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The Brewers’ offseason began with a changing of the guard in the front office, as longtime president of baseball operations David Stearns stepped into an advisory role and handed the keys over to general manager Matt Arnold.
Major League Signings
- Wade Miley, LHP: One year, $4.5MM
- Brian Anderson, 3B/OF: One year, $3.5MM
- Justin Wilson, LHP: One year, $1MM (plus club option for 2024 season)
- Blake Perkins, OF: One year, $720K
Total spend: $9.72MM
- Exercised $10MM club option on 2B Kolten Wong
- Declined $3MM club option on RHP Brad Boxberger in favor of $750K buyout
Trades and Waiver Claims
- Acquired C/DH William Contreras and RHP Justin Yeager from the Braves and RHP Joel Payamps from the A’s in a three-team deal sending OF Esteury Ruiz from Milwaukee to Oakland (A’s sent C Sean Murphy to Atlanta and received LHP Kyle Muller and RHPs Freddy Tarnok and Royber Salinas from the Braves)
- Acquired RHPs Janson Junk, Elvis Peguero and Adam Seminaris from the Angels in exchange for OF Hunter Renfroe
- Acquired OF/DH Jesse Winker and INF Abraham Toro from the Mariners in exchange for 2B Kolten Wong and cash
- Acquired RHP Joseph Hernandez from the Mariners in exchange for RHP Justin Topa
- Acquired C Payton Henry from the Marlins in exchange for OF Reminton Batista
- Acquired RHP Javy Guerra from the Rays in exchange for a player to be named later
- Acquired INF Owen Miller from the Guardians in exchange for a player to be named later or cash
- Acquired RHP Bryse Wilson from the Pirates in exchange for cash
- Claimed RHP Tyson Miller off waivers from the Rangers
- Selected RHP Gus Varland from the Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft
Notable Minor League Signings
- Luke Voit, Tyler Naquin, Alex Claudio, Josh VanMeter, Eddy Alvarez, Colin Rea, Monte Harrison, Skye Bolt, Thomas Pannone, Jon Singleton, Thyago Vieira, Robert Stock, Tobias Myers, Andruw Monasterio, Collin Wiles
- Hunter Renfroe, Kolten Wong, Taylor Rogers, Andrew McCutchen, Omar Narvaez, Jace Peterson, Brent Suter, Brad Boxberger, Trevor Rosenthal, Esteury Ruiz, Pedro Severino, Trevor Gott, Jandel Gustave, Pablo Reyes, Justin Topa, Jonathan Davis, Trevor Kelley, Luis Perdomo, Mario Feliciano, Miguel Sanchez
Early in the offseason, there was some belief that between Stearns stepping down and some of the early transactions under Arnold, the Brewers were shifting into a rebuilding mode. After all, they’d traded Josh Hader at the deadline, missed the playoffs and opened the winter by dealing away both Hunter Renfroe and Kolten Wong.
However, moves of that ilk have become par for the course in Milwaukee as players approach the end of their club control. The Brewers are not and never have been a large-payroll club, and though they’ve made some big-scale splashes (e.g. extending Christian Yelich, signing Lorenzo Cain), Milwaukee generally operates on the margins and makes extreme value-driven decisions that often look a bit befuddling.
This is the same club that non-tendered Chris Carter after he led the league in home runs and the same club that has regularly declined affordable options on role players like Brad Boxberger, Jedd Gyorko and Eric Thames over the years, believing (often correctly so) that slightly better values will surface late in the offseason.
In the case of Renfroe, he was only acquired in the first place as a means of Milwaukee jettisoning the remainder of their ill-fated contract with Jackie Bradley Jr. The Brewers parted with a pair of prospects in order to shed that contract, but the Renfroe swap was a financially motivated one to begin with. Moving one year of control over Renfroe on the heels of a nice season for three near-MLB righties feels like an on-brand move for this team, given Renfroe’s OBP and $11.9MM salary. It’s a reasonable price, but the Brewers probably didn’t consider there to be much surplus value.
The decision on Wong was somewhat similar. The Brewers have depth in the middle infield, headlined by prospect Brice Turang — the favorite for to succeed Wong at second base. Wong’s $10MM salary was effectively market value for a player of his age and skill set — perhaps a bit over — and the Brewers flipped him for a buy-low DH/corner outfield candidate who could help cover for Renfroe’s departure (Jesse Winker) and a controllable infielder who has had his share of struggles but was once a well-regarded prospect (Abraham Toro). Winker, in particular, is an interesting rebound candidate after he played through knee and neck injuries last year, both of which required offseason surgery. Prior to that, he was one of the game’s most productive bats against right-handed pitching.
The trades of Renfroe and Wong weren’t as much about shedding payroll — though that was surely a piece of it — as converting one year of control over a near-market-value asset into several years of control over a handful of largely big league-ready players, even if they’re seen as projects with limited ceilings.
