Milwaukee Brewers: Analyzing The Second Base Market

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 13: Jonathan Villar
MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 13: Jonathan Villar /

Now that the Green Bay Packers season is effectively over, it’s time to turn our full attention to the Brewers offseason. Also, here’s an important reminder that Milwaukee Brewers pitchers and catchers report in about 120 days.

One of the the Milwaukee Brewers three biggest needs this winter is to address the second base position. After letting Scooter Gennett go, and a lackluster 2017 season from Jonathan Villar, the Brewers relied on Eric Sogard and Neil Walker for production. But both are now free agents.

The Brewers can’t go into 2018 having made no changes in the depth chart at second base. There will be at least one move. Brewers GM David Stearns is going to want to make an addition but who could it be? Where could they come from?

There are a couple of ways to address second base this winter. The first option is…

Internal Candidates

This may not be the flashiest of moves but the Milwaukee Brewers do have a couple of internal options to play at second base waiting in the minor leagues. Namely, Mauricio Dubon, who is the Brewers ninth rated prospect and he finished a solid season with Triple-A Colorado Springs. Dubon is a great defender, can play all over the field and hits for a good average.

The problem with Dubon is that the Brewers may not feel he’s ready just yet. It was a mid-season promotion to Colorado Springs and they may not be ready to hand over second base to Dubon just yet. It’s definitely a possible scenario that the Brewers give Villar one more shot to start at second base and if he falters, Dubon could arrive after the Super Two cutoff.

Also, Keston Hiura is projected to be a quick-riser through the system but he still can’t do anything outside of DH-ing, although he’s good at that. Isan Diaz regressed a little this season after a monstrous 2016 that saw him earn the Brewers minor league player of the year. But both of those two were in A-ball this year and won’t be ready to play in the majors in 2018.

Nate Orf had a great season with Colorado Springs as well, hitting .320 with nine homers and 11 triples. Even though he’s not a highly regarded prospect, he could earn some playing time if he does well in Spring Training. But that’s a big if and Spring Training is 120 days away. Something else needs to be done in the meantime.

Free Agents

This is a weak free agent class for second basemen. MLB Trade Rumors has the full list but there are very few appealing options. Jose Altuve has a $6 million club option that will be picked up so he’s not going anywhere. Jed Lowrie looks like a good option as well but the Athletics have said they want to retain him so he likely won’t be a free agent, either.

The only name that sticks out besides that is Eduardo Nunez of the Boston Red Sox. He hit .313/.341/.460 between the Giants and the Red Sox in 2017, putting up a 1.3 WAR over 467 ABs. While he doesn’t profile as a great defender, he can play all over the field. He can essentially be another Hernan Perez but would have a more regular role at second base.

Nunez will be 31 years old and due to his good season, he could have a bunch of suitors on the open market. It’s unlikely he returns to Boston because of the emergence of Rafael Devers so he will be looking for a new home.

Other than that, Eric Sogard and Neil Walker are the only real candidates. Sogard has said he’d like to come back, but he regressed a lot in the second half. Neil Walker wants to test free agency so he’ll only come back if he’s desperate. Both would likely only be on a one-year deal.

With very few free agency options, David Stearns may have to look to…

The Trade Market

We’ve already detailed one possible trade for a second baseman. Whit Merrifield of the Royals would be one potential option. But what other options are out there?

The first option is probably Ian Kinsler of the Tigers. They’re beginning a rebuild and will want to sell off their veteran assets. Kinsler is 35 years old and will be owed $11 million next season before becoming a free agent. The Milwaukee Brewers were looking at Kinsler prior to the trade deadline but nothing worked out. Now in the winter, the two teams could look to start those talks once again.

Another option could be Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins. The Marlins are looking to slash payroll and Gordon will be paid $10.8 million in 2018. But, he’s also under contract through 2021 and will make north of $13 million from 2019 through the end of the deal.

While the player himself may be a good option to plug into the top of the lineup, hitting .308 with 60 stolen bases this year, that contract is not what David Stearns wants to see. The Marlins would have to eat a chunk of money to do this deal and they likely are not going to be willing to do so.

Also, DJ LeMahieu of the Colorado Rockies would make a nice addition. The Rockies have stud infield prospect Ryan McMahon ready to take over. LeMahieu is entering his final year of arbitration before entering the free agent market after next season. He’s going to want some regular playing time so he can get big money. With McMahon waiting, he could need a new home.

LeMahieu hit .310/.374/.409 from the second spot in the order for Colorado and he posted nearly a 3.0 WAR. He won the batting title in 2016 and he’s a two time All-Star. The Rockies have a surplus of middle infielders and will need pitching. In any deal for LeMahieu, at least one good pitching prospect will have to go, which makes this deal tough. But for only one guaranteed year of LeMahieu, the overall return should be less. Plus it’s unknown how much playing in Coors Field has inflated his stats.

These are some potential options for David Stearns to check in on. Ian Kinsler does seem like a likely option. Whit Merrifield and DJ LeMahieu also make sense. Dee Gordon looks like a longshot at this point.

What About Competitors?

There’s going to be other teams looking for second basemen this winter, the Milwaukee Brewers won’t be the only ones. This obviously will complicate any potential deal in free agency or on the trade market if other teams start to call on the same players David Stearns is.

The Los Angeles Angels look like ideal candidates to search for a second base upgrade. They were last in the AL in OPS from second base most of the season. Brandon Phillips who was acquired late in the year in a trade is a free agent as is Cliff Pennington. They will be on the hunt and could have more money to spend than the Brewers on a free agent upgrade. But in the trade market, the Angels will be at a disadvantage due to an awful farm system.

Also, the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Mets, Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, and the San Diego Padres could be on the lookout for a second baseman this winter. This won’t be the biggest market this winter but there will still be plenty of movement. With at least 14 players hitting free agency at this position, someone will find a starter among that bunch.

The Milwaukee Brewers need to find answers at second base this winter if they’re going to be competitive again in 2018. Getting production throughout the lineup was a big part of the team’s success in the first half and second base was one of the weakest positions on this roster throughout the season.

Whether it be through a trade, free agency, or their own internal candidates, the Milwaukee Brewers can find an answer at second base for 2018. Jonathan Villar was once a candidate for a long-term extension to play second base but his lack of success this year leaves David Stearns no choice but to add competition.

Next: Lewis Brinson year in review

The Milwaukee Brewers have high expectations coming into next year. Deciding to stick with a young player in Villar no longer has any merit. The second base position needs to take a step up in 2018.