The Milwaukee Brewers have three major extension candidates on their hands. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Willy Adames are all two years away from free agency and are core members of this roster.
If they leave in two years in free agency, it's difficult to see this team competing without them. The Brewers need to try to keep them.
But, as much as we would love for the Brewers to be able to sign all three to contract extensions, we are aware of the limitations on the Crew's payroll. It doesn't matter if you think the restrictions are artificial or not, the fact remains that they are there.
The Brewers cannot afford to keep all three of Burnes, Woodruff, and Adames. So, the question becomes, who should be the first priority to get an extension done?
There are great cases for all three of these Brewers extension candidates.
Let's start with 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes. For starters, he's a Cy Young winner, he's the Crew's best pitcher and therefore makes sense to be the first priority. In four of his five seasons, Burnes has posted an ERA below 3.00, with the only exception being his disastrous 2019 campaign. He has a track record of health (knock on wood) and his stuff has the quality and repertoire to last throughout the length of a contract extension.
Also, let's face it, Burnes will be the most expensive of the three. Because of his youth and track record of success, Burnes' market value is pushing $40MM a year, and it's likely over that amount. Max Scherzer was able to get $43MM on AAV on a three year deal and he's much older than Burnes. He's going to be looking for something similar, if not better.
Since signing Burnes would cost the highest amount of money, it does make some sense for the Brewers to attempt to extend him first because they'll have the most amount of money available to spend at that point. If they sign one of the others to an extension, there likely won't be enough left to pay Burnes. There may not even be enough to pay Burnes to start with, but there certainly won't be if Woodruff or Adames get paid first.
On to Brandon Woodruff. He has been a steady, reliable, and honestly underrated presence in the Brewers rotation. While his excellence has been overshadowed a bit by Burnes' dominance, Woodruff is an ace and should be a priority to keep around. He would also be much cheaper than Burnes to keep since he doesn't have a Cy Young award on his shelf (yet). He has dealt with some minor injuries over the past few years, but hasn't had to deal with any major arm/shoulder issues, which is a good sign (again, knock on wood).
Then there's Willy Adames, the Brewers star shortstop. The Brewers have already opened extension talks with Adames, so that might give an indication as to how the Brewers front office is answering the question of who's the top priority.
Adames is the first Brewers shortstop to put up back-to-back seasons of 3.5 bWAR or better since Robin Yount did it from 1980-1984. Adames had a 3.5 WAR in 2021 and a 4.4 WAR in 2022. He's an excellent defender and a high quality hitter, plus he brings energy and leadership in the clubhouse. He's everything you could want in an extension candidate.
Elite shortstops are usually expensive and hard to find. The Brewers haven't had one since Robin Yount, that speaks to how tough it's been for Milwaukee to find their answer at shortstop. They've been looking since Yount moved off the position. Now that they've found one in Adames, they shouldn't let him leave and they should prioritize extending him.
There's another factor that works in favor of Adames here, and it's that he's a position player. Historically, position players are more likely to return to 100% following an injury and are viewed as safer bets for long extensions than pitchers. For pitchers, if any part of the arm suffers a major injury, there's a real risk they'll never get back to their pre-injury performance. Some guys do, but some guys don't. Look at Jimmy Nelson for example. He finally broke out as an ace in 2017. One shoulder injury suffered, and he hasn't been the same since.
For position players, they usually get back to pre-injury performance level if something happens. Ronald Acuna of the Braves tore his ACL and has come back and continued to play well as if nothing really happened. An extension for Adames is a safer bet against injury than it is for pitchers like Burnes or Woodruff.
For those reasons, I believe Willy Adames will take first priority for an extension from the Brewers. He's less risky, he's less expensive than Burnes, but we'll see how expensive he might be once the free agent shortstops start signing this offseason. Adames' deal will be modeled off those contracts. But Burnes isn't far behind on that priority list.
Once the Brewers sign either Adames or Woodruff to an extension, that all but ensures the Crew won't have enough money to sign Burnes to an extension as well. If they sign Burnes, they'll probably only be able to keep one of the three. They might be able to sign two of the three if it's Adames and Woodruff.