Willy Adames: Future $150 Million Man?

© Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Brewers are in a bad way; three games under .500 since the start of August, they’ve fallen out of playoff position despite their primary competition — the Padres and Phillies — not exactly lighting the world on fire themselves. It might, therefore, seem an odd time to praise Willy Adames, only there’s never really a bad time to praise Willy Adames, and hardly anybody ever seems to do it.

Adames is red-hot at the moment, with a 148 wRC+ in September, and has been pretty good at the plate this year overall. He ranks second among shortstops in home runs with 30, and is tied for third in slugging percentage behind Trea Turner and Bo Bichette. When the Rays went to the World Series two years ago, Adames was an afterthought. He didn’t hit much that postseason, and all the attention (deservedly) went to Randy Arozarena and the Rays’ bullpen arm clock.

But the thing the Rays did better that year than anyone else was play the matchups. It seemed like a player for each position at each matchup, and sometimes they’d pull an NHL-style line change mid-game if the circumstances dictated it. Adames was the one exception. He was the shortstop when the Rays were leading or trailing, early and late, against left-handed and right-handed batters. Apart from the last three innings of Game 1 of the World Series, Adames played every minute of that Tampa Bay postseason run. (Only Arozarena, who was lifted for defense for a half-inning in four distinct games, played more.)

Adames played so much because he was good at everything, though perhaps exceptional at nothing. That’s why the Rays, who’d acquired him seven years earlier in the David Price trade, sent him to Milwaukee in May 2021 along with Trevor Richards, in exchange for J.P. Feyereisen and Drew Rasmussen.

Just because Adames was good at everything didn’t mean he was without weaknesses. He’s always struck out too much and walked not enough; at the time of the trade he was striking out five times as much as he walked, and hitting .197. With Wander Franco in the pipeline he became expendable. (As good as Adames has been, I do not think the Rays particularly regret trading him.)

Last summer, Adames told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times that he’d struggled because the lighting at Tropicana Field made it difficult to see. (In Adames’ defense, I’ve always found The Trop to be oddly bright and American Family Field in Milwaukee to be oddly dark.) Since then, he’s posted a wRC+ of 123 in 224 games, good for 7.7 WAR. That’s seventh among shortstops in that time, sandwiched between Bichette and Corey Seager on the leaderboard. This year, Adames’ walk rate has dropped from 10.3% to 8.5% — which is a little scary, considering he’s hardly Joey Votto to begin with. But he’s having a great defensive season, fourth among shortstops in defensive Runs Above Average and fifth in Outs Above Average — this after being mostly a league-average defender throughout his career.

So let’s go back to that list of the best shortstops in baseball — specifically, what they’re worth:

Top Shortstops By Age and Contract Status
Player WAR Since Adames Trade Age Contract Status
Trea Turner 10.7 29 FA End 2022
Francisco Lindor 10.1 28 10 years/$341 million (signed 2021)
Carlos Correa 9.0 28 Opt-Out End 2022
Dansby Swanson 8.7 28 FA End 2022
Xander Bogaerts 8.3 29 Opt-Out End 2022
Bo Bichette 8.1 24 Arbitration-Eligible End 2022
Willy Adames 7.7 27 FA End 2024
Corey Seager 6.7 28 10 years/$325 million (signed 2022)

For those Carlos Correa pedants, it’s technically a player option and not an opt-out, but the effect is the same. And technically his birthday isn’t until tomorrow, but since I’m a writer and not the bouncer at Sharky’s on All-You-Can-Drink Miller Lite Night, I won’t begrudge him the extra day.

What these players have in common is that (apart from Bichette) they’re preposterously well-compensated, or are about to become so this coming offseason. Other top shortstops who recently became wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice include Marcus Semien (8.6 WAR since May 22, 2021, seven-year, $175 million contract, would be a shortstop if not for playing with Seager and Bichette) and Fernando Tatis Jr., who’s in the midst of a 14-year, $340 million contract but currently on the sidelines thanks to a predilection for motorcycles and Clostebol. So too Javier Báez and Trevor Story, both on six-year, $140 million contracts. We haven’t seen this many rich power-hitting shortstops since the turn-of-the-century Giants.

The point is not that Adames is as good as Turner, Correa or Tatis — he’s not. But is he as good as Swanson, or Báez and Story? I’d argue he is. And when he hits free agency in two years, at age 29, that ought to be plenty good enough to earn him a $25 million a year contract. We might not talk about Adames like he’s in that category, but we should.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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tz
6 days ago

Adames, Burnes, and Woodruff are all set to be free agents after the 2024 season. I wonder if the Brewers will let them all work their way to free agency and be happy with the bargain they all appear to be, even with arbitration increases.

fjtorres
6 days ago
Reply to  tz

Wouldn’t that depend on the farm?
Right now they have holes to address. If they can’t fix them, Adames might leave sooner…
They’ve a good run but all good things end.

