As recently as four months ago, the Brewers had five arbitration-eligibles, but John Axford was traded to the Cardinals in August, Mat Gamel was waived and claimed by the Cubs in October and Burke Badenhop was traded to the Red Sox on Nov. 22, all moves motivated by cost-cutting that left the Brewers with only two potential arbitration cases: Estrada and Francisco.
Estrada, who earned $1.955 million during a 2013 season interrupted by injuries, is due a raise to the neighborhood of $3.5 million, according to projections from the website MLBTradeRumors.com. He was a lock to be tendered a contract, and general manager Doug Melvin said Monday morning that the club has Estrada penciled into next year's rotation.
Francisco, though, required further debate, said Melvin, who waited until Monday evening to confirm the Brewers would tender the slugger a contract. MLB Trade Rumors projected that Francisco will cost about $1.4 million in arbitration as a "Super Two" player.
Acquired in a June trade with the Braves, Francisco batted .227 with 18 home runs and 48 RBIs in 124 games between Atlanta and Milwaukee. He struck out 138 times in 348 at-bats and struggled with the move from third base to first, but he did show some promising power during his second-half stint with the Brewers. Hitting coach Johnny Narron suggested late in the season that Francisco eliminate his pronounced leg kick, a change Francisco took to the Dominican Winter League, where he was batting .276 with a .373 on-base percentage through his first 31 games with Licey. That club is managed by Mike Guerrero, who was added to Milwaukee's Major League coaching staff in October.
"He's facing a lot of left-handed pitching," Melvin said. "Every time he comes up late in a game, they bring in left-handers to face him. Down there, they view him as a threat."
Francisco has been handling those lefties well, going 23-for-67 (.343) against them with both of his home runs. Against righties, he was 9-for-49 (.184).
The Brewers are seeking a full-time first baseman this winter, but Francisco could have some value to Milwaukee even if he is not the Opening Day starter. He would be insurance at first base and at third, where 35-year-old Aramis Ramirez is entering the final season of his contract and will try to bounce back from a 2013 season shortened by knee issues. He could also give manager Ron Roenicke a power bat off the bench.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.