The Brewers need consistent offensive production from the DH position next season if they want to return to the postseason. One of the players the team needs consistent production from to compete is Keston Hiura.
Hiura is eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and is projected to earn $2 million. In the next month or so, new head of Baseball Operations, Matt Arnold has to decide if he will tender Keston Hiura a contract for next season, and how/if he fits into the plans for the future.
After a disastrous 2021 season, Hiura followed it up with an up and down performance in 2022. In 80 games he ended up slashing .226/.316/.449 with 14 home runs and a 115 wRC+. On a 30,000 foot overview, that is a solid line and raises the question: why didn’t Keston Hiura play more?
Keston Hiura is arbitration eligible for the first time this offseason. The Brewers face a tough decision on if he will be tendered a contract for the 2023 season.
A deeper dive into the numbers paint a less rosy image. Hiura bucked the trend and posted an extreme reverse split, recording a 143 wRC+ against righties and a 75 wRC+ against lefties. In addition to a reverse split, Hiura struck out in 39.5% of plate appearances against righties, and 45% of the time against lefties.
When looking at a zone breakdown this season Hiura showed a clear weakness in pitches up in the zone.
The Brewers have three different paths they could take in regards to Keston Hiura and his future. None of them are particularly clear-cut, and there are arguments to be made for and against each one.
Path 1: The Brewers tender Keston Hiura a contract and keep him on the roster
This is the option that keeps Hiura in the organization, and on the Major League roster barring a trip through waivers as he is out of options. Rowdy Tellez is coming off a strong season, and should see a majority of the time at first base next season. With that path blocked, there could be a path to consistent playing time at second base with Kolten Wong’s option unlikely to be picked up. Defense is not Hiura’s strong suit, and the Brewers could prefer to start some combination of Luis Urías and Brice Turang at second.
If that is in fact the path the Brewers pick, Hiura would then likely enter as either the first option at DH, or he could split time with Christian Yelich should the Gold Glove finalist hang up his golden glove. Yelich is a left handed batter with traditional splits, meaning starting Yelich at DH would take opportunities away from Hiura.
Craig Counsell has never been afraid to get unconventional with lineups and could conceivably get Hiura to 400 PA given these limitations, but unless Hiura can begin to hit left-handed pitching again, it is difficult to see him serving as more than a pinch hitting option.
Path 2: The Brewers tender Keston Hiura a contract and seek to trade him
What would the trade market look like for Keston Hiura? It is difficult to say. He is a talented player, who has previously shown flashes of the high level that he is capable of playing at, but that was years ago, and teams may be skeptical he would ever get back to that level.
Given that and the lack of option years available, the Brewers may be able to get a minor league depth piece in exchange for Hiura; think of the type of players who are typically included as PTBNLs in deals. Think of the 2020 Corey Knebel trade as a possible example, where the Brewers got Leo Crawford from the Dodgers.
Path 3: The Brewers do not tender Keston Hiura a contract and he becomes a free agent
If the Brewers were to decide to go down this path, they would not tender Hiura a contract and he would become a free agent. Which means he could join the likes of Max Muncy, and Justin Turner, both of whom broke out later in their careers with the Dodgers after failing to establish themselves elsewhere, among others who have done well after a non-tender.
A non-tender would be an admission of failure from the Brewers that they failed to develop a player who was viewed by some as ‘the best pure hitter in the entire Draft‘. Going from being drafted 9th overall to being cut in just over 5.5 years would be black mark on the Brewers who have struggled time and time again to develop a homegrown impact bat, failing to develop two Top-10 picks in the David Stearns era.
The Brewers would then be in the market for a bench bat, and a backup first baseman as well. Hiura would get an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and establish himself elsewhere.
There is no easy decision in regards to Keston Hiura, with pros and cons for each of the paths laid out above. Ultimately the decision will come down to if the Brewers feel the approximately $2 million that Hiura would receive would be better allocated elsewhere in their quest to return to the postseason and to win the 2023 World Series.