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: $4.1 million ($1.538 million when prorated)
2021 Projection: Between $4.5 million and $6.8 million
Let’s just start with this: the Brewers will absolutely tender Josh Hader a contract. That’s not a question. But that mundane move won’t do a lot to quiet the other questions surrounding Hader that will follow David Stearns and new GM Matt Arnold this winter.
Namely — will Hader still be on the roster whenever the 2021 season starts? His historic early-career dominance means he’s getting expensive in a hurry, and the front office is likely working under some kind of understanding to not spend more than they have to coming off a year of down revenues. With that mentality, would they want to pay Hader upwards of $7 million, especially if he’s now being limited to less optimal usage in only the 9th inning and with Devin Williams bursting onto the scene with his Rookie of the Year and Reliever of the Year awards?
Hader is coming off a year that could be considered down for him, with a 3.79 ERA in a small sample size of 19 innings. In terms of strikeouts, he was as good as he’s ever been, even with the early-season worries about velocity. He finished the year striking out almost 40% of the batters he faced, down from the last couple of years — but again, let’s remember the last couple years were best-of-all-time level performances.
For the concerns about the velo drop in the first part of the shortened season, Hader still finished the year with an average fastball velocity of 94.6 mph — down a tick from 2019, but almost exactly in line with where he was in 2018. Hader also addressed the criticism of him relying too much on his fastball after struggling with home runs in 2019, upping his slider usage to about 1/3 of the time.
While that slider helped keep batters off-balance, especially early in the year when they may have been sitting fastball, it may have led to his rise in walks this year. His walk rate doubled over last season, leading to some tense appearances throughout the year, or at least giving the impression he may no longer be as scary as he seemed.
To be fair, though, half of the walks Hader issued in 2020 came in one outing — the bizarre night against Pittsburgh in which he walked 5 of the 6 batters he faced. The only other appearance in which he walked more than one batter was a multi-inning appearance against the Cubs on August 14th in which he walked 2 of the 7 batters he faced in 1.1 innings.
There’s little question Hader is still one of the very best relievers in the league and would be an asset to the Brewers in 2021. The question is whether spending $7 million on a reliever is viable. And if it is, would $10 million or so the season after that be viable? All 30 teams recently had a chance at All-Star reliever Brad Hand for that $10 million and nobody claimed him. If that’s the case — what does that say about Hader’s potential trade value if the Brewers decided to move on?
Tendering a contract to Hader in the next few days is the easy part. It’s what happens after that where things get tricky.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs