Brewers cut ties with Schoop, two relievers
Stearns acknowledges 'bad deal' in July 31 trade for infielder
MILWAUKEE -- Sometimes the hardest part of being a Major League general manager is knowing when to cut one's losses.
That's what David Stearns and the Brewers did Friday with Jonathan Schoop, opting to non-tender the underperforming infielder rather than take him through an arbitration process that would have rewarded the 27-year-old with a raise from his $8.5 million 2018 salary.
"Look, it was a bad deal, and that's on me," said Stearns, referring to the July 31 trade that sent Jonathan Villar plus a pair of top prospects to the Orioles for Schoop. "We made a trade for a player who we thought was going to be here for basically a year and a half, and that was wrong."
The Brewers also non-tendered left-handed relievers Dan Jennings and Xavier Cedeno. They join Schoop on the free-agent market.
The Brewers did hang onto nine other arbitration-eligible players. They signed infielders Hernan Perez ($2.5 million, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman) and Tyler Saladino ($887,500) to one-year deals on Friday to avoid arbitration, and tendered contracts to Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, Corey Knebel, Jimmy Nelson, Manny Pina, Domingo Santana and Travis Shaw. Those players are all considered signed for 2019 at a salary to be determined.
Schoop, however, will seek work elsewhere. He hit 32 home runs for the Orioles and was an American League All-Star in 2017, and was the reigning AL Player of the Week when the Brewers sent Villar plus two of MLB Pipeline's top 30 Milwaukee prospects (pitcher Luis Ortiz and infielder Jean Carmona) to Baltimore. Part of Schoop's allure was that he was under club control through 2019, which would help the Brewers bridge the gap to middle-infield prospects Mauricio Dubon, who is coming back from ACL surgery, and No. 1 prospect Keston Hiura, who topped out last season at Double-A Biloxi.
Schoop never got going in a Brewers uniform, posting a .577 OPS in 134 regular-season plate appearances and fading into the background in late September and into the postseason. He was limited to eight at-bats in the team's 10 postseason games.
"For a number of reasons, it didn't work here," Stearns said. "It's my job to look and figure out how best we could position ourselves going forward, and ultimately we determined that unfortunately, it did not involve Jonathan Schoop."
Second base happens to be one of this offseason's deepest positions, but Stearns said that wasn't the primary factor in the decision. The list of free agents includes Marwin Gonzalez, 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. That list grew at Friday's non-tender deadline, with the Mets' Wilmer Flores among those cut loose. Stearns said his baseball-operations team would study the new options over the weekend.
Possible trade targets include Cleveland's Jason Kipnis, who is pricey at $14.5 million in the final guaranteed year of his deal plus a $2.5 million buyout of a 2020 option, and Miami's Starlin Castro, who is guaranteed $11 million next year with a $1 million buyout in 2020. The Brewers were rumored to be interested last winter in Kansas City's Whit Merrifield, a versatile player coming off an .806 OPS season and 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.
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Internally, Stearns said he considers Perez and Saladino candidates to play some second base, and referenced Triple-A options, which include Dubon and Nate Orf. The Brewers could also use Shaw at second base, where he saw extensive action after Brewers traded for third baseman Mike Moustakas in July. But the "default scenario," Stearns said, is moving Shaw back to third.
"I think it's certainly something we're going to look at," Stearns said. "We do feel like we have internal options to fill that position if nothing presents itself externally to our liking. As you alluded to, there are options out there both free agents and trades, and we're certainly going to explore them."
Stearns declined to say whether he had been in contact with agent Scott Boras about bringing back Moustakas.
As for cutting loose relievers Cedeno and Jennings, Stearns said, "These are tough decisions because both of those guys had periods when they really performed well for us. It's just part of the salary-arbitration process. As relievers work through the process, sometimes their potential earnings exceed what they're likely to make on the free-agent market. It gives us a little bit more roster flexibility and it gives us a little bit more flexibility as we try to shape our roster going into next year."
Cedeno was coming off a $1.05 million salary. Jennings originally signed with the Rays for $2.375 million but was released late in Spring Training and signed with the Brewers for $700,000.
With those departures, the Brewers' 40-man roster was at 36.
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Here are the Brewers' remaining arbitration-eligible players with their 2018 salaries:
Corey Knebel ($3.65 million)
Jimmy Nelson ($3.7 million)
Domingo Santana ($572,400)
Zach Davies ($572,000)
Travis Shaw ($567,400)
Manny Pina ($560,100)
Junior Guerra ($554,800)**
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.