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  • Brewers Have Decisions to Make on Four Key Potential Free Agents


    Tim Muma

    Even if the Milwaukee Brewers slipped into the playoffs, most would see 2022 as a disappointment unless they made a miraculous run to the NLCS (at least). Either way, there are a handful of free agent decisions the front office needs to make for next season.

    Image courtesy of © Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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    A vast majority of Brewers are under team control in 2023. Eighteen players are in their arbitration years, with a number in pre-arbitration. David Stearns, President of Baseball Operations, could decide to cut ties with any of those guys, but most are staying put. Stearns and GM Matt Arnold have tremendous flexibility with the roster, though, as only three players have guaranteed contracts in 2023: Christian Yelich, Freddy Peralta, and Aaron Ashby.

    So some critical decisions will need to be made when dealing with the Brewers' potential free agents. Four players, in particular, provide some choice from the club to determine if they offer more value to Milwaukee versus what is available on the market. With all due respect to Andrew McCutchen, his performance this season doesn't warrant a discussion about his return. It hasn't worked out.

    With Cutch off the list, here are four potential free agents who may or may not return to Milwaukee.

     

    4 - Jace Peterson

    The 32-year-old utility man has been the third-most valuable position player for the Brewers with a 2.2 fWAR. Part of that stems from Milwaukee's lack of star power in the lineup. However, despite sporadic playing time, his value also comes in quality defense in multiple spots and an ability to get on base at a solid clip. Peterson is the type of veteran player you find on winning teams. These types might not jump out at you statistically, but their importance is seen throughout the season.

    There will be multiple factors in choosing to bring Peterson back or not. What do the Brewers plan to do at second and third base? Will prospect Brice Turang have a major role in the big leagues in 2023? The third factor is cost. Peterson made $1.825 million on a one-year deal this season. He will undoubtedly get a bump up, but how much? Fangraphs' defensive metric ranks Peterson fourth on the club in that area, and its BsR stat for overall base running has him at the top in Milwaukee.

    Odds of a return: 65% 

    3 - Brad Boxberger

    Based on ERA (2.95) and ERA+ (135), Brad Boxberger is having a better overall season than he did in 2021. It might not feel that way as he has more blown saves this year, and many of his other numbers are worse. While he's giving up fewer home runs per nine innings, his WHIP is 1.309 (1.067 in 2022), with more walks, more hits, and fewer strikeouts this season. One major concern should be Boxberger's Whiff% where he went from the 85th percentile of MLB last season to the 33rd percentile in 2022.

    Boxberger metrics.JPG

    At 34 years old, you start to wonder what he has left in the tank. In each of the past two seasons, Boxberger has stretches when he looks cooked. Manager Craig Counsell relies on him as a stopper of sorts and utilizes him in a variety of innings - more so than any other reliever on the club.

    Boxberger is making $2.5 million this season, with a team option for a $3 million contract in 2023. The buyout for the option is just $750,000, so Milwaukee loses little to cut bait. Considering the sizable free agent reliever market each season, a $3 million tag for a potentially declining bullpen arm makes Boxberger less appealing than a year ago. But they could see the cost certainty of the club option as worthwhile gamble for one more season.

    Odds of a return:  48%
    (Chances increase if the Brewers buy him out and he is willing to re-sign for less)

    2 - Omar Narvaez

    After an All-Star selection in 2021, Narvaez's 2022 offensive performance has dipped significantly. He is 22% below average in OPS+ (78) while hitting just .214 with a .324 slugging percentage. He clearly peaked in his age-27 season in Seattle when he slugged .460 with a 119 OPS+.
    Narvaez turns 31 before Opening Day 2023 and has appeared worn down in the second half of the last two years. Narvaez came over as an "offense-first" backstop with defensive concerns, but that has flipped in Milwaukee (or has it?).

    He ranks seventh in MLB in Baseball Savant's strike rate stat at 49.7%, which shows the percentage of non-swinging strikes called on the outside edges of the strike zone. However, Narvaez is 47th in "blocking runs," according to Baseball Prospectus. If you've watched enough games, you have witnessed Narvaez's struggle to block balls consistently. He is also 35th in caught stealing percentage (24%) among catchers with 300+ frames behind the plate. Those last two statistics argue against his supposed defensive prowess.

