Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of the Brew Crew Ball Mailbag!
I want to thank you all for not asking different variations of the same question that everyone (understandably) would like answered: will the Brewers spend any money this offseason?
Instead, there was a mix of specific inquiries ranging from the state of the bullpen, starting pitching, and extension candidates. Let’s dive in.
Secret Stadium Sauce asks:
should I at least wait until pitchers and catchers report to ST to declare 2023 a lost season?
Patience is overrated. Stop slacking and get that negativity train rolling!
Brewers reclaim Central crown if ___________ happens.— Ullsperj (@ullsperj) December 28, 2022
If Arenado and Goldschmidt hit to their career norms of 121 and 144 wRC+ instead of 151 and 177 wRC+, do the Brewers win the division?
I grouped these questions because the premise of the second partially answers the first.
The Cardinals won the Central by seven games over the Brewers last year, and much of it was due to Goldschmidt and Arenado having career years at the same time. FanGraphs pegged them both for about 7 WAR, and Baseball-Reference viewed them as nearly 8-win players.
The odds of both repeating those performances are slim. Arenado, who averaged 5.5 bWAR per 650 plate appearances before 2022, is still positioned to have another excellent season. It’s much harder to say the same for Goldschmidt, who is entering his age-35 season and does not provide the same defensive value as his infield partner.
A return to form for the Brewers’ run-prevention unit should make up the remaining difference. After ranking third in baseball in RA-9 WAR, they fell to 13th last year. Better health and improved defense will bring them closer to the former mark.
Starting to look like it's going to be the trade market if the Brewers want to upgrade their bullpen further (they better). Any specific arms you think they could target? Gotta think they go find another southpaw at the least, right?— Tyler Laabs (@laabstyler) December 28, 2022
It would be nice to have more proven high-leverage arms, but I’m content with the current makeup of the bullpen, and I suspect the Brewers are as well. Earlier this week, I dove into how they’re adding significant velocity to their relief corps. Another left-hander would add more balance, but Hoby Milner can handle situational matchups in the middle innings. I prefer to roster a solid, well-rounded reliever over a specialist.
Given the general volatility of relievers, I prefer stockpiling cheap arms with promising stuff and breakout potential, and that’s precisely what Matt Arnold has done. That leads us to our next question.
Mtcunning 3 asks:
Who do you expect to be the biggest surprise out of the bullpen this year?
I feel confident in Peter Strzelecki and Javy Guerra emerging as legitimate high-leverage options, but neither would be huge surprises. Guerra’s stuff is electric, and Strzelecki’s unique arsenal showcased plenty of promise down the stretch last season.
J.C. Mejia deserves to be on more people’s radars, so I’ll pick him. He only appeared in two big-league games last year and sat out half of the season after a PED suspension, but he flashed dramatically improved stuff as a full-time reliever. Mejia added three mph of velocity and a couple of inches of sink to his power two-seamer. His slider velocity also saw a slight increase without sacrificing any horizontal movement.
If Mejia goes all-in on his improved sinker-slider pairing, he could be lights out. There’s a reason the Brewers kept him around on a new minor-league deal.
Is Keston Hiura on the 26 man roster on opening day? If yes, what role do you see him having on the team?
I don’t believe that Hiura has demonstrated that he’s close to finding consistent success at the big-league level. Among hitters with at least 250 plate appearances last season, Hiura’s 41.7% strikeout rate was the highest, and his 67.6% in-zone contact rate was the fourth-lowest.
The Brewers may not say it out loud, but that’s why they were hesitant to give Hiura consistent playing time for most of the season. His output was not sustainable. They gave in after his multi-homer game against the Cubs on August 21, and Hiura responded by slashing .193/.258/.352 with a 40.2% strikeout rate the rest of the way.
Hiura doesn’t have a clear defensive home, is not a reliable bat, has reverse platoon splits that do not fit the Brewers’ roster construction, and is out of options. I would be surprised if he is still with the organization by Opening Day.
Do you think the Brewers were smart for not dumping a lot of cash into Free Agents this year? The big run was on Shortstops of which the Brewers were pretty much set ... after that, overpriced Starting Pitchers and a lot of players with definite flaws (besides Judge who was never a thought).
