.The Milwaukee Brewers have a lot of work to do before Spring Training. One of the things that they need to do is find another right-handed designated hitter to replace Andrew McCutchen. While McCutchen was certainly a great player to have for the locker room, his production left a great deal to be desired. He hit .237/.316/.384 with 17 home runs and 69 RBI in 134 games for the Brewers in 2022. Owner Mark Attanasio famously defended signing McCutchen for $8.5 million by saying he was the kind of player you “break the bank” for.
Now, the Brewers are a small market team and will not be big spenders in free agency. However, if Attanasio is willing to “break the bank” to get some right-handed power, there are better, though slightly more expensive, options. Here, I present three first basemen/designated hitters who are not “expensive” per say, but would require the stingy Attanasio to pry open his wallet.
Why Right-Handed Hitters?
There are a few of reasons why I selected right-handed first basemen on which to focus. The first is that McCutchen was signed with the idea that he would be a right-handed power hitter. In 2021, he hit 27 home runs and had 80 RBI with the Phillies. The Brewers were hoping for that level of production, but did not get it. As such, they likely will be searching for a different right-handed bat.
Secondly, Milwaukee has incredible depth on its roster when it comes to outfielders. Christian Yelich and Hunter Renfroe will be back in 2023. Additionally, the team has Tyrone Taylor still under club control. Furthermore, Garrett Mitchell hit .312/.373/.459 after being called up by the Brewers last season. To go even further, the Brewers expect Sal Frelick to play a role on the Big League roster this season, and still have Major League-ready Estuary Ruiz. In other words, they do not need to be spending “major” free agent dollars on outfielders.
Finally, the Brewers already have a left-handed hitting first baseman in Rowdy Tellez. Counsell is known for platooning players, but Keston Hiura has not proven that he can consistently hit Major League pitching. The only other first baseman on the 40-man roster is Jon Singleton, who: a.) also has not proven he can hit Major League pitching, and b.) is a left-handed hitter.
The Selection Process
As mentioned, everyone knows that the Brewers are not going to spend major dollars this offseason. Therefore, the players I selected here are valued by Spotrac to cost anywhere between $10 million to $14 million per year. I have already acknowledged that these players will cost more than Andrew McCutchen. However, if the Brewers want to improve in this area, they will need to spend some money. $10-14 million is a lot for a small market team, but does not compare to what bigger markets will be spending. If the Brewers desire to sign any of these players (or ones like them), they need to be willing match salaries.
Of course, all of these players are right-handed hitters, as mentioned above. Furthermore, each of them comes with an ability to play elsewhere on the field. Counsell loves being able to be flexible with his roster, and each of these players could play somewhere other than first base or designated hitter.
The Brewers were linked to then Washington Nationals slugger Josh Bell around the trade deadline last season. Unfortunately, Bell ended up going to the San Diego Padres. At the time of the trade, Bell was hitting .301/.384/.493 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI. After the trade, though, he hit just .192/.316/.271 with three home runs and 14 RBI. Between the two teams, Bell hit .266/362/.422 with 17 home runs and 71 RBI. He was still award a Silver Slugger at the end of the season.
Bell is a one-time All-Star and career .262/.351/.459 hitter. In addition to first base, Bell has also played corner outfield. As a switch hitter, he would bring a great deal of flexibility to the Brewers’ lineup. His career .810 OPS would also automatically be among the best on the team. Of the three players on this list, he would likely be the most expensive with a market value of $13.8 million.
Now, the MLB schedule is going to be different in 2023, with teams playing less games against their division rivals. That being said, the Brewers will still have 54 games against the NL Central this season, a good third of their season. Bell has a career line of .253/.350/.428 with 45 home runs and 165 RBI against the NL Central for his career. Before you can say anything about those numbers against the Brewers, it should be noted that the Brewers were the team he struggled against the most in the division. Bell has hit just .210/.312/.369 against Milwaukee in his career.
Fresh off of a World Series win with the Houston Astros, 38-year old Yuri Gurriel is looking for a new team. Despite his age, he still has a market value of $11.7 million. Gurriel won the batting title in 2021 when he hit .319/.383/.472. He also won the Gold Glove at first base that season.
Last year, however, was not as good of a year. He hit just .242/.288/.360 with eight home runs and 53 RBI. At 38 years old, he will not garner a long-term deal, and may end up making less than his market value. As far as position flexibility, he has also played third base, second base, short stop, and left field during his career.
Playing mostly in the American League, Gurriel has not faced the NL Central very much. However, when he has, he has raked. In 21 games against the NL Central, he is hitting .354 with three home runs and eight RBI. He only has four hits in 19 at bats against the Brewers.
The youngest player on this list at 29 years old is Miguel Sano, who has spent his entire seven-year career with the Minnesota Twins. He only played in 20 games last season due to injury, and hit just .083/.211/.133 in that time frame. That being said, he has a career line of .234/.326/.482 (.808 OPS). He has also hit over 25 home runs in four of his seven season. One of the seasons in which he did not was the COVID-shortened season. He hit 13 that year in 57 games.
As far as positional flexibility Sano has played more games at third base (289) than he has at first (220). The Brewers, of course, have a huge question mark at third, and Sano could be a temporary solution. In addition to the corner infield spots, he also has played 38 games in right field.
Playing in the American League Central, Sano has seen the NL Central a bit more than others from the American League. In 54 career games (the same number the Brewers will play against the division), he has a slash line of .274/.364/.533 with 11 home runs and 33 RBI. Most of this production has come at the expense of Milwaukee, however. That being said, he is slightly younger than Bell and can play third base. Of the three, he may be the best option.