Milwaukee Brewers Rumors

Milwaukee Brewers trade and free agent rumors from MLBTradeRumors.com.

Offseason Outlook: Milwaukee Brewers

After spending much of the 2014 season in first place and then collapsing down the stretch, the Brewers will try to regroup for 2015, perhaps hoping for the best with a talented but flawed core and a marginal, though improving, farm system.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses; projections via Matt Swartz)

Contract Options

Free Agents

The Brewers unexpectedly got off to a great start in 2014 and continued that hot start into the summer, with a 51-32 record as of June 28. As the first half of the season became the second, however, the 6 1/2-game lead they had held over the Cardinals evaporated, and in the end they missed the playoffs and barely finished above .500.

The Brewers retained manager Ron Roenicke following their collapse, although they dismissed hitting coach Johnny Narron and first base/infield coach Garth Iorg. Despite any lingering frustrations, it appears unlikely they’ll make many huge moves this offseason.

One position they will likely upgrade is first base, where they’ve struggled to find a reliable contributor since Corey Hart‘s last healthy season with the team in 2012. Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay platooned at the position in 2014 and, unsurprisingly, neither of them helped much. Reynolds hit 22 home runs in 433 plate appearances, but with his usual very low batting average and a .287 OBP. Both are free agents; Overbay appears likely to retire. Adam LaRoche (whose mutual option the Nationals are likely to decline) looks like the prize of this year’s free agent class, with the injury-prone Michael Cuddyer and the defensively challenged Michael Morse close behind. The Brewers could also lean on rookies Matt Clark and Jason Rogers, who both hit well with Triple-A Nashville, although both are minor league veterans who might not have much to offer at the big-league level.

The Brewers will also need to figure out what to do with Aramis Ramirez. Given his $4MM buyout, Ramirez’ $14MM mutual option is effectively $10MM for the Brewers. They would be wise to exercise their end, given that Ramirez produced a reasonable 2.1 fWAR while hitting .285/.330/.427 last season. Ramirez would not get the buyout if he were to decline his end, so it might make sense for him to accept his end of the option, particularly if he intends to retire after 2015. He could also decline the option and seek a multi-year deal, however. Ramirez said in July that he planned to reach 2,500 games for his career, which would take at least three more seasons, but he also said in September that he was not sure whether he would play 2015. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes predicts that Ramirez will ultimately re-sign with the Brewers for two years and $26MM.

The middle infield is mostly set with Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura, although Segura took a big step backward after a strong rookie season in 2013. The Brewers will surely decline their $11.5MM option on Rickie Weeks, who didn’t get enough plate appearances for his option to vest. The 2003 No. 2 overall pick doesn’t expect to be back in Milwaukee in 2015. If he isn’t, the Brewers could pursue a cheap right-handed infielder to platoon with Gennett, or have Hector Gomez, who had a good season at Nashville and is out of options, occupy that role.

The Brewers could also continue with Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Khris Davis in the outfield. Gomez continues to produce at an extremely high level and is a bargain at just $17MM total through the next two seasons. Braun, though, struggled in 2014 (hitting .266/.324/.453, not a good figure for a player with little defensive value), and the $117MM he’s owed through 2020 looks like it could become a problem. Perhaps a healthier Braun (he suffered from a thumb injury this season and has already had unusual surgery to freeze a nerve) can rebound in 2015.

The Brewers could retain Gerardo Parra as an outfield backup — it’s hard to pass on an average hitter and elite defender (although defensive metrics weren’t keen on his 2014 performance). Still, Parra is coming off a disappointing season and will get a modest raise on his $4.85MM 2013 salary, making him an expensive backup. Dealing or non-tendering him might be a way for the Brewers to free up salary. Another possibility might be to move Braun to first base and have Parra start in right field.

Behind the plate, of course, there’s Jonathan Lucroy, who is, like Gomez, an elite, prime-age player signed to a bargain contract. Lucroy’s five-year deal is among the most team-friendly in baseball — it guarantees an MVP-caliber player a mere $11MM and gives the Brewers an option on what would have been Lucroy’s first free agent season (2017) for just $5.25MM.

