Having already trimmed a laundry list of notable players from their 40-man roster — some through free agency, others via trade, yet more through non-tender — the Brewers now face a wide open remaining offseason. Just what course it’ll take isn’t really evident from the outside; no doubt it’s also something of a mystery from within.
It emerged recently that the Brewers are actively engaged in trade discussions regarding ace reliever Josh Hader. It’s not a given he’ll be dealt, but that’s now a distinct (and somewhat surprising) possibility for a repeat postseason team.
Hader isn’t the only veteran who has been bandied about in talks. The club is also amenable to discussing center fielder Lorenzo Cain, Jeff Passan of ESPN.com reports. Market demand for center fielders remains strong; perhaps the Brewers see an opening to moving some of the remaining money owed Cain.
Unlike Hader, Cain isn’t a positive-value asset at this stage. He turned in a big first season in Milwaukee after his surprise signing but stumbled in 2019. His contract calls for $51MM more in the next three campaigns — a big bill for a player coming off of an 83 wRC+ effort and demonstrating reduced foot speed (by measure of Statcast). But defensive metrics still love Cain’s glove and there’s reason to hope he can bounce back offensively.
Moving Cain would open yet more payroll space, but the end goal here isn’t yet quite evident. Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that the prevailing expectation around the game is for the Brewers to pare back payroll after opening the 2019 season at a franchise-high $122.5MM. While that may be what others teams are thinking in the wake of the team’s recent moves and trade talk, however, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel suggested in his latest podcast (audio link) that there’s no directive to cut payroll and that the team will likely spend to address some notable holes on the roster (corner infield, catcher, starting pitching). The extent to which they’ll spend, of course, can’t be known; the Brewers appeared headed for a modest payroll in 2019 until late opportunities to add Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas on short-term deals surfaced unexpectedly.
At a minimum, there’s now ample flexibility for GM David Stearns to work with. Haudricourt covered the comments on the matter yesterday from Stearns. (Links to Twitter.) The club’s top baseball ops exec acknowledged the money-saving effects of the moves but didn’t really commit himself to one course of action or another, beyond making clear that the team “intend[s] on being competitive once again next year.”
Stearns cautioned fans not to judge the roster based upon its present status, saying he anticipates “invest[ing] in players throughout the course of the offseason.” And at least some of the open payroll space will be put to use. “I’d say that payroll flexibility helps, and isn’t a bad thing as we evaluate potential acquisitions throughout the offseason,” says Stearns. “It’s helpful to have payroll room.”