    Narvaez is making $5 million this season. Considering the constant need for catching, some team is likely willing to pay more on the free agent market. Milwaukee has 29-year-old catchers Victor Caratini and Pedro Severino under team control for next year at a lower cost. They also have prospect Mario Feliciano ready for MLB opportunities. The price per production for Narvaez looks undesirable.

    Odds of a return:  15%

    1 - Taylor Rogers

    The left-handed reliever acquired in the Josh Hader trade has had a down year. After never posting an ERA+ below 128 from 2017-2021 (not counting 2020), Rogers' 86 ERA+ could be a sign of declining skill. He has also dealt with some minor injury concerns, so perhaps it's a one-off dip this season.

    Many of his numbers improved during his short time in Milwaukee, upping his strikeout-per-nine-inning (K/9) rate to 14.5 versus 10.5 with the San Diego Padres. His WHIP has also dropped from 1.113 to 1.091. The soon-to-be 32-year-old southpaw reliever is earning $7.3 million this season and will likely get a fair amount of interest in free agency. Though he got off to a rough start with the Brewers, Rogers owns a 3.07 ERA and has held opponents to a .180 average over his last 14.2 innings pitched.

    For a bullpen that needs help heading into 2023, Rogers should be in play to stay, but the length and size of the contract demands could be prohibitive. I'd like to see them make something work and have him spend time in their pitch lab, although it feels like a less than a 50/50 chance the Brewers pony up enough.

    Odds of a return: 40%

    Some may ask, "Why isn't Kolten Wong on this list?" Well, his situation requires further examination, so look for a more in-depth analysis soon.
    As for the rest of the Brew Crew, many expect plenty of roster turnover heading into 2023. Brewers fans should expect to learn new names and faces with a combination of trades and letting players go. If Milwaukee plans to ascend to the top of the NL Central again to fight it out with the St. Louis Cardinals, the front office needs to rediscover the right mix of who stays and who goes.

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    You don't cost/benefit to see if Boxberger is worth $3M.  You review to see if Box is worth $2.25M.  The buyout is a sunk cost. 

    At that price, and assuming Taylor Rogers is gone, I would think the Brewers retain him for one more year.

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    Brewers have a lot of relief pitching decisions. Even though not free agents, Gott/Suter/Bush/Perdomo/Gustave/Milner/Williams are all arbitration eligible as well. Out of that group only Williams is a slam dunk tender. Topa/Cousins/Strzelecki are the minimum salary guys so maybe want three/four of these other guys back. I would lean toward keeping Boxberger at the 2.25.

     

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    I wouldn't put the Odds of a return so high for Peterson as he is a free agent and will be dealing with every team in MLB.  The Brewers can't afford a bidding war on a utility player when there is little "disposable" budget.  I would support bringing him back if the money is right, especially if they jettison Wong.

    Rogers ERA+ is so bad because he has given up 6 HR in less than 20 innings with the Brewers.  Given his age I'd be concerned that isn't just a blip, but the sign that his stuff is declining. So far he's way too expensive to take that chance.  If they keep Rogers and Boxberger they need to be a better option so both are shifted to lower pressure innings I don't think you can just assume they can continue in their current roles for the purposes of addressing the bullpen issues. 

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    I'd love for Peterson to return, but I'd peg the chance at around 35%. This will be his first chance to get a good payday, and I think he goes for it. If Brewers can do something like 2 years @ $4M a year, it's a no brainer. If someone offers him 4 years @ $8M or more a year, he's gone.

    The $3M option on Boxberger ought to be picked up. I'd give him a 85% shot of returning.

    They're moving on from Narvaez. Severino or Feliciano will be on the roster. I'd put Narvaez's chance of returning at less than 5%.

    Rogers will only be back on a short, cheap deal. If they can sign him for a year at $4M, sure. If it takes 3-4 years at $6M or more he's gone. 20% chance of returning.

    And WONG? It's not complicated at all. He's gone. They can spend the $8M better elsewhere. Less than 10% chance of returning, and only if Peterson is gone.

     

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    Tim Muma
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    Of course...these almost always come down to "it depends." I'm not sure what to make of Peterson's market at his age & no elite skill. But yeah, just takes one team to overprice him. I think many teams would be willing to bet on Rogers' 2022 season as mostly "a down year."

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    Tim Muma
  • Brewer Fanatic Contributor
  • Posted

    8 hours ago, Robocaller said:

    I'd love for Peterson to return, but I'd peg the chance at around 35%. This will be his first chance to get a good payday, and I think he goes for it. If Brewers can do something like 2 years @ $4M a year, it's a no brainer. If someone offers him 4 years @ $8M or more a year, he's gone.

    The $3M option on Boxberger ought to be picked up. I'd give him a 85% shot of returning.

    They're moving on from Narvaez. Severino or Feliciano will be on the roster. I'd put Narvaez's chance of returning at less than 5%.

    Rogers will only be back on a short, cheap deal. If they can sign him for a year at $4M, sure. If it takes 3-4 years at $6M or more he's gone. 20% chance of returning.

    And WONG? It's not complicated at all. He's gone. They can spend the $8M better elsewhere. Less than 10% chance of returning, and only if Peterson is gone.

     

    Let me clarify on Wong...for many in the general fanbase, it is more complicated due to his defensive reputation (waning) and his lower K rate compared to many Brewers. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Hopefully I can detail some things soon.

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    Kolton Wong is still ranked #11 for offensive production among 2B per Fangraphs. I don't know, good luck replacing his offense at 2B. A lot of value being able to get a guy at a modest price for just a single year. Not to mention his style of offense helps the Brewers lineup more than just his numbers show on paper.

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     IF (and it's a big IF) Stearns can somehow find a 3B through trade, then I think Wong is gone for sure. They have to find a spot for Turang, and if it's not 2B (Urias at 2B) then it's in Peterson's role as a super utility guy. I think McCutchon-Rogers-Narvaez are gone for sure.  Depending on what CC thinks of Brosseau I think Peterson is going to get more than what Milwaukee wants to pay and he leaves too. Rogers just isn't worth the projected $9M he'll get so Stearns has to find another lefty in the pen besides Suter (I think he'll be back).  Houser is questionable unless they trade Burnes for a huge haul. 

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    13 hours ago, wntrtxn21 said:

     IF (and it's a big IF) Stearns can somehow find a 3B through trade, then I think Wong is gone for sure. They have to find a spot for Turang, and if it's not 2B (Urias at 2B) then it's in Peterson's role as a super utility guy. I think McCutchon-Rogers-Narvaez are gone for sure.  Depending on what CC thinks of Brosseau I think Peterson is going to get more than what Milwaukee wants to pay and he leaves too. Rogers just isn't worth the projected $9M he'll get so Stearns has to find another lefty in the pen besides Suter (I think he'll be back).  Houser is questionable unless they trade Burnes for a huge haul. 

    Houser? You think there's any chance they'd non-tender Adrian Houser? I hadn't even considered the possibility that he wouldn't be back, but...I guess, he's really only had one solid season. 

    I still like Houser(as a #4/5). Big time GB pitcher, provides you some protection and he shouldn't be more than 4.5 next year, but I kinda see it now. Still think SPers are just too valuable to let go at that price regardless of Burnes. If Gasser(or less likely Small) throw really well in AAA or earn a spot, then I'd like Houser as a multi-inning reliever...and then if you can get a '21 type year from him, flip him.

    I'd thrown the idea of maybe picking up the Wong option and then dealing him before his 3HR game. Looking at the 2B market, ~6 WAR over the past two seasons and a solid finish to the year to get him to 3 again this year, feels like that's a really good deal for some team. And as I said in another thread, you can even eat 2M if it means getting back a valuable reliever.

    I'd consider bringing back Narvaez, Peterson or Rogers, but they'd all have to be cheap deals.
    Narvaez would have to be 1/2.5, Rodgers in the 5M range and Peterson 2/8, maybe 2/10. He's been an important player the last couple years. 
    No reason to bring McCutchen back for next year...literally none. Even if the rookies can't hit better than him...which I think they can, you're saving ~8M and you're getting them valuable experience. 

     

     

    I think this team looks largely the same. I expect you'll see a couple smaller trades. Try and bolster that BP with some more power arms. Kinda hope Suter isn't brought back as I think he'd be redundant with Milner and you have too many guys who COULD be good relievers next year like Gott, Gustave, Strezelicki, Cousins, Topa along with Ecreg who looks like he's really turned a corner in AAA.

    I don't think Attanasio is gonna want to blow this rotation up...even if it may be the better idea long term. I think he wants one more run and he'll take the diminishing returns. And we should also be able to push the payroll up to 150 this year with the new TV money coming in. So take the Cain, Wong(if he's let go), McCutchen contracts, Rosenthal, Rogers or just what we were paying Hader. I'd guess when you factor in money coming off the books with arbitration raises, we should have ~20-25M to spend. It's just hard to see where that money gets spent. 3B there's nobody worth adding. 

    Vazquez at C, maybe Abreu at 1B...though I know he's loved by the CWS, they have too many 1B/DH only players. 

    Maybe it's Josh Bell?

    Should be an interesting off-season. 

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    To the four mentioned in this article:

    1) I think Peterson will get an offer in free agency that is higher than the Brewers will be willing to go.

    2) I think Boxberger's option will be exercised. The team has relied on him pretty heavily, so I definitely think he's worth the risk at $3M.

    3) Narvaez is likely gone unless he comes back really cheap on a one-year "prove it" deal. I think the Brewers will keep Caratini and bring in a RH hitting catcher who can hit LHP. Side note, I hope the league goes to automated ball/strike. A good defensive catcher should be someone who can block balls and throw out runners, not one who is good at fooling the umpires. Narvaez is a bad defensive catcher who has learned how to trick umpires into thinking balls are strikes. He is not a good defensive catcher.

    4) Rogers should probably go elsewhere. There is no "positive vibe" that would have him sign a "prove it" deal with the Brewers. 

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    14 hours ago, monty57 said:

    To the four mentioned in this article:

    1) I think Peterson will get an offer in free agency that is higher than the Brewers will be willing to go.

    2) I think Boxberger's option will be exercised. The team has relied on him pretty heavily, so I definitely think he's worth the risk at $3M.

    3) Narvaez is likely gone unless he comes back really cheap on a one-year "prove it" deal. I think the Brewers will keep Caratini and bring in a RH hitting catcher who can hit LHP. Side note, I hope the league goes to automated ball/strike. A good defensive catcher should be someone who can block balls and throw out runners, not one who is good at fooling the umpires. Narvaez is a bad defensive catcher who has learned how to trick umpires into thinking balls are strikes. He is not a good defensive catcher.

    4) Rogers should probably go elsewhere. There is no "positive vibe" that would have him sign a "prove it" deal with the Brewers. 

    Yeah, probably should have kept it to the article. 

    I hope you're wrong on 1. On 2, you're probably right. 3, agree obviously. 4...he can be a helluva nice lefty so I hope you're wrong on this one, but I suspect you're not. 

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    Wong and Box are really the only interesting cases. The others should be compared to the FA market.  Box should be nearly a no-brainer to retain at $3M.  He's been nails.  Wong is probably gone...too many errors for a defense first 2B....just very little upside there, even if the downside is relatively high as well...it's just not high enough after what I've seen with his glove this year. Wrong side of 32 for Wong next year.

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    Yeah, it's probably just my Stockholm Syndrome after being a Brewers fan all these years, but it's really hard for me to ever feel like paying FAs market value is a good use of Brewers' budget resources, unless the existing roster is waaayy under budget.

    I don't see them resigning guys like Jace, Wong, Narvaez, Rogers, or even guys like Adames or Tellez. I think the only way they'd sign these players would be if it's late in the window, and the price comes back down to a number the F.O. is comfortable with (i.e. not "market-value").

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