Brewers ace Corbin Burnes was one of several recent players to speak publicly about the arbitration process, voicing some disappointment last month in some aspects of the team’s approach to the trial. Burnes has now enlisted the Boras Corporation as his new representation moving forward, Jon Heyman of the New York Post reports (via Twitter).
Asked directly last month whether his relationship with the team had been damaged at all, Burnes candidly acknowledged that it had been to some extent, and that there was “really no getting around that.” Given his likely price tag on the open market, the former Cy Young winner was already a long-shot extension candidate for the Brewers, and the shift in representation won’t change that perception. The Boras Corporation has a reputation for pushing its players to reach the open market, though there are plenty of notable exceptions in recent years. Xander Bogaerts, Lance McCullers Jr., Jose Altuve, Stephen Strasburg and Chris Paddack are all Boras clients who signed multi-year extensions that pushed back their respective paths to free agency.
The Brewers are entering the 2023 season intent on contending for the playoffs and, even after trading Hunter Renfroe and Kolten Wong this offseason, reportedly made clear to other clubs that stars like Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Willy Adames were unavailable. Their first half will be one to watch closely. If Milwaukee falls out of contention, that trio will figure to all resurface in trade rumblings, given their relative proximity to free agency.
Each of Burnes, Woodruff and Adames is controllable only through the 2024 campaign. (Ditto Eric Lauer, Rowdy Tellez, Matt Bush and Adrian Houser.) Milwaukee probably wouldn’t aggressively shop that group, but the Brewers did make a tough call by trading Josh Hader when he had just a season and a half of club control remaining last summer. If nothing else, teams will be trying to pry some of that talent away from Milwaukee if the Brewers indeed drop out of the postseason race before this year’s trade deadline.
Turning to more immediate matters, the Brewers have some key personnel decisions looming in the near future. Last week, I outlined the dilemma they’re facing regarding Keston Hiura and their right-handed-hitting bench depth, and GM Matt Arnold touched on the situation yesterday (link via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel). Hiura and non-roster invitee Luke Voit are competing for a similar role with the Brewers, and Arnold acknowledged that the club has some “tough decisions” to make. Arnold praised the “tremendous job” Voit has done so far in camp, noting that he’s done “everything he can possibly do” to make the club.
The 32-year-old Voit has indeed impressed, hitting .316/.333/.526 with a pair of homers — albeit with an ugly 11-to-1 K/BB ratio in 39 plate appearances. Hiura is hitting .156/.229/.219 with a 42.9% strikeout rate (15 punchouts in 35 plate appearances). Arnold praised the “electricity” in Hiura’s bat and touted the upside he’s flashed in the past, but the former first-round pick and top prospect is out of minor league options hasn’t performed with much consistency in recent years. Since his outstanding rookie season, Hiura’s strikeout woes have climbed, and he’s lost his grip on a regular spot in the lineup.
Voit had an opt-out clause in his minor league contract last week but agreed to push the date on that back to this Friday. The decision on whether to select him is in many ways linked to Hiura and perhaps to fellow right-handed-hitting bench options like Mike Brosseau and Owen Miller. Without mentioning specific names, Arnold seemingly acknowledged as much, stating: “…a lot of this comes down to not just [Voit], but the people around him and how this all works together is so important.” Both Brosseau and Miller offer more defensive versatility than Voit and Hiura, but both have minor league options remaining as well.
In the bullpen, the Brewers are continuing to narrow the competition. They optioned righties Jake Cousins and Elvis Peguero to Triple-A Nashville yesterday, but manager Craig Counsell made clear that both are squarely in the team’s 2023 plans (link via MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy).
“Jake and Peguero, those guys are going to definitely pitch for us,” Counsell said, adding that the calls could come early in the season if needed. Cousins has been impressive in brief looks over the past two seasons, showing huge ability to miss bats but also some worrying command issues. Peguero, acquired from the Angels in the previously mentioned Renfroe swap, fanned 11 of 35 hitters (31.4%) this spring but was always at risk of being sent out given the number of out-of-options arms the Brewers are currently rostering.
None of Houser, Joel Payamps, Javy Guerra, Bryse Wilson or Bush can be optioned to the minors. The only optionable members of the bullpen are closer Devin Williams, setup man Peter Strzelecki and southpaw Hoby Milner, but all three (Williams in particular, of course) are generally locked into spots, as are Bush and Houser.