The Milwaukee Brewers wrapped up Spring Training 2023 with an 8-1 victory over the Rockies to finish Cactus League play with a 12-15 record.
After a quick stop in Milwaukee Wednesday for a light workout, the team will hop on buses for a short ride south on Interstate 94 to Chicago, where they’ll open the 2023 Major League Baseball season Thursday afternoon against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Here’s a look at some of the most notable storylines from this year’s camp:
Corbin Burnes’ Contract Situation
Corbin Burnes wasn’t exactly the happiest of campers when he reported for duty last month. The Brewers’ staff ace, who followed up a Cy Young Award-winning campaign in 2021 by going 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA and 243 strikeouts to lead the National League, had lost an arbitration hearing one day before pitchers and catchers were required to report didn’t seem too pleased with his $10.01 million salary or, the process that led to it.
“Just as far as the whole thing, on our perspective and our end of it, it was more that we were just kind of disappointed with how it went,” Burnes told reporters on hand for the start of camp. “The Brewers never really made a real attempt to try to come to a deal to avoid a hearing, at least from our perspective.
“From our end, they just never really made that solid attempt to try to avoid a hearing. And even up until days before, there were some phone calls back and forth and basically it just came out that we were going to end up going to hearing. That’s how it ended.
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“I think we saw from from the deadline day (Jan. 13) that we were going to end up at a hearing, just with the lack of the attempts to get a deal done. So, that’s unfortunate that ended up that way. It’s one of those things that just at the end of the day, it was just kind of very eye-opening.
“You learn your true value in the organization.”
After earning $6.75 million last season, Burnes reportedly sought a salary of $10.75 million for 2023 creating what appeared to be small gap that should have been easy for the two sides to reach an agreement. That didn’t happen, though, which Burnes said hurt his relationship with the organization which now leads to speculation about whether or not the two sides would be able to reach agreement on a potential long-term extension.
That’s not insignificant as Burnes, though not eligible for free agency until 2025, could find himself subject to trade rumors should it become clear that an extension isn’t in the cards.
Considering how the fan base — not to mention, the clubhouse — responded to the trade of Josh Hader at the deadline last summer, that’s a position Arnold and the Brewers probably want to avoid.
Burnes isn’t the only extension candidate on the Brewers’ radar. Fellow starter Brandon Woodruff and shortstop Willy Adames are both nearing the end of their team control and are, according to Arnold, among the core pieces the Brewers are interested in keeping around for the foreseeable future.
Unlike Burnes, both reached agreement on a 2023 contract without going to arbitration but both players have also suggested that the team hasn’t done much in terms of discussing such a deal.
According to data from Spotrac.com, the Brewers go into the season with a payroll of around $106 million, a drop of nearly $25 million from Opening Day 2022.
Outfielder Christian Yelich will draw the biggest paycheck this season with a $26 million salary with Woodruff coming in second ($10.8) million, followed by Burnes and Adames ($8.7 million).
Veteran outfielder/designated hitter Jesse Winker rounds out Milwaukee’s top-five earners in 2023 with a salary of $8.25 million.
The Brewers didn’t do much on the open market during the offseason but will still have an influx of fresh, young faces when the season gets underway. Along with catcher William Contreras, acquired in a trade with Atlanta over the winter, highly-touted prospect Brice Turang will be on the Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. Two other top prospects, outfielders Joey Wiemer and Sal Frelick, are also in the mix for roster spots and could see time alongside another former first-rounder, Garrett Mitchell, who made his big league debut last September.
Voit In, Hiura Out
Speaking of highly-touted, former first-round picks: Keston Hiura won’t be with the team when they open the season Thursday. Milwaukee’s first-round pick in the 2017 draft was designated for assignment late in camp after batting just .156 in spring, continuing a tailspin that’s plagued the one-time hitting prodigy since 2020.
With no minor league options left, the Brewers had no choice but to DFA their former top prospect especially after non-roster invitee Luke Voit played his way onto the Opening Day roster — and a $2 million guaranteed contract — by slashing .300/.349/.500 with two home runs and an .849 OPS in 43 Cactus League plate appearances.
Though he’s not in the team’s immediate plans, Brewers haven’t given up hope on Hiura. He and his $2.2 million salary when unclaimed on the waiver wire, which allowed Milwaukee to assign him outright to Triple-A Nashville where the hope is Hiura can rediscover the form that helped him slash .303/.368/.570 with 19 home runs and a .938 OPS as a rookie in 2019.