What to know about the Brewers' offseason decisions

October 31st, 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.

Here are the dates, names and decision points to know as the Brewers dive into another offseason of roster-building.

What are the key dates?

First day after the World Series: Teams can once again trade Major League players, and eligible players become free agents. That starts a “quiet period” in which free agents may negotiate only with their own team.

Fifth day after the World Series: The deadline for teams and players to make decisions on contract options. Also, the “quiet period” ends and Major League free agents are free to sign with any club as of 4 p.m. CT. Minor League players become free agents at 4 p.m. CT, if applicable. This is also the deadline for clubs to tender qualifying offers.

Nov. 7-9: GM Meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Nov. 14: The deadline for players to accept a qualifying offer is 3 p.m. CT. The deadline to add players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft is 5 p.m. CT.

Nov. 17: Tender deadline. Often referred to as the non-tender deadline, 7 p.m. CT is the deadline by which teams must formally tender 2023 contracts to unsigned players, including their arbitration-eligible players. If a player is non-tendered, he becomes a free agent.

Dec. 4-6: Winter Meetings in Nashville, including the MLB Draft lottery on Dec. 5 and the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 6.

Jan. 12, 2024: Eligible players and their teams exchange arbitration figures.

Jan. 15, 2024: Start of the new international signing period.

Feb. 14, 2024: Brewers pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Who are the Brewers' free agents?

C Victor Caratini, 3B Josh Donaldson, 1B Darin Ruf, 1B Carlos Santana, OF Jesse Winker, LHP Eric Lauer and RHP Colin Rea.

Will any of them get a qualifying offer?

No. This year’s figure reportedly is $20.5 million, the average of the top 125 salaries in MLB. It’s the first time the qualifying offer has topped $20 million.

What about contract options?

OF Mark Canha ($11.5 million club option, $2 million buyout)

LHP Wade Miley ($10 million mutual option, $1 million buyout)

LHP Andrew Chafin ($7.25 million club option, $750,000 buyout

LHP Justin Wilson ($2.5 million club option, $150,000 buyout)

Canha and Miley are interesting calls -- both productive veterans who brought something important to Milwaukee on and off the field. The Brewers do have an abundance of other outfielders, including their crop of just-graduated prospects like Garrett Mitchell, Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer. All deserve big league at-bats next year, but Canha could still fit if the Brewers see him as an option at first base.

As for Miley, mutual options are rarely picked up by both sides. But it does happen sometimes -- Aramis Ramirez and the Brewers agreed on a reunion in 2014, for example -- and Miley loves pitching in Milwaukee. The Brewers have a need, with so many question marks in their starting rotation.

Who is arbitration eligible?

Milwaukee’s arbitration-eligible players are pitchers Corbin Burnes, Adrian Houser, Hoby Milner, Joel Payamps, Devin Williams, Bryse Wilson and Brandon Woodruff; infielders Willy Adames, Rowdy Tellez and Abraham Toro and outfielder Tyrone Taylor.

Are any of those players non-tender candidates?

Yes, including some notable names. Woodruff is coming off a $10.8 million salary in 2023 and will miss most or all of ‘24 with a shoulder injury. Because he has only one arbitration year remaining before free agency, that makes him a likely non-tender unless the Brewers and agent Bo McKinnis can work out a multi-year deal that makes sense for both sides.

Burnes ($10.01 million salary last season), Adames ($8.7 million), Tellez ($4.95 million) and Houser ($3.6 million) are all entering their final year of arbitration, making Burnes and Adames potential trade candidates, and Houser and Tellez non-tender candidates if the club thinks it can put those payroll dollars to use elsewhere. Toro won’t cost as much, but he will be out of Minor League options next year.

What's the payroll situation?

Like always, it depends on your accounting method. FanGraphs and Spotrac pegged the Brewers’ end-of-season payroll at $125-$126 million, including deferments and other hidden costs. Both sites had Milwaukee ranked 19th of MLB’s 30 teams in end-of-season payroll. Those calculations reflected a rise from an Opening Day payroll somewhere in the neighborhood of $109 million (Spotrac) to $119 million (USA Today), depending on your source of choice.

That’s probably the range in which the club wants to stay for 2024. At the moment, only three players have set salaries: Christian Yelich ($26 million), Freddy Peralta ($5,734,960) and Aaron Ashby ($1.45 million), but that group will grow as arbitration decisions come down and the Brewers eventually sign their pre-arbitration players. At the moment, FanGraphs estimates Milwaukee’s 2024 payroll at about $109 million, a figure that will change as players come and go. 

The bottom line is that the Brewers have left themselves some flexibility to make offseason additions. At the moment, the primary needs appear to be first and third base and perhaps starting pitching, depending on decisions with Miley and Houser and the health of Ashby’s shoulder.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason?

Generally speaking, players who signed with their current club at age 18 or younger and have five years of experience or signed with their current club at age 19 or older and have four years of experience, and are not protected on 40-man rosters, are eligible to be plucked away in December’s Rule 5 Draft. The catch is that the claiming team must keep the player on its Major League roster for the entirety of next year. 

With my annual tip of the cap to Jim Goulart of the indispensable Brewer Fanatic forum, there are only three members of MLB Pipeline’s Brewers Top 30 prospects list who would be Rule 5 Draft-eligible if not added to the 40-man (with their Pipeline rank in parentheses):

C Jeferson Quero (No. 2)

RHP Bradley Blalock (No. 17)

INF Freddy Zamora (No. 26)

Quero is one of Milwaukee’s most exciting prospects, a catcher who commands the field and is coming off a season in which he slashed .262/.339/.441 as a 20-year-old at Double-A. He’s a lock to be added to the 40-man roster. The Brewers will have to decide on Blalock, who was acquired from the Red Sox for Luis Urías, since he’s 22 and has yet to pitch north of the High-A level. Likewise with Zamora, Milwaukee’s second-round Draft pick in 2020 who had a nice bounce-back season at Double-A Biloxi in 2023 after missing much of ‘22 with a shoulder injury.

Other notable players who would be Rule 5 eligible include left-hander Adam Seminaris and right-handers Justin Yeager and Joseph Hernandez (three of Milwaukee’s 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 4.55 ERA in 142 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level between Tampa Bay and Milwaukee in 2023.