Milwaukee Brewers Rumors
Today's news out of the AL and NL Central..
- The Brewers are considering bringing back Corey Hart to fill their first-base need and it appears they may favor him over other first base options like Mets first baseman Ike Davis and free agent Justin Morneau, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. A Brewers person didn't look overly enthused when asked about Davis or Morneau and added that the rumored trade of Norichika Aoki for Davis would not be happening.
- Agent Scott Boras says that he's gotten good interest from a "variety of teams" on client Mike Pelfrey and said the Twins are amongst those clubs, tweets Phil Miller of the Star Tribune. He also claims that Pelfrey holds a multi-year offer.
- The Cubs don’t plan to drop big bucks on a free agent catcher like Brian McCann or Jarrod Saltalamacchia and sources tell Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com they have their eye on a cheaper target: Kurt Suzuki. The Cubs are seeking out a veteran backstop to complement Welington Castillo.
- Cubs GM Jed Hoyer told Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports (via Twitter) there's been ongoing trade interest in Nate Schierholtz since mid-season.
- Justin Masterson will listen if the Indians want to approach him with a multi-year offer, writes Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer.
Mark Trumbo is the Angels' most wanted player via trade, but the Halos are very reluctant to trade him, writes Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. "He fits us," said someone connected to the Angels. Meanwhile, Erick Aybar, Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos and Chris Iannetta also are getting a fair number of trade inquiries, and they could move one of them. Here's more of Heyman's latest..
- One club with interest in Jacoby Ellsbury says that agent Scott Boras has set Carl Crawford's $142MM contract as a benchmark in discussions, Heyman writes. One rival GM who isn't in on Ellsbury argued that Crawford was better and more durable at the time of his deal.
- The Astros, Orioles, Rays, Brewers and Rockies all have checked in on Mets first baseman Ike Davis, despite his awful 2013 campaign, according to Heyman. In the case of Milwaukee, however, they may prefer re-signing Corey Hart instead.
- Heyman suggests that the Marlins and Cubs could discuss a swap of top prospects and officials from both sides agree that they could have something to discuss. The Cubs have high-end position prospects such as Kris Bryant (who may be untouchable), Javier Baez, and Albert Almora, while Miami has a stockpile of strong young arms.
- We learned last week that Ervin Santana's asking price was $100MM and today Heyman hears that agents Bean Stringfellow, Joe White, and Jay Alou are seeking a five-year, $112MM pact. The agents are going around with a book of arguments to support their case, including some comparisons to Dodgers star pitcher Zack Greinke.
- The A's have joined the fray for free agent Nelson Cruz, but the small-market club could run into problems when it comes to dollars and years, Heyman writes. Oakland has been looking for a right-handed-hitting outfielder after declining to pick up the option on Chris Young, but Cruz would be a much bigger splash than anyone anticipated.
The Mets and Brewers discussed a trade that would've sent first baseman Ike Davis to Milwaukee, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News reports. No deal is likely at this time, however, as talks failed to generate much traction.
First base is a definite need for the Brewers, as free agent Corey Hart is drawing interest from several teams, including the Mets themselves. New York is known to be shopping both Davis and Lucas Duda but reportedly would prefer to deal Davis and give Duda a clear shot as an everyday first baseman.
Davis was the Mets' first round draft pick in 2008 but he has struggled to find consistency in the majors. A big second half of the 2012 season gave him 32 homers and a .771 OPS for the campaign but, rather than turn the corner, Davis took another step back in 2013 and hit just .205/.326/.334 with nine homers. Davis' struggles against left-handed pitching would mean that any team acquiring him would need a right-handed platoon partner as well. Despite this, a Major League executive tells Martino that "four or five teams" could be fits for Davis next season.
The Brewers prefer to explore the free agent market rather than talk trades at this stage of the offseason, a source tells Martino. The source also notes that the Brewers aren't likely to trade outfielder Norichika Aoki, which isn't surprising given that Aoki is playing on a bargain $2MM contract for 2014.
