Brewers may chart new course with free agency
MILWAUKEE -- It was perfectly fitting that Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval squeezed the final out of the World Series before falling to his backside with joy. The end of the baseball season meant the start of the Hot Stove season, and Sandoval is positioned to be one of the game's top free agents. As of 11 p.m. CT Monday, he and others will be free to sign with any team.
At the same time, the Brewers' decision makers will be on the clock.
"I wouldn't say we're quite at a crossroads, but we're at [the point] where you can take a path in the woods, and you take one direction or the other," principal owner Mark Attanasio said during the Brewers' final series. "We do have a lot of talent, we have experienced players. We need to identify what's missing."
Brewers free agents/options
Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Francisco Rodriguez, Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds are all free agents, with Duke potentially Milwaukee's only target after the left-hander posted a 2.45 ERA in 74 relief outings. Rodriguez logged 44 saves in an All-Star season, but the Brewers appear poised to move on to late-season acquisition Jonathan Broxton, who is due $9 million in 2015.
First base was at the top of the list before Saturday, when the Brewers sent right-hander Marco Estrada to the Blue Jays in a trade for Adam Lind, who gives the Crew a left-handed bat and a high on-base percentage -- both significant needs. If Lind can stay healthy, he should be an upgrade over the Brewers' first-base production the past two seasons. With Aramis Ramirez exercising his part of the mutual option in his contract for the 2015 season (the Brewers already did), third base is one thing the club can cross off its checklist. The usual bullpen re-jiggering remains on the agenda.
The Brewers' season was barely over before they were linked to Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, who made some sense before the team instead acquired Lind at a significantly lower cost. Lind is only guaranteed $8 million (a $7.5 million salary for 2015 with a $500,000 buyout of an $8 million option for '16). Barring a shakeup of the rest of the roster, the Crew's most likely targets are relief pitchers, many of whom will not sign until late in the offseason. It could be a quiet winter.
The Brewers had multiple offers on the table in July and August for young right-hander Jimmy Nelson, but they declined to move him, believing the 25-year-old to be a building block of the future. You can bet that other teams will continue asking about Nelson this winter, especially since Milwaukee is flush with starting pitchers relative to other clubs (Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers and others). Gallardo and Lohse will be entering the final year of their contracts. In the Minor Leagues, the Brewers' new top prospect is outfielder Tyrone Taylor, with shortstop Orlando Arcia (ranked No. 2) and Clint Coulter (No. 7) newly intriguing now that he's transitioning from catcher to the outfield.
Their second-half collapse brought forth fundamental questions about the direction of the franchise, but Attanasio made clear he intends to compete for a championship in 2015.