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  • Potential First Base Free Agent Targets: Jose Abreu and Josh Bell


    DuWayne Steurer

    As the Brewers head into their first off-season under new President of Baseball Operations Matt Arnold, we'll be taking a look at some of the ways the team may look to improve on the 86-76 record that saw them fall just short of a playoff spot in 2022. In this article, we'll look at two of the possible first base targets Arnold may look at (and one that was rumored to be a trade target at the deadline last year in Josh Bell) who could add some punch to the Brewers lineup. 

    Image courtesy of Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports (Bell photo) and Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports (Abreu photo)

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    By all accounts, the Brewers regular first baseman and fan favorite, Rowdy Tellez had a fine 2022 season. He bashed 35 home runs, 23 doubles, and knocked in 89 run. While he only hit .219 for the year, he drew a respectable 62 walks and for a power-hitting slugger, struck out at a reasonable rate, with just 121 whiffs in 599 plate appearances. With a .767 OPS and a 115 OPS+, first base, at first blush, wasn't the main problem for the Brewers offense.

    Taking a deeper dive into Tellez's numbers though, he posted a -1.3 brDWar, and Fangraphs didn't like his defense much either, slotting him at -12.9 runs with the glove. His BABiP was surprisingly low, at .215, which was well below his career norms, and well below any number in his career prior, so that number should be expected to rebound in the coming season. But with a player like Rowdy Tellez, should Matt Arnold stand pat or look to improve?

    Taking a look at free agency, the two players who are available and may fit the Brewers budget are Josh Bell and former American League MVP, Jose Abreu. It's worth noting that acquiring either of these players doesn't preclude the Brewers from bringing back Tellez, with the addition of the DH to the National League. The Brewers have the luxury now (finally) of carrying a bat-only player on the roster.

    Taking a look at Jose Abreu, the obvious drawback is his age. Abreu will be 36 on Opening Day 2023. Abreu hit .304 in 2022, though his power took a dip, down from 30 home runs in 2021 to just 15 in 2022. Whether that's age-related, or just an odd fluctuation, it's hard to say. His launch angle at 8.0 degrees was the lowest of his career, but not by a large amount. His barrel percentage, hard hit, and exit velocity are still all in line or close to career averages. Despite his age, he's not showing much, if any, age-related decline. 

    Season Team Level Events EV maxEV LA Barrels Barrel% HardHit HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
    2015 CHW MLB 474 91.0 114.9 9.7 42 8.9% 197 41.6% .290 .270 .502 .456 .361 .338
    2016 CHW MLB 508 89.7 113.4 10.3 36 7.1% 199 39.2% .293 .280 .468 .467 .349 .348
    2017 CHW MLB 506 90.6 114.9 11.1 43 8.5% 231 45.7% .304 .290 .552 .520 .377 .364
    2018 CHW MLB 396 91.3 115.5 12.2 35 8.8% 179 45.2% .265 .277 .473 .493 .337 .356
    2019 CHW MLB 492 92.1 117.9 10.9 59 12.0% 237 48.2% .284 .279 .503 .517 .344 .358
    2020 CHW MLB 182 92.9 114.0 10.9 26 14.3% 97 53.3% .317 .299 .617 .587 .411 .399
    2021 CHW MLB 433 92.0 115.6 10.4 44 10.2% 212 49.0% .261 .252 .481 .457 .354 .349
    2022 CHW MLB 495 92.2 113.0 8.0 47 9.5% 256 51.7% .304 .296 .446 .486 .361 .373
    Total - - - MLB 3486 91.3 117.9 10.4 332 9.5% 1608 46.1% .292   .506   .364  
     

    He did sock forty doubles and put up a more-than-solid .304/.378/.446 (.824) slash line, with a 133 OPS+. Any team investing two or three years in him is probably expecting to get a little more pop out of their first base position, of course, but there's a bit of a gamble that his power dip was a one-year anomaly. The .446 slugging percentage was the lowest of his career, and while at his age expecting Abreu to put up the numbers he did in his late 20's is unrealistic, the Brewers (or any team to sign him) would probably be banking on getting 20+ home run power for a few more seasons.

    Abreu's defense wasn't fantastic, and never really has been. He was -0.9 brDwar and was rated at -11.9 runs defensively at Fangraphs. Despite his poor defense, Abreu put up a 4.2 bWAR and a 3.9 WAR, per Fangraphs. Again, given age-related decline, we should expect that number to dip a little bit over the next few years, but that's still a sizeable improvement over the 0.9 WAR Tellez supplied this past season. 

    The other target the Brewers may look at for first base, Josh Bell, was previously discussed at the trade deadline as a possible upgrade for the position. While the Brewers didn't acquire him, the Crew may take another look at Bell now in free agency. Bell's season was definitely a tale of two halves. In Washington, he hit a very nice .301 with 14 home runs with an .877 OPS. With Washington well out of the playoff race early, Bell's name was attached to just about every contender looking for some extra offense, including the Brewers.

    In the end, Bell went to the Padres, where he struggled immensely for the rest of the season, hitting a paltry .192 with just three home runs over 210 plate appearances. While it's hard to ignore the struggles he had down the stretch, Bell is just entering his age-30 season, and has a solid track record of success at the plate over seven major-league seasons. Like Abreu, Bell's power numbers were down last season, with 17 home runs between Washington and San Diego.

    Season Team Level GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB IFH% BUH% Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
    2016 PIT MLB 1.75 21.4% 50.0% 28.6% 9.4% 9.4% 7.1% 0.0% 22.3% 34.8% 42.9% 22.3% 44.6% 33.0%
    2017 PIT MLB 1.64 17.7% 51.1% 31.2% 11.8% 19.1% 6.3% 0.0% 41.5% 29.6% 28.9% 20.6% 46.8% 32.6%
    2018 PIT MLB 1.49 19.0% 48.5% 32.5% 9.2% 9.2% 8.2% 0.0% 33.8% 37.6% 28.6% 19.2% 47.0% 33.8%
    2019 PIT MLB 1.18 18.8% 44.0% 37.3% 6.5% 23.9% 3.3% 0.0% 42.5% 33.2% 24.3% 13.2% 41.3% 45.4%
    2020 PIT MLB 2.17 18.6% 55.7% 25.7% 8.3% 22.2% 3.8% 0.0% 38.6% 37.1% 24.3% 10.7% 47.9% 41.4%
    2021 WSN MLB 2.02 20.0% 53.5% 26.5% 5.7% 25.5% 3.3% 0.0% 39.0% 35.8% 25.3% 12.0% 50.5% 37.5%
    2022 2 Tms MLB 1.63 18.6% 50.4% 30.9% 9.9% 12.1% 3.5% 0.0% 38.4% 36.0% 25.7% 17.1% 53.3% 29.6%
    Total - - - MLB 1.60 18.9% 49.9% 31.2% 8.7% 17.7% 4.9% 0.0% 38.3% 34.5% 27.2% 16.4% 47.7% 35.9%
     
     

    Bell's HR/FB ratio dropped by more than half, playing in Washington and San Diego. While Pittsburgh isn't exactly known as a hitting haven, Bell's numbers took a big hit playing in two pitcher-friendly environments in 2022. Should the Brewers pursue Bell, Miller Park with its short right-field porch should prove to be a friendlier hitting environment for the big switch-hitter.

    Despite his struggles in San Diego, Bell secured a respectable 3.0 bWAR for the season, with a 124 OPS+. Like Tellez and Abreu, Bell's strength is with the stick, and not with the glove. Between both stops, Bell scored a -1.0 brDWar for the season and has historically been subpar at best in the field. 

    The question around Bell and Abreu, of course, will be contract length and value. Bell is younger and will command a longer commitment, and possibly more dollars per year. At 30, his future may be slightly more projectible, and he hits from both sides of the plate. Abreu put up slightly better numbers for the season, and will almost certainly require fewer years of commitment, given his age. Either one may be a solid fit and allow the Brewers to tandem with Tellez at first base and designated hitter for the next couple of years. 

    What do you think Brewer fanatics? Is either of these slugging first basemen a good fit for the Brewers? Which one would you target? Or is there someone else out there that is a better fit? Let us know in the comments!

     

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    I think Abreu makes a fair amount of sense provided you can get him for two years. I'd be really concerned about adding a third year that takes him so close to 40 years old.

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    The problem is finding slots for Tellez and Yelich to play. Tellez's pay will be commensurate with what we get out of him, and Yelich isn't going anywhere.

    The ideal situation would be a switch-hitting guy who can play 1B, 3B and a little in the OF. I don't know that that guy exists though. Vargas from LA would be a reasonable approximation though he's not a switch-hitter.

    But a short contract with Abreu would be a good idea; I just think he'll get priced out of our consideration.

     

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    1 hour ago, Robocaller said:

    The problem is finding slots for Tellez and Yelich to play. Tellez's pay will be commensurate with what we get out of him, and Yelich isn't going anywhere.

    The ideal situation would be a switch-hitting guy who can play 1B, 3B and a little in the OF. I don't know that that guy exists though. Vargas from LA would be a reasonable approximation though he's not a switch-hitter.

    But a short contract with Abreu would be a good idea; I just think he'll get priced out of our consideration.

     

    I agree with this, in general.  I do think the Brewers need to do better than "hey, they were "xth" in offense!" while having great pitching, and struggling to score runs at times. Bending spoons to say "they were 3rd in the NL in runs from (insert date) to (insert date)" to make the argument that the offense isn't *that bad* underlies the fact that they just weren't great. 

    Rowdy's fun! He hits a lot of dingers. But he's also below average (0.9 WAR), no matter how many people want to say he made some great scoops at first base, he's not a good defender. A .760-.770 ops out of the position that's supposed to supply the biggest pop isn't cutting it. So looking there is the logical choice.

    Like you said, Yelich isn't going anywhere.  Wong's option has been picked up. Adames is a borderline all-star caliber SS. We've got a bevy of ready or near-ready outfield stud prospects who need to play, so it's 3B or 1B, and Bell and Abreu are both available, and a tier below the "break the bank" players that are going to be out there. 

    What will Abreu command? I don't know. 2/30? 2/36? 3/45? There's obviously a line somewhere, but I hope we don't go into next season with an entire roster of .750 OPS guys again so we can say "from May 17th to August 2nd the Brewers were 4th in the NL in runs!"

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    I like Tellez as much as the next person but I'm not all that concerned about what happens to him. He's fine as a poor man's righty-masher but this team badly needs more players without brutal platoon splits and more players who can hit left-handed pitching. It's just too easy to neutralize those players late in a game, particularly if your lineup has several of them.

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    I'd rather the Brewers spend that money on extending Woodruff/Burnes.  The money that Abreu/Bell will cost is not worth the upgrade over what Tellez will cost, but that depends on what Tellez gets in arbitration.

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    Tellez may do better without the shift but I’d love to see us get Abreu or even Bell.  We need a middle of the order bat especially to improve against LH pitching.  Tellez is essentially Chris Carter.   I am not saying he’s totally dumped like that but I doubt the FO sees him as a mainstay.

    If we trade a pitcher, perhaps Houser, I’d be all for signing Quintana.  

    We have some good prospects. But there will be growing pains for sure no matter how good they will be in the end.  I suspect the plan is to ease them in over the next couple of years while trying to stay in the race with a mix of vets leading young guys.  Gradually, the young guys will get in place as regulars over a couple of year period. Re-upping with Wong signals that plan IMO.  

    But by 2025 you might be looking at half a dozen regulars from our farm system.   Guys that have been eased in.  As an example, maybe Turang starts with 250 AB’s next year. 

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    11 hours ago, DuWayne Steurer said:

    What will Abreu command? I don't know. 2/30? 2/36? 3/45? There's obviously a line somewhere, but I hope we don't go into next season with an entire roster of .750 OPS guys again so we can say "from May 17th to August 2nd the Brewers were 4th in the NL in runs!"

    I think 2/40 would be about right.

     

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    11 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

    I like Tellez as much as the next person but I'm not all that concerned about what happens to him. He's fine as a poor man's righty-masher but this team badly needs more players without brutal platoon splits and more players who can hit left-handed pitching. It's just too easy to neutralize those players late in a game, particularly if your lineup has several of them.

    So, more players like Tellez? His career splits aren't bad, though obviously when he sits, he should sit vs. LHP.

     

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    3 hours ago, Robocaller said:

    So, more players like Tellez? His career splits aren't bad, though obviously when he sits, he should sit vs. LHP.

    His career platoon splits are somewhat volatile YoY but his 2022 platoon split was 157 OPS points. That’s a massive split.

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    MLBtraderumors projects Abreu to get 2/$40 M and Bell to get 4/$64.  To get there, that means Renfroe, Tellez and one of Houser/Lauer would have to go.  Is either truly enough of an upgrade over Rowdy?

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    16 hours ago, Austin Tatious said:

    Tellez is essentially Chris Carter.   I am not saying he’s totally dumped like that but I doubt the FO sees him as a mainstay.

    Chris Carter's career K rate: 33.3%

    Rowdy Tellez's career K rate: 22.4% (and 20.2% last year, 18.4% in 2021). 

    Not sure what your definition of "mainstay" is, but Tellez is "good enough" at his current salary (that may change with arbitration).  If Abreu costs $20M/year and Tellez comes in at his rough arbitration estimate of $5M... Abreu isn't worth $15M more.

    And Tellez isn't like Chris Carter at all.

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    2 minutes ago, LouisEly said:

    Chris Carter's career K rate: 33.3%

    Rowdy Tellez's career K rate: 22.4% (and 20.2% last year, 18.4% in 2021). 

    Not sure what your definition of "mainstay" is, but Tellez is "good enough" at his current salary (that may change with arbitration).  If Abreu costs $20M/year and Tellez comes in at his rough arbitration estimate of $5M... Abreu isn't worth $15M more.

    And Tellez isn't like Chris Carter at all.

    I think opinions (and the stats) will change on Tellez starting next season....

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    48 minutes ago, Lajitas said:

    MLBtraderumors projects Abreu to get 2/$40 M and Bell to get 4/$64.  To get there, that means Renfroe, Tellez and one of Houser/Lauer would have to go.  Is either truly enough of an upgrade over Rowdy?

    Abreu is, if age doesn't start to bite him.  But not at the cost of all those players you listed, unless they could be packaged to get an top player.

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    56 minutes ago, Brewcrew82 said:

    I think opinions (and the stats) will change on Tellez starting next season....

    Agreed, saw something on Twitter that Rowdy was 2nd in of all MLB for hits taken away because of shift or something like that... I cant remember the exact wording but his AVG would have been 30 points higher.

    Think we have found our answer at 1B.

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    1 hour ago, Robocaller said:

    Abreu is, if age doesn't start to bite him.  But not at the cost of all those players you listed, unless they could be packaged to get an top player.

    Only if that top player is coming in at the league minimum.

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    40 minutes ago, Axman59 said:

    I prefer firstbasemen who don't look like they're on a beer league softball team. Tellez, Vogelbach: no.

    Babe Ruth kinda looked like he was on a beer league softball team (when he was older but still dominant).

     

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    13 hours ago, Lajitas said:

    MLBtraderumors projects Abreu to get 2/$40 M and Bell to get 4/$64.  To get there, that means Renfroe, Tellez and one of Houser/Lauer would have to go.  Is either truly enough of an upgrade over Rowdy?

    OR it could just mean the Brewers are taking the additional revenue from revenue sharing to spend on Abreu.

    Or they're pushing their payroll up a bit as Attanasio said they were capable of last year. 

    BUT, lets so you do hypothetically trade Renfroe, Lauer and Tellez. You're not just losing those 3-4 players. It's not like you'd non-tender them. 
    Renfroe-Wiemer gets into the lineup, adds much better defense, speed. Likely falls well short of his offensive output, but you still come out ahead with Jose Abreu, pretty much the perfect fit on the market who's at all reasonable. 

    Lauer-You don't have an in-house replacement, but 2 years left of a #3 caliber pitcher would...or SHOULD definitely net you at least one valuable high leverage reliever at the very least.

    Rowdy-You get Abreu to replace him, and you get back...I don't know, a lottery ticket. 

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    10 hours ago, Robocaller said:

    Babe Ruth kinda looked like he was on a beer league softball team (when he was older but still dominant).

     

    LOL...of course. Beer and Hot Dogs. 

    I don't need a shirtless calendar from my team. I don't care if you're fat if you can hit. 

    I wasn't really bothered by Prince or CC's physique!

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    Tellez Steamer projection: wRC+ 123.  Basically his power remains but his BABIP gets back to a decent .258 instead of .215.

    Abreau wRC+ 126

    Bell wRC+ 123

    The free agent that makes the most sense at this point is Contreras. Turner also makes sense but little chance he leaves LA.

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    I think this is all moot now with Singleton on the 40 man roster now and some of MA comments.  The Brewers are going to go with Tellez/Singleton at 1B/DH.  Seems to me that they are not going to be looking for any outside offensive help at these positions.  They feel Singleton K rate will be a great asset to get us to the top spot of leading the NL in strikeouts.  Bonus is that  Singleton hasn't played in the majors for the last 8 years (perfect fit for the mantra of the franchise...Is Axford still around?) but when you have the opportunity to add that quality of a player you push the budget out and take a bite of the apple.  Who needs Abreau or Bell.

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    1 minute ago, BlightyBrew said:

    I think this is all moot now with Singleton on the 40 man roster now and some of MA comments.  The Brewers are going to go with Tellez/Singleton at 1B/DH.  Seems to me that they are not going to be looking for any outside offensive help at these positions.  They feel Singleton K rate will be a great asset to get us to the top spot of leading the NL in strikeouts.  Bonus is that  Singleton hasn't played in the majors for the last 8 years (perfect fit for the mantra of the franchise...Is Axford still around?) but when you have the opportunity to add that quality of a player you push the budget out and take a bite of the apple.  Who needs Abreau or Bell.

    Yep agreed, we arent spending **** on offense once again.

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    3 hours ago, UpandIn said:

    OR it could just mean the Brewers are taking the additional revenue from revenue sharing to spend on Abreu.

    Or they're pushing their payroll up a bit as Attanasio said they were capable of last year. 

    BUT, lets so you do hypothetically trade Renfroe, Lauer and Tellez. You're not just losing those 3-4 players. It's not like you'd non-tender them. 
    Renfroe-Wiemer gets into the lineup, adds much better defense, speed. Likely falls well short of his offensive output, but you still come out ahead with Jose Abreu, pretty much the perfect fit on the market who's at all reasonable. 

    Lauer-You don't have an in-house replacement, but 2 years left of a #3 caliber pitcher would...or SHOULD definitely net you at least one valuable high leverage reliever at the very least.

    Rowdy-You get Abreu to replace him, and you get back...I don't know, a lottery ticket. 

    Renfroe is already a prominent mention on most possible non-tender lists, so he ain't bringing back much in trade.

    Lauer as a #3?  HA.  And have you seen the market on relievers lately?  The going rate on a "valuable high leverage reliever" is about the same as Lauer will be making, if not more

    So you think it's a good idea to take Renfroe, Tellez and Lauer off the team, replacing them with a 35 year-old making $20 M and a rookie that doesn't have a single MLB appearance, while weakening the depth at starting pitcher.  And spending more money.  But we do add a set-up reliever.  And a lottery pick prospect.

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    9 hours ago, UpandIn said:

    LOL...of course. Beer and Hot Dogs. 

    I don't need a shirtless calendar from my team. I don't care if you're fat if you can hit. 

    I wasn't really bothered by Prince or CC's physique!

    John Kruk (I think it was him) did an interview on a late night talk show. The host referred to him as an athlete. He said something like: Athlete? I'm not an athlete, I'm a baseball player.

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    7 hours ago, Lajitas said:

    Renfroe is already a prominent mention on most possible non-tender lists, so he ain't bringing back much in trade.

    Lauer as a #3?  HA.  And have you seen the market on relievers lately?  The going rate on a "valuable high leverage reliever" is about the same as Lauer will be making, if not more

    So you think it's a good idea to take Renfroe, Tellez and Lauer off the team, replacing them with a 35 year-old making $20 M and a rookie that doesn't have a single MLB appearance, while weakening the depth at starting pitcher.  And spending more money.  But we do add a set-up reliever.  And a lottery pick prospect.

    It's hard to sift through all the contradictions. It's funny that Lauer is a #3...but it'd hurt so much to lose him?

    Renfroe is going to be non-tendered...so then he'd already be gone, right?

    And no, I didn't say that was a good idea. If they're going to non-tender Renfroe like you're say and if they bring in Abreu over Tellez, that's a pretty big upgrade.

    You're the one who came up with this either or all on your own. I simply pointed out we wouldn't just be losing all three players for nothing. 

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