Milwaukee Brewers: Who Are The Other Extension Candidates?
By David Gasper
In light of Chase Anderson’s recent two-year, $11.75 million extension, it’s time to take a look at what other Milwaukee Brewers players could sign extensions prior to the 2018 season.
During the press conference announcing the Anderson extension, GM David Stearns said that the team has other extension talks active.
Obviously Stearns would not want to disclose who those players are. But it can be fun to guess as to who could be inking a long term extension with the Milwaukee Brewers this off-season. There are a number of players who fit the mold of an extension candidate. Let’s look at Chase Anderson for example.
Anderson came to Milwaukee in the Jean Segura trade and had some success in 2016. But in 2017 he broke out and pitched like a frontline starter for most of the season. He found a little extra heat on his fastball and now could be a very cheap number two starter for the next two to four years. By signing him now, they can have him for relatively cheap if his success continues. However, if it doesn’t, the Crew isn’t locked into him for too long or too much money.
Who could these other active extension talks be with? There are several good options.
Travis Shaw came to Milwaukee in a December trade with the Boston Red Sox in 2016. In Boston, he was viewed as a platoon third baseman who couldn’t hit lefties well enough to play everyday. In Milwaukee, he was given the opportunity to play everyday and hit .273/.349/.513 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs. That’s a great season by any standard but given the Brewers futile production out of third base in years prior and the lack of system depth at the hot corner, it’s everything the team needed and more.
Shaw is 27 years old and won’t hit free agency until after the 2021 season. He will be 31 years old. If Shaw continues the production he’s shown he can put up and he reaches free agency, he could be priced out of Milwaukee’s comfort range. He needs to be signed to a long-term extension now to prevent that from happening.
David Stearns talked about how the Anderson extension allowed them to buy out a year of free agency and how that was key to a deal. The same will be said for Shaw and any other extension candidates. Stearns will need to sign Shaw to at least a five year deal to push free agency back one year.
Now it’s possible that there will be a club option or two added on to the end of the guaranteed deal to make it to five years, similar to Chase Anderson. As far as money values go, it’s difficult to see Shaw getting more than $10 million AAV considering it’s only his first full productive season. The whole point of signing him early is to save money long term. Anderson didn’t even get that much and starting pitchers generally get paid more annually than position players.
Travis Shaw locked down the hot corner for Milwaukee in 2017 and he anchored the middle of the lineup. He certainly deserves more than the near minimum salary he would make next year, and so does the other player on the left side of the infield.
Orlando Arcia was perhaps one of the most hyped prospects to come through the Milwaukee Brewers farm system since Ryan Braun. In his first full season, he lived up to the billing. He hit .277/.324/.407 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs hitting at the bottom of the lineup. His defensive ability was on full display as well. He’sa superstar in the making. Locking him up now before he puts on a longer track record of success is key to keeping costs down.
Arcia won’t become a free agent until after the 2022 season when he will be 28 years old and hit the market in his prime. A player like Arcia would probably get close to $100 million on the open market if he continues his success and is that young. There will be a lot of competition for him at that point. A long term deal is necessary.
A deal similar to Andrelton Simmons’ seven-year, $58 million contract signed in 2014 is not unreasonable. That deal got two of Simmons’ free agent years. The Milwaukee Brewers need to try to do the same with Arcia. Signing him to a seven year deal will keep Arcia off the market for two years. And ensure that he will be in a Brewers uniform for the rest of his 20s.
Given the way market values increase over the years in baseball, that seven year deal for Arcia could now be north of $60 million. It could maybe even reach $70 million. Still, even at $70 million over seven years, it’s only $10 million per season and that still isn’t a bad contract for a player like Arcia. With the defense he brings and his ever-improving offensive numbers, David Stearns should lock up Arcia while he still can.
The Milwaukee Brewers knew that Ryan Braun would become the face of the franchise. They signed him to an eight-year, $45 million deal. The Brewers know that Arcia is the future for this franchise. Inking a long term deal for relatively cheap is a smart move to make.
Corey Knebel will enter his first of four years of arbitration as a Super-Two player this winter and it came at the perfect time for him. After taking over the closer’s role in mid-May, Knebel absolutely dominated on his way to his first career All-Star game. He finished the season with 39 saves and a 1.78 ERA in 76 innings with 126 strikeouts. The 25 year old Texan is one of the best young closers in the game today. That’s why they need to give him an extension.
He will be a free agent after the 2021 season. Meaning Knebel will need to sign at least a five year deal to buy out a year of free agency. That seems like a long contract for a first year closer. But given the instability the Milwaukee Brewers have had in the closer’s role over the past decade or two, David Stearns would rather not have to worry about that role for the foreseeable future. Another deal with club options tacked on to the end of the deal is not out of the question for Knebel.
The price for closers has skyrocketed of late. The elite ones like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon all signed record contracts for closers last winter. Knebel would reach free agency after his age 29 season and would be in line for another huge deal like Chapman and Jansen if he continues his success.
Now that the Brewers are contenders, they will need to spend money on the bullpen. It’s important to ensure that it’s good enough to make a deep postseason run. Knebel is a big part of that bullpen’s success and thus will be a big part of the team’s success over the next few years. That makes him important to sign long term.
Jimmy Nelson will miss a large chunk of the 2018 season. So why would the Milwaukee Brewers want to sign him after a shoulder injury that he may never be the same after? It’s simple, security and cost. With the injury, the contract will have a much smaller AAV. It protects the Brewers finances if Nelson is able to come back and pitch like he was before.
Also, it protects Nelson in case he can’t pitch like he did before. And this way he gets a guaranteed contract that provides lifetime financial security. Also, this is the best time to sign Nelson after what was practically a full season of success.
If Nelson waits until next off-season when he will only have played half a season with possibly limited or no success. He won’t get a good contract. If that happens, the Brewers won’t want to sign him that winter and will want to wait one more, until after the 2019 season. At that point, he only has one season left before free agency and may not want to take an extension.
There’s a lot of “ifs” in this scenario for Jimmy Nelson. Most of them center around how he returns from his injury. The obvious solution for Nelson is to sign now, although the contract will have less guaranteed money. He will get more long term security.
Something similar to the structure of Chase Anderson’s contract should be expected. Getting two guaranteed years that will include his half-injured season and one full healthy season would make sense to give him an opportunity to show he’s fully healed from the injury.
Also, at least two club options would be needed at the end of those two guaranteed years. They cover his final year of arbitration and his first year of free agency. Nelson will have to accept a back-loaded contract because of his current injury. He could make more money at the end of the deal than Anderson will because of he has more potential. And he’s homegrown. Keeping homegrown talent is something that all MLB teams covet, especially the Milwaukee Brewers.
These extensions can be signed at any point, although few generally happen this early in the off-season, the Anderson deal displayed that David Stearns may not want to wait any longer on these deals. The most common time periods for contract extensions are during the Winter Meetings in December and during Spring Training.
The key to any extension for Brewers players is to push back free agency at least a year. Signing these players all the way through arbitration but allowing them to reach free agency at the earliest moment defeats the purpose of the extension.
The quartet of Shaw, Arcia, Knebel, and Nelson are the building blocks of this team going forward. To build a team around these players means that they need to be signed long term to give Stearns enough time to actually build the team.
Next: Rookie league affiliates 2017 review
Being a small market team, the Milwaukee Brewers payroll will be much smaller than other teams around the league. That makes it vital to sign core players to long term deals while they’re still relatively cheap. Anderson was the first to sign an extension, he certainly won’t be the last.