Brewers: Finding Trade Options To Fix The Hole At First Base

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants defends against the Los Angeles Dodgers during their MLB game at Oracle Park on September 27, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 27: Brandon Belt #9 of the San Francisco Giants defends against the Los Angeles Dodgers during their MLB game at Oracle Park on September 27, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Robert Reiners/Getty Images) /

A lot has been written about the Brewers opening at first base, including my breakdown of the Brewers failure to find a long-term solution since the departure of Prince Fielder.

With the signing this past week of Carlos Santana by the Royals, the Brewers lost a legitimate option from the free agent pool to fill the need at first base.

While others options exist, including the recently non-tendered Danny Santana who our very own Matt Carroll wrote about, looking to the trade market might give the Brewers the best chance at an impact replacement.

The Big Name Trade Targets

Brandon Belt has seemed like a logical target for the Brewers in the past as the Giants appeared destined for a rebuild. However, the Giants have not committed to a tear down and trade recognizable names like Belt and don’t seem to inclined to do so this off-season either.

Additionally, his price tag also makes him an unlikely Brewer. According to Spotrac, Belt will make $17,200,000 in 2021 and while the Brewers have cut a large chunk of salary by rejecting options and non-tendering multiple players, they don’t seem likely to pursue large commitments financially.

Following the 2018 season, Miguel Andujar seemed virtually untouchable in trade talks with the Yankees during the off-season. Andujar, coming off of a 27 home run, 92 RBIs and .855 OPS in 2018, provided the Yankees long-term flexibility as a their primary third basemen but, given his mixed reviews defensively, seemed destined for first.

However, since 2018 Andujar has appeared in 33 total games as shoulder problems have hindered his production making the transition to first almost a given moving forward. With Gio Urshela out for three months with elbow surgery and DJ LeMahieu a free agent, it seems unlikely the Yankees would pull the trigger on moving Andujar now. However, if LeMahieu returns Andujar appears to be blocked around the infield.

The Mets benefitted from the universal DH in 2020, as it finally allowed super-prospect Dominic Smith consistent at bats. With Pete Alonso entrenched at first base, Smith had been blocked and truly has limited positional versatility. With the DH currently “off the table” in the National League, Smith is a premium target for Stearns and staff.

Under The Radar Trade Options

Former Cubs prospect Jeimer Candelario has produced mixed results since being traded to the Detroit Tigers in 2017. However, he is coming off of a solid 2020 season hitting .297 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs.

While Candelario has been primarily a third basemen since arriving to the majors, he made a smooth transition in 2020 as the Tigers primary first basemen. The switch-hitter has position versatility and profiles well as a potential Brewers target given their needs at both first and third.

After being released and claimed three times in the off-season of 2017, Christian Walker found a home in Arizona with the Diamondbacks. In his first opportunity as a full-time starter in 2019, Walker produced in a big way for the Arizona with 29 home runs and 73 RBIs and a .825 OPS. Walker, is a solid defender and would immediately help the Brewers young infield with his play at first base if acquired.

The sweet left-handed swing of Edwin Rios was on display with back to back home runs in the NLCS against the Braves. The emergence of Rios in 2020 was timely for the Dodgers given injuries to starter Justin Turner. Rios profiles as a third basemen but has positional versatility and can play first as well. He appears to be in the plans for the Dodgers but a return engagement with Turner would leave him, like Andujar, blocked around the diamond and a target for Stearns.

Prospect Trade Targets

The Brewers proved last offseason that they will think outside the box when it comes to player acquisition, when they moved two established members of their 2019 Wild Card team, Zach Davies and Trent Grisham for prospects Luis Urias and Eric Lauer.

This formula was a gamble but provided payroll flexibility and more player control years as a result of the trade with the Padres. This offseason there are a couple of prospects that appear to be blocked and provide the Brewers with a controllable and cost effective option to fill the position.

The Rangers took this approach this week with the acquisition of Nate Lowe in a trade with the Rays. The gamble is that the prospect, who has had limited opportunities at the big league level, can compete and hopefully become a starter.

Prospects, like Lowe, that appear to be blocked would include the Indians long-time prospect Bobby Bradley, the White Sox trio of Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, and Jake Burger and Angels former first-round pick Matt Thaiss.

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It is hard to know what options are realistic given the Brewers financial situation but whether they try to acquire a proven commodity like Brandon Belt or roll the dice on younger, more unproven players they will have options to fill the position this offseason.