Avisaíl signing creates depth, flexibility for Crew

Brewers also add infielder Healy, continuing flurry of offseason moves

December 17th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- It’s like 2018 all over again. David Stearns and the Brewers have “too many outfielders.”

That was the chorus after Stearns acquired Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich in January 2018, and it could be heard again Tuesday after the busy Brewers finalized a two-year deal with free agent on the same day they signed a corner infielder, , to a one-year pact.

Healy is easy to fit onto the depth chart, since the Brewers didn’t have any everyday options at first base or third base, and he has extensive experience at both positions. García was trickier. He joined an outfield depth chart that already featured Yelich, Cain and Ryan Braun.

How will that work? Just like 2018, the plan going into Spring Training is that Braun will see some time at first base. How much time depends on the team’s other offseason moves.

“When I talked to the manager, I’m going to play left field because Yelich is in right,” said García, who primarily manned right field last season in Tampa Bay. “Sometimes, I’m going to play center. Most of the time, I’m going to play left field. I’m OK with it. I just like to play baseball. I’m ready to win.”

Stearns, the Brewers' president of baseball operations, characterized that situation as fluid. He said the parties would discuss positioning in Spring Training, once everyone had a feel for where players are most comfortable and where they best fit. If Yelich desires to remain in right field, he will. If he is flexible, perhaps they will flip outfield corners. García has more experience in right field, and Yelich won a Gold Glove Award as a left fielder in Miami. 

Then there is Braun, who is entering the final guaranteed year of his club-record contract. He was in a similar position going into 2018 and actually started Opening Day at first base, but a combination of factors, including the emergence of Jesús Aguilar, pushed Braun back to left field, and it all worked out. 

Stearns has a hunch it will all work out again.

“Ryan's going to see some time at first base. I don't think that will be his sole position, but I think he will some time at first base,” Stearns said. “He's open to it, he understands it. We certainly believe he can play over there at a good level, so that will be part of the rotation in 2020, but that will not be his exclusive position.”

Stearns added: "I have no doubt that there will be plenty of plate appearances to go around. That is not a concern of anyone's.”

García’s contract, which includes a club option, guarantees $20 million over two years and could top out at three years and $30 million. According to reports, he gets a $500,000 signing bonus and salaries of $7 million in 2020 and $10.5 million in '21, with a $12 million club option for '22 with a $2 million buyout. If García gets 1,050 plate appearances in 2020-21 or 550 plate appearances in 2021, it converts to a mutual option.

“I think it’s a great place to play baseball,” García said of Milwaukee. “They are ready to compete, so that’s what I liked. I like to win. That’s the right team to go to.”

García, 28, slashed .282/.332/.464 with 20 home runs for the Rays in 2019 while playing plus defense in right field and staying healthy. He required right knee surgery in 2018 following the last of his six years with the White Sox and was non-tendered before signing with the Rays.

In his career, García has compiled a .323 on-base percentage and a .751 OPS in 3,027 plate appearances. Assuming he pans out in 2020, he will spare the Brewers a search for a starting outfielder next winter, since Cain and Yelich are signed long-term.

“We think Avi is a guy who can impact our team for a couple of years here,” Stearns said. “He's an impactful right-handed bat, and more than that, he's a very skilled defender. We think he has the ability to play all three outfield positions and play them well. And it just gives us a tremendous about of flexibility and versatility on our roster to make sure that every day, we'll have three high-quality outfielders manning all three outfield positions.”

The deals for García and Healy continued a flurry of moves for Milwaukee, which in the past nine days also signed free-agent starters Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom, re-signed reliever Alex Claudio and claimed utility man Ronny Rodriguez off waivers from Detroit.

Healy, if healthy, will get an opportunity to play a prominent role. A right-handed hitter, he has started 169 games at first base and 143 games at third during his big league tenure with the A’s and Mariners, hitting 25 home runs in 2017 with Oakland and 24 home runs in 2018 with Seattle. Last year, Healy was limited to 47 games last year because of a spinal injury that required surgery on his hip in early August. Healy said he was at about 80-85 percent recovered as of Tuesday and has been swinging the bat for a couple of weeks. He expects be full-go by Spring Training. 

“He’ll come to Spring Training with a chance to make the team,” Stearns said, “and if not, he has Minor League options remaining, and it’s possible he could begin the year at Triple-A.” 

Healy has been just as busy as the Brewers in recent days. He reached preliminary terms with the club on Saturday, 15 minutes before getting married. 

“All I wanted was a team that was willing to give me an opportunity,” Healy said. “I know I have to earn everything.”