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  • Brewers' Decision on Wong's 2023 Contract Option Looms Large


    Tim Muma

    Among the Milwaukee Brewers' most impactful decisions this offseason, Kolten Wong's club option for 2023 may set the tone for the team's overall plan. The choice to exercise or decline Wong's option is anything but cut and dried after an up-and-down 2022 campaign.

    Image courtesy of © David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

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    Milwaukee's club option on Kolten Wong would pay him $10 million next season; however, there is a $2 million buyout should the Brewers decline the option. Since Milwaukee will pay that $2 million regardless of their decision, the Brewers are technically looking at a one-year, $8 million commitment to Wong if they accept. On the surface, the cost seems to be in the "right" financial neighborhood in today's market. But the front office could see other ways to spend nearly $10 million on a roster with multiple top players in arbitration where sizable raises are coming.

    We can dive into the money side later. Let's look at Wong's performance and how on-the-field factors will influence a yea or nay.

    Following his first career three-homer game last Thursday, Wong is having his best offensive season (if it ended today) by OPS+ (118) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) at 116. These stats matter as it compares a player's overall offensive output when factoring in what is happening across the league, where 100 is average.

    The 2022 season has been highly challenging for hitters, so while many of Wong's standard numbers aren't as high, the advanced stats show tremendous value. He also strikes out less often (17.7%) than any Brewers hitter (150+ plate appearances) this year, an essential skill for a club with too many high-K bats already.

    Wong's three-dinger game gives him a career-high in homers (15), and a few other stats could reach peak levels this season. For a guy who turns 32 in less than a month, do you think his production is more likely to go up again or decline? How has he compared to other second basemen this season?

    Following Sunday's games, Wong ranked ninth in wOBA (weighted on-base average) and 12th in wRC+ among second basemen with 150+ plate appearances. That's solid quality but not necessarily irreplaceable. Wong has primarily crushed right-handed pitching with a .497 slugging percentage and .852 OPS. On the flip side, Wong has been a complete liability against lefties this season (.141/.256/.180/.435), something the Brewers have plenty of on the roster. And again, there's a danger in thinking Wong will repeat his production versus righties next year and improve enough against southpaws.

    Moving to the defensive side, evaluations get even murkier. From the eye test alone, Wong has had the worst defensive season of his career. It doesn't look any better when checking on the stats. Among the 22 players with 600+ innings at second base, Kolten Wong ranks dead last in Outs Above Average (-10) and 18th in Defensive Runs Saved (-4). Both stats represent the lowest marks in his career, and his .960 fielding percentage is also the worst in his 10 seasons. 

    Wong defense.JPG

    Ignoring 2020 for obvious reasons, Wong's defensive metrics have shown an overall steady decline since 2018. These can be tricky on a season-to-season basis, but the trend is troubling. And as MLB puts restrictions on shifting in 2023, a second sacker with shrinking range becomes a greater drawback. Without the shortstop or third baseman playing on the right side with Wong, he will need to cover more ground on his own; that won't bode well. Second baseman range will have added value starting in 2023, and even when Wong did get to balls in play this season, he had all sorts of troubles.

    Milwaukee could look at him as the DH option against right-handers in 2023. Wong could still be a part-time asset at second for manager Craig Counsell, and be ready if a player is hurt or ineffective. The Brewers paid Andrew McCutchen essentially the same deal this season, and you could easily argue Wong's numbers with the platoon advantage will best McCutchen's in 2022.

    That brings us back to the financials and how the Brewers might handle allocation with Wong and others. Milwaukee's 2022 payroll is around $130-$132 million, and one would expect a significant increase isn't happening. With guys like Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Willy Adames, and Hunter Renfroe poised to receive considerable raises in arbitration, the Brewers are likely looking to cut corners in other areas. Those four alone could account for $12-$16 million more in payroll, barring any extensions. Does Wong's $8 million deal tie David Stearns and Matt Arnold's hands? 

