After springing a January surprise on the baseball world by landing Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich last winter, Brewers general manager David Stearns said he expects a more modest offseason this time around. His first big decision could be what to do with infielder Jonathan Schoop.
Stearns met reporters this week in Carlsbad, Calif., during a break at the General Managers Meetings, which annually offer an opportunity to begin laying groundwork for the free-agent signings and trades later in the offseason.
"I think it's unlikely we have a similar offseason to what we did last year," Stearns said. "We committed over $150 million last year between Cain, Yelich and Jhoulys Chacin. That's far and away the largest financial commitment this organization has ever seen in a single offseason, and so I think it would be unrealistic to replicate that."
The Brewers currently have eight players under contract for 2019 (Ryan Braun, Cain, Yelich, Chacin, Chase Anderson, Eric Thames, Jeremy Jeffress and Matt Albers) at just shy of $70 million, so how much Stearns has to spend this winter hinges on how many of the club's 13 arbitration-eligible players are retained. That list begins with Schoop, the infielder acquired from the Orioles at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline who slumped to a .202/.246/.331 slash line for Milwaukee in the regular season before going 0-for-8 in the postseason.
Schoop earned $8.5 million in 2018 and projects to make more in 2019 should the Brewers opt to tender him a contract and take him into his final season of arbitration. This year's deadline to decide is Nov. 30.
Here are three possibilities for the Brewers and Schoop:
1. Keep him
The Brewers made a significant investment in Schoop when they sent Jonathan Villar and prospects Luis Ortiz and Jean Carmona to the Orioles. Ortiz, a right-handed pitcher, was No. 7 on MLB Pipeline's list of the top Brewers prospects, and Carmona, a shortstop, was No. 14. Part of Schoop's allure was that he was not a mere rental and had another year of club control.
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Sticking to that initial assessment and bringing Schoop back for one year does make some sense. It would essentially fill out the infield, with Travis Shaw moving back to third base in the wake of Mike Moustakas' departure via free agency, and shortstop Orlando Arcia, first basemen Jesus Aguilar and Thames, and utility man Hernan Perez all under club control. It would also buy some time for two middle-infield prospects; Mauricio Dubon, who underwent ACL surgery last summer but is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training, and top prospect Keston Hiura, who could reach Triple-A San Antonio as early as the middle of next season. Gambling on a bounce-back season for Schoop would buy some time for both of those players to get the Minor League time they need.
2. Nontender Schoop and seek a second baseman
The free-agent market is very deep at Schoop's position, including Jed Lowrie, Daniel Murphy, James Dozier, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Harrison, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Daniel Descalso, Neil Walker and John Forsythe -- some of whom may have to take the sort of short-term contract the Brewers would prefer. A super-utility type like former Astro Marwin Gonzalez fits the mold of players often targeted by this front office, but he is a Scott Boras client and would cost more in terms of dollars and years.
Possible trade targets include Cleveland's Jason Kipnis, who is pricy at $14.5 million in the final guaranteed year of his deal plus a $2.5 million buyout of a 2020 option, or Miami's Starlin Castro, who is guaranteed $11 million next year with a $1 million buyout of his 2020 option. The Brewers were rumored to be interested last winter in Kansas City's Whit Merrifield, a versatile player coming off an .806 OPS who is still a year away from arbitration. The cost would be high, and Merrifield would overlap with the arrivals of Dubon and Hiura, but his versatility could make it work.
3. Nontender Schoop and seek a third baseman
Shaw had never played second base before last season, but he took to the position well. That means the Brewers are comfortable with him at first, second and third base, opening up a slew of options as they enter the offseason. One of them is simply leaving Shaw at second base next season, where he would be one of the best power hitters in the game at the position.
With Manny Machado way out of the Brewers' price range (and not exactly a popular player at Miller Park), the free-agent options are not nearly as plentiful. Josh Donaldson would be an intriguing choice if he would take a one-year deal to play in a hitter-friendly ballpark and division. Another option is Moustakas, who said he loved his time in Milwaukee, though he would also love to land the multiyear deal that eluded him in last winter's tight market. Stearns hinted that the Brewers won't make the decision on Schoop until they have to.
"I think that's probably a conversation that's going to continue internally over the next month or so," Stearns said. "Jonathan is a player who we know and the industry knows is a better player than he performed as a Milwaukee Brewer. The player he's been throughout his career is a really valuable player. So we need to determine how our best roster construction is going to work throughout the offseason and into next year. We'll continue to discuss that."