Many fans and pundits braced for subsequent trades of stars like Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Willy Adames, but the Brewers instead told other clubs they planned to hang onto that trio of core players. It’s fair to wonder just how long that’ll last. Woodruff and Burnes are both controlled two more seasons, both owed over $10MM in 2023 and will both likely top $15MM in salary for the 2024 season. Neither seems likely to take a discount on an extension at this point — certainly not Burnes, after voicing frustration regarding the Brewers’ tactics in arbitration. Adames is more affordable, but only slightly so ($8.7MM). He’s also the youngest of the bunch and recently commented on how this offseason’s class of free-agent shortstops “set the bar” for future free agents at the position.
All three of those All-Star-caliber talents will be Brewers to begin the season, but by this summer, there’ll be increased focus on them. If the Brewers are out of contention or even on the cusp of it, they could be forced into decisions that rival last summer’s Hader dilemma: either ride out a star player’s penultimate year of club control in hopes of reaching the postseason (and in doing so lessen his trade value in the offseason), or make a trade that’s unpopular in the clubhouse and among fans in the name of restocking the system with near-MLB pieces.
It’s an unenviable spot, but that’s life for many small- and mid-market clubs with payrolls in the bottom half of MLB. Unpopular as the Hader trade was, the Brewers secured Esteury Ruiz in that swap — in addition to a near-MLB-ready rotation piece in Robert Gasser — and just months later flipped Ruiz to acquire five years of control over slugging catcher William Contreras.
The acquisition of Contreras (and righties Joel Payamps and Justin Yeager) pushed back on any notion that the Brewers were rebuilding. Contreras was a win-now piece with less team control (albeit by just one year) than the prospect surrendered to add him. He’ll step right into the heart of the lineup. The younger brother of Willson Contreras, William slashed .278/.354/.506 with 20 round-trippers in 376 plate appearances last season. His defense is a work in questionable at best, but Milwaukee has developed a reputation as one of the better clubs at improving catchers’ defense (as Omar Narvaez can attest). If Contreras can even be just slightly below-average in terms of framing and overall defense, he could rate among the game’s best all-around backstops.
The rest of Milwaukee’s whopping eight trades were more minor — depth moves that came at little expense to the farm or MLB roster. Out-of-options righties Bryse Wilson and Javy Guerra give Milwaukee a seventh/eighth rotation candidate and a flamethrowing bullpen wild card, respectively. Neither is guaranteed to make it through spring training, but the cost was cash and a PTBNL, so there’s little harm in rolling the dice on a pair of somewhat interesting right-handers.
Owen Miller, also picked up for a PTBNL, gives Milwaukee a right-handed-hitting depth piece who faded after a hot start with Cleveland in 2022. Milwaukee knows catcher Payton Henry quite well, having drafted him in 2016 and traded him to the Marlins in 2021 to acquire John Curtiss. He returns as a slugging third or fourth catcher who’s yet to hit above Double-A but cost only a Dominican Summer League lottery ticket (18-year-old Reminton Batista).
On the free-agent front, the Brewers stayed true to form and eschewed big-money deals, instead waiting out some potential bargains who all signed after the new year. A one-year, $4.5MM to bring southpaw Wade Miley back to the organization was a bit of a head-scratcher at the time, with Burnes, Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Eric Lauer, Adrian Houser, Aaron Ashby and Wilson already on the roster. Just a month later, the Brewers announced that both Ashby and righty Jason Alexander were out at least a month of the regular season due to shoulder troubles. Miley suddenly looked like a more sensible addition, whether the Brewers knew at the time of the deal that their rotation was compromised or whether that proved to be sheer serendipity.
With Miley stepping in behind Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta and Lauer, it seemed as though the out-of-options Houser could find himself moved to another club with a clear rotation vacancy. That could still potentially come to pass, but with Ashby and Alexander ailing, the rotation depth is thinner. Houser’s the next man up in the event of an injury to any of the top five, and with a reasonable $3.6MM salary and two seasons of club control remaining, the Brewers aren’t going to just give him away even if there’s no rotation spot open.
Anderson is a classic buy-low candidate on the heels of a non-tender from the Marlins. Shoulder and back injuries have derailed his once-promising trajectory, as he’s only appeared in 165 games and posted a tepid .233/.321/.359 batting line over the past two seasons. Prior to that, he was one of Miami’s best players. From 2018-20, Anderson split time between third base and right field, batting .266/.350/.436 in Miami’s pitcher-friendly home park. Picking him up at a $3.5MM price point has the potential to prove one of the offseason’s best bargains for any club, if he can recapture that peak form.
