Exploring Adames' situation with the Brewers

January 20th, 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.

About those Willy Adames comments.

Adames was the talk of Wednesday night’s Hot Stove & Cold Brews fanfest in Milwaukee as the ever-smiling shortstop took photos with fans, mixed cocktails and met the media. Especially when he met the media. Adames, one of the handful of Brewers stars two years shy of free agency, reiterated that he wants to stay in Milwaukee long term. 

“I love the city, I love the fans, I Iove playing here,” he said. 

And here’s the part that really jumped out: “We haven’t had any conversations yet,” Adames said, “but I’m always ready to listen to see what they have.”

I don’t blame fans for being shocked to hear that. Here’s a charismatic player who supercharged the Brewers after coming over in a trade in 2021, who has been voted club MVP each of the past two seasons and, at 4.7 fWAR in 2022, delivered nearly twice the value of any other Milwaukee position player. He’s expressing publicly and adamantly that he wants to stay. He even picked up the bar tab for 600 fans on Wednesday night. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask why a team wouldn’t talk with that player about an extension. 

Here’s the problem. Just like with Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff -- two other extension candidates -- Brewers officials, including GM Matt Arnold, have a policy of not discussing these matters on the record, except in the most general of terms to say that the team is open to talks and that it’s a two-way street to make a deal happen. Arnold, like David Stearns before him, never goes farther than that because it benefits no one to go head to head with a player through the media. So we’re not exactly hearing both sides.

The thing is, we know there have indeed been some conversations between the Brewers and Adames. Adames said so at the end of last season, when he relayed a conversation with then-president of baseball operations Stearns in which Adames says he expressed his openness to stay.

Logic and experience tells me that the Brewers and Adames’ reps have talked more than it seems. During last season, there were some rumblings that the Brewers had even put an offer in front of Adames sometime before Opening Day, though neither Adames nor the team has confirmed that. And we know the sides have had extensive contact this winter, since Adames, like Burnes, Eric Lauer, Luis Urías, Keston Hiura and others is represented by CAA Sports. Isn’t it logical to think that during their various discussions the sides broached the concept of longer-term contracts, even if just to get a vibe about interest? 

I’m also certain that Arnold loves Adames, considering Arnold was with the Rays when they got Adames from the Tigers in the David Price deal in 2014, and when the Brewers got Adames in May of '21. 

But, you can love a player and still recognize the reality that the last two calendar years were tough on the Brewers’ chances. Here are the mega contracts for free-agent shortstops since the start of 2021:

• Fernando Tatis Jr. (14 years, $340 million)

• Francisco Lindor (10 years, $341 million)

• Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million)

• Javier Báez (six years, $140 million)

• Trevor Story (six years, $140 million)

• Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million)

• Trea Turner (11 years, $300 million)

• Xander Bogaerts (11 years, $280 million)

• Dansby Swanson (seven years, $177 million)

• Carlos Correa (six years, $200 million)

I’ll be accused of carrying water for the Brewers, and that’s fine, but the reality is that a contract in the $23-$25 million per year range (and up) represents a massive risk, especially in the context of the $26 million per year bet on Christian Yelich in March 2020. There’s still hope that Yelich will deliver on that investment, but it’s representative of the risk involved.

Adding another huge extension for Adames -- or Burnes or Woodruff -- would leave no room for error for a club that topped out last year at about a $137 million payroll. If the outlook for Yelich doesn’t improve, and another big extension doesn’t pan out as planned, it could plunge the Brewers into the sort of teardown they have said they are trying to avoid.

If you think the Brewers should blow past that payroll figure to capitalize on the elite starting pitching they have assembled, that’s a valid stance. But it’s a different discussion. A GM has to operate within the parameters they are given.  

Then there’s the player side. If you’re Adames’ agent, and you see the market for shortstops in the past two-plus years, wouldn’t you be enticed to reach the open market with your player going into his age-29 season, and see what it bears? 

There’s still plenty of time for this to unfold. Remember, Adames has one more year of contractual control before reaching free agency after the 2024 season.