Late Tuesday night, the Milwaukee Brewers continued their fairly active offseason with a that sent 29-homer man Hunter Renfroe to the Los Angeles Angels for three pitching prospects. Milwaukee cut ties with stalwart lefty Brent Suter (lost on waivers to the Colorado Rockies) and righty Brad Boxberger (declined club option) earlier this month.
The Renfroe trade does three things for the Brewers. First, it clears an outfield spot for prospects Sal Frelick, Esteury Ruiz, and Joey Wiemer. Ruiz came over in the Josh Hader trade and led the minors with 85 steals in 2022. Frelick, the No. 15 pick in the 2021 draft, and Wiemer both reached Triple-A this year and mashed. The Brewers have to get these three into the lineup soon.
Second, it added pitching depth. The Brewers are excellent at developing pitchers and they're not an offensive powerhouse. They need a steady supply of arms to remain successful and the trade replenished the pipeline.
And third, the trade also freed up a good bit of money. Renfroe was projected to make north of $11 million through arbitration, a hefty sum for the small payroll the Brewers choose to run.
"Unfortunately, we were kind of expecting it. The nature of the beast is you get too expensive type deal for a team like Milwaukee," Renfroe told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after the trade. "Especially with guys like Brandon (Woodruff) and Corbin (Burnes) set to make close to $11 million as well. It's kind of the nature of the beast for a middle-market team like Milwaukee. They have a price they have to keep within, and I kind of knew I might be the odd man out."
The Brewers had a franchise record $131.9 million payroll on Opening Day this past season. According to FanGraphs, their projected 2023 payroll sits at $115.4 million. It would appear the Brewers have money to spend this offseason, though that $131.9 million payroll in 2022 is an outlier; their payroll has typically been in the $90 million to $105 million range the last decade.
Milwaukee entered the offseason with 18 arbitration-eligible players, the largest class in the National League. Five of those 18 players have already been sent packing: Renfroe (traded), Suter (waived), Trevor Gott (non-tendered), Jandel Gustave (non-tendered), and Luis Perdomo (non-tendered). Their projected 2023 salaries totaled $17.6 million, per MLB Trade Rumors. (Don't forget Hader and his projected $13.6 million 2023 salary were traded away at the deadline.)
In the event the Brewers continue paring down payroll, or just have to move money around to remain payroll neutral, here are six other arbitration-eligible players Milwaukee could trade this offseason.
SS Willy Adames
Projected 2023 salary: $9.2 million
Adames, 27, is the best shortstop the Brewers have had since J.J. Hardy and he is speculated as a potential trade candidate more than his name is legitimately out there as a trade candidate. He is two years away from free agency and getting expensive, plus top shortstop prospect Brice Turang is knocking on the door. Trading Adames would net a significant haul, and the sooner the Brewers trade him, the more they'll get in return.
RHP Corbin Burnes and RHP Brandon Woodruff
Projected 2023 salaries: $11.4 million for Burnes and $11 million for Woodruff
These two are linked. They have similar projected salaries, both are two years away from free agency, and unless the Brewers up payroll significantly, there is close to zero chance they will sign both to long-term contracts. Woodruff is nearly two years older than Burnes and is more likely to be in Milwaukee's price range. This feels very much like a "keep one and trade the other" situation. Either would fetch a massive package, and because we're talking about pitchers, there is inherent injury risk. The longer the Brewers hang onto them, the more likely they are to suffer a major injury that sabotages their trade value.
UTIL Keston Hiura
Projected 2023 salary: $2 million
I'm not sure even the Brewers know what to make of Hiura. He was great as a rookie in 2019, slashing .303/.368/.570 with 19 home runs in 84 games, but hasn't come close to repeating that output, hitting .205/.293/.394 since then with strikeout (38.5 percent) and swinging strike (20.5 percent) rates that are excessive and border on being a fatal flaw. He's also a poor defender without a defined position. It seems unlikely the Brewers will dump the No. 9 pick in the 2017 draft even with that $2 million price tag, but never say never. If they are open to moving Hiura, I'm sure they'd find a trade partner who thinks they can fix him.
LHP Eric Lauer
Projected 2023 salary: $5.2 million
The Brewers have gotten excellent work from Lauer the last two seasons and, like Burnes and Woodruff, he is two years away from free agency. Lauer joined the Brewers in the Trent Grisham/Luis Urías trade with the San Diego Padres and it's fitting, because righty Zach Davies also went to San Diego in the trade. At the time Davies was two years away from free agency and came with a $5.25 million projected salary. Lauer is in the same position now. Could he be moved in a trade that nets Milwaukee next Lauer?
1B Rowdy Tellez
Projected 2023 salary: $5.3 million
Tellez led the Brewers with 35 homers in 2022 and homers equal dollars in arbitration. He's two years away from free agency and it was hard not to notice Milwaukee added Jonathan Singleton -- yes, that Jonathan Singleton -- to the 40-man roster at the Rule 5 Draft protection deadline last week. Singleton is similar to Tellez as a first base-only lefty power bat, only significantly cheaper. The Brewers could keep both thanks to the universal DH, but gosh, this sure feels like a "trade Tellez and replace him with Singleton" situation.
X-factor: 2B Kolten Wong
2023 salary: $10 million
Wong is not arbitration-eligible -- the Brewers picked up his $10 million club option earlier this month -- but he will be the fourth-highest paid Brewer next season behind Christian Yelich, Burnes, and Woodruff (barring any trades). The free agent middle infield market is thin behind the top four shortstops (Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner) and the Brewers could shop Wong to second base-needy teams (Chicago White Sox? Seattle Mariners?). It would be a way to add young talent and save a few bucks. Teams have done the "pick up the club option and trade him" plenty of times in the past. No reason to think Wong is off-limits this offseason.