Even though most of the talk surrounding contract extensions centers on Corbin Burnes, Willy Adames and Brandon Woodruff a team friendly extension for Luis Urias might possibly represent the best value the Brewers could gain with an arbitration eligible player this winter. Very quietly, Urias has put up back-to-back 3.1 bWAR (and 2.1/2.3 fWAR) seasons with Milwaukee while primarily playing 3B and SS – which many would argue are not his best defensive positions. But because "Wicho" is a more of a well-rounded player who is merely "pretty good" in multiple facets of his game rather than one with a particular standout attribute, I think a lot of Brewers fans overlook him as a potential building block.
As a Super-2 qualifier last year with three seasons of team control remaining, Urias has already earned $2.55MM in his first year of Arbitration this past season. He is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make $4.3MM in ’23 which certainly isn’t prohibitive for the Brew Crew. But, a big leap forward offensively might put Urias out of the Brewers price range in 2024/25 – similar to Willy Adames’ projected jump from $4.6MM to a rather substantial $9.2MM in 2023. Frankly, Adames is a great example of why an Urias extension might make a lot of sense this winter.
This would be a deal similar to when the Brewers gave a 4-year extension to Rickie Weeks back in 2011. At the time, Weeks was coming off a 3.6 bWAR season with a career OPS+ of 106. Urias is two years younger than Weeks coming off a 3.1 bWAR season with a career OPS+ of 106 with Milwaukee. Urias isn’t a superstar in waiting, but he can be a positive contributor at 2B for the next 5-6 years to keep that position from becoming a black hole.
Weeks didn’t live up to that extension, but a lot of that was due to injuries and the fact he was a butcher on defense. Once Weeks lost his speed from the gruesome ankle injury, his effectiveness was limited. Urias has a skillset that should age well and gives him a high floor. He doesn’t swing and miss all that often, he takes his walks and doesn’t hit many balls on the ground. Defensively, he has good footwork and a solid glove, but his arm has led to the perception that he is a poor defender. However, the metrics don’t really back that up as he has been a positive contributor in dWAR in both 2021 and 2022 and has a rather impressive DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) total of 11 at 3B in just 1191.1 innings. When he’s struggled on defense, it’s been when he’s been deployed at shortstop.
That being said, if the Brewers were going to extend Urias and lock him up it should be with the aim of him being the team’s primary 2B for the foreseeable future. That is where his defense rates the best and where his offense would have a very good chance of being in the upper third of MLB at his position. Something along the lines of what Jorge Polanco signed back in 2019 (five years, $25.75MM with a 6th year club option at $12MM) or David Fletcher's back in 2021 (5 years, $26MM) might be a good starting point for Urias. Polanco had three years to free agency and had accrued 4.0 fWAR and Fletcher had amassed 5.8, so we're close to where Urias is today (4.6 fWAR). A five-year contract would get Urias through his age 30 season and buy out two years of free agency. Hitting the open market at age-31 would still represent a decent chance for a big contract is he overperforms the extension and becomes a top 2B in the majors, so there is security in this kind of deal for Wicho but also a decent chance for a big payday down the road.
Let's say Urias would take a five-year deal like Polanco/Fletcher with the total salary bumped up a bit to account for inflation. I'll say 5 years, $35MM. Here's what it could look like:
Year 1: $4MM
Year 2: $6MM
Year 3-5: $8.3MM
Should the Brewers extend Urias? I think they should - if they can buy out two or three years of FA and keep the larger salary years under $9MM, I think he'll give us enough to justify that kind of investment. Let's keep in mind what the Brewers have had to pay Kolten Wong ($8.33MM AAV over his now three year deal) to acquire this kind of player at secondbase via free agency. Urias is the kind of high-floor player that the Brewers should be trying to lock up before he has a breakout season and begins to eye the free agency waters at a young age. And if that breakout never comes, at least you are only paying the going market rate for a player rather than deal with an older, declining player.
Entering his age-26 season, Urias is right at that point where a breakout at the plate in 2023 likely means his future becomes somewhere other than Milwaukee before his team control expires. If the Brewers think he's got a higher ceiling than 2.5-3.0 WAR, they might want to try to lock him up now rather than experience the consequences if he reaches it.