Roster decisions abound for Crew at Winter Meetings

December 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Adam McCalvy's Brewers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MILWAUKEE -- Pat Murphy, who is settling in as the Brewers' manager after nearly a decade as their bench coach, finally returned to his downtown Milwaukee hotel room on Wednesday at 11 p.m. CT. It had been a productive afternoon and evening of conversations with general manager Matt Arnold and some of the team’s other top brass, including assistant GMs Karl Mueller, Matt Kleine and Will Hudgins and vice president of player development Cam Castro.

By 6:30 a.m. the following morning, Murphy was back in his office at American Family Field.

The long hours were a warmup for next week’s Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn., where the late nights and hard work will continue as Murphy & Co. aim to sustain the longest stretch of regular-season success in franchise history -- while also trying to crack the code of the postseason.

“It’s complex. There’s a lot that goes into this,” Murphy said Thursday during an extended conversation for the Brewers Unfiltered podcast (which you can find on Apple Podcasts or Spotify). “There’s a lot of collaboration between the front office, field personnel, all the people involved in performance and player development. We’re smoothing the lines, if you will. So that’s going on.

“Then, personnel. Who fits on our club? That’s talked about a whole bunch. Then, systems -- how those systems are going to work during the year and how we’re going to operate day to day. All of that is being discussed long and hard.” 

Murphy led similarly detailed discussions a couple of weeks ago with his coaching staff, which is returning intact with the addition of associate manager Rickie Weeks. Murphy described the effort as a “smoothing of the roles” so each of his coaches knows not only his own responsibilities, but the others’ as well. Murphy said he’ll empower his coaches to cross lines wherever appropriate if they have an idea that can help. 

Meanwhile, Arnold will continue building the roster. 

“It’s a team effort, it really is,” Murphy said. “And it’s not just staying still. We’re trying to tweak things, we’re trying to adjust things, we’re trying to make things flow a little smoother. We’re dissecting as much as we can. We’re all excited. It’s kind of a new time.” 

Key events
Sunday, Dec. 3: Hall of Fame Contemporary Era ballot results released (Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Ed Montague, Hank Peters, Lou Piniella, Joe West and Bill White)
Tuesday, Dec. 5: Draft Lottery
Wednesday, Dec. 6: Rule 5 Draft

Club needs
The Brewers ranked 27th of 30 teams with -0.6 fWAR at first base, a position that has been in flux for Milwaukee all the way back to Prince Fielder’s departure after 2011. The Brewers acquired left-handed-hitting Jake Bauers from the Yankees on Nov. 17 and believe his career-best power in 2023 is sustainable, so he’s one option for first. Tyler Black, MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 Brewers prospect and co-Minor League Player of the Year, is another option for either first or third. He’s also a left-handed hitter.

There are a lot of first basemen on the market, including switch-hitting veteran Carlos Santana, who was solid for Milwaukee after last season’s Trade Deadline and is a candidate to return. Other available first basemen who posted a positive fWAR last season include Brandon Belt, Donovan Solano, Garrett Cooper and Mike Ford. Rhys Hoskins is also a free agent, but he missed all of 2023 while recovering from a left ACL tear.

Besides first and third base, starting pitching could also prove a Brewers need, depending what they do with ace right-hander  this winter. 

Potential trade candidates
The Brewers remain relatively flush with outfielders, from the very expensive (Christian Yelich has five years and $136.5 million remaining on his contract, plus some deferred money) to the relatively established and controllable (Tyrone Taylor has three arbitration years remaining) to the just-graduated prospects (Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick, Joey Wiemer and perhaps even Blake Perkins, depending how you view his upside at age 27). With uber-prospect  knocking on the door of the big leagues, it’s plausible that the Brewers could trade an outfielder to fill another need. 

As far as other prospects, Chourio and Black are almost certainly untouchable, probably along with catcher Jeferson Quero (No. 2, No. 32 overall). But that leaves plenty of good talent in MLB Pipeline’s No. 3-ranked farm system, from a high-ceiling pitcher like Jacob Misiorowski (No. 3) to hitters like Milwaukee’s last two first-round Draft picks, Brock Wilken (No. 7) and Eric Brown Jr. (No. 10).

Prospect to know
Even before news broke this week that the Brewers were on the verge of signing top prospect Chourio to a record-setting contract, one of the biggest questions going into 2024 was when the talented outfielder would arrive in Milwaukee. The Brewers have pushed the 19-year-old from Maracaibo, Venezuela, aggressively through the farm system, and Chourio has met every challenge. He’ll play for the Brewers in ‘24. The question is when.

Rule 5 Draft
Notable Brewers prospects who are Rule 5-eligible and were left unprotected include shortstop Freddy Zamora (No. 26), left-hander Adam Seminaris and right-handers Justin Yeager and Joseph Hernandez (three of Milwaukee’s pitching prospects in this year’s Arizona Fall League), plus right-hander Evan McKendry, who was acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Rays. McKendry, 25, was 12-6 with a 4.30 ERA in 142 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level in 2023.

Here’s a history of the Brewers’ selections in the annual event, including reliever Gus Varland last year.

Burning question
Will Burnes be the Brewers’ Opening Day starter? If you’re a newsletter subscriber, then you know we explored that question in detail earlier this week. The answer will help define what type of team the Brewers will field going into 2024.