Some say that baseball free agency is more exciting than the actual season, and while free agency is definitely more thrilling than The Big Bang Theory (honestly, I don’t have the slightest clue why that show is so popular. It’s beyond me), baseball’s regular season still takes the cake. Don’t confuse it with the NBA.
That doesn’t mean I don’t love the winter months of baseball, because I absolutely do. I yearn for even the smallest transaction once players are eligible to sign with other teams. Oh, the Diamondbacks signed a pitcher who played in Korea for the past few seasons? Sign me up! So, yes, I love free agency. And I love it even more when the Milwaukee Brewers are heavily involved, and they’re set to have a couple of key free agents who they’ll have to either replace or re-sign.
The Brewers made the playoffs on the backs of performances of players who could be suited up in new uniforms in 2020. The Brewers currently have seven players who could enter the free agency pool; four who are guaranteed free agents, two who have mutual options (they’ll more than likely decline it and become free agents) and one with a club option that will probably be picked up.
In that vein, let’s take a look at all of Milwaukee’s free agents and figure out if the Brewers should bring them back and how likely it is.
The MVP of the 2019 Milwaukee Brewers if Christian Yelich didn’t exist is primed to receive a huge payday after putting together a career-high 5.2 WAR season. Grandal reportedly turned down a four-year deal worth $60 million from the Mets this past offseason before joining the Brewers on a one-year, $18.25 million. He bet on himself and he’ll probably be happy he did. Teams should be lining up for his services, especially teams with big check books. And that’s where things get complicated for the Brewers. Milwaukee is aware it can’t compete with the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox of the world. That’s why it was so crucial to sign players like Grandal and Mike Moustakas to short-term deals. Those types of signings allows them to maintain flexibility for the future, which means if Grandal demands a four-year or longer contract, the Brewers would be hard-pressed to go there.
General manager David Stearns has said he wants Grandal back in Milwaukee, but wanting and doing are two different things. I could see the Brewers offering a or three-year deal to Grandal, but nothing higher than that. My guess is that Grandal moves on for a bigger paycheck. And who can blame him? He’s earned it.
Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 25 percent
Without Moustakas the Brewers don’t make it to the National League Championship Series in 2018. Without Moustakas the Brewers don’t make the postseason in 2019. Moustakas was incredibly crucial to Milwaukee’s success this past season, especially with Travis Shaw‘s inability to perform like a major leaguer. Moustakas has been hurt by the new free agency market maybe more than any other player. He has settled for one-year deals in back-to-back seasons, despite putting up 2-win seasons in each of the last three years. Moustakas is, and probably always has been, underrated and unappreciated, and once again he’ll seek a long-term deal and grander paycheck. Whether he gets it is a different question. I’m sure the Brewers would love to have him back on another one-year contract, though I’d be surprised if Moustakas settled again.
The Brewers want to bring back both Moustakas and Grandal, but that would mean a higher payroll, and the team already set a record in 2019 for the highest payroll in franchise history. I prefer Grandal over Moustakas, mainly because finding a superior catcher is no walk in the park. Plus, I still believe in Shaw with everything I have. If Shaw can bounce-back and with Keston Hiura destined to man second base for years to come, Moustakas wouldn’t necessarily be needed. However, the market could beat Moustakas down again, leaving him little choice but to return to the Brewers on another short deal.
Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 50 percent
The man who got lit up as a starter and was better than Josh Hader as a reliever is likely due for a pay raise. That is, if he wants to continue being a reliever, which absolutely should be the case. As a member of the Brewers, Pomeranz posted a 2.39 ERA and a 2.68 FIP along with a nasty and unreal 45 percent strikeout. Teams in need of bullpen help should be all over Pomeranz as he enters free agency, and the Brewers should be first in line. The team traded one of its top prospects in Mauricio Dubon to get Pomeranz, so I doubt the Brewers will just let him walk without a fight. No team more than the Brewers know how valuable a deep bullpen is in October. Stearns would be smart to fork over the money that keeps Pomeranz put.
Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 60 percent
Similar to Moustakas, Gonzalez found his way back to the Brewers after the cold winds of the free agent market blew past him. Gonzalez is not the ace pitcher he once was, but he’s shown his worth time and time again with the Brewers. He posted a 2.13 ERA in his first stint with the club in 2018, and followed it up with a 3.50 ERA in 87 innings in 2019. He’s been worth more to the Brewers than his cost, which is why the Brewers should be interested in re-signing him.