The Brewers were never going to spend much in free agency this winter and never needed to. Most of the big names signed contracts incompatible with Milwaukee’s approach to maintaining sustained competitiveness. There were (and still are) several sensible free-agent targets that fit the Brewers’ needs and budget, but an extensive spending spree was understandably never in the cards.
With the additions of Winker and Contreras, how much do you think that played into the Brewers not spending in free agency? How many games do you expect Contreras to cath this year and how many does he DH?
The Brewers were all but guaranteed to sign a catcher before acquiring Contreras. It became clear that they had little faith in Mario Feliciano to back up Victor Caratini. They’re unlikely to spend additional money there now that they have fortified the position. A 70-30 split between catcher and DH is a reasonable expectation for Contreras.
The opportunity to acquire a bounce-back candidate in Winker was presumably far more appealing to the Brewers than spending on a free-agent bat. The former Red and Mariner could be a legitimate heart-of-the-order threat against right-handed pitching, which surely would have cost more than his $8.25 million salary on the open market.
If the Brewers had a “do over” (knowing what we know now) which would they do over...signing Christian Yelich to that big contract or the Josh Hader trade? And have we seen the last of Hader in a Brewers uniform?
The Brewers would never willingly commit over $200 million to a 2.5-to-3-win outfielder who provides decent offense but no defensive value. That’s not what they thought they were getting when they extended Yelich, but that’s who he is until he proves otherwise. While Yelich’s contract isn’t a total lost cause, I suspect the Brewers would have acted differently if they had a crystal ball.
taylor boldon asks:
Do we have enough starter depth in this organization to get through next year’s championship season?
Fortifying rotation depth was a top priority for the Brewers this offseason, and I think they’ve accomplished that goal. Janson Junk and Tyson Miller may not be exciting at first glance, but their arsenals and profiles give them more upside than Jason Alexander, whom the Brewers were forced to rely on for 71 2⁄3 innings last year.
Several back-end starters have gone for eight figures on the open market this winter, and others have received contracts just shy of that. Telling a proven veteran free agent that they’ll be your sixth or seventh starter is also not a convincing sales pitch. With those factors in mind, the Brewers did a solid job improving their rotation depth.
Hi, please analyze and handicap the following five possibilities:
1. The Brewers will add a decent-hitting OF (say, Adam Duvall) before opening day.
2. The Brewers will add a decent-hitting IF (say, Jean Segura) before opening day.
3. The Brewers will add a decent starting pitcher (say, Johnny Cueto) before opening day.
4. (Related to 3): The Brewers, having added a SP, will move Adrian Houser to the bullpen.
5. (Related to 4): The Brewers, after adding Houser to the pen, will not make any other moves there.
The first possibility will happen, or at least it should. Tyrone Taylor and Blake Perkins are the only right-handed-hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster, and Sal Frelick (who bats left-handed) is the only prospect in Milwaukee’s I trust to be a productive big-league hitter in 2023. If the Brewers claim to be comfortable with their current outfield situation, they’re either bluffing or have too much confidence in their prospects.
I think the Brewers are finished in the infield. Brice Turang and Abraham Toro will probably combine for underwhelming offense at second base, but at least Turang is a strong defender. The remaining options on the free-agent market do not move the needle.
As for the rotation, the Brewers may sign another depth arm to a minor-league deal, but I don’t expect them to add a big-league starter. Depending on whether the Brewers opt for a five-man or six-man rotation, Houser or Aaron Ashby could begin the season as starters or as relievers. Aside from a potential veteran signing, I suspect they’re largely finished adding in the bullpen.
With the current situation involving Carlos Correa playing out, why not jump in and offer a 1yr/33mil contract? It was free BAMtech money and he has already said he would play 3B if needed. This could be the jolt we need for an actual shot at a WS. In other related SS scenarios, do you think we could extend Willy to a 6yr/115mil deal? Like a (9+14+23+23+23+23) contract where we would be doubling his arb values the next two seasons then paying him slightly less than Marcus Semian (closest comp I could come up with) for the rest of the deal? This could help lighten the load with the Yelich contract for a few seasons.