In the rotation, the Brewers have already decided to exercise their $13MM option on Yovani Gallardo, and they also have Matt Garza and Kyle Lohse under contract and a reasonable collection of pre-free agency pitchers in Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and promising newcomer Jimmy Nelson. Marco Estrada could be a non-tender candidate after allowing 29 homers in 150 2/3 innings in 2014, although he’ll still be fairly cheap and his other peripherals were reasonable. The Brewers don’t figure to be big players for free agent starting pitching.

Their bullpen will be trickier. Closer Francisco Rodriguez and lefties Zach Duke and Tom Gorzelanny will all be eligible for free agency. Duke emerged from oblivion to become the Brewers’ best reliever in 2014, posting a 2.45 ERA with a remarkable 11.4 K/9 in 58 2/3 innings, and his production will be difficult to replace if he departs.

The bullpen’s season demonstrated how crucial a good relief corps can be. Rodriguez, Duke, Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith dominated in the early going, leading the Brewers as they jumped to the division lead. During that time, however, those relievers piled up appearances as little-used Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang occupied a bullpen spot that could have gone to someone capable of soaking up innings. Rodriguez couldn’t keep up his early pace, Smith imploded in July, and Thornburg faded in May and eventually ended up on the DL with an elbow injury. The team also lost Jim Henderson to shoulder problems. Finally, they acquired Jonathan Broxton — and his entire $9MM 2015 salary, plus a $2MM buyout — from the Reds in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

In March and April, the Brewers had the fourth-best bullpen ERA in baseball, at 2.45; in the second half, it was more than a run higher, at 3.62. While variance in bullpen performance is normal, and the team did get some good work from second-tier relievers like Gorzelanny and Jeremy Jeffress, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Brewers attempt to avoid last season’s struggles by pursuing bullpen depth this winter. Re-signing or replacing Rodriguez at closer could also be a priority.

Despite the trajectory of their 2014 season, the Brewers’ 82-80 record was about what they should have expected, given their talent. The question is what they’ll do from here. Having two excellent and cheap players in Gomez and Lucroy is a strong place for any franchise to start, but the Brewers’ complementary pieces aren’t nearly as valuable, and it’s unclear where their next group of stars will come from. Including Gallardo’s option, the Brewers already have about $70MM on the books for 2015. Retaining Ramirez will add to that total, as will arbitration raises for Parra, Estrada and catcher Martin Maldonado (assuming Parra and Estrada are retained). The Brewers will need to address first base as well, which should leave them without much money to make a big splash this offseason, given that their highest ever Opening Day payroll was their 2014 total of about $103MM. Perhaps their best shot at an attention-grabbing signing would be if they acquired someone like Chase Headley to play third base, and that would only happen if Ramirez left.

An infusion of star talent doesn’t appear imminent from the minors, either. The Brewers’ farm system has improved after a strong 2014 draft, but they don’t currently have anyone in MLB.com’s list of the top 100 prospects in the game, and their best talents (Tyrone Taylor, Orlando Arcia, and top 2014 draftees Kodi Medeiros, Jacob Gatewood and Monte Harrison) have little or no experience in the high minors.

The Brewers are therefore in a tight spot. They don’t appear to be as good as the Cardinals or Pirates, and perhaps they soon won’t be as good as the rapidly improving Cubs. But given the state of their farm system, a rebuild would potentially be long and painful. And as the team’s outstanding 2014 first half suggested, the Brewers are still probably good enough to win an NL Central title or a Wild Card if everything breaks right. If Gomez and Lucroy were to maintain their production in 2015, if Braun and possibly Segura were to return to form, and if a couple more players (Davis and Nelson, say) were to break out, it wouldn’t be a shock if the team won 88 games or so and made the playoffs.

Given that possibility, rebuilding can wait. But if the Brewers get off to a poor start in 2015, expect to hear plenty of rumors about their veterans. In particular, Gallardo, Lohse and Broxton, who can all become free agents after 2015, would likely be fair game.


