The Brewers have until the end of November to decide what to do with the 13 remaining players they have on the roster that are eligible for salary arbitration. They’ve already taken care of a couple of cases, picking up a team option for Jeremy Jeffress to avoid arbitration and outrighting Stephen Vogt off the roster.
For the remaining players, we’ll take a look at what they did during the 2018 season, what they’re expected to make in a hypothetical arbitration hearing, and whether the Brewers should tender them a contract or non-tender them. Today it’s a journeyman catcher who became a Milwaukee folk hero in the playoffs.
2018 salary: $545,000
2019 projection: $1.7 million
Difference: $1.155 million
If you only looked at Erik Kratz’s line from 2018, you likely wouldn’t be too impressed. The 38-year-old career backup only hit .236/.280/.355 in the regular season for the Brewers, with much of the production coming in his first couple weeks with the team. He hit 3 of his 5 home runs and had 10 of his 48 hits in his first 6 games with the team, and after that was largely unimpressive with the bat (although he did provide some defensive value with his pitch framing).
But it was in October — or rather, #Kratztober — where the legend grew. While maybe not rising to the level of Tony Plush in Brewers Playoff Lore, Kratz went an incredible 5-for-8 in his two starts in the NLDS against Colorado, including a 2-RBI single with the bases loaded in Game 1 to help secure a 4-0 win. While the bat cooled off significantly in the NLCS against Los Angeles, his postgame interviews and games where he was mic’d up for a national audience turned him into one of the most unlikely stars of the postseason.
The Case for Tendering
Simply put, the Brewers don’t have much for catching, and unless they’re planning to make a significant investment in the position in the offseason, Kratz might be back just purely out of necessity. Kratz, Manny Pina and Jacob Nottingham are the only three catchers on the 40-man roster, and unless the Brewers plan on giving the job to the young Nottingham (or at least figuring out a timeshare between him and Pina), Kratz is still likely among the team’s best internal options.
If Kratz is kept around even at the expense of another year at Triple-A for Nottingham, his framing ability will likely have something to do with it. A team with a fringey rotation benefits from any catcher that can “steal” strikes, and Kratz was one of the best pitch-framers in baseball this year. Of course, so was free agent Yasmani Grandal (although he will now cost a first-round draft pick after being given a qualifying offer by the Dodgers).
The Case for Non-Tendering
In case you haven’t been following the career of Jonathan Lucroy since he left Milwaukee, he’s become an example of how fickle the pitch framing skill can be — or at least how quickly it can degrade. Once one of the best in the league at it, Lucroy now grades out as one of the worst pitch framers behind the plate.
That’s not to say the same will happen to Kratz, but he will turn 39 years old next year, which may as well be 60 in Catcher Years. Outside of the pitch framing, he doesn’t throw out many baserunners, and part of what created the Kratztober legend is that any offense from him at all felt like a stroke of good luck from the baseball gods. With so many arbitration-eligible players, if the Brewers are looking to save a million here or there, non-tendering the backup catcher due $1.7 million and giving more reps to Nottingham may be a place to start.
What Should Happen?
A good part of what ultimately happens with Kratz may depend on what the Brewers decide to do with the position in the offseason. It’s the only spot in the lineup that figures to both be a clear spot to upgrade and one that doesn’t have a long-term answer in the upper levels of the organization (the Brewers would like more offense from shortstop and second base, sure, but Orlando Arcia still figures into their plans and Keston Hiura is not far off at second base). If the Brewers land another catcher before the end of the month, Kratz would likely be a clear non-tender candidate. If that search stretches into December — or help isn’t brought in from outside the organization — a scenario where he’s tendered a contract and at least brought into camp is definitely a possibility.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference