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.
- Kyle Lohse: three years, $33MM (signed 3-25-13)
- Tom Gorzelanny: two years, $5.7MM (12-21-12)
- Mike Gonzalez: one year, $2.25MM (1-7-13)
- Alex Gonzalez: one year, $1.45MM (2-6-13)
- Yuniesky Betancourt: one year, $900K (3-26-13)
- Total: $43.3MM
- Aramis Ramirez: three years, $36MM (12-12-11)
- Francisco Rodriguez: one year, $8MM (accepted arbitration 12-7-11)
- Alex Gonzalez: one year, $4.25MM (12-8-11)
- Norichika Aoki: two years, $2.5MM (1-17-12)
- Total: $50.75MM
- Takashi Saito: one year, $1.75MM (12-27-10)
- Craig Counsell: one year, $1.4MM (12-20-10)
- Sean Green: one year, $875K (12-22-10)
- Mark Kotsay: one year, $800K (2-3-11)
- Wil Nieves: one year, $775K (12-8-10)
- Total: $5.6MM
- Randy Wolf: three years, $29.75MM (12-9-09)
- LaTroy Hawkins: two years, $7.5MM (12-9-09)
- Doug Davis: one year, $5.25MM (1-22-10)
- Gregg Zaun: one year, $2.15MM (12-4-09)
- Craig Counsell: one year, $2.1MM (12-14-09)
- Claudio Vargas: one year, $900K (12-14-09)
- Total: $47.65MM
- Trevor Hoffman: one year, $6MM (1-8-09)
- Braden Looper: one year, $5.5MM (2-12-09)
- Craig Counsell: one year, $1MM (1-23-09)
- Jorge Julio: one year, $950K (12-4-08)
- R.J. Swindle: one year, $400K (11-25-08)
- Total: $13.85MM
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.