Minor Moves: Reimold, Wilson, Cedeno, Bianchi, Pagnozzi

Here are Sunday’s minor moves from around MLB:


Cafardo On Peavy, Martinez, Samardzija

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes that Jake Peavy has gone from a likely minimal contract in free agency to a possible three-year deal.  The Giants are interested in re-signing him because they need him, and manager Bruce Bochy has gotten great work out of him.  For his part, the 33-year-old appears to enjoy being back with Bochy, his manager during his glory years in San Diego.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • A major league source tells Cafardo that Victor Martinez‘s preference is to stay with the Tigers and, therefore, Detroit will get the first crack at him. The interest is mutual and the Tigers would like to get something done sooner rather than later.
  • If A’s GM Billy Beane listens to offers on Jeff Samardzija this offseason, you can count the Red Sox as one of the possible interested parties.  The Sox inquired with the Cubs about him before the trade deadline, and they would not give up a package that included lefthanded pitching prospect Henry Owens.
  • Orioles outfielder/DH Nelson Cruz enjoys Baltimore and wants to stay, but Cafardo expects the Yankees, Rangers, and Mariners to be in on the bidding.  No matter what, the 34-year-old looks like he’ll make a bundle somewhere on a three- or four-year deal.
  • First baseman Adam LaRoche likely won’t re-signed by the Nationals, who could move Ryan Zimmerman to first base.  However, LaRoche lines up nicely as a target for the Brewers, who have toyed with the idea of Ryan Braun moving to first but will likely keep him in the outfield.  He could draw interest from the Orioles if they lose Cruz.
  • While there’s intrigue over Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, there’s still some pushback from scouts who have seen him play on whether he can translate well to MLB.  Some are worried about the pronounced leg kick in his stance that lasts deep into his swing.  There also has always been skepticism over his defensive ability, even though he won the Korean version of the Gold Glove.


Brewers Retain Ron Roenicke For 2015 Season

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke will remain in his position with the team for 2015, the team announced in a press release.  This puts an end to speculation that Roenicke could be fired in the wake of the team’s late-season collapse.

Roenicke led the Crew to the 2011 NL Central title and a berth in the NLCS in his first year as manager in 2011, and he has a 335-313 overall record in four seasons running the club.  The Brewers have yet to return to the postseason since 2011, however, and went 9-17 last September to fall out of playoff contention despite leading the NL Central for much of the year.

Back in March, the Brewers exercised their team option on Roenicke’s services for 2015 while also adding another option year for the 2016 campaign.  With no job security beyond next season, it’s fair to speculate that Roenicke could be on the hot seat if the Brewers get off to a slow start next season.

The team also announced that hitting coach Johnny Narron and first base/infield coach Garth Iorg will not be offered contracts for 2015.  The Brewers have posted a collective 93 wRC+ over the last two seasons (ranking 17th in baseball), and posted only an 85 wRC+ (fifth-worst in baseball) after the All-Star break last season, which likely led to Narron’s departure.  The rest of Milwaukee’s coaching staff will remain intact.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have evaluated the work of Ron and his coaches and believe that this is the best course of action to take,” general manager Doug Melvin said in the press release. “We appreciate the work that Johnny and Garth did for us through the years, and moves like these are never easy to make.  We have already started reviewing our player personnel and will continue to address the factors that led to our disappointing finish to the season.”


NL Central Links: Cubs, Marshall, Cueto, Lara

The Cubs announced their finalized coaching staff for the 2015 season today, which included a pair of new additions: hitting coach John Mallee and first base/outfield coach Doug Dascenzo. Mallee spent the 2010-11 seasons as the Marlins’ hitting coach and the 2013-14 seasons as the hitting coach for the Astros. He also spent eight seasons with the Marlins as a minor league hitting instructor and brings to the table 19 overall years of pro baseball experience. Dascenzo spent the 2014 season as Atlanta’s third base coach and has previously spent 13 seasons in the Padres’ minor league system as a manager or coach. The rest of the coaching staff will return, though first base coach Eric Hinske will shift from first base coach to assistant hitting coach.