The GM Meetings begin tomorrow in Orlando and run through Wednesday, but it could be a very quiet three days for the Brewers. "I don't anticipate us being overly active at this point but things could change," GM Doug Melvin told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "There's not a lot of openings in the regular lineup." Budget constraints will also play a role in the Brewers' level of activity, according to Haudricourt, as the club is approximately $14MM under its 2013 Opening Day payroll (not including arbitration and pre-arbitration salaries). Here's more from Haudricourt's piece:
- "There's nothing major on the free-agent market we'll probably get involved with," Melvin said. "Maybe we'll do something with the bullpen, make an addition or two."
- Melvin sees first base as the one position the Brewers need to fill. Re-signing Corey Hart, who is drawing interest from the Mets and a handful of other teams, is the coventional wisdom, but Melvin has only committed to speaking with agent Jeff Berry about Hart's status at some point.
- The Brewers are not believed to have interest in Justin Morneau, James Loney, and/or Mike Napoli at this stage.
- If Hart doesn't re-sign with Milwaukee, one internal option is Juan Francisco, who is showing improvement offensively during Dominican Winter League play (.338/.437/.568 with 18 RBIs - second in the DWL - in 74 at-bats including a .404/.462/.702 slash with 14 RBIs versus left-handers in 47 at-bats, per MLB.com). At the least, Haudricourt sees Francisco providing depth at both infield corners (Francisco has split his time with Licey between third base and DH while appearing in just three games at first).
- Providing middle infield depth will be Elian Herrera, who the Brewers claimed off waivers from the Dodgers on Monday. "He's somebody who can play all over the field, including shortstop if we need it," said Melvin.
Herrera, who turns 29 this Februrary, received just eight big league plate appearances for the Dodgers this season but racked up 214 PAs in 67 games for the 2012 Dodgers. The Dominican utility-man has a .251/.336/.328 in his brief Major League career, and he's totaled at least 30 innings in all three outfield spots, at second base and at third base.
In 197 career games at the Triple-A level, the switch-hitting Herrera is a .300/.371/.420 hitter with 12 homers and 28 stolen bases. This move brings the Brewers' 40-man roster to 36 and drops the Dodgers' 40-man roster to 32, the teams announced.
The Brewers have exercised their club option on right fielder Norichika Aoki, according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. While previously reported to be worth just $1.5MM, McCalvy reports that the actual total is just under $2MM due to incentives that he reached in 2012-13. Either way, as McCalvy notes, exercising Aoki's option was a no-brainer for Brewers GM Doug Melvin.
Aoki, 32 in January, hit .287/.355/.399 in his first two seasons with the Brew Crew, totaling 18 homers and 50 stolen bases. Aoki originally projected to be a reserve outfielder for the Brewers, but he thrived in an everyday role after Corey Hart moved to first base full-time to replace the injured Mat Gamel in 2012.
The Brewers won the rights to negotiate with Aoki, a former NPB batting champion in Japan, by submitting a $2.5MM posting fee. Aoki then signed a two-year, $2.5MM contract with an option for a third year and incentives that could take the contract's total value to $8.6MM over three years. In hindsight, the move has turned out to be one of baseball's biggest bargains and one of the savviest of Melvin's tenure as GM.
Because Aoki is such a bargain, the emergence of Khris Davis as a potential outfield option alongside Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun has led many to speculate that Aoki could be dealt in the offseason. However, as MLBTR's Edward Creech noted in his recent Offseason Outlook for the Brewers, Melvin seems highly reluctant to deal Aoki.
The Brewers' offseason focus is finding a first baseman and figuring out how to keep the heart of their lineup healthy after injuries forced 125 different lineups in 2013.
- Ryan Braun, OF: $99MM through 2020 (plus $18MM deferred to be paid in 2022-2031)
- Carlos Gomez, OF: $24MM through 2016
- Kyle Lohse, SP: $22MM through 2015 (plus $7MM deferrred to be paid in 2016-18)
- Aramis Ramirez, 3B: $20MM through 2014
- Yovani Gallardo, SP: $11.85MM through 2014
- Rickie Weeks, 2B: $11MM through 2014
- Jonathan Lucroy, C: $9.25MM through 2016
- Tom Gorzelanny, RP: $2.8MM through 2014
- Marco Estrada, SP (4.035): $3.5MM projected salary
- Burke Badenhop, RP (5.116): $2.1MM
- Juan Francisco, 1B/3B (2.156): $1.4MM
- Norichika Aoki, OF: $1.5MM club option ($250K buyout)
With 2014 payroll obligations already in the neighborhood of $80MM (not including salaries for pre-arbitration eligible players), the Brewers have to be frugal in free agency and may not be interested in taking on much salary in any proposed trade. But, if he could, GM Doug Melvin would spend lavishly to keep his marquee players healthy. The injury bug struck early. Corey Hart underwent right knee surgery in January and was expected to return in May, but he injured his other knee during rehab requiring a third knee surgery in 16 months. The rest of the first base depth chart was wiped out during Spring Training: Mat Gamel re-tore his right ACL missing his second consecutive season, and Taylor Green was sidelined by hip surgery. The Brewers wound up using seven first basemen in 2013, none of whom had ever started a MLB game there. As expected, first base was an offensive sinkhole for the Brewers with a slash line of .211/.256/.359 and a MLB-worst .629 OPS.
The Brewers need to find a solution at first base. Hart, who earned $10MM this past season, has said he will take a pay cut to remain in Milwaukee (MLBTR's Steve Adams estimates the hometown discount will be $6MM for one year). Melvin says Hart will be in the mix, but what's Plan B if he doesn't return? Juan Francisco's power intrigues the Brewers, but he struck out 95 times in 270 plate appearances while displaying a horrific split against left-handers (.156/.206/.219 with no home runs). The Brewers have altered Francisco's batting stance, which he will continue to experiment with during winter ball. A platoon would be optimal, but the available free agents are either too expensive (Mike Napoli), a defensive liability better suited to DH (Kendrys Morales, Mark Reynolds, Mike Morse), or not a clear upgrade over the pre-arbitration eligible Sean Halton (i.e. the other right-handed first base bats on MLBTR's 2014 Free Agents list). A trade is unlikely with Hunter Morris, their seventh-best prospect per MLB.com, waiting in the wings with a service clock which has yet to begin ticking. Morris did regress at Triple-A after a banner season at Double-A in 2012 and was not among the team's September call-ups, but the Brewers are notoriously patient with their young players. Another option is to give catcher Jonathan Lucroy more playing time at first, which would provide additional at-bats for his backup Martin Maldonado, who struggled offensively in 2013. Manager Ron Roenicke attributed Maldonado's fall off to a lack of playing time and intends to give him 50-60 ABs during Spring Training with the hopes of a better start to 2014.
Roenicke is also hoping for a better start to 2014 for Aramis Ramirez, who spent two separate one-month stints on the disabled list with a knee injury. The knee never healed fully, resulting in a dramatic offensive downturn: 12 HRs (the fewest in a decade), 49 RBIs (a career-worst as a starter), and 18 doubles (down from a NL-leading 50 in 2012). Not only did the injured knee sap Ramirez's power, it also limited his range in the field. With a salary committment of $20MM and no other true cleanup hitter in the system, the Brewers are not in a position to move Ramirez this winter, so they need him healthy and productive in the middle of their order.
The middle of the order also depends on the return of Ryan Braun, who landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career (right hand nerve inflammation) and was suspended 65 games for violations of the Basic Agreement and the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program stemming from his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic. If Braun suffers a post-Biogenesis decline, the Brewers do have options with the emergence of rookie Khris Davis (.279/.353/.596 with 11 home runs in 153 plate appearances). Davis, however, has been susceptible to injury (wrist, quad, and hamstring problems in September alone) and has defensive limitations making him strictly a left fielder (an attempt to learn first base in Instructional League a couple years ago was an abject failure). The Brewers acknowledge internal discussions about a possible move to right field for Braun in order to free up left for Davis and making Norichika Aoki, the incumbent right fielder with a very affordable 2014 club option worth $1.5MM, a prime trade chip. Melvin, however, seems hesitant to deal Aoki.
