In a cruel twist of contract negotiations, the Brewers are locked in with their least productive outfielder while their most productive outfielder will likely find a home elsewhere in 2022.
After a down year in 2020, Avisaíl García had a major comeback year in 2021. This September, he logged enough at-bats across his two seasons with the Brewers to change his $12 million club option into a mutual option. By that point, García was already in an end-of-the-season, wear-and-tear-induced downturn. But he had been the outfield’s most consistent offensive contributor by a long shot.
With $55 million locked into an outfield that offensively did not produce (JBJ), under-produced (Yelich), or could only contribute limited plate appearances (Cain), the Brewers need to make moves so an impact bat is getting daily reps in the outfield, and they will likely try to do it on a budget.
García’s 2021 suggests he has the bat (.820 OPS, 115 wRC+, .346 wOBA), but he likely comes in over the Brewers’ budget. In all likelihood, Avi will decline his option and opt for free agency, where he’s more than likely to find a multi-year deal that exceeds $12 million annually. With their other commitments, the Brewers are unlikely to match. From there, their most likely options include giving Tyrone Taylor the at-bats he’s earned or betting on an outfield bat with more to prove. The 2022 free-agent class is full of suitable outfielders who offer their services at less than $12MM.
Meanwhile, in a move that surprised nobody, Jackie Bradley Jr. elected for a $9.5 million 2022 contract with the Brewers today, declining his $6.5 million buyout to enter free agency.
JBJ’s woes at the bat during 2021 are well-known. He was offensively absent all season, slashing .163/.236/.261 with a wRC+ of 34. He did provide the defensive value he was primarily signed for, earning a Gold Glove nomination, ranking in the 88th percentile in terms of outs above average, and logging +12 Defensive Runs Saved. Even with those defensive contributions, JBJ left 2021 with -0.8 fWAR.
With retaining JBJ in 2022 all but certain, we can only hope he will match a season-long slump with a season-long upturn, much like Avisaíl García did in 2020 and 2021. This may not be as far off as it seems after JBJ’s 2021. Even if JBJ provides no offensive value (as opposed to the negative offensive value he produced in 2021), his defensive chops are worth the player option the Brewers extended when they acquired him.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.