Hot corner hot topic after Wong joins Crew

Having significantly upgraded defense, could Brewers sign another star?

February 5th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers spent big for the first time this winter when they finalized a two-year, $18 million pact with two-time Gold Glove Award-winning second baseman on Friday.

Now, about third base ...

After inking Wong to a contract with significant deferrals, the club still has a hole at the hot corner and remained linked to free agent as recently as Thursday night in a report from Robert Murray of FanSided. But adding Wong did upgrade two other positions, as Milwaukee president of baseball operations David Stearns confirmed that , the high-upside hitter with defensive issues related to an errant throwing arm, is moving from second base to first to accommodate Wong’s arrival.

“We know we're adding, in our opinion, the best defensive second baseman in all of baseball,” Stearns said. “That's a significant addition to our club. It allows us to formulate what could be one of the premier defensive infields in all of baseball, and really transforms our up-the-middle defense on our club.”

Of course, having a premier defensive infield involves stationing someone at third base. At the moment, the Brewers’ primary options there are , whom they still like a lot after a disjointed debut season in Milwaukee in 2020, or , the former top prospect who signed a modest one-year deal with the Brewers early in this historically quiet offseason.

With club finances impacted by the pandemic and the Brewers’ television deal -- an agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting expired after last season, and negotiations with various outlets on a new deal were still ongoing as of Friday -- Stearns did not rule out further spending. He said he was in regular contact with principal owner Mark Attanasio and the rest of the team’s ownership group “about what is in the best interest of our organization both near and long term.”

Before Wong passed his physical and signed his two-year contract with a club option that could push the value to $26 million over three years, Stearns and the Brewers had spent $1.725 million all winter -- on one-year deals for Robertson and catcher . According to’s Jon Paul Morosi, Wong’s contract “only” adds $3 million to the total for 2021. Per Morosi, Wong gets a $1 million signing bonus and a $7 million salary for ’21, with $5 million of that deferred to ’23 and ’24 in the interest of giving the team flexibility to consider further acquisitions. Wong then gets $8 million in '22 with a club option for ’23 at $10 million with a $2 million buyout.

Per club policy, the Brewers didn’t confirm any of the financial terms of Wong’s contract, but based on that reporting their projected 2021 payroll would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $84 million as of Friday.   

“That's the constant balance that we have to work on,” Stearns said. “We believe our best chance of winning a World Series is getting as many bites of the apple as we possibly can. That means staying competitive for as long as we possibly can. That means balancing near term and out years and long terms. We continue to have those conversations. I don't think anything is necessarily off the table, but we have to make sure it makes sense for our organization now and in the future."

Signing Turner, who is 36 but one of the best hitters on the market, would drive that figure significantly higher this year and in future years. Other third base types may be available on one-year deals. Free agents still available include Jedd Gyorko, Maikel Franco, Jake Lamb, Todd Frazier and others.

“We understand the breadth of the market that’s out there,” Stearns said. “We also understand our internal options. When we’re evaluating an external acquisition, we have to be comfortable that it’s making us better, because by definition it’s going to cut off opportunity for those in-house. That’s part of the process we’re going through right now.

“I’m comfortable that, once we get to Opening Day, we’re going to have a good grasp on what third base will look like and be pleased with where it is.”

While that remains an open question, it’s not hard to project the rest of a Brewers' Opening Day roster. They have a plethora of catchers led by Omar Narváez and Manny Piña, two capable shortstops in Orlando Arcia and Urías, and a full complement of starting outfielders in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Avisaíl García. They also have relatively a solid stable of starters (Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Josh Lindblom and Adrian Houser could comprise a rotation) and relievers (led by Josh Hader and 2020 National League Rookie of the Year Devin Williams).

Stearns said the Brewers would continue to eye pitching depth, cognizant of the challenges facing teams going from 60 games last season to an expected 162 games this season.

Stearns also reiterated Friday that the club expects Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Cain back in the fold for 2021 after he elected not to play in 2020. That’s another significant boost in addition to Wong, who gives the Brewers a dose of defense in the field and contact at the plate. His 14.4 percent strikeout rate was 18th lowest among MLB’s qualifying hitters last season.

“We didn’t necessarily envision Kolten Wong being available when we started our offseason prep,” Stearns said, referring to the Cardinals’ decision to decline Wong’s $12.5 million option. “To that extent, this was a pivot, this was a shift once he became available and how he might fit on our team, and what our team might look like with his addition, it became pretty alluring to us.”