Very Few Brewers Are Locks for Next Year's Opening Day Roster
Only four current Brewers are all but guaranteed to be on next year's 25-man roster
Welcome to the On Deck Circle, Brewers writer Kyle Lobner's weekly preview of the team's week to come and beyond.
In terms of playoff contention, the 2016 Milwaukee Brewers’ season is already almost over. They didn’t lose any ground in the NL Central during their loss to the Pirates on Sunday but are still 26.5 games back of the Cubs with 32 games to play, meaning their official elimination in the divisional race could happen as soon as this week. They’re also 12.5 games back of the Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot, so the final nail in the Brewers’ postseason coffin should come sometime in mid-September, if not sooner.
With all of that in mind, I intended to write a piece for today characterizing September of 2016 as an extension of Spring Training 2017, with various players competing for jobs and/or playing time on next year’s Brewers team. Then I started to make a list of players competing for roles and realized it includes almost everyone:
· * Domingo Santana, Keon Broxton, Lewis Brinson and Brett Phillips (and perhaps also Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Michael Reed) may all be competing for two spots in 2017’s Opening Day outfield.
· * Orlando Arcia, Scooter Gennett, Hernan Perez and Jonathan Villar are all candidates for three jobs on the infield.
· * Barring a move, five guys from the group of Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Matt Garza, Junior Guerra, Josh Hader, Taylor Jungmann, Jimmy Nelson and Wily Peralta will likely get to open the season in the starting rotation in 2017, and you could make a case for the inclusion or exclusion of almost any of them.
So, instead, I opted for the shorter list. Barring a trade or a remarkable change in fortune, here are the only four guys I think are locked into a prominent role on the 2017 Brewers:
If you can get past Carter’s .225 batting average and NL-leading strikeout total, you’ll notice that his season has been significantly better than anyone could have expected when the Brewers signed him for just $2.5 million as a free agent in January. Carter is arbitration eligible this winter and is likely due a significant raise, but the Brewers have him under team control for two more seasons if they choose to hold onto him.
And the simple reality is this: Barring another move to bring in a power-hitting first baseman, the Brewers really don’t have many viable options to replace him. For all the work the organization has done to restock the prospect pantry, the only first baseman on MLB Pipeline’s Brewers Top 30 is Jake Gatewood, who has only been playing the position for about a month now and is still multiple years away from the majors.
Another bargain basement acquisition (signed by the Brewers on April 2 and making just $950,000 this season), Torres has performed remarkably well this season while leading the team in relief appearances (58 in 130 games and on pace for 73, which would be the most by a Brewers righty since 2012), and has climbed the bullpen pecking order a bit following the departures of Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith. Blaine Boyer is also a free agent this winter and could depart, but Torres has two more seasons of arbitration-eligibility before he’s able to hit the open market.
Thornburg’s first full MLB season has been an excellent one, as he’s the proud owner of a 1.88 ERA and recent departures in the bullpen have presented him with his first opportunity to close games. It remains to be seen if he’ll stick in that role, but it’s hard to believe he has much more to prove to the Brewers after posting a sub-1 WHIP and 12 strikeouts per nine innings thus far in 2016. He’s arbitration eligible for the first time this winter and will likely get a large pay increase, but he’s under team control through 2019.
There were headlines surrounding Braun this weekend when Ken Rosenthal reported the 2011 NL MVP had cleared waivers and could be traded to any team before the end of the month. The Brewers will likely explore that possibility this week and may dip their toes into the trade market again this winter, but if he’s not dealt Braun is all but guaranteed to play left field and bat third on Opening Day in 2017.
And realistically, “no trade” is probably the most likely option for Braun. The Brewers don’t need to clear his salary and are almost certainly a better team with Braun than without him, so the possibility of accepting a limited return just to dump Braun’s contract and/or sending along money to grease the wheels on a deal really doesn’t make much sense. On the flip side, however, it’s hard to believe there are a lot of teams willing to commit a minimum of $76 million between 2017-20 and give up a major prospect haul to acquire a player with Braun’s injury and suspension history.
So, there you have it: Four of the 25 spots on next season’s Opening Day roster can be seen as locked down. If you want one of the other 21, having a good September could be a key step in that direction.