Another MLB offseason has come and gone yet again, with Spring Training in full swing and Opening Day 2015 less than two weeks away for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers and GM Doug Melvin had a relatively quiet offseason, though many fans clamoring for wholesale changes after the brutal September collapse that saw the team fall all the way to a third place finish despite leading the division for over 150 consecutive days. Brewers’ brass, however, decided that the team would stay relatively intact, and payroll likely played a significant role in that.
The Brewers began last season with a club record payroll that approached $104 mil (according to Cot’s Contracts), and added even more during the season with the additions of Jonathan Broxton and Gerardo Parra. With Parra, Martin Maldonado, and Brandon Kintzler all eligible for arbitration this past offseason and only the contract of Rickie Weeks as major money coming off the books, the Brewers had little free capital to spend this winter. A deal for Jonathan Papelbon fell through due to concerns about Papelbon’s hefty contract, and the Brewers shipped Yovani Gallardo to Texas in part as a cost cutting measure.
Following this season, however, the Brewers are set up to be much bigger players on the free agent market. Several of Milwaukee’s high priced contracts are set to expire following the season, most of them to aging veterans. Kyle Lohse, Aramis Ramirez, Neal Cotts, and Gerardo Parra are all set to become free agents following this season. Adam Lind and Jonathan Broxton both have options, and can become free agents as well should Milwaukee buy out their contracts (with Broxton’s buyout all but guaranteed to occur). The Brewers’ will also shed the remaining $4 mil they owe the Texas Rangers as a condition of the Yovani Gallardo deal.
Should the Brewers waive goodbye to all of their potential free agents following the 2015 season, they will only have around $55 mil in contract guarantees on the books for 2016 (MLB Trade Rumors put that number at $48 mil early in the offseason, and the Brewers will reportedly pay Francisco Rodriguez around $6-7 mil in 2016 on a deal that was signed following the publishing of that article). Ryan Braun will receive a $7 mil salary jump to $19 mil on paper, though with the deferrals in his contract, the Brewers will only be responsible for $15 mil next season. With Wily Peralta and Jean Segura the only players likely to attain large raises through arbitration, the Brewers’ could have in upwards of $40 mil in available payroll, assuming that the payroll again will top out around $105 mil. That means the Brewers’ could be major players during the next offseason.
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That’s not to say the Brewers won’t have pressing needs to fill. With Aramis Ramirez’s likely retirement following the season, third base will be a big hole the Brewers will need to plug. Should the Brewers decline the option on Adam Lind, first base could be another hole to fill. However, with next year’s particularly weak free agent class at the infield corners, the Brewers might simply choose to go with less expensive in-house options like Luis Jimenez and Matt Clark. They could also go the trade route, though the Brewers’ haven’t really made a significant trade since Zack Greinke deal.
The Brewers will also be relying heavily upon some home grown talent in their starting rotation in 2015, as well as having to replace Kyle Lohse following the season. Should one or more of the stable of Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta, Mike Fiers, Jimmy Nelson, or Taylor Jungmann struggle, it would not be surprising to see Doug Melvin go after some free agent pitching. The Brewers have had to rely on free agent pitchers for several years after pitching prospect after pitching prospect (Nick Neugebauer, Ben Hendrickson, Mark Rogers, Eric Arnett, Kyle Heckathorn, Cody Scarpetta…just to name a few) flamed out. This paved the way for the deals Jeff Suppan, Randy Wolf, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, etc. have attained over the last decade in Milwaukee. As it happens, next year’s free agent class is headlined by several high-impact starting pitchers.
The knock on the Brewers’ starting rotation for the past couple of years have been the lack of an established “ace,” someone who is expected to dominate opposing hitters each an every time out. While we may have dreams of Wily Peralta soon ascending to that status, it would be nice to be able to add a sure thing at the top of the rotation. With pitchers like Mat Latos, David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmermann set to hit the open market, the Brewers might be tempted to chase after one or more top of the line starter next winter. Zimmermann, a Wisconsin native, could be a particularly strong fit atop the rotation. With the lineup pretty well set around the diamond (other than the infield corners) for 2016, starting pitching could be where the Brewers choose to spend significant money.
Milwaukee could also choose to spend its money in-house next winter, as well, and attempt to extend some of their younger pieces should they step up this year and prove to be apart of the core going forward. While I have already discussed what a possible Wily Peralta extension could look like, Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett could be possible extension candidates as well if they can take the next step in 2015. The Brewers’ could also look to try and lock up recently established stars Carlos Gomez (free agent following the 2016 season) or Jonathan Lucroy (free agent following 2017) to longer term deals, as well.
With lots of money coming off the books after the 2015 season, the Milwaukee Brewers could be wheelin’ and dealin’ next winter. They could have holes to fill on the corners and in the rotation, and have the choice to address those in any number of ways: be it a trade, free agency, or sticking with in-house talent and possibly handing out some long term extensions. Whatever happens, you can count it to be a much more exciting offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers’ in 2015-16 than the relatively boring one we endured last winter.