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Shaw, Nelson among 5 Brewers non-tenders

@AdamMcCalvy
December 2, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- So far, departures have dominated the Brewers’ offseason narrative. And that did not change at Monday’s non-tender deadline. President of baseball operations David Stearns cautioned against drawing premature conclusions after the club continued shedding payroll by opting against tendering 2020 contracts to five arbitration-eligible players including third baseman

MILWAUKEE -- So far, departures have dominated the Brewers’ offseason narrative. And that did not change at Monday’s non-tender deadline.

President of baseball operations David Stearns cautioned against drawing premature conclusions after the club continued shedding payroll by opting against tendering 2020 contracts to five arbitration-eligible players including third baseman Travis Shaw and former No. 1 starter Jimmy Nelson.

Shaw and Nelson became free agents along with relievers Alex Claudio and Junior Guerra and infielder Tyler Saladino, all of whom stood to earn more via the arbitration process than the Brewers were willing to commit. The Brewers did hold on to Orlando Arcia, signing the shortstop to a one-year deal that reportedly pays $2.2 million, and outfielder Ben Gamel, who signed a one-year deal reportedly worth $1.4 million with a 2021 club option at $2.55 million.

The also tendered contracts to their remaining unsigned players on the 40-man roster, a list that includes arbitration-eligible relievers Josh Hader and Corey Knebel, plus swingman Brent Suter. Essentially, those players are all signed for 2019 at salaries to be determined.

The Brewers’ five non-tenders were the most of any MLB team.

“We certainly intend to be competitive again next year,” said Stearns, dismissing the notion that the Brewers, after breaking their payroll record last year, were entering a period of austerity. “We think we have a quality team and we'll continue to complement and add to that team throughout the rest of the offseason. We've got a lot of offseason left.”

Monday was the deadline for clubs to decide whether to proceed with their eligible players into an arbitration system that typically results in increased salaries, or cut them loose. For the Brewers, it meant a parting of ways with some mainstays. Shaw topped 30 home runs in 2017 and '18 to push his salary to $4.675 million in 2019, when he bottomed out to the tune of a .157 batting average and a .551 OPS. Nelson earned $3.7 million while completing his comeback from a 2017 shoulder surgery but wasn’t able to stick in Milwaukee’s starting rotation, and finished the year with a 6.95 ERA in 22 Major League innings.

Claudio and Guerra ranked first and second in appearances among Brewers pitchers in 2019 while earning $1.275 million and $2.225 million, respectively. Claudio’s 83 appearances tied the franchise record. Guerra pitched 72 times with a 3.55 ERA, and was a key setup man to Hader.

Those departures followed other recent moves meant to maximize available payroll. The Brewers traded starter Chase Anderson to the Blue Jays and Zach Davies to the Padres, opening two holes in the rotation. They declined Eric Thames’ club option, opening another hole at first base in addition to question marks at catcher, third base and potentially shortstop.

Arcia had the potential to be another non-tender in the run-up to Monday’s deadline, especially in light of a trade with the Padres last week that brought the Brewers a potential shortstop of the future in 22-year-old Luis Urías.

“Orlando is a player who has had periods of brilliance during his Major League career and he's also a player who's struggled at points in his career, but he's only 25 years old,” Stearns said. “It was important for us to be able to get a deal done pre-tender with him. The cost certainty with him was very important.”

Stearns said the Brewers were in talks throughout the day Monday with Shaw’s agent about a similar agreement. Stearns called the non-tender decision “difficult.”

“Ultimately, we did our best to look at Travis’ performance prior to this year, look at his performance this year, talk with Travis and his representation about his beliefs and how he thinks everything is going,” Stearns said. “At the end of all those conversations, we just couldn’t line up today.”

Shaw’s agent, Joe Bick, texted MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, “If Travis can be in a spot where a team just trusts and believes in him, they’ll get tremendous results.”

“Last year is an anomaly,” added Brett Bick, who co-represents Shaw, “and we know the kind of hitter Travis is. He’s confident in his ability to be that hitter again, and with his offensive track record and defensive versatility/ability, we’re confident he’d bring value to any [team].”

The Brewers' decision came the same day free agent Mike Moustakas reportedly agreed to a four-year deal with the Reds. The Brewers had expressed interest in bringing Moustakas back again, but now must find a third baseman elsewhere, as they do not have one ready in the Minor League system. Stearns said he remains satisfied with the pool of infielders available via trade or free agency. He left the door open to using Urias at that position.

On Nelson, Stearns said, “Jimmy has been a really good Brewer. He had a really unfortunate injury at a time in his career when it appeared he was taking a step towards becoming one of the better pitchers in the National League. … Given the parameters that are in place in the salary arbitration process, it wasn’t something we were prepared to do.”

The moves left the Brewers’ 40-man roster at 31 heading toward next week’s Winter Meetings in San Diego.

“I would say for all of these players: We haven’t closed any doors,” Stearns said. “Just because we weren’t able to reach agreements or settlements before this deadline, doesn’t mean that conversations can’t continue.”

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.