The Brewers are known to be looking for additions at first base, with general manager Matt Arnold having admitted last month that both infield corners could use some work, listing a reunion with Carlos Santana as one move they have interest in. Today, Robert Murray of FanSided reiterates that interest in Santana but adds that the Brewers have also considered Garrett Cooper.
Cooper, 33, has plenty of success as a big league hitter but just had an ill-timed down year as he was heading into free agency. He hit .274/.350/.444 from 2019 to 2022, with that production translating to a wRC+ of 117, indicating he was 17% better than the league average hitter. Due to the pandemic and some injuries, he only played 331 games over that four-year stretch, but it was nonetheless a solid run of work at the plate.
But as mentioned, his production took a bit of a dip last year. Between the Marlins and the Padres, having been traded to the latter prior to the deadline, he hit .251/.304/.419 for a wRC+ of 96. On the plus side, he did stay healthy enough to play in 123 games, a career high. But it was obviously not the ideal platform season for him to take into free agency.
Nonetheless, the interest from the Brewers is sensible, as they didn’t have anyone firmly established at first base last year. Santana and Rowdy Tellez got most of the plate appearances, but the latter hit just .215/.291/.376, which led to him being non-tendered and signing with the Pirates. Santana’s line of .240/.318/.429 was right around league average but he’s now a free agent and going into his age-38 season. The club also gave some playing time to guys like Owen Miller, Luke Voit, Jon Singleton and Mike Brosseau, without any of them staking a firm claim to the job.
The club has made one addition at first base this offseason, acquiring Jake Bauers from the Yankees. But he has hit just .211/.302/.361 in his 1,398 major league plate appearances thus far in his career and shouldn’t stand in the way of Cooper joining the roster. Cooper hits right-handed and Bauers a lefty, but even Cooper’s weaker side is stronger than Bauers with the platoon advantage. Cooper has hit .286/.338/.478 against lefties in his career for a wRC+ of 120 and .262/.337/.419 against righties for a wRC+ of 107. Bauers has a paltry .210/.276/.330 line and 65 wRC+ against southpaws and then .211/.310/.371 and 89 wRC+ against righties.
Cooper isn’t a burner on the basepaths but is considered solid on defense. His time at first base has resulted in three Defensive Runs Saved, eight Outs Above Average and a grade of 2.1 from Ultimate Zone Rating. He’s also been sent out to the outfield corners at times but with his work there generally being considered subpar.
The Brewers are the defending champions in the National League Central but they won the division despite a rather tepid offense. As a whole, the club hit .240/.319/.385 for a wRC+ of 92, which was better than just six other teams. They could get a boost when prospect Jackson Chourio reaches the majors but not all prospects immediately hit the ground running when they make it to the show. Meanwhile, the other clubs in the division have all been active in upgrading their rosters for 2024.
There are other big bats available in free agency but the Brewers might want to use the designated hitter slot on Christian Yelich as they are loaded with young outfielders like Chourio, Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, Joey Wiemer and others. They have William Contreras at catcher and Willy Adames as anchors at catcher and shortstop, respectively. Brice Turang will likely get another shot at second base since the free agent market for that position is fairly weak.
At first base, there are other options out there. Rhys Hoskins would be considered by most to be the top available name, despite missing all of 2023 due to a torn ACL. MLBTR predicted him for a two-year, $36MM deal, which would be a little rich for the Brewers. In the last five years, the largest free agent deal they’ve given out was $24MM over two years for Jackie Bradley Jr., as shown on MLBTR’s Contract Tracker.
Of the other names available at first, a lot of them are on the older side and likely couldn’t handle a full-time gig at first. Brandon Belt is coming off a strong season at the plate but he’s about to turn 36 and only made 28 starts at first on the year. Joey Votto is now 40 and was trying to come back from shoulder surgery last year. C.J. Cron is 34 but coming off an injury-marred year where he only played 71 games and wasn’t at his best when healthy.
Cooper has never really been the picture of health, having spent time on the injured list in his career due to a wrist sprain, a calf strain, a lumbar strain, an elbow sprain, a concussion, an inner ear infection and more. He’s only twice played more than 107 games in a season, but both of those instances were the last two seasons.