How might Crew fill needs at Winter Meetings?
GM Stearns seeks upgrades and depth at second base and rotation
MILWAUKEE -- The excitement of October at Miller Park has made way to the quietest start to an offseason in Brewers GM David Stearns' fourth winter at the helm. Will that change when the baseball world converges in Las Vegas for the annual Winter Meetings?
Stearns has been active at the Meetings before, swinging trades that landed Freddy Peralta from the Mariners in Nashville, Tenn. in 2015 and Travis Shaw from the Red Sox in 2016 in Washington D.C. He was not outwardly active last year in Orlando, but one week later the Brewers signed free-agent starter Jhoulys Chacin to a two-year contract that paid big dividends in 2018, as the team played to a Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
Since then, it's been quiet. The Brewers have made only a couple of minor outside moves since the last pitch of their season, most recently on Friday signing veteran catcher Tuffy Gosewisch to a Minor League deal with an invite to big league Spring Training camp.
"Discussions have certainly picked up and I do think there's a fair amount of industry activity that's ongoing," Stearns said at the end of last week. "That's healthy this time of year. That means the industry is talking and there's likely going to be some activity over the next two or three weeks."
When reached again Friday as the Brewers closed the final work week before Las Vegas, Stearns said there were no imminent signings or trades.
"We've talked throughout the early part of this offseason that we do view it as a little bit of a different offseason than what we've had in the past," Stearns said. "We have the ability to be patient and evaluate all markets."
The Brewers have one big hole: Second base. That position opened Nov. 30, when the club opted to non-tender Jonathan Schoop rather than pay him a raise in arbitration over the $8.5 million the 27-year-old earned during a 2018 season split between the Orioles and Brewers. Since Stearns said he prefers to move Shaw back to third base, the Brewers are likely to choose from a deep pool of free agents at second base, or make a trade. The organization's other internal options are utility-types Hernan Perez, Tyler Saladino and Nate Orf, or middle-infield prospect Mauricio Dubon, who is coming back from ACL surgery.
• Depth in 2B market gives Brewers options
The club's other needs are less acute; Stearns could seek an upgrade over the in-house catching trio of Manny Pina, Erik Kratz and Jacob Nottingham, and like most clubs, the Brewers are likely to add depth to their pitching staff.
"It's probably not going to surprise you that we like our pitching," Stearns said. "We've liked our pitching even when external opinion hasn't. We think we have a number of guys who can continue to take steps forward in their development this year. We return essentially our entire pitching staff -- obviously, losing Wade [Miley] is the one exception there. But we feel like we have numbers. You're always going to look to get better, but I don't view it as a necessity. If we go into the season with this group, I think we'll all be very confident."
Whom might they trade?
Slugging first baseman and outfielder Eric Thames is a trade chip after his early-season thumb injury and Jesus Aguilar's emergence conspired to limit Thames to 16 home runs in 247 at-bats last season, after he hit 31 homers in 469 at-bats the year before. He will earn $6 million in 2019 in the last guaranteed season of his deal, which includes a club option for 2020.
The Brewers could also open payroll space by exploring a trade of starter Chase Anderson, who will earn $6.5 million next season and has club options for 2020 and '21.
And just like last winter, outfielders Domingo Santana or Keon Broxton could be dealt. Both are now out of options, and Santana's value is presumably lower since he is coming off a disappointing season and is now arbitration-eligible for the first time.
Prospects to know
Any significant trade talks over the past year have started with No. 1 Brewers prospect Keston Hiura or No. 2 prospect Corey Ray (Milwaukee's first-round Draft picks in 2017 and '16) or 24-year-old right-hander Corbin Burnes, who was the organization's top pitching prospect before he graduated this past season. Stearns has resisted dealing any of those players, even though it meant letting some opportunities go.
The new top Brewers pitching prospect, Zack Brown, would be tough to trade, but No. 12 Brewers prospect Marcos Diplan could be had in the right deal. Acquired from the Rangers in the Yovani Gallardo trade, Diplan's stuff is better than his results last season after a promotion to Double-A Biloxi.
Rule 5 Draft
The Brewers were down to 36 players on the 40-man roster after a series of non-tenders last week, so the opportunity is there to make a Rule 5 Draft pick. The Brewers made two picks in Stearns' first Winter Meetings at the helm, but neither Colin Walsh nor Zach Jones made it through the season with Milwaukee, and the Brewers have not made a notable selection since.
As we wrote in a pre-Winter Meetings Inbox this week, the Brewers' payroll picture is a lot different this year than last year at this time, now that Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich are in the fold. The Brewers committed more than $150 million to Cain, Yelich and Chacin in the wake of last year's Winter Meetings, which represented unprecedented spending for the franchise. That includes more than $30 million in 2019 salaries, part of the approximately $73 million already committed to the 11 players with contracts for next season. The seven players still arbitration-eligible could add another $20 million, plus several million more for the pre-arbitration players who will sign in Spring Training.
Add that all up, including expected spending on players with options, injured players and in-season acquisitions, and the Brewers have more than $100 million in payroll commitments, with second base still to settle. Barring some payroll-saving moves, that does not leave Stearns with much wiggle room.