"Those things are like pitching. You never have enough," Melvin said of the Brewers' outfield depth (as quoted by MLB.com's Adam McCalvy). "Look at the injuries that can happen. Aoki can play left field; he can play right field. Whenever we make those decisions, he's probably going to be a part of that offense. You've got to have depth, too, if you're not going to get involved in free agency. We don't know that yet; we don't know where that market is going. Probably outfield is where we have a trade piece if we want to trade to maybe fill another hole."
The Brewers' starting rotation struggled in the first half with hamstring injuries forcing Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada to the disabled list and Wily Peralta to miss a start. Kyle Lohse also skipped a start because of a balky elbow (a possible effect of not signing with the Brewers until March - missing five weeks of Spring Training). Good health brought better results. The quartet of Lohse, Gallardo, Peralta, and Estrada showed enough during the second half of the season to earn a rotation spot heading into Spring Training. Gallardo was the subject of several 2013 Trade Deadline rumors, but the Brewers are not inclined to give up on a homegrown pitching talent with a team-friendly contract unless the return justifies creating a hole in their rotation. Tyler Thornburg (2-1, 1.47 ERA in seven starts), Johnny Hellweg, (the Brewers' minor league pitcher of the year), and Jimmy Nelson (the organization's top prospect, according to MLB.com) will battle it out to become the fifth starter. A veteran will only be brought in to compete with these young hurlers if a Lohse-like situation presents itself.
The bullpen, so dreadful in 2012 with 29 blown saves and ranked dead last in ERA, was a strength in 2013 because of young arms. After trading away John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez, Jim Henderson inherited the closer role and excelled with 28 saves in 29 opportunities (he blew three saves while acting as the setup man for Rodriguez). Rob Wooten and Brandon Kintzler covered the 7th and 8th innings, respectively. Tom Gorzelanny failed to impress in a 10-start audition, so he will return to a lefty reliever/spot starter role in 2014. Burke Badenhop, Donovan Hand, Alfredo Figaro, and Michael Blazek (acquired in the Axford deal) are among the in-house options to round out the relief corps. The lone need is a veteran presence at the back end of the bullpen, in case Henderson stumbles. A reunion with Rodriguez is not out of the question because of his relationship with Roenicke. K-Rod has shown a willingness to pitch the 8th inning for him in the past and may do so again, if a closer job is not available elsewhere.
Another area of strength for the Brewers is up-the-middle: center fielder Carlos Gomez, shortstop Jean Segura, and catcher Lucroy. Gomez received a three-year, $24MM contract extension in March and showed he was worth every penny earning his first All-Star berth en route to establishing career-highs in every offensive category. Gomez also led or tied for the team lead in home runs, doubles, triples, and runs scored while becoming the first player in franchise history to record a 20-40 season. He played Gold Glove defense, as well, (the first Brewer to earn the honor since 1982 and the first outfielder since 1979) with a career-high 12 assists, the second-highest total in the NL. Segura, also a first-time All-Star, could be next in line for a Spring Training extension after posting a slash of .294/.329/.423 with 44 stolen bases (second in the NL) in his first full MLB season. Segura, however, slumped in the second half hitting only .244/.268/.315. While both sides talked last month, the Brewers may want to wait one more year before engaging in serious negotiations to see what kind of numbers Segura will produce consistently, a sentiment shared by his agent Joe Klein. Lucroy replaced Braun in the three-hole, leading the team in RBIs while batting .321 with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. Gomez and Lucroy are under contract through 2016 while Segura is under team control until 2019.
