Examining The Brewers’ Avoidance Of Free Agency

It's January 3rd, and the Brewers are the only team that has yet to sign a free agent to a Major League deal.  How normal is this free agent inactivity for them?  Here's a look at the team's past five offseasons in free agency.






My first thought upon examining these Brewers free agent forays is that it's no surprise Craig Counsell joined their front office.  Second, GM Doug Melvin did have a fairly recent offseason in which he only dipped his toe into free agency, when he committed $5.6MM on five one-year deals in 2010-11.

Another observation is that Melvin is comfortable signing free agents in the latter part of an offseason.  In the last five offseasons, he's signed 10 free agent deals in January or later: Lohse, Mike Gonzalez, Alex Gonzalez, Betancourt, Aoki, Kotsay, Davis, Hoffman, Looper, and Counsell.  That accounts for 40% of the free agents the Brewers signed during that time, and Melvin did at least one late deal every offseason (and four of five last winter).  He did late deals north of $5MM for Lohse, Davis, Looper, and Hoffman.

In Ed Creech's Brewers offseason outlook for MLBTR in October, he noted the team's needs at first base and potentially in the rotation and bullpen.  Since then the team made four moves: a waiver claim of utility man Elian Herrera,  the trade of Burke Badenhop for a pitching prospect, the selection of southpaw Wei-Chung Wang in the Rule 5 draft, and the trade of outfielder Aoki for lefty Will Smith.  Of Smith, Melvin told MLB.com's Adam McCalvy in December, "He'll come to camp and we'll look at him as a starter, but we know he can go to the bullpen."

It seems Melvin will make acquisitions to improve at first base and in the bullpen prior to Opening Day, and also perhaps trade Rickie Weeks if he can find a taker.  For first base, the Brewers have been linked to the Mets' Ike Davis and free agent Michael Young, and there's been speculation on names like Justin Smoak, Mitch Moreland, Adam Lind, and Mike Carp.

Last March, Melvin and agent Scott Boras struck a very late, relatively team-friendly deal for starting pitcher Kyle Lohse that required the Brewers to forfeit the 17th overall draft pick.  This year, I imagine Boras feels a potential match exists with the Brewers and free agent Kendrys Morales.  The problem: the Brewers would have to forfeit the twelfth overall pick in the June draft to sign him.  While in theory the Brewers should consider giving up the pick if offered a big enough discount on Morales, it's extremely difficult to picture in reality.  With the draft scheduled for June 5th, the Brewers are better off surviving with Juan Francisco and others at first base for about two months and then signing Morales if they're in contention, free of the draft pick cost.  As we said last year with Lohse, if there's one agent willing to try this, it's Boras.

In the bullpen, Jim Henderson, Brandon Kintzler, and Gorzelanny are locked into spots, and Melvin has plenty of options for bargains in free agency.  While 2013-14 might be the Brewers' quietest free agent period in recent history, they have a GM known for doing contracts later in the offseason and he's not done yet.

19 Responses to Examining The Brewers’ Avoidance Of Free Agency Leave a Reply

  1. Byrontastic 1 year ago

    Not exactly an inspiring forecast for brewers fans, but their hands are fairly tied financially as of just yet. As much as I think Morales make sense, they have no business giving up a draft pick for anyone at this point.

    • daveineg 1 year ago

      They aren’t as financially tied as you think or their lack of actions suggest. They have nice core of players under team control for several more seasons. A lot of payroll this year is tied up in Weeks (who may get traded or cut) and Aramis Ramirez, who’s deal was backloaded. I think there’s a decent chance they do sign Young for a relatively modest amount and if Morales is still available after the draft, they have a good enough relationship with Boras and financial flexibility beyond 2014 to make a good run at him. They also are good bets to bring back K-Rod, who has a great relationship with Roenicke.

      • Doesn’t it seem likely Kendrys Morales will get some kind of offer before spring training (or at worst opening day)? I find it hard to imagine that he’d rather sit around for two months of the season than sign with a team that doesn’t have the draft pick issue. I guess it’s possible he’d hold out for a better offer from a wider range of teams once the draft issue is moot. (And he’s probably less likely to expose his fragility if he’s not playing.)

  2. The Brewers are not likely to contend this year especially considering how many teams in their division made the playoffs last year. Spending money on a DH-projected type player only hinders their ability to make the upgrades needed when they have a realistic shot at contending.

