Arbitration-eligible (with projected salaries from MLBTR):
Write “tender” or “non-tender” after each of the following names. You can also trade a player before or after tendering a contract.
- Jonathan Schoop – $10.1 mil non-tender
- Travis Shaw – $5.1 mil tender
- Corey Knebel – $4.9 mil tender
- Jeremy Jeffress – $4.8 mil (also has contract option) pick up option
- Jimmy Nelson – $3.7 mil tender
- Stephen Vogt – $3.065 mil non-tender
- Hernan Perez – $2.7 mil tender
- Junior Guerra -$2.7 mil tender
- Zach Davies – $2.4 mil tender
- Domingo Santana – $2 mil tender
- Manny Pina – $1.8 mil tender
- Erik Kratz – $1.7 mil non-tender
- Dan Jennings – $1.6 mil non-tender
- Xavier Cedeno – $1.5 mil non-tender
- Tyler Saladino – $1 mil non-tender
Explain the toughest calls if necessary:
The biggest move here is obviously the non-tender of Jonathan Schoop. His no-walk profile is just too volatile for me to feel confident about investing $10+ mil when the offense needs to improve. The real-life Brewers agreed to a one-year contract with Kratz earlier this week, but my Brewers will amicably part ways with the veteran and fondly remember his contributions in 2018. Jennings and Cedeno are both out as left-handers, and Saladino is gone, too.
Contract options (pick up or buy out)
- Joakim Soria: $10 mil mutual option ($1 mil buyout) buy out
- Mike Moustakas: $15 mil mutual option ($1 mil buyout) buy out
- Jordan Lyles: $3.5 mil team option ($250K buyout) buy out
- Jeremy Jeffress: $3.175 mil team option (if declined, he opts into arbitration) pick up
The Jeffress option is a no-brainer, but the other decision here I spent a lot of time on was Jordan Lyles. The real-life Brewers decided to let him go after he showed well down the stretch, but I strongly considered keeping him on my 2019 Brewers at his option price. Ultimately, I went a different direction.
Impending free agents (re-sign, let go or qualifying offer)
- Wade Miley: made $2.5 mil plus incentives in 2018 (eligible for QO) let go
- Gio Gonzalez: made $12 mil in 2018 (ineligible for QO) let go
- Curtis Granderson: made $5 mil in 2018 (ineligible for QO) let go
Elaborate if needed:
Thanks for everything, fellas.
Peruse the list of potential free agents and name one, two, or more that you would pursue, the maximum offer that you would extend to them, and a brief explanation.
#1: LHP Yusei Kikuchi (6 years, $50 mil)
($4 mil, $6 mil, $8 mil, $10 mil, $11 mil, $11 mil)
Kikuchi is probably the biggest upside play on this winter’s free agent market. A prime age left-hander, he’ll pitch half of next season at age 27. The hard-thrower can reach back for 96+ MPH with his fastball while mixing in an excellent slider, a curveball, and a changeup. He has had a few issues with his shoulder, but it’s not like Kikcuhi would need to pitch 180+ innings for Milwaukee, nor would they ask him to. He has been one of the most effective pitchers in NPB for last seven seasons, and he compares well to recent imports Miles Mikolas and Kenta Maeda.
#2: RHP Merrill Kelly (2 years, $6.25 mil + 2021 team option)
($2 mil, $4 mil, $6 mil option/$250K buyout)
Kelly was once an eighth-round pick by the Rays back in 2010, but after toiling for a few years in AAA he jumped at the chance to go overseas to Korea beginning in the 2015 season. Kelly’s stuff has ticked up in the four years since leaving the States, with his fastball now touching the mid-90s while sitting 92-94 MPH along with a slider, circle change, sinker, cutter, and occasional curveball. His command has taken a step forward in the KBO, leading to fewer walks and 350 strikeouts in 348.1 innings the last two seasons. Some injury issues limited Kelly to a 4.09 ERA (still top-10 in the offense friendly KBO) and 158.1 innings in 2018 (after 180+ IP the three years prior), but once he was fully healthy he worked to a 3.22 ERA with 8.6 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over his last 15 starts. There is optimism that he can jump right into a rotation role, but I believe he could also function as an effective multi-inning swingman.
#3. LHP Justin Wilson (1 year, $3.5 mil)
I wanted to add another lefty to the bullpen but didn’t want to spend a ton and wanted to avoid a specialist. I settled on Wilson, who is coming off a down-ish season in Chicago where he walked a bunch of guys. He’s not ranked among MLB Trade Rumors top-50 free agents. But, he throws hard, features the cutter that Milwaukee loves, and he misses a ton of bats while generally avoiding much hard contact. He doesn’t have much of a platoon split historically (and had a reverse split in 2018) so while Wilson can offer batters a different look as a left-hander, pigeonholing him as a LOOGY isn’t necessary and doesn’t hurt the overall flexibility of the ‘pen. Give him to Chris Hook and this front office scouting and analytics staff, and let them assist Wilson in getting his walk rate (5.43 BB/9 in 2018) back to a more reasonable number.