The Brewers need to determine who will play second base - Rickie Weeks or Scooter Gennett. Melvin has said the decision will be made in Spring Training and nothing will happen during the offseason to help the franchise make that selection. Not expected to be cleared for baseball activity until February, the Brewers are hoping to use Spring Training to showcase Weeks for a possible trade, a faint possibility due to his injury history and $11MM salary. If a team is willing to gamble on Weeks, the Brewers will have to eat a substantial portion of the salary, a difficult decision for any budget-conscious organization to make. If Weeks is unable to return to his 2010-11 level of production, the next best scenario is a healthy Weeks platooning with the left-handed hitting Gennett (.324/.356/.479 in 230 plate appearances), who struggled against left-handers (.154/.175/.154 in a small sample size of 39 plate appearances). Such an arrangement benefitted Weeks in June when he hit .355 with a 1.106 OPS.
The Brewers play in arguably the strongest division in the National League, but feel they can compete with the Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds by complementing their core of Braun, Ramirez, Gomez, Segura, and Lucroy with a return to good health and improvements to the right-side of their infield. "Can we win with this roster? Yeah, we can win with the roster we have," said Melvin (as quoted by Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). "I think if our best players are on the field and our young guys take that next step, we can be there."
Tonight's outright assignments..
- The Brewers announced that they have outrighted right-handers Santo Manzanillo, Jesus Sanchez, and Josh Ravin to Triple-A Nashville. Sanchez, 26, had a 2.83 ERA with 6.4 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 in 48 relief appearances at Nashville. Manzanillo, 25 in December, posted a 5.83 ERA with 5.4 K/9 and 6.0 BB/9 in 46 games for the club's Advanced-A and Double-A affiliates last season. It was a short stay on the Brewers' 40-man for Josh Ravin, who was claimed off waivers from the Reds less than a month ago. The 25-year-old had a 5.82 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 6.7 BB/9 for the Reds' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates last year.
After converting to the Brewers' full-time first baseman midway through the 2012 campaign, Corey Hart was expected to miss the season's first month due to offseason microfracture surgery on his right knee. Setbacks in his recovery would end up pushing his return date back, and Hart would ultimately injure his other knee, leading to another surgery that cost Hart the entirety of the 2013 season. Hart is now set to hit free agency more than 12 months removed from his last Major League game.
Power is Hart's biggest asset when healthy. He's posted an ISO north of .225 each season from 2010-12, averaging 29 homers per season in each of those campaigns. In fact, dating back to 2010, the only free agents with an ISO greater than Hart's mark of .235 are Mike Napoli and Curtis Granderson.
While he's much better against left-handed pitching (as is the case with many right-handed sluggers), Hart still handles same-handed pitching quite well. From 2010-12, Hart posted an .822 OPS and 120 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers.
Hart will turn 32 years old next March, so while he's on the wrong side of his prime, he's young enough that there's no need to expect a sharp decline in his skills. Because he didn't play in 2013, he's not going to receive a qualifying offer and should only command a one-year deal on the free agent market. Hart offers as much raw power as nearly any free agent on the market, but will come at a fraction of the price in terms of years and dollars, without requiring a draft pick.
Hart was never an elite right fielder, but after a move to first base in 2012 and what has turned into a severe knee injury, his days in the outfield could be over. If that's the case, and Hart is limited to first base, he doesn't bring much in the way of defensive value. In his brief career at first, Hart has graded out as a poor defender.
Hart's power levels jumped in 2010, and he's been able to sustain those elevated levels, but it's come with an increased strikeout rate as well. Hart struck out in nearly 23 percent of his plate appearances from 2010-12, and he's never been one to take many walks (career 7.1 percent walk rate).
It's also no guarantee that Hart will come back as the same player he was in 2010-12. He's a buy-low candidate for teams in need of power, but should a contending team feel comfortable banking on Hart to hold down a spot in the middle of the order? The Rangers went a similar route with Lance Berkman this past offseason and received little return on that investment.
Corey is known as a strong family man. He and his wife, Kristina, have two daugters and two sons together. He has been active within the Wisconsin community, participating in charity funds for the Girl Scouts of Milwaukee Area, the Girls of Summer Softball League, the Wisconsin American Legion, Stomp Out Spit Tobacco, Make-A-Wish and more.