    • oh Hal 1 year ago

      With a weak OF of Braun, Gomez and Davis; a sketchy infield of Ramirez, Segura and Gennett; catching like Lucroy and Maldonado; a rotation 6 or 7 deep and plenty of bullpen arms they clearly can’t score runs or prevent them.

      • Dickie Thon 1 year ago

        “Weak outfield”?

        I’d take the Brewers outfield over the Braves OF.

        • It was a(n) (ill-advised) sarcastic post pointing out that the Brewers are actually better than people think.

          And yes, even with Khris Davis being a bit of a question mark, Gomez and Braun easily make the Brewers outfield one of the best in the league.

      • They finished 23 GB and haven’t made any substantial upgrades. You can blame that on injuries and Braun’s suspension and that definitely was part of it. With the West and East not expected to be runaways again, I wouldn’t hold out hope that the Brewers magically win the division or a Wild Card slot.

        Beyond that, what does Morales really do for them? He might have a good April playing 1B until he gets hurt and eats up a ton of their money on the DL.

        • orbrewer 1 year ago

          I always point out to people that the only thing the Brewers need to compete next season is health, especially from Braun and Ramirez. They were in the lineup together for only 28 games last season.

          The team lost 42 of 88 games by one or two runs. A healthy and productive Braun and Ramirez makes up a lot of that difference.

        • oh Hal 1 year ago

          I’d say the East belongs to the Nats.

  3. burnboll 1 year ago

    Tim, what do you mean that there’s no surprise that Craig Counsell joined the front office?
    Who is that guy and why isn’t it surprising?
    Is Counsell a Sabermetrics kind of guy or what? And what is his baseball philosophy?

    • NickinIthaca 1 year ago

      Counsell is a former MLB shortstop – if you check out the year by year signings, the Brewers signed him on one year deals for each of his last three seasons before retirement (in fact he played for them in 6 of his last 8 seasons). I think it was a more tongue in cheek comment about how many times they signed him to play in the organization.

      • First Bleed 1 year ago

        Agree. He is a WI native, really close to Milwaukee and his family lives here. Plus a fan favorite too.

        • The family connection to the organization goes back to when Craig’s dad, John Counsell, was the Brewers’ community relations director in the 1980s. The (now sadly defunct) middle school I attended, Jackie Robinson M.S., had a special partnership with the Brewers, so the elder Mr. Counsell showed up there with players on special occasions. I still have somewhere a sheet of notebook paper with the autographs of Mike Felder, Billy Jo Robideaux, and Glenn Braggs when they came to my school in ’87. That same year, I remember being sad that I wasn’t picked to play in the intramural softball game that featured Juan Nieves at pitcher. I loved that school; no doubt it played a role in my being such an avid baseball fan to this day.

  4. docmilo5 1 year ago

    Morales can’t hold up for an entire season at 1st base. He wasn’t in condition for it in Seattle. He played some 1st early in the season, hurt his back and it affected his production for a couple of months. Morales needs to find a full time DH job. Good luck to that.

    As far as the Mariners go, I would prefer if the M’s deal Morrison over Smoak. I have a feeling Smoak is going to have a break out year now that he’s not “needed” to hit in the middle of the lineup.

  5. Brendan Haglund 1 year ago

    Morales declining his qualifying offer probably had a bigger effect on Milwaukee’s offseason than us signing him even would. If Kendrys stays in Seattle, they probably don’t make a play for LoMo AND Hart, which would lead Milwaukee to pick up the odd man out.

    Regarding the financial aspect, Mark A has some pretty deep pockets and has shown he isn’t afraid to dig into them when needed. That being said, if the Crew signs anyone this offseason, I’ll be pretty sad. I wouldn’t count them out of the hunt next year but they need a lot of things to go right to get anywhere close to the playoffs.

  6. Douglas Bath 1 year ago

    “My first thought upon examining these Brewers free agent forays is that it’s no surprise Craig Counsell joined their front office.” — Care to elaborate on that? It’s a hanging thought with no direction.

    • orbrewer 1 year ago

      It’s a comment upon noticing that for three consecutive years Counsell signed with the Brewers. So when he retired and became a front office “free agent,” of course he signed with the Brewers.

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