certainly knows him, but Stearns and Company seeing him as a fit in Milwaukee would be a surprise.

Tommy LaStella

Someone that would fit in Milwaukee that could see some time at second base would be Tommy LaStella. MLB Trade Rumors predicts his contract value at 2 years/$14M. He can play almost anywhere on the field, and he is a quality bat. He has a 125 wRC+ over the past two seasons, and he kills right handed pitching.

A reunion with Jonathan Villar and Jonathan Schoop might or might not intrigue the Brewers’ front office. Other interesting names include Cesar Hernandez, Jason Kipnis, Kiki Hernandez, and Dee Gordon. More than likely the Brewers will stand pat at this position.

Shortstop

The value position in all of baseball right now might be shortstop, because most teams have a productive shortstop in place. With Francisco Lindor on the trade block, these shortstops might only have a few options. Contracts will probably be impacted as a result. While Orlando Arcia and Luis Urias are in Brewers’ uniforms, there are names that would upgrade the position.

Didi Gregorius

Gregarious produced over 4.0 fWAR in 2017 and 2018. He has power from the left side of the plate, and he is decent in the field. His bat could play in Miller Park like it did in Yankee Stadium. He will turn 31 prior to the 2021 season. MLB Trade Rumors ranks him as the 8th best free agent available and predicts his contract value at 3 years/$39M. Whether that contract amount is optimistic or not remains to be seen.

Ha-Seong Kim

MLB Trade Rumors actually ranks Kim ahead of Gregorius in its free agent rankings. Kim is just 25 years old, and Tim Dierkes says of him:

Kim is a unicorn given his blend of age, power, speed and defensive aptitude at a premium position.

Kim already has seven seasons of professional baseball under his belt, and we know that the Brewers scout the KBO heavily. Kim is likely on the Brewers’ radar, especially since he could be moved to third base as well.

Marcus Semien

The 2019 MVP candidate could be in line for a bounce back season after a poor showing in 2020. The question is, who is Marcus Semien at the plate? His 137 wRC+ in 2019 is the only time in his career he was not below 100 in wRC+. The team that signs him could be getting an All-Star or just a league average player.

Other shortstops that are out there include Andrelton Simmons and Freddy Galvis. Jurickson Profar is out there as well, and he can play any position on the field. There are several options, and some would not break the bank.

Third Base

Third base was a vacant wasteland for the Brew Crew on most days in 2020. There are only two real options that move the needle in any way.

Justin Turner

The soon-to-be 36 year old third baseman is a hitting machine that has anchored one of the best lineups in all of baseball in Los Angeles. Turner has posted a wRC+ between 123 and 158 in every season since 2014. He is now a free agent who would be a very dangerous bat for a Brewers’ offense in dire need of one. MLB Trade Rumors predicts his contract value at 2 years/$24M. Unless you include LaMehieu, Turner is the best option at third base, and quite possibly the best fit for Milwaukee overall.

Jedd Gyorko

Gyorko had a bounce back season in a Brewers’ uniform in 2020, but did it primarily at first base. Unfortunately it was not enough for the Brewers’ brass to pick up his option. A reunion with Gyorko makes a lot of sense, but Milwaukee will have to bid on his services against other teams in the market.

There are other third base options out there as well. Todd Frazier’s power is available. Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Lamb, and Zack Cozart can all be had. The Brewers could also bring back one or both utility men: Eric Sogard and Brock Holt.

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant