MLB Free Agency has officially begun, but it remains to be seen just how active our local Milwaukee Brewers will be this winter. The club does have myriad holes to fill, but after payroll fell by about 25% last offseason, spending is expected to be down once again after the shortened COVID-19 pandemic campaign without fans in the stands. David Stearns and company will have to get creative in order to put another competitive team on the field again during the upcoming season.
We have already surveyed the free agent market to get an idea of who the strongest available players are and at what positions, including on the infield, in the outfield, the bullpen arms, and the starting pitchers on the open market. Today, we’ll conclude by building a lineup of available players who have previously had a tenure in the Cream City:
Catcher — Tyler Heineman
It isn’t a very strong free agent class of former Brewer catchers, so we have to dig into minor league free agency to find former Milwaukee farmhand Heineman. The 29 year old spent two seasons in the upper minors for the Brewers in 2017-18, hitting .265/.352/.373 in 143 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Since then he’s gone on to have a couple stints at the game’s highest level, appearing in five games for Miami in 2019 and 15 games for the Giants this last season. He’s only got a .208/.288/.302 career slash line in 62 plate appearances, but he a track record of getting on base and has thrown out 40% of attempted base thieves in the big leagues as well as 38% during his eight years in the minors. We could also considering trying to coax Erik Kratz out of retirement, or see if Jonathan Lucroy has anything left in the tank.
First Base — Eric Thames
Thames was a highly popular and productive player at the cold corner in Milwaukee for three seasons, posting a .241/.343/.504 slash (118 OPS+) with 72 home runs across almost 1,300 plate appearances from 2017-19. The end of his stint came when the Brewers declined his option as they tightened their belts last winter, and he was ineffective for the Nationals last season as his power evaporated and he hit just .203/.300/.317 with 3 homers in 41 games. Thames’ hard contact rate was his best-ever according to Statcast in 2020, though, and his walk and strikeout rates were right in line with his career norms. Thames did hit more grounders and fewer fly balls he has since coming back from Korea, however, so perhaps a slight adjustment to boost his launch angle back up and a familiar setting in Miller Park — er, American Family Field? — might be a couple of key ingredients to his bounce back. Recent friends Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison are also looking for new homes.
Second Base — Jonathan Schoop
Schoop was brutal during his half-season with the Brewers in 2018, which lead to his non-tender in arbitration. The second baseman has put up two solid seasons since then, however, posting back-to-back above-average seasons offensively including a .278/.324/.475 batting line (115 OPS+) and 8 dingers in 44 games for the Tigers in 2020. Schoop could be in line for a multiyear deal heading into his age-29 season, but if a bounce back player is more your flavor, Jonathan Villar is on the market after a tough year split between Miami and Toronto.
Shortstop — Eric Sogard
Sogard isn’t a great defensive shortstop and was brutal at the plate for the Brewers in 2020 before his option was declined, but there aren’t many options available as far as former Brewers who can play the six. Villar could also be a fit here, or you depending on how strict you want to get with the definition, Ehire Adrianza was on the 40-man roster for a few days in 2017.
Third Base — Jedd Gyorko
Gyorko was Milwaukee’s most productive hitter in 2020, finishing with a .248/.333/.504 (121 OPS+) slash and nine long balls in 42 games. That wasn’t enough to convince Milwaukee to pick up his $4.5 mil option, however, who instead paid him a buyout to rejoin the open market. Gyorko should drum up some more interest this winter than he did last year after an injury-plagued campaign, and other options at the hot corner include Villar, Sogard, Brock Holt, and Brad Miller.
Left Field — Domingo Santana
Santana was a solid bat for the Brewers from 2015-2018 before he was shipped out when the outfield situation became crowded. After a solid 2019 in Seattle, the bottom fell out with a .157/.298/.286 line in 24 games for the Indians this past year. Santana is still only 28 and has a solid track record with the bat, but he provides very little defensive value on the grass.
Center Field — Keon Broxton
Broxton has always flashed tantalizing tools, but his propensity to swing-and-miss has prevented him from producing consistently at the big league level. He was part of Milwaukee’s 60-man player pool this past summer but didn’t see any time in the majors. Broxton turns 31 next season and for as frustrating as he can be at the plate, he does provide high-caliber defense in center.
Right Field — Ryan Braun
Does anything more need to be said?
Designated Hitter — Nelson Cruz
Cruz may be 40, but he remains an elite hitter in the game after batting .303/.397/.595 with 16 homers in 53 games for the Twins in 2020. Cruz has received MVP votes in six of the last seven years and hasn’t posted an OPS+ below 124 since 2012. Assuming the universal DH is still a thing in 2021 — which has yet to be decided — Cruz should be a highly sought after candidate who should be available on a short-term deal.
There are some former Brewer hurlers with pretty solid track records available on the market this year. Brett and Chase Anderson are out there, Mike Fiers, Gio Gonzalez, Jimmy Nelson, Tommy Milone, and if you want to get generous, former farmhands Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly are all looking for new deals.
A lot of old Milwaukee relief arms are floating out there this winter, too. Perhaps that is an indication of the kind of churn the Brewers have had in their bullpens during the Stearns era. There’s Oliver Drake, Jared Hughes, relief pitcher of the year finalist Jeremy Jeffress, Brandon Kintzler, sleeper agent David Phelps, and Joakim Soria could all be had, or former farmhand Nick Ramirez could be a lefty option.
C Tyler Heineman
1B Eric Thames
2B Jonathan Schoop
3B Jedd Gyorko
SS Eric Sogard
LF Domingo Santana
CF Keon Broxton
RF Ryan Braun
DH Nelson Cruz
IF Jonathan Villar
IF Brad Miller
IF/OF Brock Holt
C Jonathan Lucroy
So...does this team of former Brewers get the franchise back to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row in 2021?
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference