After failed experiments at first base in Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison in 2020, the Milwaukee Brewers found lightning in a bottle when they acquired the left handed hitting Daniel Vogelbach off the waiver wire.
Despite the success of Vogelbach and Jedd Gyorko, there is the possibility that both of these players will not be with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2021. Gyorko has already had his club option declined and is currently a free agent. Vogelbach is entering his first year of arbitration and has an expected value of $1.40-$1.90MM.
For the sake of this article, we are going to proceed under the assumption that the Brewers tender a contract to Daniel Vogelbach at 2021. Throughout his career. Vogelbach has a .143 batting average and .267 slugging percentage against left handed pitchers.
With that being said, it is reasonable to assume that the Brewers would view first base as a platoon position and would need to pick up a right handed hitting first basemen. Let’s take a look at free agent targets who fit this mold.
With 15 career MLB season under his belt, all with the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman is a free agent. With having young children, he did opt out of the 2020 season and has not made an official announcement on if he will return for 2021 or not.
Although he is well past his prime, Zimmerman still has some juice left in his bat. In 2017, he did receive MVP votes in a 36 home run season but battled through injuries in seasons after that. In 2019, he played in just 52 games and posted a .257/.321/.415 slash line with a 88 OPS+.
It seems unlikely that Zimmerman chooses to play for another team, but if does indeed desire to play in 2021 he may be willing to go elsewhere if the Nationals elect to move on.
Despite declining his $4.5MM club option for the 2021 season, oddly enough the Milwaukee Brewers could still reunite with Gyorko. Gyorko proved to be a versatile player with receiving playing time at the corners of the infield and flashing good defensive ability no matter where he was playing.
Offensively, Gyorko hit both right handed and left handed pitchers well throughout the season. He contributed nine home runs in a shortened season in which he really didn’t receive more consistent playing time until the final month of the season. The biggest issue in signing Gyorko for 2021 will be convincing him to sign for less than $4.5MM given his successful season.
Wait, is that it for free agent first base targets for the Brewers?
Unfortunately in terms of strictly just right handed batters on the free agent market, those are the only two options that stand out. The first base free agent pool consists primarily of left handed batters in: Mitch Moreland, Eric Thames and C.J. Cron. However, one player who does make sense to sign is Carlos Santana.
As a switch hitter, Santana has been a very good player for primarily the Cleveland Indians over the last decade. He has a career .248/.366/.446 slash line, generally hits anywhere from 20 to 30 home runs with 70 to 90 runs batted in. He is very durable at his position for he has played in 93% of regular season games since 2013.
Santana is by far the best free agent target at first base this offseason and will likely not make as much money when compared to his most previous contracts. With him entering his age-35 season, he could be around a $10MM option at first base, but would likely sign for just one or two seasons. If the Brewers did sign Santana, this would allow Daniel Vogelbach to remain strictly as a designated hitter, if that indeed is adopted for the 2021 season.
Will the Brewers tender Vogelbach?
Given the lack of right handed batters in the free agent pool, if the Brewers do elect to tender a contract to Daniel Vogelbach they will remain in a tricky situation for as how to make a platoon work. Ryan Braun at first base has never panned out, which means unless one of the above players is signed they likely will have to rely on David Stearns to make a trade for a right handed hitting first basemen.
After taking all of this into consideration, despite Daniel Vogelbach’s rather cheap price tag of $1.4-1.9MM, adding in an additional right handed batter at first base sounds like quite the chore. It certainly makes his future with Milwaukee murky at best and he will be one player to monitor as the tender deadline approaches on December 2nd.
The Brewers are seeking upgrades at the corner infield spots. Vogelbach was an upgrade in September, but how much trust will the Brewers place in him to repeat that performance? The tender deadline should reveal that answer.