The Brewers have told interested teams they’re unwilling to trade co-aces Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff or shortstop Willy Adames, tweets Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Milwaukee general manager Matt Arnold declined comment on any specific individuals but confirmed generally the team plans to “build around” their group of core players “to do the best we can here in 2023” (via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com).
Burnes, Woodruff and Adames would certainly qualify as core players on the Milwaukee roster. All three are entering their penultimate season of arbitration eligibility, which raised loose speculation that a Brewers team with a mid-tier payroll could look to move them at the peak of their trade value. However, Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported at the outset of the offseason Milwaukee planned to build around their core group. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic similarly suggested last night the Brew Crew was unlikely to deal any of that trio before the start of the season.
The early stages of Milwaukee’s offseason haven’t exactly followed that script. The Brewers parted ways with relievers Brent Suter and Brad Boxberger in the first few weeks. They exercised a $10MM option on Kolten Wong and tendered an arbitration contract with a projected $11.2MM salary to Hunter Renfroe, but both players immediately found themselves in trade rumors. They’re now division rivals in the AL West. Milwaukee sent Renfroe to the Angels for a trio of pre-arbitration pitchers two weeks ago. This afternoon, they dealt Wong to the Mariners in a roughly cash-neutral swap that brought in corner outfielder/designated hitter Jesse Winker (who’s making $8.25MM next season) and arbitration-eligible infielder Abraham Toro.
Subtracting Renfroe and Wong while adding Winker, Toro and pitchers Elvis Peguero and Janson Junk (acquired from Anaheim) probably represents an early downgrade for the Milwaukee roster. Yet parting ways with productive but not elite regulars like Renfroe and Wong is certainly not as impactful as dealing away any of Burnes, Woodruff or Adames would be. That’s particularly true in the case of the Wong swap, which wasn’t intended to slash payroll so much as dealing from an area of roster strength to add a potential offensive upgrade. Milwaukee has highly-regarded prospect Brice Turang as an option to step in at second base, while Toro joins Luis Urías and Mike Brosseau as internal candidates to play second or third.
The Brewers took a similar tack at last summer’s trade deadline. The Josh Hader trade was much maligned — both at the time and in retrospect — as Milwaukee subtracted one of the sport’s top relievers in the midst of a playoff race. Hader’s lofty arbitration salary and window of control dwindling to a season and a half certainly played a part in the front office’s calculus, but the deal wasn’t designed to wave the white flag on the 2022 season. The Brewers brought back a highly-regarded late-inning pitcher of their own in Taylor Rogers and added prospects Esteury Ruiz and Robert Gasser to the organization. Rogers underperformed during his few months with the Brew Crew, and now-former president of baseball operations David Stearns acknowledged in retrospect he didn’t completely foresee how poorly received the loss of Hader would be in the clubhouse. Yet even if that trade didn’t work as intended, it’s clear it wasn’t designed to kick off any kind of rebuild.
Adames is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $9.2MM arbitration salary. Burnes and Woodruff are each forecasted at or just above $11MM. Those are notable figures but still significant bargains relative to those players’ productions. It’d make them the subject of strong interest on the trade market but also key contributors to a Brewers team looking to improve upon last year’s 86-win season. None of those salaries are so exorbitant Milwaukee would feel any urgent financial pressure to clear them from the books.
The Brewers opened the 2022 season with a payroll just under $132MM, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Roster Resource presently projects their 2023 commitments — including arbitration estimates — around $116MM. Even if owner Mark Attanasio isn’t keen on a significant payroll spike, Arnold and his staff should have plenty of room to retain each of Adames, Woodruff and Burnes while making a few targeted upgrades elsewhere on the roster. That’s before considering the possibility of trades subtracting a few more ancillary players. Rowdy Tellez, Adrian Houser and Keston Hiura are all speculative trade candidates this offseason, and it’s not completely out of the question the Brewers field offers on Winker.
Adding another bat in the corner outfield/DH mix could be in order. Winker’s probably best suited for bat-only work if he’s on the roster, which would leave right field to Tyrone Taylor as things currently stand. Milwaukee has a few prospects who could factor into center field, with Garrett Mitchell leading the group after debuting late in 2022, but could look for a veteran complement to add some depth. The Brewers also saw catcher Omar Narváez hit free agency, meaning they could explore ways to upgrade on Víctor Caratini. First base, presently manned by Tellez, is another area where the club may try to inject life into an offense that was only a bit above league average this past season.