    If they want to "go young," it probably fits in the budget. Using prospects Garret Mitchell and Sal Frelick as center fielders/bench bats would save money. As would letting go of four other key potential free agents. At the same time, $8 million isn't insignificant, so Brewers' brass might see added value in other, cheaper players. Brice Turang, Milwaukee's fourth-rated prospect, should be ready to make an impact in the Brewers' infield for a minimal cost. They could also hand the reins to second base over to Luis Urias in 2023. Urias made $2.25 million this season and won't see much of an increase in his paycheck. His fWAR of 1.6 was just behind Wong's 1.7 less than a week ago. Wong jumped up to 2.2 fWAR in just a few days, meaning the Brewers (in theory) were getting the same on-field value from the two but at a much lower price with Urias (until Wong's three-homer day).

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    The problem is if Urias is the everyday second baseman, who is manning the hot corner? Would the Brewers try to keep Jace Peterson at a fair-market cost to platoon with Mike Brosseau? Or could Milwaukee finally bring in a true talent at third base? This is something to keep an eye on based on what the Brewers do with Wong's option. And since I am sure people will bring it up: No, Keston Hiura cannot play third base and he cannot truly play second base either.

    Milwaukee has to decide on the option within five days of the end of the World Series. If they exercise the option, don't expect any major moves with third base - it's likely Urias to get the majority of starts. But should the Crew decline to keep Wong at the beginning of the offseason, it could signify a more aggressive approach for 2023. Of course, it could just mean the Brewers are going with a youth movement all over.

    A third "plan" could be to carry Wong to start the year with one eye on the trade deadline when they could move him for another piece or release him to give others a shot. With Lorenzo Cain and McCutchen's contracts coming off the books, Wong's net $8 million might not be prohibitive in making additional moves. It will be one of the many fascinating choices Milwaukee will need to make this offseason.

    Wong has nine more days to make his case through his play and perhaps change minds. If I had to make the call right now, I'd lean slightly toward declining the option, using in-house options at second base, and looking to make a splash at third base. What would you do? What do you think the Brewers will do?

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    I think we keep Renfroe one more year.  Arby raises will probably be more in the $18M-$20M range.  So $8M is too much I think for the teams total budget to handle to retain Wong. 

    As I don't know if Turang's bat will be enough, best case scenario there is a 3B that is ready to try the majors that matches up with a trade for Mitchell, then Urias to 2B.   

    Frelick is CF with Taylor the 4th OF.   Wiemer in the minors getting ready in case of injury.

    If one of Burnes/Woody is traded, then I can see Wong being kept for one more year.

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    A couple weeks ago I thought the Brewers would surely decline Wong's option. Now I'm not so sure, and it all depends on what they can do with Jace Peterson. If they bring him back, Wong should be gone. Urias becomes the super-utility (3b probably the most), and Turang plays several positions, but mostly 2B. Brosseau does Brosseau things.

    If they don't bring Peterson back, Wong could come back. Urias becomes an almost full-time 3B, Turang becomes the super-utility, and Brosseau continues to do Brosseau things.

    I'd rather have 2 years of Jace for $8M total, rather than one year of Wong for $8M.
     

    Then there's the option of acquiring (trade, FA) a full time 3B; in that case, Wong is gone. There aren't many opportunities to acquire a better 3B than Jace without paying a lot (Like $36M a year for Arenado).

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    I would pick up the option on Wong and add to it a 2nd season with a value that would balance keeping him.  The new rules will make him more valuable at second even though he is no longer a Gold Glover and he is a clutch hitter who can still steal bases.  In addition I would look to add 2 years on top of Renfroe''s arbitration number that hopefully both parties can determine is fair value.  Renfroe can carry a team for stretches, has one of the best arms in right field and plays hard, how many 30 homer years a guy can you say that for. 

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    1 hour ago, Lou Buell said:

    I would pick up the option on Wong and add to it a 2nd season with a value that would balance keeping him.  The new rules will make him more valuable at second even though he is no longer a Gold Glover and he is a clutch hitter who can still steal bases.  In addition I would look to add 2 years on top of Renfroe''s arbitration number that hopefully both parties can determine is fair value.  Renfroe can carry a team for stretches, has one of the best arms in right field and plays hard, how many 30 homer years a guy can you say that for. 

    While I've warmed on the idea of picking up his option, there's no way I'd want a year added to it. If his defense continues on its current path, he'll soon be unplayable at 2B.

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    Cutch is a FA after this year, he is making 8,5MM

    Navarez is a FA after this year, he is making 5MM

    Rosenthal 4.5MM (prorated so much lower) and Rogers 7,3MM (prorated so much lower) is gone,

    Cain's is off the board except for 1MM, (he was making 18MM)

    Hader also made 7MM this year, that they won't have to pay arbitration for. 

     

    so thats 31MM for Cain, Navarez and McCutchen plus whatever they were paying Rosenthal right there.  I get that there will be arbitration raises. I like Peterson, but I don't think you can plug him in at 2nd everyday.  I think you have to pick up the option. 

    I get that attendance is down, I wouldn't expect that the brewers payroll will go up next season. Maybe they can sign a FA that can equal Wong's production, but 10MM seems reasonable. 

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    1 hour ago, patrickgpe said:

    Cutch is a FA after this year, he is making 8,5MM

    Navarez is a FA after this year, he is making 5MM

    Rosenthal 4.5MM (prorated so much lower) and Rogers 7,3MM (prorated so much lower) is gone,

    Cain's is off the board except for 1MM, (he was making 18MM)

    Hader also made 7MM this year, that they won't have to pay arbitration for. 

     

    so thats 31MM for Cain, Navarez and McCutchen plus whatever they were paying Rosenthal right there.  I get that there will be arbitration raises. I like Peterson, but I don't think you can plug him in at 2nd everyday.  I think you have to pick up the option. 

    I get that attendance is down, I wouldn't expect that the brewers payroll will go up next season. Maybe they can sign a FA that can equal Wong's production, but 10MM seems reasonable. 

    I think Wong is gone, especially if Stearns can somehow swing a trade for a 3B. Turang is raking in the minors (.286/.361) and the Brewers need to get a good look at him.  Urias' best position is also 2B. With almost half the team arby eligible, that $10M could go towards other more needy positions. 

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    Does anyone have an example of how we are going to better spend $8mil? Like a specific example that would be a one year or maybe two year deal? Not to mention Wong is really just a solid all around hitter, not just mashing homers with a 30% K rate. I am not doubting it, but people act like finding an upper .700 OPS with no long term commitment is easy peasy for $8mil or so. Wong would be a big offensive loss and it wouldn't be cheap replacing that offense. 

    The lazy answer is. "Oh, well we can spend it on bullpen help.", so outside of that...how would one hypothetically spend that money? A lot of people mention getting a 3B, so who will even be available?

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    2 hours ago, MrTPlush said:

    Does anyone have an example of how we are going to better spend $8mil? Like a specific example that would be a one year or maybe two year deal? Not to mention Wong is really just a solid all around hitter, not just mashing homers with a 30% K rate. I am not doubting it, but people act like finding an upper .700 OPS with no long term commitment is easy peasy for $8mil or so. Wong would be a big offensive loss and it wouldn't be cheap replacing that offense. 

    The lazy answer is. "Oh, well we can spend it on bullpen help.", so outside of that...how would one hypothetically spend that money? A lot of people mention getting a 3B, so who will even be available?

    Is there $8M to spend? If there is then Wong is very good value at $8M.  The issue is where do you play him?  He should spend a lot less time in the field and against LH pitching (wRC+ vs LH = 33, wRC+ vs RH = 134) and Yelich should see less of the field and more DH with less of a handed bias (wRC+ vs LH = 86, wRC+ vs RH = 118) who really should be the primary DH next season. I guess when a SP has a higher Ground ball rate Yelich is in LF and Wong DH, and a SP with a higher Fly Out rate then Wong is at 2B and Yelich DHs.  What we are looking at for offense is adding Frelick and Mitchel/Taylor (full time) to replace McCutcheon and Cain/Taylor then we either Lose Peterson and/or Wong or keep one (I doubt both).  That offense would be worse losing both, but about the same if we kept either.  What are the plans for Turang?  I don't know if the Brewers really want him in Milwaukee next year. So one of Peterson/Wong are likely necessary if they keep Turang in AAA until they see how 2023 is progressing.  They could very well run most of the same team back out for 2023 (minus Peterson) and have a similar offense and a better defense/health to pitching which puts us from where we are today to a likely WC spot (maybe a division win/3rd seed if the Cards regress) next year.

    Personally I don't think they can stay close to the same team and sell the fans (the "Average" fans that drive attendance ) that this team is going to be significantly better. I also don't know if the Brewers see a need for a 3B as they likely could think Urias just had an off year and don't look to upgrade 3B.  What we think is the problem with the team may not be what Stearns/Arnold/Counsell think. We'll see which way they are likely headed as Wong's option will likely be one of the first off-season "moves".

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    6 hours ago, MrTPlush said:

    Does anyone have an example of how we are going to better spend $8mil?

    There are hundreds of ways. Sign Peterson at $4M per, and sign the best reliever you can get for $4M.

    But that's not really how a salary budget works; many of our players will get increases in 2023, and the $8M will just get dissolved into the overall budget. They could try to extend someone and the money goes there.

     

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    Peterson has never been an everyday player.  I don't think it's a wise idea to expect him to become one at age 33.  He is what he is, a good utility player.  Brosseau?  Maybe as DH because his glove is distinct liability. 

    Nobody brings up this but I think it would be better to keep Turang at his natural position (SS) and move Adames to 3B,   Then you have to decide if Urias' 2022 season was an aberration.  It certainly wasn't good enough to be an everyday 3rd baseman.  I don't think he's done enough to be penciled in as a starter at 2B for next year either.  So I'd bring back Wong.  Peterson would be my odd man out.  Part of Peterson's value was as 5th outfielder.  They have a glut of outfielders if both Frelick and Mitchell make the roster. 

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    7 hours ago, JohnBriggs12 said:

    Nobody brings up this but I think it would be better to keep Turang at his natural position (SS) and move Adames to 3B, 

    There has been quite a bit of discussion about that.

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    8 hours ago, JohnBriggs12 said:

    Peterson has never been an everyday player.  I don't think it's a wise idea to expect him to become one at age 33.  He is what he is, a good utility player.  Brosseau?  Maybe as DH because his glove is distinct liability. 

    Nobody brings up this but I think it would be better to keep Turang at his natural position (SS) and move Adames to 3B,   Then you have to decide if Urias' 2022 season was an aberration.  It certainly wasn't good enough to be an everyday 3rd baseman.  I don't think he's done enough to be penciled in as a starter at 2B for next year either.  So I'd bring back Wong.  Peterson would be my odd man out.  Part of Peterson's value was as 5th outfielder.  They have a glut of outfielders if both Frelick and Mitchell make the roster. 

    I wouldn't move Adames. His natural position is SS. He has been a SS his entire career and plays very good defense so why move him?  Does anybody know if he can play 3B or if he would accept the move? Turang has played various positions in the minors. Better to move him than Adames.  The best move would be to find a young 3B through a trade, sign and trade Wong, and put Turang at 2B.

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    8 minutes ago, wntrtxn21 said:

    I wouldn't move Adames. His natural position is SS. He has been a SS his entire career and plays very good defense so why move him? 

    I wouldn't. We don't even know if Turang will hit well enough to stay up the whole year.

    8 minutes ago, wntrtxn21 said:

    The best move would be to find a young 3B through a trade, sign and trade Wong, and put Turang at 2B.

    I wouldn't extend Wong, but picking up his option and then trading him is something I hadn't considered. Should be able to trade him for a solid RP. The only risk is if you can't trade him. Finding a quality young 3B in trade is about as easy as finding a unicorn.

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    damuelle
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    It looks like D-Day for the team’s Wong option is tomorrow, Tuesday. I’m guessing we exercise-and-trade. Let’s see. 

     

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    Pick up the option, plan to have him as your everyday 2B until we see what Turang can do at the MLB level.

    Picking him up to trade him is too risky.  Either he is part of our plans or he isn't.  Last thing we can afford to do is pick up his option with the intention of trading him, then have no interested teams.

     

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    10 hours ago, Hopper said:

    Pick up the option, plan to have him as your everyday 2B until we see what Turang can do at the MLB level.

    Picking him up to trade him is too risky.  Either he is part of our plans or he isn't.  Last thing we can afford to do is pick up his option with the intention of trading him, then have no interested teams.

    Picking up his option to trade him should be a possibility but it shouldn't be the go-to plan. You keep the guy with the expectation he will be on the Opening Day roster and if you're able to move him during the offseason (if that's what you want to do at all), good for you.

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    No decision yet and I have gone back and forth but I think they pick it up. They could trade him and think there would be interest. He has been a 2.5-3.0 WAR player during his time here and has earned what they have paid him thus far. Would certainly take one more season of that. I believe no shift will improve his defensive numbers as well.

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