Willy Adames: Future $150 Million Man? by Michael Baumann September 21, 2022 © 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.