Hart has already said that he'd take a discount to return to Milwaukee -- the team that drafted him in 2000 and the only organization that he has ever known. The matchup makes sense, too, given the Brewers' lack of a clear internal candidate to man the position. Milwaukee deployed a combination of Alex Gonzalez, Juan Francisco, Yuniesky Betancourt, Sean Halton and Blake Lalli at the position in 2013 and received a ghastly .211/.256/.359 batting line. The Brewers' collective wRC+ of 64 was the worst in all of baseball at first base, making a reunion with their longest-tenured player an attractive option.
Sticking in the midwest, the Twins lack an obvious first base candidate and could afford to take a flier on Hart. He'd be a nice trade chip for their rebuilding efforts should they sell pieces next July. The Indians could deploy Hart at first base and move Nick Swisher back to the outfield, moving Drew Stubbs into a fourth outfielder role. Elsewhere around the league, the Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Red Sox, Rays, Mets, Pirates and Rockies all have uncertainty at first base/designated hitter. And with Jose Dariel Abreu now committed to the White Sox on a six-year deal, Hart's competition on the open market has decreased.
An incentive-laden one-year deal seems likely, and it makes sense for both Hart and his suitors. Interested teams aren't likely to be comfortable guaranteeing multiple years for Hart, and he's young enough to cash in on a strong season and earn a multiyear pact next winter.
Hart earned $10MM in 2013 but could have to take a pay cut. Berkman was able to land a $10MM base salary plus a $1MM buyout on his $12MM option for 2014, but he at least played in 32 games in 2012. Hart, on the other hand, never took the field and is coming off surgery on both knees, making the Berkman deal a lofty open-market goal for he and agent Jeff Berry of CAA.
His track record from 2010-12 is still strong though, and right-handed power is in scarce supply beyond Hart, Napoli, Byrd and Nelson Cruz. Ultimately, I think Hart could command a one-year, $8MM contract on the open market with another $2-4MM worth of incentives. If he's serious about taking a discount to stay with the Brewers, he may play for slightly less than that and settle for a $6MM base salary as a show of good faith to the only organization he's ever called home.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Here are the day's minor moves ...
- The Brewers have re-signed corner infielder Taylor Green to a minor league deal after he was recently outrighted, agent Joshua Kusnick announced via Twitter (hat tip to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Andrew Gruman of FOXSportsWisconsin.com). The contract includes several opt outs and an invitation to big league spring training. Though the 27-year-old missed most of 2013 due to injury, he has a nice .311/.386/.513 line in parts of two seasons at the highest minor league level. His major league career line is less impressive -- .207/.266/.343 -- but it has come in just 154 plate appearances over two seasons. MLB.com's Adam McCalvy has the details.
- The club is also close to reaching a deal to bring back lefty Zach Kroenke, who is also represented by Kusnick, McCalvy reports in the same link. Kroenke has spent much of his time in Triple-A since 2009, splitting time between relieving and starting. Last year, he put up a 4.51 ERA in 129 2/3 innings. His deal does not include an invitation to MLB spring training.
- Meanwhile, both lefty Chris Narveson and catcher/first baseman Blake Lalli have elected to become minor league free agents, notes McCalvy via Twitter. The news was originally tweeted by the Brewers Player Development account. Narveson, who spent 2010 and 2011 in the Milwaukee rotation but has not seen substantial MLB time since, was outrighted back in June. He posted a 5.14 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts this past season. Lalli, who was designated and then outrighted in September, has never been given a real chance in the bigs, but did put up a .282/.334/.447 line in 311 Triple-A plate appearances last year.
- The White Sox recently dealt for first baseman Jackson Laumann, sending the Braves cash considerations in return, reports Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. Laumann, a 20-year-old righty, has done little to impress in rookie ball but will get a new shot with an organization whose amateur scouting department is headed by his father, Doug Laumann.
- Alex Castellanos of the Dodgers remains the only player in DFA limbo at present, as reflected in MLBTR's DFA Tracker.