Category Archives: Free Agent Chatter

Looking at free agency: Which Brewers players will re-sign?

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.

Yasmani Grandal

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

Mike Moustakas

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

Drew Pomeranz

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

Gio Gonzalez

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

Jordan Lyles

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

Matt Albers

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

Eric Thames

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

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Yovani Gallardo is back and different than ever

The last time Yovani Gallardo donned a Milwaukee Brewers jersey, he was considered the team’s ace. That’s not the highest of compliments when looking at the stable of pitchers the Brewers employed during his tenure, but nonetheless, Gallardo started 211 games across eight seasons for the Brewers and accumulated 20.8 WAR and an ERA of 3.49. He was more than serviceable during his time there, and should be considered one of the greats in franchise history. Milwaukee has been absent of Gallardo for three years now, until…

On the same day Matt Kemp was reunited via trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gallardo — a free agent — found himself back home as well. Now, while the Dodgers are keen on flipping Kemp, the Brewers hope Gallardo can contribute to the team’s playoff aspirations in 2018. The team has yet to announce the deal, so his role and contract numbers are still unknown, but the deal is likely a one-year contract. Though they have money to spend, the Brewers aren’t going to spend a good chunk of it on a guy who posted a 5.72 ERA last season. A one-year deal laced with incentives is a good bet here.

While most of you may remember Gallardo as a swing-and-miss strikeout pitcher, he actually hasn’t fit that mold for a while now. He started to change who he was when he was still in Milwaukee, but the alterations were truly put on display when he jettisoned to Texas and subsequently Baltimore and Seattle. The former second-round draft pick began to pitch to contact and ultimately forfeited strike outs in the process, as illustrated by the chart and table below.

Since 2012, Gallardo’s strikeout rate has lowered in almost every subsequent year. He saw it rise a bit this past season, but not enough for any significant optimism.

Year SwStr% Contact%
2012 (MIL) 7.9% 79.7%
2013 (MIL) 7.0% 82.9%
2014 (MIL) 7.0% 83.2%
2015 (TEX) 6.5% 84.4%
2016 (BAL) 6.4% 84.3%
2017 (SEA) 8.3% 81.2%

Because Gallardo has lost some velocity over the last few campaigns, he’s been forced to try to get hitters to put the bat on the ball rather than racking up outs via three strikes. The results, however, haven’t been all that kind to the veteran. In his last 51 appearances (45 starts) spanning the past two seasons, Gallardo’s 5.57 ERA is the 11th worst mark among all pitchers with at least 140 innings. His FIP ranks just as poorly, and his 0.6 WAR is bested by 164 of 190 pitchers.

So why on earth would David Stearns and the Brewers waste their time on someone clearly past his peak? Shouldn’t the front office be focused on acquiring bigger fish — like an Alex Cobb — who can actually contribute to the team in 2018? The answer to the latter question is yes. The answer to the first question is a bit more complicated.

Since his arrival, Stearns has set his sights on acquiring low-risk, high-reward talent. Dealing with a mediocre payroll, he doesn’t have the luxury to spend big every offseason as he would if he were the general manager of the New York Yankees. Instead, he has to perform his job with the certain constraints. And so far, he should get all the credit in the world. He found Jonathan Villar, who was an unknown entity before coming to the Brewers. He traded for Travis Shaw and signed Jesus Aguilar, both of whom performed above expectations in 2017. Stearns has been able to find diamonds in the rough on a consistent basis since joining the front office, and while this is the first offseason in which he intends to spend money on free agents, signing a pitcher like Gallardo isn’t the dumbest thing in the world.

By signing Gallardo to an expected short, and small salary deal, he’s taking another low risk approach. Granted, Gallardo’s ceiling is no longer what it was, but the Brewers need someone in a long relief role, and if needed, someone who can fill in as a starter. Jimmy Nelson will miss a considerable amount of time next year, and the team will need multiple arms to fill his void. Gallardo figures to be one of those. If he fails, so what? The consequences will be minimal if any at all. If he succeeds, then Stearns just once again proves he’s a wizard. No risk is the name of the game, and that’s exactly why the Brewers signed their former ace.

Here’s what RW23 projects from him as a reliever in 2018:

IP ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 K% BB% HR WHIP BABIP
45 4.63 4.75 4.62 6.50 3.56 16.6% 9.1% 6 1.45 .295

The projection doesn’t love him, though compared to Gallardo’s last two seasons, it’s a considerable improvement.

Free agent targets for the Milwaukee Brewers

The Winter Meetings are set to begin next week, and there should be a flurry of movement almost immediately. Well, that should be the case once Giancarlo Stanton and Shohei Otani figure out where they want to play ball in 2018. Most baseball scribes seem to think once those two sign, the free agent floodgates will open, and for the teams out on the Stanton and Otani sweepstakes, it should be extremely exciting.

