MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers are nearing decision time with a long list of arbitration-eligible players, including their trickiest case in years, infielder Jonathan Schoop.The Brewers entered the offseason with as many as 15 players potentially eligible for arbitration, the system in place to compensate players who generally have between three
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers are nearing decision time with a long list of arbitration-eligible players, including their trickiest case in years, infielder Jonathan Schoop.
The Brewers entered the offseason with as many as 15 players potentially eligible for arbitration, the system in place to compensate players who generally have between three and six years of Major League service. But after picking up Jeremy Jeffress' option, re-signing Erik Kratz to a one-year contract and removing Stephen Vogt from the 40-man roster, the list stands at 12 ahead of Friday's 7 p.m. CT deadline for teams to tender those players a contract for 2019 or let them go to free agency.
These players are eligible: Hitters Hernan Perez, Manny Pina, Tyler Saladino, Domingo Santana, Schoop and Travis Shaw; and pitchers Xavier Cedeno, Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, Dan Jennings, Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson.
• MLB.com glossary: Explaining salary arbitration
Many of those players are locks to be retained, including Shaw and Pina, who will get significant raises in their first year of arbitration, plus late-season relief ace Knebel and former ace Nelson, who is coming back from shoulder surgery. Others are more challenging, because players' salaries almost always rise in the system. The Brewers must decide whether Schoop is worth a paycheck that could approach eight figures, and whether to invest in complementary players, like utility man Saladino or lefty specialists Cedeno and Jennings, as the costs rise.
"We certainly have a high number of arbitration-eligible players. We anticipated that; that's part of the progression for an organization," Brewers general manager David Stearns said. "You start out with a lot of pre-arbitration players, they kind of make their way through the system and become arbitration-eligible. We have a number of players who are really good who are going into arbitration, so that's a big part of our offseason strategy, our offseason plan, of how we're going to work through our offseason.
"We're going to have some difficult decisions at the tender date. We're still working through all of those and as we've seen in years past, a lot of those decisions don't really happen until you get right down to the moment."
That could happen with Schoop, who earned $8.5 million last season by virtue of a 25-homer, 82-RBI season in 2016 with the Orioles in his final pre-arbitration season, followed by a 2017 breakthrough in which he hit .293 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs and made the American League All-Star team.
He didn't approach that level of success for the Orioles and Brewers in 2018, when Schoop slashed .233/.266/.416. After the Brewers parted with Jonathan Villar and two of MLB Pipeline's top 30 Milwaukee prospects (pitcher Luis Ortiz and infielder Jean Carmona) to land Schoop at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, he fared even worse, posting a .577 OPS in 134 regular-season plate appearances in a Brewers uniform. He was limited to eight at-bats in the team's 10 postseason games.
Still, Schoop is likely to get a raise in arbitration. Brewers officials must decide whether to stick with their original assessment, which dictated parting with promising prospects for 1 1/2 years of Schoop, or whether to cut bait a year early and look elsewhere to fill out the infield.
"I think we have to look at Jonathan in a variety of different contexts," Stearns said. "We have to recognize that he was a really good player for a long time; a player who made an All-Star team, got MVP votes and was a Player of the Month before we acquired him. We also have to recognize that he really struggled while he was here. We need to sort through that. We have to look at alternatives and we have to look at what Jonathan could potentially mean to this team if we get the version we know is in there to play for the Milwaukee Brewers."
• A non-tender candidate from every team
At the moment, the team has about $70 million committed to nine players already under contract for 2019: Ryan Braun, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Eric Thames, Jeffress, Matt Albers and Kratz. Thames, set to earn $6 million in the final guaranteed season of his contract, is a trade candidate. Ditto Anderson, who will earn $6.5 million next year and has club options for the two subsequent seasons.
After Friday's non-tender deadline, the payroll picture will be clearer. Notably, arbitration contracts are non-guaranteed; teams can release such players before Opening Day and owe only a portion of the salary.
Here are the players impacted, with their arbitration status and 2018 salaries:
Jonathan Schoop ($8.5 milllion)
Xavier Cedeno ($1.05 million)
Dan Jennings ($750,000)*
Corey Knebel ($3.65 million)
Jimmy Nelson ($3.7 million)
Hernan Perez ($1.975 million)
Domingo Santana ($572,400)
Zach Davies ($572,000)
Travis Shaw ($567,400)
Tyler Saladino ($565,000)
Manny Pina ($560,100)
Junior Guerra ($554,800)*
* Jennings signed for $2.375 million with Tampa Bay last winter to avoid arbitration but was released March 28 and paid approximately $575,000 in termination pay before signing a $750,000 deal with the Brewers.
** Knebel was eligible for arbitration as a Super Two player in 2017 and will have four years of eligibility.
*** Guerra is eligible as a Super Two player this year.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.