NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As the lobby began to empty Wednesday afternoon at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Conference Center, Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Blake Snell -- the top three free agents in MLB.com’s rankings -- were still free agents.
And that meant all of Mike Petriello’s top pitchers potentially available in trades -- Tyler Glasnow, Dylan Cease, Corbin Burnes, Logan Gilbert and Shane Bieber -- were still with the Rays, White Sox, Brewers, Mariners and Guardians, respectively.
It will probably take some or all of the top free agents to move before the trade market follows. At least, that’s what history suggests.
“I think everything I’ve heard from Milwaukee is that they’re putting together a competitive team to win the division in ‘24. That’s all I’ve heard,” said Scott Boras, Burnes’ agent.
Rival executives’ opinions are mixed about whether the Brewers will wind up moving Burnes this offseason. The right-hander has one more year in arbitration before reaching free agency, and Milwaukee general manager Matt Arnold said this week that his stance on Burnes hasn’t changed since the end of the season: He expects him to be on the mound for the Brewers on Opening Day at the Mets.
But teams did approach the Brewers this week and prior to the Winter Meetings about trading for Burnes. Call it due diligence. And out of due diligence, Milwaukee is listening. We analyzed the factors in play for Burnes and the Brewers going into the Meetings.
The next step in the process is Jan. 12, when teams and their arbitration-eligible players who remain unsigned formally file one-year proposals.
“I just listen to the teams, and they have not proposed anything to me [regarding a multiyear contract] of late,” Boras said. “Obviously, he’s an arbitration-eligible player, so we’ll go through that process and see where we go.”
BIGGEST REMAINING NEEDS
1. Infield corners: At first base, which is particularly wide open at this stage, will the Brewers spring for a free agent? (A Carlos Santana reunion seems far likelier than one of the pricer options like Boras client Rhys Hoskins. But Santana will turn 38 in April, so teams will probably be judicious in how high they’ll go with a financial commitment.) Will they fill from within with someone like Tyler Black -- Milwaukee’s No. 4 prospect -- who can play first and third? Or will it be a combination of players, which could include Black, November pickup Jake Bauers and some outside addition? The Brewers are high on Bauers and love mixing and matching with versatile players. They reportedly are among the teams that have shown interest in superutility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
2. Innings: Assuming he stays, Burnes is good for 190-200 innings. Ditto Freddy Peralta. After that, the Brewers have some question marks. Wade Miley’s 120 1/3 innings last season were actually more than anticipated. Miley re-signed with Milwaukee on Monday in one of the handful of signings actually completed this week. Colin Rea was third on last year’s team with 124 2/3 innings, but he will have to prove it in his first full season back from Japan. Aaron Ashby’s timeline is TBD as he continues a long comeback from left shoulder surgery. Prospects Robert Gasser (No. 5 in the Brewers’ system), Carlos Rodriguez (No. 6) and Jacob Misiorowski (No. 3 -- yes, Misiorowski is in the conversation here) have yet to throw a pitch in the Majors. Don’t be surprised if the Brewers continue adding pitching depth.
3. An outfield plan: Jackson Chourio has a clear path to the Opening Day lineup. Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer are only slightly less-prized youngsters. Christian Yelich still has five years left on his contract and won’t be playing first base anytime soon, so left field and DH are his avenues to at-bats. Tyrone Taylor and Blake Perkins each had his moments last year. That is a long list of outfielders, and it does open the Brewers to making some trades. “I remember a couple of years ago when we signed [Lorenzo] Cain and traded for [Christian] Yelich on the same day, everybody was like, ‘How are you going to find room for all of these outfielders?’” Arnold said. “But then this year, we had the Mitchell and Frelick injuries on the same day. These things work themselves out.”
RULE 5 DRAFT
The Brewers didn’t take a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, but they didn’t lose any players, either. Their top prospect left unprotected was shortstop Freddy Zamora (No. 26).
Milwaukee did lose one player in the Triple-A phase. Outfielder Joe Gray Jr. might benefit from a change of scenery after spending the bulk of a third straight season at High-A Wisconsin.
GM'S BOTTOM LINE
“We lay a lot of groundwork here, but you don’t always get deals over the line. I think that happened with [catcher William] Contreras last year. We’re not trying to win the Winter Meetings. We’re trying to win the World Series.”
-- Arnold, referring to last year’s three-team trade with the A’s and Braves that landed Contreras and reliever Joel Payamps on the Monday following the Winter Meetings in San Diego