Here’s more from the NL Central…

  • Reds lefty Sean Marshall tells MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that he’s progressing well in his rehab from June shoulder surgery. While he still has some range of motion work to do, Marshall says that he feels like he “has a whole new shoulder” and is aiming a return in Spring Training of next year. The 32-year-old has been limited to just 31 appearances over the past two seasons and is entering the final season of a three-year, $16.5MM contract.
  • In a second piece, Sheldon also spoke with Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto, who has a $10MM club option this offseason that the team is a lock to exercise. Cueto said that despite the small nature of Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, he enjoys pitching there and wants to remain with the Reds. As manager Bryan Price noted to Sheldon, however, it’s unlikely that the team can afford to retain Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon, all of whom are free agents following the 2015 season. As Sheldon points out, Cueto is by far the most attractive trade chip of the bunch, and the Reds may not be able to afford his price tag if they look to go the extension route. They could, of course, also take another shot at contending next season and either trade Cueto in July if they fall out of the race or make a qualifying offer at season’s end if they do contend.
  • Top international prospect Gilbert Lara, signed by the Brewers for a $3.2MM bonus this summer, has selected Len Strelitz and Nick Chanock of the Wasserman Media Group as his agents, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (on Twitter).

Poll: Aramis Ramirez’s Next Contract

In his recent free agent profile of Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes explained that a variety of strategic moves could have significant bearing on both where he ends up and what kind of contract he might play under in 2015 and, potentially, beyond. As Tim explains, the veteran still holds plenty of appeal both in Milwaukee and the rest of the league, especially for clubs that prefer a shorter-term obligation from a consistently productive player. And the way things shake out with Ramirez could have widespread implications for player movement elsewhere.

So, let’s look at the decision tree that will have such an important role in determining Ramirez’s future. First, there is a $14MM mutual option ($4MM buyout) to consider. If Milwaukee decides it’s just too much money and pays the buyout, Ramirez would enter the market free and clear. If the club exercises its end, Ramirez could either take that payday or release that bird in hand and try the market.

In the latter scenario, the Brewers could still make him a qualifying offer, which would present another binary decision for Ramirez. Declining the QO, of course, would saddle him with draft compensation in free agency. If he goes that route, a new destination is possible, though, as we’ve seen in recent years, some players that test the market after declining a qualifying offer return to their prior teams.

Oh, and there’s one more possibility: Ramirez and the Brewers could essentially bypass this series of decisions entirely by agreeing to a multi-year extension at the outset (or at any point along the way).

This kind of situation is more or less what we live for here at MLBTR. Tim has already gone on record with his expectations, and it’s time that our readers did the same. (I won’t ask you to try to decide what Ramirez would do if he reaches free agency.)


Minor Moves: O’Sullivan, Jackson, Paterson, Wilson, Bianchi

As outrights pick up pace across the league, here are the latest minor moves:

  • After outrighting him yesterday, the Phillies have released righty Sean O’Sullivan, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. O’Sullivan was set to become a minor league free agent anyway, so this just moves up his appearance on the open market.
  • After seeing three players fail to clear waivers today, the Diamondbacks did manage to get another trio through. Per the PCL transactions page, outfielder Brett Jackson, lefty Joe Paterson, and catcher Bobby Wilson have all cleared and been outrighted to Triple-A. Jackson, a 26-year-old former top prospect, had another disappointing season at Triple-A, posting a .208/.299/.350 line in 271 plate appearances. Paterson, 28, again posted solid numbers in Triple-A (2.95 ERA over 42 2/3 frames) but failed to return to the regular MLB pen role that he had in 2011. And Wilson, 31, saw his first MLB action since 2012 with the Angels, but spent most of his time putting together a .267/.324/.341 slash over 299 trips to the plate at Triple-A.
  • Also clearing waivers and being outrighted was Jeff Bianchi of the Brewers. Bianchi, who turned 28 on Sunday, struggled in limited MLB action this year. The utility infielder owns a lifetime .534 OPS through 402 plate appearances in the bigs. Over three seasons at Triple-A, he has posted a more attractive .299/.349/.428 line.

Free Agent Profile: Francisco Rodriguez

Francisco Rodriguez is a late-inning fixture, having recorded at least two and as many as 62 saves every season since 2003, though he has had a somewhat odd run of late on the transactional side.

After earning big arbitration and free agent dollars, the star closer made the somewhat surprising decision to accept arbitration from the Brewers after the 2011 season rather than taking free agency (under the old Type A/Type B system). But an off 2012 season — 72 innings of 4.38 ERA ball, with 9.0 K/9 vs. 3.9 BB/9 — forced Rodriguez into a minor league deal. He responded with a bounceback campaign in 2013, throwing 46 2/3 frames and compiling a 2.70 ERA with 10.4 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9. Nevertheless, perhaps hurt by the fact that he had less success down the stretch after being traded to the contending Orioles, Rodriguez again returned to Milwaukee on a make-good, one-year pact (this one promising him $3.25MM).

The market has seemingly gone from viewing Rodriguez as a premier reliever to treating him like a shell of his former self, an aging closer whose best days are long past. But that is not necessarily true, and K-Rod’s market may be due for some correction this time around.

Strengths/Pros

For one thing, Rodriguez is not nearly as old as his long MLB tenure might suggest. Entering his age-33 season in 2015, Rodriguez is more youthful than closers like Joe Nathan and Fernando Rodney, each of whom landed substantial two-year deals last offseason. And he is younger than some competitors on this year’s market, including Rafael Soriano, Casey Janssen, Jason Grilli, and Koji Uehara.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis CardinalsWhile Rodriguez may not be “old” by the closer market’s standards, he still has a lot of mileage on his arm. On the other hand, much of the reason for that is his remarkable durability: he has averaged 69 innings pitched per season dating back to 2003. Aside from an infamous off-field injury back in 2010 (and a more comical cactus maiming this spring), Rodriguez has a lengthy track record of health.

One could point to the fact that Rodriguez no longer strikes out batters at an elite clip, and that is no doubt true. But while his strikeout rate is down from his glory days (in particular, against league average), K-Rod has continued to earn his moniker by averaging an even 10.0 K/9 over the last two years. Even better, he has married that with excellent control, answering the primary critique of his earlier-career quality as a pitcher. Put it all together, and Rodriguez has set a personal record for full-season K/BB ratio successively in each of the last two years. (If you prefer K%-BB%, Rodriguez landed at 20.5%, solidly above average and 32nd among all qualified relievers.) A friendly BABIP even enabled him to post a career-low WHIP (.985) this past season.

For what it’s worth, Rodriguez also proved that he can still handle the ninth inning. After jumping unexpectedly into the closer’s role early this year, he logged 44 saves — his largest tally since that 62-save campaign in 2008 — while blowing only five.

Weaknesses/Cons

Rodriguez, unsurprisingly, no longer brings his fastball quite like he did in his youth, and his average velocity now sits at around 91. But he has never averaged above 93 in a full season, and never relied on the kind of pure speed that makes this a major concern. Rodriguez still registers excellent pitch values for his change-up, which, as Nick Ashbourne of Beyond the Box Score noted earlier this year, he has increasingly relied upon in lieu of his curve.

Rodriguez was victimized by the long ball this year, surrendering a career-worst 1.85 HR/9 and rather unsightly 23.3% HR/FB. He also benefited from a high strand-rate (93%) and low BABIP (.216). To some extent those statistics balance out when viewed together, as regression in both directions could be expected.

Personal

A native of Venezuela, Rodriguez first signed with the Angels back in 1998. He was playing in the states by the time he was 17, and reached the big leagues at age 20. Since then, Rodriguez has earned a somewhat fiery reputation, perhaps befitting his late-inning role. But on occasion, his anger has seemingly gotten the better of him. Rodriguez has had a few on-the-field spats that generated headlines. And more worryingly, he has twice been charged for his role in domestic physical altercations. (He pled guilty in the first case, while charges were dropped in the latter.)

Market

Rodriguez faces a lot of competition from veteran, late-inning relievers. As I recently explored, however, he is perhaps the only one who is truly on the upswing as he enters the free agent market. That does not mean that Rodriguez is the cream of the crop, of course – if nothing else, David Robertson and Andrew Miller are much younger and have more dominant recent track records – but it is something of a feather in his cap against most of the rest of the market.

As things have shaken out, he looks to be roughly on the same tier as Uehara, Soriano, and Sergio Romo amongst the next group of arms. (Names like Janssen, Pat Neshek, and Luke Gregerson are, perhaps, one tier behind.) It is possible to craft arguments preferring one of those to the other, and teams and personal circumstances will surely dictate the results, but Rodriguez surely rates much higher than might have been expected at the outset of the season.

The closer market as a whole seems to be somewhat wanting on the demand side: few big-budget contenders are in need of a new ninth-inning man. And on the whole, the rise of young flamethrowers could make teams somewhat hesitant to commit big dollars to relievers. On the other hand, Rodriguez has previously been willing to work in a set-up role. And proven success and durability still carries plenty of currency; he has been a relative rock in both respects.

Though it would be foolhardy to handicap possible landing spots for a sub-elite reliever, suffice to say that plenty of clubs could use an arm like his – though Rodriguez’s combative reputation may lead some decision-makers to take a pass. It is worth noting, too, that Rodriguez’s personal affinity to Milwaukee is strong and well-documented. He turned down MLB offers to take a minor league deal with the team in 2012, waited for and then jumped on the Brewers’ offer last year, and now says that he hopes to return. Of course, whether Milwaukee will pursue him with any vigor — after adding Jonathan Broxton and his hefty salary at the trade deadline — remains to be seen. But if the bidding is close, it seems plausible that K-Rod could take a discount to stay with the Brewers.

Expected Contract

Achieving multiple years has not been a problem for relievers much older than Rodriguez.  The overall trajectory of his play and, particularly, his excellent durability make Rodriguez a strong bet to land a two-year deal.  A discount (in terms of years or dollars) to stay in Milwaukee remains a plausible outcome, but if he seeks a full market payday, I expect the Scott Boras client to match Rodney’s contract last year and land a two-year, $14MM deal.


Brewers Notes: Braun, Roenicke, LaRoche, Ramirez

Brewers GM Doug Melvin is scheduled to meet with principal owner Mark Attanasio and manager Ron Roenicke this week, so there should be some clarity on the status of the coaching staff in the next few days. There should also be some clarity on the health of Ryan Braun. Last Thursday, Braun underwent cryotherapy to freeze the nerve in his ailing right thumb and has a follow-up appointment with the doctor who performed the procedure on Monday. If there is no adverse reaction to the treatment, Braun will begin swinging a bat to determine its effect on his swing along with his pain tolerance.

Here’s more on the Brewers, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt and Todd Rosiak:

  • Haudricourt opines the biggest offensive boost the Brewers could receive this offseason is Braun’s cryotherapy being a success because the free-swinging ways of the rest of the lineup are likely to continue. As Haudricourt writes, “It would be easier to change a leopard’s spots than turn any of those hitters into a modern-day Wade Boggs.”
  • Rosiak guesses Roenicke will return, but with a revamped coaching staff and approach.
  • Rosiak would not be surprised if the Brewers pull out all the stops to try to fill their offensive void at first base noting the front office will have serious interest in Adam LaRoche, if he is open to a two-year deal. The Nationals hold a $15MM option on LaRoche, which is expected to be declined.
  • Rosiak lists the odds as 50-50 for Aramis Ramirez returning to Milwaukee adding it will take some time for the situation to play itself out.
  • Speaking of Ramirez, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes penned a free agent profile of the Brewer third baseman yesterday.

Free Agent Profile: Aramis Ramirez

Aramis Ramirez had an up-and-down season for the Brewers, who must sort out his mutual option and weigh a potential qualifying offer.  The 36-year-old can still be a force at the plate, and may be the best offensive third baseman available this winter.

Strengths/Pros

USATSI_8015973_154513410_lowresRamirez has already had an illustrious 17-year-career.  Among third basemen, he ranks ninth all-time in home runs, tenth all-time in doubles, and tenth in RBI.  Though he’ll likely fall short of the Hall of Fame, Ramirez had a long run of being one of the top 5-10 third basemen in baseball since becoming a regular in 2001.

These days, his power may not be what it once was, but he still ranked 11th among all third basemen in isolated power, ahead of fellow free agent Pablo Sandoval.  He’s always made excellent contact, resulting in a .285 career batting average that he matched in 2014.  Overall, Ramirez still has a case as a top ten hitter at the hot corner, and he was basically Sandoval’s equal with the bat this year.  Ramirez also made his third All-Star team, hitting .288/.336/.459 in the first half.

As MLBTR’s Steve Adams noted in August, Ramirez’s free agent competition at third base isn’t anything special (although it’s certainly no worse than the rest of the free agent hitting class, which is weak overall).  If one continues to categorize Hanley Ramirez as a shortstop, Ramirez’s .757 OPS led free agent third basemen, with Sandoval checking in at .739 and Chase Headley at .700.  Ramirez will not require nearly the commitment Sandoval will.