Last edited 6 days ago by fjtorres
jaysfan39
6 days ago
Reply to  tz

I don’t know what would be more likely letting them all reach FA or blowing it up this offseason and trading them all, the Brewers could have a pretty quick retool if they were willing to sell this offseason.

sadtrombonemember
6 days ago
Reply to  tz

I’ve been pretty disappointed in the last couple of Brewers’ offseasons for this reason. They have what every team wants–an elite playoff rotation–and then they’re just kind of patching up position player holes here and there without any elite bats except (if you’re being generous) Adames. IMO they’ve kind of punted rather than really gone for it lately.

I imagine they’ll probably decline Kolten Wong’s option unless their internal metrics like his defense more than OAA (doubtful). That would let them move Urias back to 2B, which seems to be the only position he can actually play. I doubt they sink a ton of money into CF or RF, not with Frelick and Wiemer coming up, but maybe they’d consider a stopgap.

I’d love to see them make a big move for a third baseman who would be with the team in both 2023 and 2024 but I don’t think that guy really exists in their price range except for maybe Josh Bell. I don’t think they’re in the market for a massive contract for Xander Boegarts, for instance. Maybe if he falls through the cracks like Trevor Story, but I doubt it. Rafael Devers, if he had an extra year of team control, would be a guy to target, but unless they want to give him $300M in an extension he’s probably a no go (so probably not). 1B/DH seems more likely, with Josh Bell being a possibility. Maybe the Rays want to sell high on Yandy Diaz. Willson Contreras, if they think they can teach him to frame and give days off at DH.

The other option would be to sign them for an extension of some kind, which would require quite a bit of money, and then let the kids work their way up to supplement them. This isn’t ideal because Burnes and Woodruff will be on the wrong side of 30. You could do it with Adames, though. He started pretty young. But if you had them for a few extra years, then you would overlap with Jackson Chourio and whatever other guys are available then, with Frelick, Wiemer, and Eric Brown being the most likely guys to join him as impact players.

PC1970
6 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Jeimer Candelario, come on down!

sadtrombonemember
6 days ago
Reply to  PC1970

Man he’s in non-tender territory now with him not hitting and his OAA for third base looking bad. I would absolutely buy low on him but I wouldn’t count on him either. If I got him to play 3rd base I’d make sure I’d get a real bat for 1B/DH.

Last edited 6 days ago by sadtrombone
tz
6 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Part of the problem is that the Brewers’ were likely planning on Yelich and Hiura being two elite bats, and probably have still been holding out hope for at least one of them to rebound.

I think an Adames extension would be a good idea simply to ensure they’ve got a plus bat in their core for the mid-2020s and he’d still be relatively young.

fjtorres
6 days ago
Reply to  tz

Chourio looks to be that bat andhe might even arrive late next year.

tz
6 days ago
Reply to  fjtorres

Also, Frelick is giving off Michael Brantley vibes in the high minors this year. He might be ready to start in the OF for Opening Day 2023.

sadtrombonemember
6 days ago
Reply to  tz

I imagine that Frelick will be given every opportunity to win the job in spring training and then if he doesn’t get it they’ll go to another Garrett Mitchell / Tyrone Taylor platoon.

fjtorres
6 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

1- I saw a report that the cubs are likely to resign contreras.
2- Chourio is one reason I could see them punt ’23 and try to reload for ’24-25.
3- The market for SS is a bit tight but selling high on Adames might bring back some decent High A talent. Or a single AA high ceiling.

g4member
6 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The long-time hole at 3B (in conjunction with 1B) is real and glaring, especially when you consider the team was gifted two improbable plus seasons from the likes of Travis Shaw. Stearns managed to adequately patch the corner infield twice through savvy midseason deals for Jerry Hairston (2018) and Eduardo Escobar (2021) so I can’t chastise him too much for counting on the same this year, but clearly that well has dried up.

What’s available at 3B? Drury, Profar, Segura …?

sadtrombonemember
6 days ago
Reply to  g4

I suspect that several teams will be interested in Bogaerts as a 3rd baseman, but he’ll probably be out of the team’s price range unless the market totally fails to materialize and I can’t imagine that happening.

Longoria’s option will be declined but he may just retire. Segura’s an interesting option, but I wouldn’t count on him lasting that much longer. For a third baseman, I think you have to go to the trade market. I don’t think Profar is a third baseman anymore. Drury is a possibility, I guess.

