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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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    8 hours ago, endaround said:

    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.

    Yeah....I'd much rather have Contreras. I'd rather have Judge as well. I don't really see Contreras being a realistic target though. 

    He wants 5/100 and given the state of catching...that doesn't seem like a reach. 

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    The more I look at it, the less I'm convinced that Josh Bell would be an upgrade over Rowdy Tellez. For example, Rowdy is projected by Steamer to have the same wRC+ as Bell and a higher WAR than Bell. Even Abreu would only be a relatively marginal upgrade. Rowdy is set to be perhaps the biggest beneficiary in baseball of the shift ban, in addition to a likely reversion to the mean with his BABIP. So, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to use our limited resources to shore up a different aspect of the team, perhaps C, RP, or SP depth...

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    55 minutes ago, Brewcrew82 said:

    The more I look at it, the less I'm convinced that Josh Bell would be an upgrade over Rowdy Tellez. For example, Rowdy is projected by Steamer to have the same wRC+ as Bell and a higher WAR than Bell. Even Abreu would only be a relatively marginal upgrade. Rowdy is set to be perhaps the biggest beneficiary in baseball of the shift ban, in addition to a likely reversion to the mean with his BABIP. So, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to use our limited resources to shore up a different aspect of the team, perhaps C, RP, or SP depth...

    God I would love for us to go after Contreras! But I know it won't happen.

    But my god, just thinking about... Frelick/Yelich/Adames/Tellez/Contreras/Renfroe/Wong/Urias/Mitchell oh my!!

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    3 hours ago, Brewcrew82 said:

    The more I look at it, the less I'm convinced that Josh Bell would be an upgrade over Rowdy Tellez. For example, Rowdy is projected by Steamer to have the same wRC+ as Bell and a higher WAR than Bell. Even Abreu would only be a relatively marginal upgrade. Rowdy is set to be perhaps the biggest beneficiary in baseball of the shift ban, in addition to a likely reversion to the mean with his BABIP. So, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to use our limited resources to shore up a different aspect of the team, perhaps C, RP, or SP depth...

    Abreu or Bell wouldn't be replacing Tellez. They'd be replacing McCutchen and his 98 wRC+ last year.

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    7 hours ago, UpandIn said:

    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. 

    I'll put is so simply even you would understand.  Weimer, Abreau and some reliever would NOT be an upgrade over Renfroe, Tellez and Lauer.  Plus the Abreau variation would cost more money.

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    12 hours ago, Brewcrew82 said:

    The more I look at it, the less I'm convinced that Josh Bell would be an upgrade over Rowdy Tellez. For example, Rowdy is projected by Steamer to have the same wRC+ as Bell and a higher WAR than Bell. Even Abreu would only be a relatively marginal upgrade. Rowdy is set to be perhaps the biggest beneficiary in baseball of the shift ban, in addition to a likely reversion to the mean with his BABIP. So, I wonder if it wouldn't be better to use our limited resources to shore up a different aspect of the team, perhaps C, RP, or SP depth...

    I think there’s room for both Tellez and Abreu/Bell. This team could really use some right-handed pop in the middle of the order. Just swap out Hiura, whose reverse splits make him redundant alongside Tellez. 

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    47 minutes ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

    I think there’s room for both Tellez and Abreu/Bell. This team could really use some right-handed pop in the middle of the order. Just swap out Hiura, whose reverse splits make him redundant alongside Tellez. 

    Right ... I doubt the Brewers are looking to replace Tellez outright. This would be moreso a replacement for McCutchen's bat in the lineup, but instead of fitting into the defensive alignment as a poor part-time fill-in outfielder who mashes lefties, Abreu/Bell would fit as as a poor part-time fill-in 1B who mashes lefties.