As everyone knows, the Brewers starting rotation is a weak link. Stearns has repeatedly proved he’s weary of going after top-of-the class pitching on the open market, instead settling for small trades in order to make upgrades. That’s why bringing back Gonzalez is important. He’s reliably good, and he won’t demand a huge contract, whether that’s years or dollars. A two-year deal is likely enough for Gonzalez to re-sign, though Stearns may be more inclined to offer a one-year contract.
Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 45 percent
Lyles loves pitching for the Brewers. Just look at his numbers compared to his other stops. When the Brewers traded for him for a second time this season, I wrote that the move didn’t do enough to make an impact, that it didn’t help the Brewers goal of making the playoffs. I was wrong. Stearns was right. Stearns is usually always right. Lyles turned out to be Milwaukee’s best pitcher down the stretch, ending the year with seven consecutive outings of allowing two runs or fewer. If there’s no Lyles, there’s no Wild Card berth.
Now, Lyles’ peripherals — mainly his FIP — last season didn’t look great compared to his basic run prevention stats (ERA), and teams may not trust him to repeat his superior performance. And that could open up the door for a Brewers return. Lyles has repeatedly said that he loves pitching to Grandal and credits a lot of his success to different sequencing. Lyles would likely be more interested in returning to Milwaukee if Grandal also came back, but I think there’s a good shot he’s back anyway. He’s a cheap starter you can trust. I’ll be surprised if he’s not a Brewer in 2020.
Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 70 percent
The Albers’ signing was a disaster for the Brewers. Milwaukee signed him to a two-year, $5 million contract, and mercifully, it has finally expired. Albers recorded a 6.23 ERA in 94 innings in that two-year span and was left off the postseason roster in every round. This was one of the few Stearns’ signings that failed.
Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 3 percent
Thames only becomes a free agent if the Brewers decline his $7.5 million club option. And while I believe that to be unlikely, there is a scenario where it makes sense. If the Brewers re-sign Moustakas to play third, and if they still believe in Shaw and tender him a contract (if they don’t, I’m going to lose my mind), Thames could be out the door. Shaw is capable of playing first base and a whole lot cheaper. MLB Trade Rumors projects Shaw to make $4.7 million in 2020, nearly $3 million less than Thames. It hurts Thames that he’s a very similar player as Shaw. They both hit left-handed and for power and they both get on base at a high clip while not hitting for a high average. The Brewers may choose to go with the cheaper option. Or they may keep both, though that seems like $12 million spent on redundancy.
Most Brewers fans will want Thames back and Shaw gone, because one horrible year of Shaw made everyone forget his 3.6 WAR season of 2018. This situation is one of the more interesting things to watch this offseason. Maybe the Brewers will pick up Thames’ option and trade him. Maybe the Brewers will tender Shaw and trade him. You can never count anything out when it comes to Milwaukee’s front office.
Chance of re-signing with the Brewers: 85 percent
Who they can or can’t sign, and who they want or don’t want to sign, also depends on what they do with arb players. Shaw is mentioned; and Hernan Perez is already gone. They will keep Hader, and that may be a settled deal, a longer term deal, or an arb deal. They’ll keep Jimmy Nelson for another season, and Corey Knebel. Zach Davies and Junior Guerra remain values at their projected arb levels. Maybe Tyler Saladino or Cory Spangenberg will be kept, with Hernan gone. Ben Gamel…probably. But I’d go without Alex Claudio, what with the new 3 hitter rule.
Bring back Brent Suter. Please.
I don’t think the Crew views Tyler Austin as their first baseman of the future. Is it possible that they sign a FA shortstop and jettison Orlando Arcia? Jose Iglesias, perhaps? Probably not. Lando gets one more year…most likely…but Stearns has shown remarkable patience with him, and he usually isn’t so forgiving.
That leaves the Thames/Shaw dilema…and I’m on the other side. I’d keep Thames over Shaw. But you know what? They aren’t mutually exclusive. I could see them both back. Shaw may end up being the third baseman, after all.
I’d really like the Brewers to concentrate on building a really good, deep bullpen. Pomeranz would be great, but somebody rich is gonna really overpay for him. There are enough starters (and yeah, Lyles is a priority…for me, Gio not so much), especially if they excersise their option on Anderson.
Lots of moving parts.