After a deflating coda to one of the most successful seasons in franchise history, Brewers GM David Stearns held court with the media yesterday to discuss the team’s position heading into the 2019 season. Though obviously disheartened with the club’s Game Seven performance at home last Saturday, the third-year boss sees little reason for pessimism in the near future.
“From an organizational perspective, I’m incredibly proud of how our organization presented itself throughout the season and particularly on a national stage in October,” Stearns said. “Another rewarding aspect is we genuinely believe we are set up to succeed going forward. We return the vast majority of the core of this team. We return that core for multiple years going forward.”
Indeed, the Brewers boast just three players – lefties Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez, along with 37-year-old Curtis Granderson – who stand to hit free agency this offseason. With a glut of emerging rotation candidates, including Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Corbin Burnes, and regulars with lengthy track records entrenched at multiple positions, the 2019 Brewers figure to look strikingly similar to the current version.
“From a specific standpoint, a positional standpoint at the major-league level, we have the vast majority of our team returning,” said Stearns. “So, I don’t know that I would pinpoint a particular area or two that we see that absolutely must be addressed. But there are going to be opportunities to improve our team in the off-season, and we’re going to work hard to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Milwaukee will face difficult decisions with Joakim Soria and Mike Moustakas, over whom the club holds contract options for the upcoming season, and Jonathan Schoop, whose $10.1MM projected arbitration salary (per MLBTR’s Matt Swartz) is hardly congruent with his recent output. The Brewers hold a $10MM option over the 34-year-old Soria, who stands as one of the game’s few relievers able to sustain success for more than a decade – the two-time All-Star enjoyed one of his best seasons in 2018, posting his highest strikeout rate (11.13 K/9) in nine years and again limiting walks and homers at an elite rate. His 92.4 MPH average fastball sits in perfect harmony with his marks in the category over the last few years and again ranked as one of the league’s most effective, per FanGraphs’ pitch value ratings. He’s surely worth the figure, but might be a luxury item for the mid-market club already possessing of an elite back-end bullpen. Moustakas, 30, has a mutual option with the Crew for $15MM in ’19 and seems most likely to be cut loose – his presence, after all, would mean an unorthodox return to second base for the 6’4, 230 lb Travis Shaw, likely rendering Schoop – for whom the Brewers gave up a package that included Jonathan Villar, who easily outperformed Schoop last season, and highly regarded hurler Luis Ortiz – a platoon bat at best, if retained.
The only clear area of upgrade may be shortstop, where former top prospect Orlando Arcia sputtered to a dreadful 54 wRC+ and .235 xWOBA this season. Arcia’s defense, long seen as sufficient to overcome a hole-ridden swing, has received mostly ambivalent reviews in his three-year career thus far, with UZR (-5.3 total) being a bit more skeptical than DRS (+8). The Crew could turn to Schoop, though his mostly average marks at the keystone wouldn’t seem to portend well at a more demanding position, or pursue a trade, though the options, much like the free agent market at the position, are far from promising. Catcher could be another option, though Stephen Vogt hopes to be ready by Spring Training in his recovery from a shoulder tear. For bait, the club could look to deal from its a long-standing surplus in the outfield, where even former middle-of-the-order stalwarts Domingo Santana and Eric Thames struggled to find at-bats down the stretch.
In all, the Brewers project to have a ~$25MM payroll bump (to an estimated $115MM, per Roster Resource and MLBTR’s Jason Martinez) before the option decisions, so the team doesn’t figure to be major players in free agency, though Stearns certainly didn’t rule it out: “I certainly imagine that we are going to show up in spring training with a slightly different-looking roster than the one we have right now, perhaps in ways that we don’t envision.”