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    Bell hasn't really been a lefy masher throughout his career, would be a bad allocation of resources in my opinion. I think Abreu would fit great on this team if they could obtain him for one or two years. The risk is there for a swift decline because of age but could really use that right handed bat that actually hits against left handed and right handed pitchers. I'm not the biggest Tellez fan but do recognize his stats could see a nice uptick next year combining new rules and better luck.

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    44 minutes ago, Ron Robinsons Beard said:

    Right ... I doubt the Brewers are looking to replace Tellez outright. This would be moreso a replacement for McCutchen's bat in the lineup, but instead of fitting into the defensive alignment as a poor part-time fill-in outfielder who mashes lefties, Abreu/Bell would fit as as a poor part-time fill-in 1B who mashes lefties.

    The wording here made me LOL. 

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    I would be more open to taking that money and extending our current pitching staff. Use our Depth in the outfield to trade for a third baseman like Diaz or Paredes from TB

    We could actually trade Tyrone Taylor for one of those guys based off the simulator

    Depending on if we trade Renfroe, we can still get a veteran DH and a Catcher 

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    All this talk of replacing Rowdy with guys who "might" be better, and we are still planning on going into the season with Urias at 3B?  Why in the hell does this organization continue to ignore 3B?  Urias isn't the guy, he just isn't.

    If we are going to spend $ on Abreu or Bell, I think it's foolish when we still do not have a 3B on the roster.

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    2 minutes ago, Hopper said:

    All this talk of replacing Rowdy with guys who "might" be better, and we are still planning on going into the season with Urias at 3B?  Why in the hell does this organization continue to ignore 3B?  Urias isn't the guy, he just isn't.

    If we are going to spend $ on Abreu or Bell, I think it's foolish when we still do not have a 3B on the roster.

    I think there's a pretty solid chance that, depending on what happens with Wong, and if Turang proves capable of hitting MLB pitching, the team's 3B of at least the immediate future is already on the roster. He's currently playing SS though. Urias has the chops to play 2B, and Adames definitely would be able to handle 3B.

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    There are not quality third basemen available. I guess Justin Turner may fall into that category but he is declining offensively and defensively and has trouble staying on the field as well getting older. Abreu is more of a DH and the Brewers do need somebody there. 

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    4 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

    I think there’s room for both Tellez and Abreu/Bell. This team could really use some right-handed pop in the middle of the order. Just swap out Hiura, whose reverse splits make him redundant alongside Tellez. 

    True, there's conceivably room for Tellez and one of the other. The thing is, though, that Abreu and Bell are projected to be just as bad of defenders as Tellez at 1B, so we wouldn't be upgrading on defense. I am also someone who thinks we should move Yelich to DH semi-permanently, which a signing of one of those guys would prevent. IMO, catcher and the bullpen are more of a priority at this point. 

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    How many DH type guys can we afford to roster?

    We all know that Yelich, if we are being honest, should be a full time DH.

    Hiura, same.

    Several claim that Rowdy's defense should land him at DH.

    Some have been saying Wong should be playing at DH.

    Now we want to sign another guy who ideally fits at DH in Bell/Abreu?

    This roster is already frustrating, and we now have plans to muddy it up even more, and still not having a legit guy at 3B or C?

     

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    1 hour ago, Brewcrew82 said:

    True, there's conceivably room for Tellez and one of the other. The thing is, though, that Abreu and Bell are projected to be just as bad of defenders as Tellez at 1B, so we wouldn't be upgrading on defense. I am also someone who thinks we should move Yelich to DH semi-permanently, which a signing of one of those guys would prevent. IMO, catcher and the bullpen are more of a priority at this point. 

    Couldn't agree more.  I am not in the least bit interested in signing someone to play DH.  That should go to Yelich which would open up another outfield spot for Frelick.   

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    14 hours ago, Lajitas said:

    I'll put is so simply even you would understand.  Weimer, Abreau and some reliever would NOT be an upgrade over Renfroe, Tellez and Lauer.  Plus the Abreau variation would cost more money.

    Yeah, you really didn't though. In your world, Renfroe is getting non-tendered either way. So...how does his loss factor in?

    Lauer? It was laughable to call him a #3, right? So now it's a #4/5? I don't know what's NOT laughable to you. But a back of the rotation pitcher(per you) and Tellez vs Abreu.

    This is a circular argument as you're the one who made the claim they absolutely HAD to get rid of those players in order to add ABREU...so it started with your faulty premise, then I pointed out IF they did trade those players, they'd get talent back for them...and it seemingly went over your head. 

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    2 hours ago, Hopper said:

    All this talk of replacing Rowdy with guys who "might" be better, and we are still planning on going into the season with Urias at 3B?  Why in the hell does this organization continue to ignore 3B?  Urias isn't the guy, he just isn't.

    If we are going to spend $ on Abreu or Bell, I think it's foolish when we still do not have a 3B on the roster.

    None of us here are actually making any of these calls, so I don't know if "we" are planning on going into the season with Urias at 3B, but the top 3B on the FA market...is Jace Peterson. 

    Who is the 3B we should be talking about?

    You want a catcher...cool. I'd gladly take Contreras as a FA. I don't think that's going to happen.


    So no 3B, SS is set. Wong or maybe Segura are the top 2B. 
    Catcher is a possible position to upgrade.

    OR a 1B who just happens to fit into the lineup about as perfectly as possible. A guy who hits for a high average and crushes left handed pitching?

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    1 hour ago, Brewcrew82 said:

    True, there's conceivably room for Tellez and one of the other. The thing is, though, that Abreu and Bell are projected to be just as bad of defenders as Tellez at 1B, so we wouldn't be upgrading on defense. I am also someone who thinks we should move Yelich to DH semi-permanently, which a signing of one of those guys would prevent. IMO, catcher and the bullpen are more of a priority at this point. 

    That's fair. I think the market on Abreu and/or Bell might end up being pretty soft, which is why I've mentioned them multiple times. I think at least one of them might end up being an under-market signing late in the offseason.

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    Josh Bell has been very inconsistent in his career. I don't think Milwaukee is the place for him, We get the worst of all the hitters that come here. Sign me up for Abreu though. I think that guy is going to play until he's 40, doesn't need any coaching whatsoever and I don't even care if the power comes back if he hits .300 and takes walks. 

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    2 hours ago, UpandIn said:

    Yeah, you really didn't though. In your world, Renfroe is getting non-tendered either way. So...how does his loss factor in?

    Lauer? It was laughable to call him a #3, right? So now it's a #4/5? I don't know what's NOT laughable to you. But a back of the rotation pitcher(per you) and Tellez vs Abreu.

    This is a circular argument as you're the one who made the claim they absolutely HAD to get rid of those players in order to add ABREU...so it started with your faulty premise, then I pointed out IF they did trade those players, they'd get talent back for them...and it seemingly went over your head. 

    If Renfroe is a prominent non-tender candidate, they aren't getting much in talent back for him.  A direct quote from your first response to me: "It's not like you'd non-tender them."

    Lauer IS a back of the rotation, innings eater.  Nothing more.  He's not bringing back a "valuable high leverage reliever" (again, quoting you).  And even if he did, that reliever's salary would be as much, if not more than Lauer's.

    They WOULD have to get rid of a bunch of salary to sign Abreu.  You are probably the only one on the planet that thinks, "hey, they'll just add $20 M to the payroll to sign Abreu."  I picked Renfroe, Tellez and Lauer/Houser because their combined salaries are about $20 M Abreu will get.  It could be Renfroe and Adames.  That's about $20 M, also. 

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    6 hours ago, Lajitas said:

    If Renfroe is a prominent non-tender candidate, they aren't getting much in talent back for him.  A direct quote from your first response to me: "It's not like you'd non-tender them."

    Right. I don't believe they will non-tender him. You do. To recap this discussion, YOU listed the players we'd be "losing," I then said we wouldn't be losing them for nothing IF we did.

    Just...a hypothetical, from a Twins message board;

    Quote

    True, but his Arb cost, low defensive value and single year of control won’t make him super expensive. Give up a decent prospect or 2 and it should be enough, my ideal trade was Balazovic and Megill for him.

    So...basically, a AA reliever and a MLB reliever with a upper 90s fastball. 

    Again, I don't see the Brewers dumping their best hitter from last year so they can go with 3 rookies and Yelich in the OF...

    6 hours ago, Lajitas said:

    Lauer IS a back of the rotation, innings eater.  Nothing more.  He's not bringing back a "valuable high leverage reliever" (again, quoting you).  And even if he did, that reliever's salary would be as much, if not more than Lauer's.

    3.47 ERA and an ERA+ of 107 and 130 the past two years(with nearly a quarter of his Earned runs coming in two starts inflated even those numbers this year). That seems like a BIT more than a "back of the rotation, innings eater. Nothing more." 

    That's definitely something...more than that. Again, you came up with the scenario in which the only way the Brewers could afford Abreu was this cataclysmic event in which we had to rid ourself of these players who...apparently don't have a whole lot of value in your opinion.

    6 hours ago, Lajitas said:

    They WOULD have to get rid of a bunch of salary to sign Abreu.  You are probably the only one on the planet that thinks, "hey, they'll just add $20 M to the payroll to sign Abreu."  I picked Renfroe, Tellez and Lauer/Houser because their combined salaries are about $20 M Abreu will get.  It could be Renfroe and Adames.  That's about $20 M, also. 

    Am I the only one who thinks that? Doesn't seem like I'm "the only person on the planet" who thinks the Brewers COULD sign Abreu given there is additional TV revenue coming in this year that more than makes up for it. OR they could still deal Wong as I've suggested since Turang is ready in AAA.

    I guess I'll just have to take your word for it that I'm the ONLY one in the world in a year with increasing revenue and Mark Attanasio saying they'll be "very active" this off-season while talking about building around the core of this team!

     

    Now, lets circle back;

    Quote

    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?

     I guess if you don't think they should even bother to tender Renfroe and that Lauer is "Nothing more" than an innings eater, the answer would then be pretty obvious. YEAH. Abreu would most definitely be worth the upgrade. In particular, his ability to hit left handed pitching and the 137 WRC+.

    Feels like you kinda answered your own question here! Just needed to work it out I guess?

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    15 hours ago, Lajitas said:

    Lauer IS a back of the rotation, innings eater.  Nothing more.  He's not bringing back a "valuable high leverage reliever" (again, quoting you).  And even if he did, that reliever's salary would be as much, if not more than Lauer's.

    Actual statistics beg to differ. I mean, yeah, if Lauer were pitching for the Dodgers, he'd probably be their 4th starter. But that isn't the case typically. I'd venture to say that Lauer's numbers stack up favorably against most team's #3 guy, if not their #2. 20 years ago Eric Lauer would have been the Brewers ace.  

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    35 minutes ago, Ron Robinsons Beard said:

    Actual statistics beg to differ. I mean, yeah, if Lauer were pitching for the Dodgers, he'd probably be their 4th starter. But that isn't the case typically. I'd venture to say that Lauer's numbers stack up favorably against most team's #3 guy, if not their #2. 20 years ago Eric Lauer would have been the Brewers ace.  

    "Most teams #3"  Yeah, non-contending teams.  And in 2002, Lauer would have been the Brewers ace.  Ace on a team that loses over 100 games.

    Any team that looks at Lauer as their #3 isn't a team looking to make the playoffs.

     

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    20 minutes ago, Lajitas said:

    "Most teams #3"  Yeah, non-contending teams.  And in 2002, Lauer would have been the Brewers ace.  Ace on a team that loses over 100 games.

    Any team that looks at Lauer as their #3 isn't a team looking to make the playoffs.

     

    Most teams are non contenders.

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