In one of its first moves, the new Milwaukee front office recently announced it would be picking up Adam Lind’s option for 2016. Lind is a good player—he was one of the Brewers’ best hitters in 2015—and his $8 million price tag is extraordinarily reasonable for a player of his experience and talent level. He will undoubtedly make the Brewers a better team in 2016, and for that reason alone picking up his option was a smart decision.
However, this decision is likely going to cost the Brewers in certain areas as well. The most obvious (and, to be honest, least important) is that this will boost their win total and thus give them a worse draft pick. However, this “worry” is unnecessary; this is unlikely to be a very good team regardless of whether or not they have Lind. Additionally, Lind’s presence, along with Ryan Braun and the rest of the veterans on this team, should help create a professional environment for the Brewers’ highly-touted young players to step into when some of them make their debuts in 2016.
More significant is the opportunity cost of this decision. At the very least, Lind will be the strong side of a first base platoon and thus get about two-thirds of the at bats, but he could get even more. In 2015, his first year in Milwaukee, he got 112 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, which was his highest total since his 2011 season with Toronto. If this pattern continues, it will mean that approximately 550 plate appearances are being taken by a veteran unlikely to be on the next good Brewers team when the organization could be using that time to try out younger players who might have a future with the team.
The clearest example of this problem is Jason Rogers. Rogers is in the Khris Davis mold—an older player who appears to be becoming a viable big leaguer later in his career than most do. Realistically, given that he will be 28 on Opening Day and has not yet exhausted his rookie eligibility, it is unlikely he truly becomes anything more than replacement-level. But Lind’s presence makes those odds longer because Rogers simply won’t get the plate appearances necessary to develop, which Craig Counsell confirmed last week when he said that he considers Rogers to be strictly a first baseman.
Lind also impacts the outfield rotation. He is limited to first base defensively, as he has not played an inning in the outfield since 2010. His lack of defensive flexibility essentially takes the possibility of playing Ryan Braun or Khris Davis at first base occasionally off the table unless a lefty is on the mound, not that the organization has outwardly considered this. Being limited to first isn’t automatically a huge negative—plenty of good teams have first-base-only hitters—but the Brewers aren’t in win-now mode where they are simply trying to pencil in the strongest current lineup every day. Instead, they are trying to develop their younger players, which is why Lind’s defensive limitations are more problematic.
Had the Brewers not picked up Lind’s option, they could have used first base to occasionally get extra at bats for someone like Michael Reed, Domingo Santana, or—assuming he comes up sometime in 2016—Brett Phillips by shifting Braun or Davis to the infield. This would probably help those players in the long run by getting them more playing time.
I recognize that the majority of this article has focused on the negatives of this deal. Ultimately, though, those are generally low-risk situations. Jason Rogers is unlikely to be a long-term solution at first base no matter how many chances he gets, and there are probably enough outfield innings to go around for Santana and Reed to get a sufficient number of at bats, especially if Santana plays some center field. And if Phillips forces his way to the big leagues before September, he will clearly be playing well enough to be a bright spot and a welcome addition to the club, and Khris Davis will likely just be shuttled to the bench.
Lind’s talent makes this entire situation worth the trouble for the Brewers. If Lind was not a good hitter, there would be no need to keep him around and this entire discussion would be moot. But he is a good hitter, and there is real value in fielding as good a team as one reasonably can, even at this point on the win curve. Lind costs the team only $8 million and he is not blocking any real first base prospects, and for this small price the Brewers get a veteran in the locker room and a productive hitter on the field.
Milwaukee is likely to be in the 70-win range again next year, and the front office knows this. Given his recent history, he is likely to be a two-win player in 2016, which is unlikely to cause any significant change in draft ranking. But he will be able to be a valuable off-field presence. While I am aware that veteran presence has become overstated and a bit of a punch line in recent years, there is still real value in providing a role model for players making their big league debuts.
Young players such as Santana, Phillips, and Orlando Arcia who the Brewers are hitching their wagons to have never been through a full big league season before, and playing in the majors is different from playing in the minors. Experienced hitters like Lind and Ryan Braun and Jonathan Lucroy can simply demonstrate what being in the big leagues requires. Therefore, given that Lind is not really costing the Brewers any significant development opportunity, keeping him for 2016 is absolutely a positive move.