The Brewers had the worst offense of any playoff contender last year, with a 92 wRC+ that ranked seventh-worst among all major league clubs. Much of those offensive woes can be attributed to the club’s struggles to find quality offense at the infield corners. Milwaukee’s first basemen slashed a collective .237/.301/.381 in 2023, posting an 83 wRC+ that placed them in the bottom three among all clubs. They didn’t fare much better at the hot corner, where Brewers third basemen slashed .231/.315/.365 with a wRC+ of 87.
It’s worth noting that the majority of the players responsible for that production are no longer on the roster. Of the ten players to appear at first base for the Brewers in 2023, only Owen Miller remains with the organization. It’s a similar story at third base, where only Miller and Andruw Monasterio are still with Milwaukee among the seven players the club relied on at the hot corner in 2023. Both Miller and Monasterio have the look of solid, versatile bench pieces but appear miscast as regulars in the lineup with wRC+ marks of 81 and 88 respectively.
Given the club’s extreme lack of viable options at the infield corners, it’s hardly a surprise that Brewers GM Matt Arnold told reporters (including Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy) that the club views both first and third base as areas of the roster in need of an upgrade, even after acquiring Jake Bauers from the Yankees ahead of last month’s tender deadline. Arnold indicated that the club would have interest in a potential reunion with veteran first baseman Carlos Santana, who slashed a solid .249/.314/.459 in 226 plate appearances after being acquired by the club in a midseason trade with the Pirates over the summer.
The veteran switch-hitter will celebrate his 38th birthday shortly after Opening Day in 2024, but has been among the most consistent and disciplined hitters in the league throughout his tenure as a big leaguer. Throughout his 14 seasons in the majors, Santana has never posted a walk rate below 10.5% or a strikeout rate above 20.2% with near-equal career marks of 14.5% and 16.8%, respectively. That excellent discipline has come at the expense of power in recent years, as Santana posted a meager .148 ISO from 2020-22. 2023 represented something of a rebound on that front, however, as Santana slugged .429 while crushing 23 home runs, the fifth-highest total of his career.
Looking at options beyond Santana, Arnold suggesting that one solution for the infield corners could come internally in the form of Tyler Black. Milwaukee’s first-round pick in the 2021 draft and #4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Black impressed at the plate in 2023 with a .287/.413/.513 slash line in 558 trips to the plate split between the Double- and Triple-A levels. Arnold heaped praise on the lefty slugger, telling reporters (as relayed by Rosiak) that Black is “just so talented and has a lot of upside,” while confirming that Black will have the chance to earn a spot on the big league roster this spring.
One candidate for time at first base the Brewers won’t be entertaining, according to Arnold, is Christian Yelich. The club’s $215MM man has scuffled a bit in recent years following his back-to-back MVP-caliber campaigns in 2018 and 2019 but bounced back somewhat this season, slashing a solid .278/.370/.447 with a wRC+ of 122 while swiping 28 bags in 31 attempts. Despite that solid offensive production, defensive metrics were mixed on Yelich’s performance with the glove in left field. While he accumulated a solid +4 OAA in 2023, DRS wasn’t so kind as only Bryan De La Cruz posted a lower figure than Yelich’s -3 while recording as many innings in the field.
Moving Yelich to first could improve the club’s defense while thinning a logjam in the outfield that includes Jackson Chourio, Garrett Mitchell, Joey Wiemer, Sal Frelick, Blake Perkins, and Tyrone Taylor in addition to Yelich. Such a shift is evidently not in the cards for Milwaukee, however, as Arnold suggested he “wouldn’t expect” to see Yelich at first base next year, leaving him to continue patrolling left field or spending time at DH. With the Brewers listening to offers on their glut of young outfielders, it’s possible the aforementioned group of seven outfielders could be winnowed down by a trade before Spring Training rolls around in February.