MILWAUKEE — Although the Shohei Ohtani decision kept the floodgates from flying open, there was a flurry of activity in MLB free agency in the days leading up to his decision. The implications of them could be significant, as the Milwaukee Brewers try to bring greater definition to their offseason plan.
There were three key moves Wednesday as the Winter Meetings wound down in Nashville. First, and in a protracted way over the course of the entire day, the Yankees acquired Juan Soto from the Padres. It was a seven-player move, involving not only Soto but old friend Trent Grisham.
Then, late in the night, a quick one-two punch added some new gas to the hot stove. Eduardo Rodriguez signed a four-year deal with the Diamondbacks, with an option for the fifth year that could stretch the value of the pact to $100 million. Shortly afterward, Jeimer Candelario agreed to a three-year, $45-million contract with the Reds.
Each of these moves has an important set of ramifications for the Brewers, whose offseason has yet to take any irreversible shape. Let’s tackle each separately, and discuss why they matter in Milwaukee.
Soto Haul Sets the Market on Corbin Burnes
The Padres got five young players in return for Soto and Grisham. The twin headliners, though, are swingman Michael King (two years from free agency, and slated to start for the Padres in 2024) and fellow hurler Drew Thorpe, a second-round pick by the Yankees in 2022 who is already considered a top-100 prospect by MLB Pipeline. Beyond them, the package also includes big-league reliever Jhony Brito and undersized but polished pitching prospect Randy Vasquez, and fringy catcher Kyle Higashioka.
That collection of talent won’t transform the Padres overnight, but it’s substantial. Since Soto is an exceptional talent who was available as a one-year trade rental, though, the big question is whether it indicates a sufficiently seller-friendly market to make trading Corbin Burnes advisable. The signals as to whether or not the Crew will trade Burnes are hopelessly mixed, so we can best spend our time trying to suss out whether they should.
If this were all Matt Arnold could expect to get for Burnes (and especially for, say, Burnes and Tyrone Taylor, a rough equivalent for the throw-in of Grisham), it would feel a bit light. There’s still plenty of meat on the bone, and a pitcher like King, especially, could be a great fit for a contending Brewers team in both 2024 and 2025.
Still, it feels like less than it would be worth to give up Burnes, who could anchor the Milwaukee rotation on another run to the postseason before he hits free agency next winter. Remember, too, that (thanks to their status as revenue-sharing recipients) the Brewers would get a better draft pick if and when Burnes departs than other, richer teams would.
We have to consider the circumstances, though. Soto, by virtue of his position and his projected salary, had a narrower market than Burnes would have, and the Padres needed to get rid of him worse than the Brewers need to offload Burnes. Indeed, whereas that need was pretty acute for San Diego, the Brewers face no actual imperative to move Burnes.
Their leverage is greater, and supply and demand work in their favor more. I still think they would get materially more than this for him, and thus, that trading him is probably the wisest course. We’ll see whether or not that proves to be true, but Tim Muma wrote sagaciously about the approach they ought to take earlier this week.
Rodríguez Off the Board
Given what the Brewers have already intimated about their payroll plans for 2024, signing Wade Miley earlier this week felt like the finalization of their starting rotation additions. Still, it was interesting to see Rodríguez sign with the defending NL pennant winners, for multiple reasons. I had him as the fifth-best, fifth-most impactful free-agent fit for the Brewers earlier this winter, but now that he ended up signing for $80 million in guarantees, that feels hopelessly unrealistic in hindsight.
On the other hand, the pitching market continues to show its haleness and vigor. After opting out of three years and $49 million, this much larger payday is a sign that Rodríguez had a robust market. It runs a bit higher than I would have projected for him, and only underscores the value Burnes (no messy long-term commitment, no more than $16 million in salary for one year) would have as an alternative to swimming in those waters, for any team.
In a certain way, these moves leave Matt Arnold with mixed signals about how to proceed. If he trades Burnes, that would seem to be an acknowledgment of a willingness to at least back off from putting his shoulder into winning in 2024. Yet, it’s clear that no one in the organization has an appetite for rebuilding right now, and unless a Burnes trade brought back immediate and significant help, it would start to get hard to see how the team can maintain its place atop the Central while the others vying for it make big, win-now maneuvers.