Teams have until December 2nd to decide whether to tender contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. The Brewers have a slew of players up for raises this winter, but the uncertain financial situation for teams across the league could lead to some surprising non-tenders. Who will the Brewers keep among their arbitration-eligibles, and who will they let go? We take a look at each player’s case.
2020 Salary: $1.4 million ($525,000 when prorated)
2021 Projection: Between $1.7 million and $2.1 million
Gamel avoided arbitration last year by signing a one-year deal with an option for 2021, but the backup outfielder saw that $2.55 million option declined earlier this offseason. The Brewers still retained his rights via arbitration, though, and could save about a half a million by going through this process of working out a new contract instead — or save a couple million by letting him go altogether.
Declining the option at least gave the Brewers about a month to evaluate the pros and cons of that decision. For most of his time in Milwaukee, Gamel has been a decent reserve outfielder — the type that’s good enough defensively at all three outfield spots that it won’t kill you to have him fill in with a spot start occasionally. When he plays any more than that, though, his limitations become more apparent, and that was the case in 2020.
Lorenzo Cain making the decision to opt out for the health of his family meant Gamel was pushed into the everyday lineup early in the season. A lot was made during Summer Camp of a batting stance change that was supposed to lead to more power, and through the first week or so of the season, Gamel actually was one of the better bats in the lineup, hitting .300/.333/.750 through his first 6 games.
Things quickly fell apart after that, though, as he was forced into the lineup more frequently. By the end of the season, Gamel had appeared in 40 of the Brewers’ 60 regular season games, hitting just .237/.315/.404. While his slugging did improve over last season, his walk rate went down, his strikeout rate went up, and he graded out as a below-average baserunner. Craig Counsell also largely limited him to the corners defensively, opting to play Avisail Garcia in centerfield more often than Gamel.
Add it all up, and Gamel was below replacement level in 2020, accounting for -0.5 bWAR, -0.3 WARP and -0.2 fWAR. That means just about anyone else the Brewers could have tried in that role could have done better, and the Brewers likely figured that out by September, when Tyrone Taylor started to see more time.
If payroll is going to be tight in 2021, it’s entirely possible the Brewers decide to go forward with Taylor as their main backup outfielder next season instead of Gamel. All things considered, the Brewers could use the couple million dollars elsewhere without losing much production — and could actually improve — by going with Taylor over Gamel. One thing that may still work in Gamel’s favor is that he hits left-handed, but the Brewers also claimed lefty-swinging outfielder Billy McKinney late in the season, and McKinney has similar defensive versatility. The expected high number of non-tenders this December could also play a role in the decision-making, since it’s likely similar or better players could soon be hitting the market in the coming week.
The Brewers will have plenty of options when it comes to building out their bench, and in the end, it doesn’t seem terribly likely Gamel is going to be one of them.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Prospectus
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