The industry belief is that Correa’s deal with the Mets will eventually cross the finish line, and Scott Boras might laugh them off the phone, but the Brewers should reach out with a short-term deal with a high annual value. They did so in 2019 when Yasmani Grandal’s market failed to materialize. I doubt it would be a successful pursuit in this instance, but there’s no harm in trying.
A $115 million deal for Adames isn’t realistic. Instead of comparing him to Semien, it probably makes more sense to look toward Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts. Adames may not be a perfect on-field comparison (he doesn’t have their offensive track records but is a better defender), but these are the players his camp is pointing toward as high-level shortstops who just received massive free-agent deals.
Would Willy Adames sign a 8 yr, $220mm extension? Would the Brewers offer it?
I think something in this range gets it done. This proposed contract would be worth an average annual value of $27.5, which puts Adames squarely in the same yearly salary range as fellow shortstops Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts, who signed massive free agent contracts this winter. Eight years would take Adames through his age-35 season, meaning he could hit the free agent market and receive another moderate payday if he performs for the entirety of the contract.
It’s a risky proposition from the Brewers’ perspective. Concurrent extensions for Adames and Christian Yelich could mean that nearly 50% of their player payroll is allocated to two players. However, premium shortstops don’t grow on trees, and the best shortstops in the game are only getting more expensive. This reality may motivate the Brewers into locking down Adames.
The Marlins signed Segura taking another possible fit for the Brewers off the board. But it now strengthens the odds that the Marlins will trade an infielder. Do you think the Brewers are interested in Joey Wendle? Like Adames, his home numbers in TB were always worse than his road numbers. Playing in Miami (another pitchers park) didn’t help him in 2022. Until last year he has always been average to slightly above average offensively with good defensive versatility. He can probably be had for a reasonable package. What would it take to get him and do you think the Brewers want him?
I don’t think the Brewers are eyeing up Wendle for their infield picture. They probably believe they can replicate his combination of versatility and average-ish offense from their on-hand options, including Toro, Turang and Mike Brosseau. Whereas Wendle is about to turn 33 and will hit free agency after 2023, these three are younger and controlled long-term.
I’m not sure how well these two teams line up on such a deal, either. The Marlins are focused on adding contact hitters, and Toro, Turang, and Sal Frelick are the best bat-to-ball players the Brewers have.
Who plays 1st base against LHP? Rowdy another chance to show he can be an everyday guy? O. Miller? Along with another proven bullpen addition this is why I want to see an addition of Trey Mancini (split 1st, some RF, and add protection in case Winker isn't healthy) @ByJackStern— Kurt Cohen (@KurtLCohen) December 28, 2022
Tellez did not have a noticeable platoon split before last season, but he struggled to an 87 wRC+ against southpaws as opposed to a 117 wRC+ against right-handed pitching. The Brewers likely prefer to platoon the slugger. Unless Keston Hiura remains with the club, Miller and Brosseau are the leading options for playing time at first base against lefties.
Wil Myers, who owns a career 119 wRC+ against left-handers and a 137 wRC+ against them since 2019, was my preferred target to rotate between first base and right field as a supporting piece. Mancini’s production against lefties has varied from year to year, and he posted reverse splits in 2022, but he could be a solid fit as a semi-versatile right-handed bat in search of a one-year rebound contract.
In any case, adding a right-handed bat should be the Brewers’ top priority before Opening Day.
Is there going to be a Brewers on deck in 2023?— Alissa (@avand573) December 29, 2022
Brewers On Deck typically took place in January, so if the organization were bringing it back for 2023, they would have announced it by now. They initially canceled it in 2021, citing uncertainties related to COVID-19, and later decided against hosting it in 2022. The Brewers haven’t shared any updates since. At this point, it looks as if they have done away with the fan event completely.
Did you have a Funky Glitter Christmas?
I’m not here to knock anyone’s taste in music, so I’ll just say that nearly everything about this song is the antithesis of my personality. My YouTube recommended feed is also irreversibly flooded with K-pop videos after watching that.
Thanks for your questions this week! Pitchers and catchers report in 46 days.