Hello! I’m Travis, and I like to write about the Brewers. I’m introducing myself because I’ve been away for a while. Sorry about that! I had some things to do. But now that it’s November and there’s absolutely nothing baseball-related going on, I’m here to write a whole bunch of words for no one. Let’s talk about salary arbitration, baby! Hell yeah, it’s that classic game we all love, where billionaires try to pay millionaires as little as possible.
To start, a quick arbitration primer: most players qualify for salary arbitration after three years of service time in the big leagues, although it is possible to qualify more quickly (prior to this, each players’ salary is set by the team, at or very near the league minimum). If they are tendered a contract but a dollar amount cannot be agreed upon by both parties, each side submits a salary they feel is fair and a neutral third party arbiter picks one of them. If they are not tendered a contract, the player becomes a free agent, and is free to seek employment elsewhere. Players are under this sort of team control until they have accrued six years of MLB service time even if, like Chris Carter, they are non-tendered and end up with a new team during their arbitration-eligible years.
Milwaukee has eight players eligible for arbitration this offseason, four of them for the first time. They are:
2B Scooter Gennett
1B Chris Carter
OF Kirk Niewenhuis
C Martin Maldonado
RHP Carlos Torres
RHP Wily Peralta
RHP Tyler Thornburg
RHP Chase Anderson
In this series, I’ll run through each arbitration decision the Brewers have to make, beginning with the one I think is the most controversial: the only Brewer named after a mode of transportation.
Is Scooter good?
Here are Scooter’s ranks among the 21 qualified second basemen in 2016 for various stats that are of interest to professional baseball players:
Fielding metrics are generally bad and vary widely from site to site, so it’s worth noting that Baseball Prospectus is much more bullish on Gennett’s defensive stylings. Regardless, Gennett ranked at or near the bottom of most offensive and defensive measures last season, even in a year when he seemingly learned the brand new skill of Hitting Against Left Handed People. Folks who spend most of their baseball watching hours on the Brewers, besides needlessly depriving themselves of happiness, are likely to view Scooter as at least a league average second baseman. The numbers simply don’t bear this out.
Should he be tendered?
Let’s get one thing right. As regards any of the players that are under control, the answer to “Can the Brewers afford to pay them?” is yes. If Milwaukee made no moves this off-season except to tender contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players, their payroll would sit somewhere around $65 million or so, give or take a few million to account for MLB Trade Rumor’s arbitration estimates being imperfect and small raises for Milwaukee’s pre-arbitration players. That would be a very modest increase from last season’s year-end payroll, and would rank Milwaukee among the league’s most parsimonious clubs. By the strictly literal sense of the term, every arbitration-eligible player, including Gennett, is affordable.
Just because they can afford to pay Scooter, however, doesn’t mean they should. MLBTR projects Gennett to make about $3 million should he and the Brewers enter into arbitration negotiations, which is eminently affordable. Who doesn’t just have $3 million lying around? Hell, that’s not even a quarter of what the president-elect considers a “small loan,” folks. The question of whether Milwaukee should retain Gennett is two-fold, then: is Gennett worth $3 million, and can his production be easily replaced by players who cost less? To the former I’d say maybe, and to the latter, almost certainly.
OK idiot, get to the point.
Depending on whose formula for determining WAR one is inclined to use, Gennett was worth zero (0.1, fWAR), one (1,0, bWAR) or two (2.0, WARP) wins above the replacement player in 2016. I generally defer to FanGraphs for hitting statistics, mostly because the website is the easiest to navigate and I’m a singularly lazy young man. However, if we just average the three values (again, this is pure indolence), we have a one-win second baseman. The prevailing wisdom is that one WAR is worth about $6-8 million per year on the open market, so it would seem that unless you’re married to FanGraphs decidedly less rosy view of Gennett’s performance, he’s likely worth the $3 million projected salary.
The issue of replacing Gennett, cheaply and from within, is rather simple. Jonathan Villar and Hernan Perez can both play second base, are both better than Gennett (especially on the basepaths), and neither will be eligible for salary arbitration until 2018. Perez is not needed for outfield depth, where the Brewers are stacked with near-MLB talent that needs evaluating, so slotting one of those players as your every day second baseman and the other at third is an easy fix that doesn’t shake up the roster in any major way. Yadiel Rivera can handle backup duties at all three infield positions, so he’s a more valuable bench asset than Gennett.
Lord almighty, you do go on and on. Should they tender Gennett or not?
I wouldn’t! I just don’t see the percentage in paying Gennett $3 million when Milwaukee can easily replace him in the starting lineup and give the 25th spot on the roster to a youngin with potentially higher upside at 1/6th the price. We already know what Gennett can do: he made a bunch of improvements last season, finally figured out how to hit lefties, and played pretty much every day for the first time in his career. All those career firsts and bests added up to a second baseman who was arguably the worst in the league among qualified players. If I want to pay someone a whole bunch of money to be the worst at something, I’ll fly Spirit.
So we’re going to have a new second baseman next year?
Look, no. That the Brewers would non-tender Gennett seems an unlikely, if prudent, decision. General Manager David Stearns, who did not draft Gennett, may decide to let the 26-year-old walk, but I wouldn’t place any large bets on it. He may look to shop Gennett but, as I just outlined, he’s not very valuable — you can find Scooter Gennetts on the waiver wire, and then you don’t have to pay a grown man who calls himself Scooter, either. Gennett isn’t blocking anyone yet — Milwaukee’s best infield prospects are currently populating the Class-A rosters — so it’s probable that Gennett has at least one more year of manning the keystone for the Brewers.