Weaknesses/Cons

Metrics suggest Ramirez’s defense was passable this year, though he has had some pretty rough seasons within the last five.

Ramirez will turn 37 next June, so he comes with typical durability question marks.  He played 298 games from 2011-12 and a reasonable 133 this year despite a DL stint for a hamstring injury.  That’s not bad, but Ramirez seems better suited for an American League team with some DH flexibility, especially if he seeks a multiyear deal.

Ramirez has had a consistent career, but his offense in 2014 was streaky.  He posted an OPS over .960 in June and August, yet was under .600 in July and September.  He wound up hitting only four home runs in 251 second half plate appearances.  Ramirez’s walk rate was down to 4% this year, his worst since his partial 2000 campaign.  Baserunning has consistently been a detriment throughout Ramirez’s career.

Personal

Ramirez is married with three children, and he resides with his family in the Dominican Republic in the offseason.  The third baseman “lives and breathes for his kids,” a person close to him told MLBTR.  When the kids are in school, Ramirez enjoys spending time on his farm in the Dominican.

Ramirez does not exhibit much overt emotion on the field, a trait that drew some criticism in Chicago, perhaps unfairly.

Market

Having spent his entire career in the NL Central, Ramirez has never served as a designated hitter more than five times in a season.  He hasn’t played a position other than third base in his entire pro career, so the idea of working him in at first base could be a stretch.  Certainly the Brewers would like to bring Ramirez back, as we’ll discuss below.  Otherwise, the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Red Sox, Royals, Angels, Yankees, Padres, Giants, and Blue Jays could seek help at the hot corner this offseason.  As a veteran who likely has plenty of money in the bank from past contracts, comfort could be a primary factor in Ramirez’s choice.

Expected Contract

Ramirez’s contract situation is complicated.  He and the Brewers hold a $14MM mutual option for 2015.  On the rare occasions in baseball that both sides of a mutual option have been exercised, it’s never been close to that kind of salary.  While a September 17th report from Jon Heyman of CBS Sports said the Brewers intend to pick up their side of the option, Brewers GM Doug Melvin told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy the topic hasn’t even been broached with the team’s owner or Ramirez’s agent, Paul Kinzer.  Realistically, Melvin probably has some idea of what he wants to do, but option decisions aren’t due until after the World Series.

The Brewers do seem likely to pick up their side of the option — they’re faced with a $4MM buyout if they decline it, so the option is effectively only a $10MM decision.  If the Brewers pick the option up, Ramirez then has the opportunity to decline and go to free agency, in which case he would not receive a buyout.  $14MM is a reasonable salary if Ramirez only wants to play one more year, but he may prefer a longer term.  Ramirez suggested in July he’d go for 2,500 career games, a goal of which he is 443 short.  That suggests three or four more seasons, but in September, Ramirez was non-committal about what he’d do after 2015.

A two-year deal would be a nice compromise; perhaps Ramirez and the Brewers can work out something that pays around $25MM for that span.  I imagine if Ramirez is thinking bigger than that, he’ll have to find it on the open market.  One problem: the Brewers can reduce his leverage by making or telling him their intention to make a qualifying offer.  I expect them to make that offer if they get to that point.  Draft pick forfeiture would affect Ramirez’s market, but not as much as you might think.  The players most burned by qualifying offers last winter were asking for big contracts from the outset of free agency.  Ramirez might ask for just two years from the start, and I think he could find a team to give it to him even with the draft pick cost attached.

In the somewhat unlikely event that Ramirez hits the open market without a qualifying offer attached, it would help his chances of securing a three-year deal.  Still, he’d probably have to sacrifice on average annual value to get a third year, perhaps accepting something like three years and $33MM.

Ultimately, I think Ramirez will sign a two-year, $26MM deal to stay with the Brewers.  If he reaches the open market without a draft pick attached, I’ll go with two years and $30MM.  If he receives a qualifying offer from the Brewers, I think he’ll turn it down.  Even in that scenario, I think he can find the same two-year, $26MM deal on the open market.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.