While teams like the New York Mets made huge splashes before the current MLB lockout, now everyone has to wait for the big moves until after the lockout. The Brewers might have a new lineup spot open up depending on expected rule changes in the next CBA.
The Brewers did make a late-night and last-minute trade to get Hunter Renfroe from the Boston Red Sox, but the roster is still anything but complete. The team is pretty set for starting pitching, but could still use a few bullpen arms. The Brewers also need some power hitters if they want to reach the World Series next year.
We all hope that players like Christian Yelich and Keston Hiura can find their swings again, but they don’t need to rely on that. There are plenty of free agents who swing a good bat. Milwaukee is also probably waiting on the chance of a universal designated hitter.
You don’t have to like the possibility of it, but it might be inevitable. While it adds a strategy element to the game and leads to some fun moments, the risk of a pitcher getting hurt might be too much now.
The Brewers are no strangers to these pitcher injuries. The 2017 injury to Jimmy Nelson was the most catastrophic. While pitching like an ace during a career-best season, he injured his shoulder diving back to first base and was lost for the season. He never truly recovered from that, and has been battling injuries every year since. Freddy Peralta also landed on the injured list last season after an awkward swing, and could have ended much worse.
So with the likelihood of a Universal DH and Milwaukee needing some offensive power, here are three designated hitters the Brewers can go after in free agency once the lockout is over.
Brewers Free Agent DH Candidate: Mitch Moreland
The 36-year-old Mitch Moreland was with the Oakland Athletics last year and might be one the Brewers’ best options. Mostly because of cost, but also because he can also play first base. And since Daniel Vogelbach was non-tendered, they could use another first baseman in case Hiura still struggles or they try him in the outfield. David Stearns did mention that as a possibility in his season-ending press conference. Right now, Rowdy Tellez is their only true first baseman.
Moreland is a career .251 hitter and has 186 home runs over his career. He is averaging 15.5 home runs a year, which doesn’t jump off the page, but still better than taking a chance on a random player and hope they overachieve. He signed a one-year, $2.25MM contract last year with the Athletics. His 2021 season was riddled with injuries, so he will be looking for a bounce-back year with a competitive team. He could play DH and first on an affordable contract.
Moreland has the potential to increase his home run average. He had 10 home runs the last two seasons, but that was also because of injuries and a shortened season. In averaged 22 dingers between 2015-17, and had 19 in 2019. It’s the kind of signing that the Brewers front office usually makes. But when you are going to have every other National League team also looking for DH hitters, his price might get a little high.
Brewers Free Agent DH Candidate: Khris Davis
If you think this is a bit of a homer pick, you are absolutely right. The former Brewer hasn’t been the same hitter the last two seasons, but Milwaukee has shown that a new team and situation can help a lot of players. Players like Christian Yelich, Rowdy Tellez and Willy Adames prove just that.
Khris Davis is a career .242 hitter, and been used as primarily a DH since joining the Oakland Athletics in 2016. He spent a little time with the Texas Rangers last season, but was released and brought back to the Athletics after Mitch Moreland started to get hurt.
Between 2016 and 2018, Davis hit more than 40 home runs a year. 42 in 2016, 43 in 2017 and 48 in 2018. In 2019, he had 23, which would have tied for second in home runs last season for the Brewers. There is a good chance that Davis doesn’t have the same power, though. In 2020 he had two home runs and 2021 he had three in just 42 games.
But much like Moreland, Davis would be a cheaper option with possible huge upside. He would return to his original team, get to just hit and would probably be cheaper than Moreland. Spending near the veteran minimum on a player who could hit 30 HRs seems like an easy choice. Especially since if he doesn’t work out, it won’t cost you much to trade or DFA.
Brewers Free Agent DH Candidate: Nelson Cruz
This would definitely be the most difficult for the Brewers, especially if designated hitter is universal. Nelson Cruz may be 41-years-old and turning 42 next season, but the man can still hit.
Like Davis, Cruz started his career in Milwaukee. He only had five MLB at-bats with the Crew in 2005 before being traded to the Texas Rangers. He was sent with Carlos Lee in exchange for Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero and Julian Cordero. Not one of Milwaukee’s best moments in time.
And Cruz isn’t showing any signs of real decline. He’s a career .277 hitter, and his home run totals the last three seasons have been 41, 16 and 32. Nelson ended 2021 with 86 RBIs, 51 walks and a .832 OPS. There is only one giant roadblock for Milwaukee. You guessed it; money.
Last season, Cruz made $13MM. Now, the Brewers could offer Cruz a similar salary because they did unload Jackie Bradley Jr. back to the Red Sox and most of his $12MM that was owed, but Christian Yelich’s contract kicks in next season. He will make $26MM next season and Lorenzo Cain makes another $18MM.
The payroll situation is tight, but for the right deal, the Brewers have always been willing to stretch. Cruz could be that deal the Brewers are willing to stretch for.
It’s not impossible, but then you would have to figure the Brewers would begin to run out of payroll room after a deal like this. But, if they added Renfroe and Cruz during one offseason, I doubt many people would complain.
Cruz is obviously the best choice, but you will also have every other team going after him this offseason.