With a farm system that doesn’t provide many opening-day ready solutions at the moment, the Brewers will likely look to free agency to fill the holes that their current roster has. Given the likely non-tender of Jonathan Schoop, second base looks to be a position of need, and you can assume that the Brewers would welcome upgrades at catcher and to their rotation, if reasonable. The Brewers also will give bullpen pieces a look, but those are expected to be complimentary pieces rather than the elite options the market may have. Let’s take a look at some potential targets at each of those positions:
(Note: the options listed are not exhaustive lists of free agents at that position)
Top of the Market Options: Asdrubal Cabrera, Marwin Gonzalez, DJ Lemahieu
Middle Tier Options: Ian Kinsler, Jed Lowrie
Cost-Conscious Options: Derek Dietrich, Daniel Descalso
Notes: The Brewers are likely not looking for long-term fix due to presence of Keston Hiura and Mauricio Dubon in minors. Josh Harrison could come on a one-year deal after a down 2018 season, but it remains to be seen whether he is an upgrade over an in-house option like Hernan Perez. The Brewers have had reported interest in Kinsler in the past, which could make him a target… Given that Cabrera, Gonzalez, and Lemahieu sit atop the market and will command longer term deals, the Brewers are likely out on them. The Brewers have previously had interest in Dietrich, and he fits their model of having versatile players (has experience at 1B, 2B, 3B, and LF). However, he plays none of those positions particularly well and has only logged 77 innings at second base since 2016. Descalso is another option, and has extensive experience at second base.
Top of the Market Options: Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel
Middle Tier Options: Nathan Eovaldi, J.A. Happ, Yusei Kikuchi, Anibal Sanchez
Cost-Conscious Options: Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley, Ervin Santana
Although the Brewers have a plethora of rotation options already on the roster, if David Stearns finds the right fit at the right price he will pull the trigger. The Brewers probably will not be able to compete financially for Patrick Corbin, so he is likely out. Keuchel will also likely command too high of a salary. Happ and Eovaldi could each make sense at their price points (about $15 million annually), and the Brewers have been linked to Happ in the past. Eovaldi could also appeal to the front office given their emphasis on taking an analytical approach, as Eovaldi possesses some great peripherals.
Anibal Sanchez is an option the Brewers have been loosely connected to as well. Sanchez is coming off a phenomenal season that saw him post a 2.83 ERA and 8.89 K/9 over 24 games started for the Atlanta Braves. He developed a lethal cutter this season as his new go-to pitch while allowing the lowest rate of hard contact of any pitcher. Both of those are legitimate improvements, and should translate over to 2019. Sanchez will likely command a multi-year deal, but it could be a risk the Brewers are willing to take if they believe his 2018 successes were not a fluke
Of the cost-conscious options, Miley is the most likely option given the organization’s familiarity with him. Miley will likely seek a multi-year contract, so it is up in the air if the Brewers are willing to do that based on 80 innings pitched in 2018. Although he was successful in preventing runs (2.57 ERA), some of the peripherals point towards regression in 2019, such as a career low 5.58 strikeout rate and HR/FB (home run to fly ball) ratio of 5.2% that is sure to increase. Cahill fits the same profile as Miley, being a veteran option coming off a successful season but having somewhat hazy projections for how he will perform in 2019. The Brewers could also take a flier on a rebound candidate like Chris Tillman or Marco Estrada, much like they did with Miley last season.
Top of the Market Options: Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos
Middle Tier Options: Martin Maldonado
Cost-Conscious Options: AJ Ellis, Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy
Other than Grandal and Ramos, the catching market is not very inspiring. I cannot think Grandal has left a good impression on the Brewers following his lackluster performance in the NLCS, and he likely is out of their price range anyways. Ramos could be an intriguing fit, as he would be a great offensive upgrade (.845 OPS in 2018) while not sacrificing much defensively from the current combination of Piña/Kratz. He will command a 3-4 year deal in the range of $10-12 million annually, so as with every other player, it depends on if the Brewers are willing to commit that much payroll space, especially to an older player with an injury history like Ramos.
Maldonado could be a fit, as he is still an outstanding defender but leaves much to be desired with the bat. He may not be a large enough upgrade over Kratz/Pina for the Brewers to make the move.
AJ Ellis could be an under-the-radar target, and he would likely welcome an opportunity to play in Wisconsin, where he trains during the offseason. He is coming off a surprising 2018 that saw him post strong numbers offensively. He recorded a 14.2% walk rate and a .378 on-base percentage en route to a 105 wRC+, which signifies that he was 5% better than the league average hitter. That’s quite the mark for a catcher in today’s game, where catchers that offer meaningful offensive contributions are hard to come by.
Top of the Market Options: Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino
Middle Tier Options: Cody Allen, Brad Brach, Joakim Soria
Cost-Conscious: Ryan Madson, Adam Warren
Given the bullpen’s already-strong core of Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, and Jeremy Jeffress, the Brewers are unlikely to look at the top of the market. All three options in the middle tier could be interesting. Allen may be the most interesting of all, as he is formerly an elite closer but experienced some troubles in 2018 en route to posting a 4.70 ERA. If the Brewers sign him and can iron out whatever issues exist, he could be a high-impact add.
With bullpen pieces, you really never know what the Brewers are going to do. They will likely take some fliers by signing players to minor league contracts to invites with spring training, much like they did with J.J. Hoover in 2018.