#4: UTIL Marwin Gonzalez (4 years, $36 mil)
($9 mil per year)
This is a little more than I though Gonzalez would fetch when the offseason started, but I’m going with the MLB Trade Rumors estimate here and I think it’s worth it. $9 mil per season is hardly breaking the bank, and Gonzalez offers a unique set of skills that, typically, are ones that are very appealing to David Stearns, who had Marwin as a player during his Houston days. First off, he’s been a .271/.328/.438 hitter with 70 home runs over the last five seasons, in more than 2,200 plate appearances. His strikeout rate (22.8% is 2018) is manageable, and he’s increased his walk rate to above-average marks of 9.5% and 9.6% the last two seasons. He’s played every position in the bigs except catcher and pitcher. He’s a switch-hitter without a platoon split. Gonzalez can plug in at second base out of the chute, and then once Keston Hiura is deemed “ready,” he can easily slot into a super-utility role reminiscent of a more offensively-gifted Hernan Perez. His ability to cover shortstop also provides insurance in case of another Orlando Arcia cratering.
#5: C Yasmani Grandal (4 years, $64 mil)
($16 mil per year)
Grandal is the biggest catching upgrade available on the open market, and I decided he’s worth giving up a draft pick for. Playoff struggles not withstanding, Grandal routinely grades out as one of the top defensive catchers in baseball according to the metrics, including typically excellent pitch framing numbers, a skill valued by the front office. He’s never had a below-average offensive season in the big leagues, let alone one for the offensively challenged position of backstop; he’s a career .240/.341/.441 hitter with 113 homers in 726 MLB games, including 22+ homers in each of the last three seasons. Stick him in the lineup when a righty is on the mound (with Manny Pina facing lefties) and watch the dingers fly out of Miller Park.
Propose a trade or two or several that you think sound reasonable for both sides, and the rationale behind them.
#1: Trade Chase Anderson to San Diego for Nick Margevicius. Chase Anderson is redundant on the roster and I want to shed his $6 mil salary, so I’m sending him to San Diego to help them shore up their pitching staff as they look to start turning the page on their rebuild. Anderson has been a mostly average pitcher in the big leagues in terms of results, one who doesn’t allow a ton of baserunners but gives up a lot of home runs. Put him in San Diego’s park and maybe he posts a season reminiscent of his excellent 2017, and then the Padres can figure out what to do about his options. Anderson doesn’t have a ton of trade value, so in return I’m receiving a prospect outside of San Diego’s top-30; left-hander and former 7th round pick Nick Margevicius. He posted a 3.60 ERA as a 22 year old between Class A Fort Wayne and Class A-Advanced Lake Elsinore in 2018, with marks of 9.7 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 in 135 innings. His success might be more of a case of an experienced college pitcher taking advantage of younger hitters, as coming out of college his fastball was only 88-91, topping out at 92. But he throws a changeup with a “splitter-like dive” and seems like an interesting prospect to me, based on his peripherals. The Brewers don’t care about velocity nearly as much as other orgs.
#2: Trade Matt Albers and Je’Von Ward to Texas for PTBNL. Opening up a flexible roster spot is important to me, so I’m essentially selling Je’Von Ward to the Rangers for the cost of Matt Albers’ contract. I save $2.5 mil in payroll space and gain some roster flexibility, while the Rangers get a relatively cheap bounceback candidate for their bullpen who they could flip at the deadline if he’s performing, as well as a high-upside lottery ticket to help their rebuilding effort.
Here’s what my roster looks like:
All together, my payroll projection comes in at $121,055,000 for 2019, giving me a little wiggle room underneath the imposed $125 mil limit. I came into this exercise with designs on trading Eric Thames to further cut down on payroll, but after looking around I couldn’t really find an obvious partner for a deal, and I was already under the payroll limit anyway. So I’m hanging on to Thames to provide some left-handed thump off the bench, as well as the ability to spell Jesus Aguilar (who showed signs of wearing down late last season) at first base and maybe fake it in the outfield every once in awhile.
I did forfeit a 2nd-round pick in 2019 by signing Qualifying Offer free agent Yasmani Grandal, but otherwise I was able to make some meaningful additions to both the offense and pitching staff without expending any further prospect capital from an already weakened farm system. That leaves me with more ammunition left on my belt for potential additions come July, when signing free agent upgrades in the middle of a pennant race isn’t really an option. The contracts for Grandal and Gonzalez may not be so great at the end (both players will play their final guaranteed seasons at age 33), but they ought to provide an immediate and significant boost to a lineup anchored by Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain that was one game away from going to the World Series in 2019.
The eight players highlighted in blue are ones who can be optioned to the minor leagues in 2019 if necessary, allowing for plenty of flexibility as far as rotating in fresh position players and pitchers from the minor leagues goes. The roster I have presented includes 13 pitchers, but there may well be times when going with a 12 pitcher/13 hitter alignment and bringing up someone like Tyrone Taylor or Mauricio Dubon as an additional bench piece makes sense.
Speaking of role players, at this point I’m bringing guys out-of-options guys Keon Broxton and Adrian Houser to camp next spring, but unless there is an injury that creates an opening I’m expecting to expose both guys to waivers. Taylor Williams, Aaron Wilkerson, and Jacob Barnes are still around as bullpen shuttle options, with Trey Supak and Marcos Diplan hoping to work their way into that mix.
Outside of Chacin and probably Kikuchi, I am not writing any of my rotation roles in stone. Any one of Nelson, Kelly, Burnes, Guerra, Davies, Woodruff, and Peralta are options to toe the slab on a given day, and the idea is to keep all seven of them stretched out to pitch in some sort of multiple-inning capacity. I envision doubling down on the out-getter approach in 2019, on our way to bringing a World Series ring to the Cream City.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Prospectus