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 the Brewers’ supersub whose future may be starting to become more unclear.
UTIL Hernan Perez
2018 salary: $1.975 million
2019 projection: $2.7 million
Perez has played an average of 130 games over the past 3 years, making at least one appearance at every position except for catcher. That kind of flexibility has made him a very valuable reserve for Craig Counsell, even as his offensive production has slipped in each of the past three seasons. He hit .253/.290/.386 in 2018, with his .676 OPS, 80 OPS+ and 79 wRC+ — all of which are full-season lows for his time in Milwaukee.
The Case for Tendering
Despite largely being a negative offensive player, Perez’s defense has been so good in each of his 3.5 seasons that he’s graded out with positive fWAR every year. A steady hand on the middle infield, he’s also been perfectly average with the glove at third base, but it’s his work in the corner outfield spots that has been driving his defensive value and makes him more than just your typical utility infielder. What results is a true utility player that can be used at any position on the diamond, making every position double-switchable — especially valuable when trying to orchestrate a multi-inning appearance from Josh Hader or anyone else in the Brewers bullpen.
While any offense you get from Perez should probably be considered gravy, he has been legitimately good with the bat for an infielder against left-handed pitching his entire career, something that continued in 2018. He slashed .277/.304/.479 against lefties this past year, as opposed to .239/.282/.330 against righties — but saw 84 more at-bats against righties than lefties. Ideally, you’d want to see Perez with 80+ more ABs against lefties than righties, but considering how some key pieces of the lineup struggled with left-handed pitching down the stretch, he’s a good option to keep around on the bench.
The Case for Non-Tendering
While he’s still providing plenty of defensive value, he’s getting to the stages of arbitration where it might be time to start thinking about whether or not the production is worth close to $3 million. Considering he’s been worth a little more than half a win per year, that salary isn’t cost-prohibitive in terms of wins-per-WAR, but it’s close enough that the Brewers might start to think about cheaper alternatives soon.
If Mauricio Dubon’s knee truly is good to go by spring, there’s a chance he could possibly push Perez for a middle infield utility role. Dubon wouldn’t provide the additional versatility in the outfield that Perez does, but for a team that needs to make slight upgrades on the outer margins of the roster to make that Final Leap, that $2 million or so difference in salary could possibly be used elsewhere without sacrificing too much in production from the utility role.
What Should Happen?
Like a handful of other roster decisions that need to be made this winter, what the team ends up doing with Jonathan Schoop likely plays a role in this one, too.
If David Stearns decides to cut his losses with Schoop, there’s a pretty good chance that Perez gets significant time at second base, at least to start the year while the organization waits to clear the Super Two deadline for Keston Hiura. If Schoop is kept around — at his projected $10 million pricetag — it makes it tougher to keep Perez at his nearly $3 million with one avenue to playing time significantly reduced. That doesn’t mean the two can’t coexist on the roster — they clearly did in the second half of 2018 — but it still limits the impact Perez could have.
Still, it’s clear Stearns and the Brewers value versatility, especially in its reserves. Perez being able to play some outfield allows them to get by with just four outfielders, allowing for an extra arm in the bullpen from time to time or carry another pinch-hitting bat like Eric Thames. It seems more likely that Perez is kept around for at least another year, even if how much he actually plays may depend on the Schoop situation.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs