MILWAUKEE -- On the same day the free-agent marketplace opened for business across Major League Baseball, the Brewers did some tearing down on Monday before they begin to build up again.
“It’s going to be a different group there next year,” Anderson said. “But they know what they’re doing. You have to understand the business side of this. After being traded once and going to arbitration and all that, I really learned a lot in my four years [with the Brewers], that’s for sure.”
By letting go of Anderson and Thames, the Brewers cleared an additional $15 million of payroll on top of last week’s departure of a slew of free agents, including high-priced catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Mike Moustakas. All told, only four players are signed for 2020 at the moment -- Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich and Piña -- for a total of $46.35 million.
Of course, that figure will climb when the Brewers settle some of their remaining 11 arbitration cases. But president of baseball operations David Stearns does have financial flexibility as he seeks to fill gaps on the pitching staff, at catcher, potentially at third base and now at first base, where the Brewers' decision to pay Thames’ $1 million buyout rather than bring him back for one more year at $7.5 million opens a hole at the position and in Milwaukee’s power production. Thames belted 72 home runs in 383 games over the past three seasons, and Jesús Aguilar was traded to Tampa Bay in July. There is no clear internal favorite to fill first base.
Could Braun return to the first-base mix? That’s “on the table,” Stearns said, with a number of other options.
“We’re certainly not closing the door on bringing Eric back. We’ll see if there’s a fit sometime later in the offseason,” said Stearns, who indicated he’d already broached that topic with Thames and his representative. “But at this point with the dollar value associated with the club option and the market we see developing out there at that position, we thought it was in the [team’s] best interests to decline the option.”
In other words, the Brewers believe that $6.5 million can be better allocated. Stearns’ view of the first-base market is that it is “robust,” including not only free agents but also potential trade targets.
Likewise, letting Anderson go cleared some salary while opening a spot on a pitching staff already dotted with uncertainty at this early stage of the offseason. Anderson was Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter in 2018, but he allowed the most home runs in the National League that season and logged a 4.21 ERA in 139 innings in '19. It was debatable whether the Brewers would exercise his $8.5 million club option for next season or pay a $500,000 buyout by either cutting Anderson loose or proceeding into arbitration.
The trade offered an alternative: Milwaukee received Double-A first baseman/outfielder Chad Spanberger, who is coming off a disappointing season but has tremendous power potential.
“We were not going to exercise that club option. We were likely going to go through the arbitration system [with Anderson] and work through that system,” Stearns said. “Given that there was a team that clearly had interest in him and we were able to get back a prospect that we like, we thought it was the right move to make.”
Of whether Anderson’s departure increased the need to acquire pitching this winter, Stearns said, “You’re always going to have to be sure you have sufficient innings coverage, and you’re right, Chase was a part of that for us for the past couple of years. We’re going to have to make sure in the coming months that we have sufficient coverage in that area.”
Monday marked the start of Hot Stove season. By day’s end, free agents were truly free and allowed to sign with any team.
“There's always a discussion about reallocating dollars at this time of year and how best and most efficiently we can spend our dollars,” Stearns said. “There are finite resources for every single team out there. We certainly have finite resources ourselves, and we have to make sure we're spending them in the best possible way.”