The defensive versatility Anderson offers shouldn’t be undersold. It may already be coming into play, in fact. While it looked early on as though he’d handle the bulk of the work at the hot corner, that’s no longer certain. Tyrone Taylor, the Brewers’ lone righty-swinging outfielder, is dealing with an elbow sprain that’ll cost him at least the first month of the season. Anderson can slide into right field, with Luis Urias slotting back in at the hot corner and Turang — assuming he shows well this spring — taking up everyday reps at second base. If Taylor returns as quickly as the Brewers hope, Anderson can either slide back to third base and push Urias into a utility role — or the Brewers can simply deploy Taylor as a traditional fourth outfielder. Even the Milwaukee brass probably doesn’t quite know how it’ll all shake out, but the mere fact that there are multiple courses of action to ponder is a testament to Anderson’s flexibility.
Beyond that group, most of Milwaukee’s offseason transactions exist around the periphery of the roster. Outfielder Blake Perkins landed a 40-man roster spot due to his ability to play all three positions and a .246/.357/.456 showing between Double-A and Triple-A with the Yankees last year. It’s a league-minimum deal if he’s in the Majors, and if not, he gives Milwaukee some depth.
The team inked veteran lefty Justin Wilson to a one-year contract with a 2024 club option as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. He can perhaps help down the stretch, and if he returns to form, a net $2.35MM option on him for 2024 makes this a vintage Brewers type of move.
Minor league deals with veterans are commonplace, but Luke Voit and Tyler Naquin are fairly high-profile names to receive such deals, given Voit’s pre-injury track record and Naquin’s performance in Cincinnati over the past couple seasons. The injury to Taylor thins the outfield and seemingly increases Naquin’s chances of landing a roster spot. If the team instead prefers to push Winker into more of an everyday outfield role, that could help Voit’s chances. Right-handed bats Mike Brosseau and Keston Hiura make Voit perhaps redundant, but Hiura could be in for a make-or-break spring himself. The former first-rounder and top prospect is out of minor league options and has never replicated his huge rookie year, struggling with massive strikeout rates and poor defense at multiple positions in the seasons since.
Just as there’s uncertainty surrounding the final bench spots, there are questions in the bullpen. Milwaukee did little to address the relief corps, adding only a trio of out-of-options righties via trade: Wilson, Guerra and Payamps. Of the bunch, Payamps is coming off the best season and is the likeliest to make the roster. If Milwaukee carries all three, they’ll join Houser and Matt Bush as out-of-options arms in the bullpen, leaving Milwaukee with minimal flexibility.
It’s a big bet on a largely unproven group, but the Brewers seem comfortable with a back-end featuring All-Star Devin Williams, Bush and breakout rookie Peter Strzelecki (2.83 ERA, 27% strikeout rate, 10.1% walk rate in 35 innings). Southpaw Hoby Milner quietly enjoyed a nice 2022 season as well. Milwaukee makes enough moves around the edges of the roster that it shouldn’t surprise anyone if they move on from a less-established, out-of-options arm in the name of greater flexibility, but spring training will serve as a proving grounds for Wilson and Guerra.
In the outfield, the Brewers will hope that even with Renfroe gone, they can get a resurgence from Yelich and lean on a combination of Winker, Anderson, Taylor (once healthy) and perhaps Naquin in the corners. They didn’t add a center fielder, which is likely reflective of the thin market at the position, Taylor’s ability there and the organization’s faith in former first-rounder Garrett Mitchell, who hit .311/.373/.459 in 68 plate appearances as a rookie last year. The 24-year-old whiffed in 41% of those plate appearances and was propped up by a ludicrous .548 BABIP, but Mitchell also batted .287/.377/.426 across three minor league levels with far less concerning strikeout numbers. Behind him are prospects Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer, both of whom made some top-100 lists in the offseason. Both annihilated Triple-A pitching in 2022 and both have experience at all three outfield slots. Outfielder Jackson Chourio, meanwhile, is one of the top ten prospects in the entire sport. He’ll turn just 19 this weekend but already briefly reached Double-A in 2022. That youth makes him a long shot for 2023, unless the Brewers put him on a Juan Soto-esque fast track.
For all the fretting post-Renfroe/Wong, the Brewers still have a dominant rotation, one of the game’s best relievers, and a lineup with several solid regulars and multiple intriguing youngsters (Mitchell, Turang, with Frelick and Wiemer looming). Neither Pirates nor the Reds are threats in the NL Central, with both at differing stages of their rebuilding processes. The Cubs are improved but still building up and may be another year from truly reemerging. They could beat expectations and find themselves in the race, but right now, the division again looks like a battle between Milwaukee and St. Louis.
The Brewers have a good shot at competing, and if they get to the postseason, the presence of Burnes, Woodruff, Peralta and Williams is so formidable that they can’t be counted out. But if things are more borderline this summer or they’re totally out of it, Burnes, Woodruff and Adames could become some of the most fascinating (and expensive) names on the market.
One way or another, we’re nearing the end of this group’s run together, but the Brewers have proven that they’re willing to make difficult trades in the name of establishing a new core, and they’ve managed to be competitive more often than not under the Stearns/Arnold regime. We’ll see if that changes with Stearns stepping to the side.
How would you grade the Brewers’ offseason?