The Milwaukee Brewers are one of those teams. Otani has already ruled out Milwaukee as a possible destination, and there’s just no way they can afford to take on Stanton’s salary. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t ready to spend. They’ve already been linked to Jake Arrieta, who is one of the top free agent hurlers on the market. And while I think signing Arrieta will eventually be a tremendous mistake, there are still many options — both in the hitting and pitching department — that should pique the Brewers’ interest. The Brewers didn’t lose many players to free agency this offseason, though the few players who left will leave big holes on the roster. Neil Walker and Anthony Swarzak both elected free agency, although both have expressed interest on returning, a scenario the Brewers would likely welcome with open arms.

Here are a few free agents that I think the Brewers should target.

SP Alex Cobb

The free agent starting pitching market isn’t all that deep, but there are a few promising names, and Cobb is my favorite option. Cobb is entering his age-30 season and should be right in the middle of his prime years. The right-hander had a bit of a down campaign in 2017, finishing with a respectable 3.66 ERA, but a less impressive 4.16 FIP and 4.24 xFIP. Yet, he’s only two years removed from his second-consecutive season of sub-3.00 ERA. He has the potential to be a true No. 1 ace, and he would immediately fill that void in Milwaukee, especially considering Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss a good chunk of 2018.

In order to revert back to his dominant days, the former Rays’ hurler will need to improve his whiff numbers. His 6.7% swinging strike numbers in 2017 was a career low, and the majority of his other plate discipline numbers suffered from previous years as well. One down year in the peripheral stats department shouldn’t discourage the Brewers from any interest, though. He’s still considered one of the top arms on the market.

MLB Trade Rumors projects Cobb to receive a four-year, $48 million contract, which is something the Brewers should have no problem offering. He does, however, come with some injury risk. He missed the entirety of the 2015 season and made just five starts the following year due to Tommy John surgery. Still, his track record and arm potential is worth the risk.

2B Neil Walker

This is somewhat obvious, as Walker played 38 games with the Brewers in 2017 after being acquired from the Mets. But second base is one of the biggest holes Milwaukee needs to focus on this winter. The team tendered Jonathan Villar and re-signed Eric Sogard, but expecting those two to adequately hold down second base for 162 games is a bit of a stretch. Villar — who broke out in 2016 — was pitiful a year later, and, as much as I love the guy, Sogard is most useful off the bench or in a utility role.

Walker should be Milwaukee’s top target if they want to compete again. And the 32 year old clearly likes hitting in Miller Park. After putting up a 108 wRC+ over 299 plate appearances for New York, Walker blasted his way to a 125 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances. The dimensions of Miller Park agree with him.

MLB Trade Rumors projects just a two-year deal worth $11 million for the veteran, though the Brewers might be wise to overpay for his production. The alternative is just not good enough for a hopeful contender.

SP Chris Tillman

As a cheaper and less-talented option than Cobb, the Brewers should give Chris Tillman a call. Even though it seems like Tillman has been around since the dawn of time, he’s actually only 29 years old, and should still have plenty left in the tank. It’s true that he had the worst season of his career in 2017, and yes, it’s true his 14.2% strikeout rate was his lowest mark since 2010 — his second year in the bigs. Regardless of all that, Tillman represents a terrific bounce-back option. In 2016, he posted a 3.77 ERA and 4.23 FIP, which is eerily similar to Zach Davies‘ most recent stat line.

If the Brewers were to sign the righty, it would most likely be on a short-term deal with a team option. MLB Trade Rumors has him pegged at receiving just a one-year deal worth $11 million. With Nelson out of the starting rotation for the foreseeable future, Tillman would slide in toward the back of the rotation, with his upside being a No. 2 or 3 pitcher.

He’s not the sexiest name on the open market, but he’s a reclamation project that David Stearns loves. He’d be more than useful in Milwaukee’s shallow rotation.

Honorable Mentions

Anthony Swarzak: He resurrected his career and has turned himself into a dominant reliever. He enjoyed his time in Milwaukee, and the Brewers need bullpen help.

Mike Fiers: The Brewers should bring Fiers home, like they did with Jeremy Jeffress. His stats with Houston over the past two years aren’t pretty, but I fully believe he can help Milwaukee in 2018.

Tommy Hunter: Another pitcher on my list, but that’s the main asset the Brewers should covet. Hunter has been a stud reliever since making the switch from the rotation in 2013, and while it could take a decent chunk of change to get Hunter to Milwaukee, he would greatly improve the Brewers’ bullpen.