In terms of trade, Gio Urshela might be available if the Twins decide to go for Miranda full time, and he wouldn’t cost that much. I imagine the Yankees probably won’t try to trade Josh Donaldson but I guess it’s possible. I would like to think that Kris Bryant would be available in trade after his disastrous year but dealing with the Rockies is pretty messy. Maybe they could trade for Rendon, since the Angels are selling and might be willing to sell low and cover a ton of his salary.

g4member
6 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Rendon route is interesting, if not an especially Brewers-like move. We’d be talking about a LOT of salary coverage by LAA. I’d be fine betting on a bounceback from Urshela, but that really only replaces one middling bat (Wong) with another. To truly contend the team needs at least one and probably two middle-of-the-order bats; slim picking indeed.

Really don’t like the idea of a premature sell-off, but Burnes’ and Woody’s values will never be higher than this offseason. Ugh.

sadtrombonemember
6 days ago
Reply to  g4

Overall I think your assessment is correct. They need two big bats–one at 1B/DH and another somewhere else. That first one is a no-brainer and there are a lot of options there. The problem is that it would be far easier to upgrade at 3B and move Urias to 2B if there was a 3B to be had than finding a guy to provide a major upgrade in RF (where Renfroe is a volatile but occasionally good performer) or CF (where every player is going to cost a huge amount of money if they can hit).

(And they probably need to make up for the loss of their own guys, although it’s not a big group.)

So after this year, Rendon is owed $152M, at $38M per year. Rendon is projected by ZiPs to be pretty good when he plays, but only get about 400 PAs a year, so he’s about a 2-win player per ZiPs despite being pretty decent. But that also involves his defense regressing and I don’t know if that’s true.

If we take the 2-win projection at face value (and I think there are some reasons to bet the over on this, but maybe not many) he starts looking a lot like Mark Canha’s 3 year, $26.5M deal. Let’s bump that up since he’s at a position of scarcity, but even still you’re probably looking at 4 years, $44M on the free agent market. That suggests the Angels would have to pay down $108M to wipe $44M off their books. Given that Moreno is selling the team I wouldn’t put it past him, but no owner would do that in the best interests of the team.

They’re gonna have to get real creative at third base, I think. And I think it’s a serious stretch they’re going to put up the money for Brandon Nimmo or Xander Bogaerts, although that’s the kind of move they should be making.

fjtorres
6 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

There will be 2Bs available so keeping Urias at 3B might be best.
They won’t be big bats but with the new rules hiding a bat at 2B may (or not) be viable.
Brewer economics may not allow for a tear down but a piecemeal reload is lucking harder.

tz
6 days ago
Reply to  fjtorres

I’ve come back to the idea of keeping Urias at 3B and maybe even picking up Wong’s option (not sure why his glove has slipped this year, but at $10m he’d be worth it if he bounces back halfway to his 2021 self). The options to get a bat at 3B are pretty lousy – maybe the best would be trying to pull Miranda from the Twins, but the cost might not be worth it.

In short, the Brewers offense probably needs at least two of these three things to happen next year with their existing talent:

  • Adames holding on to his post-Rays offensive production
  • Either Yelich or Hiura bounces halfway back to their 2019 selves
  • A rookie OF steps up with an ROY-candidate season (ex. Frelick becomes the 2023 version of Steven Kwan).

Beyond that, their only remaining lever is to roll the dice on a veteran to fill Cutch’s role for next year, and hope to get a much better result.

sadtrombonemember
6 days ago
Reply to  tz

If they could trade for Miranda that would be a huge coup for the Brewers. But I don’t think it’s likely. Miranda is better than Urshela, and they’re pretty well set at 2B (Polanco), DH (Arraez), CF (Buxton), and the other corners (Kepler, Larnach, Wallner, and also Kirilloff if they haven’t give up on him yet).

But if they could, say, swap Hiura for Miranda, that would be a huge win for them. It would allow them to get cheaper and more balanced across the lineup. I’m less certain the Twins would do that, considering what they’ve gone through with Sano lately (and Hiura is a similar sort of hitter). But who knows, maybe they think they can fix him.

I actually don’t think it will be that hard to find a 1B/DH. Obviously the premium bats are guys who aren’t on the downside of their career and could play something other than DH, like Willson Contreras or Josh Bell (although Bell vs. Tellez at 1B is probably a toss-up defensively). But I think that JD Martinez and Michael Brantley, while a bit risky, should be a big upgrade on McCutchen. Plus there are more options available in trade there.

airforce21one
5 days ago
Reply to  tz

What role is cutch filling? He’s playing full time and slugging <.400

Jason Bmember
5 days ago
Reply to  tz

Yelich and/or Hiura bouncing back to their 2019 forms seems a long-shot at best. Those 2019 seasons are getting REALLY far in the rear-view mirror now (and displaced by several intervening seasons of much more mediocre performance)