Milwaukee Brewers: Tough Decisions Lie Ahead

SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 19: Yasmani Grandal #10 of the Milwaukee Brewers can't make the catch on a single hit by Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres during the second inning of a baseball game at Petco Park June 19, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JUNE 19: Yasmani Grandal #10 of the Milwaukee Brewers can't make the catch on a single hit by Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres during the second inning of a baseball game at Petco Park June 19, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /
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With several of their bats struggling recently, the Milwaukee Brewers may have to make some difficult roster decisions.

The final area where the Milwaukee Brewers have been struggling a bit recently is in their batting line-up.

What’s going on

Milwaukee has several players in their line-up right now that are mired in horrible slumps.

Up until the past couple of games, Lorenzo Cain was struggling to hit. His struggles were leaving the Brewers without someone who could get on base consistently ahead of their elite slugging outfielder, Christian Yelich.

Several others, however, have been struggling even more than he has.

Orlando Arcia entered play on Saturday mired in a 3-for-24 slump over his past seven games, and a 9-53 slump over his past 15. Arcia had gotten just one hit in his 24 at-bats preceding their home-stand against the Reds ( he went 3-8 in the opening two games of the series).

Utility man, Hernan Perez, got several starts on the road-trip because the Milwaukee Brewers were facing several left-handed starters which are the types of players he excels at hitting against. He has gone just 2-for-21 in his past seven games, and has hit just .205 over his past 15 games entering play on Saturday.

Ben Gamel, the Brewers fourth outfielder, is having issues too. He’s hit just .182 in his past seven appearances and is hitting just .198 over his past 81 at-bats.

What’s most concerning, though, is that two of the Brewers key bats from last season continue to struggle too.

Travis Shaw has gone just three for his past 17 over his last seven appearances. Since returning from the IL on June 4th, he’s hit .184 with an OPS of just .600, barely an improvement on what he was providing before that break and well-below the league average.

Jesus Aguilar has shown some improvement, going 3-for-11 in his past seven appearances and 7-for-28 in his past 15. However, he continues to barely get playing time due to a hot streak from Eric Thames.

Why there’s reason to worry

With several of their bats scuffling, Milwaukee has lacked consistency in their line-up. All-star caliber seasons from Yelich, Yasmani Grandal, and Mike Moustakas, have helped the Milwakee Brewers maintain one of the better offenses in baseball. However, they can only carry the offense for so long.

As we saw three times this week, the Brewers scored zero, one, and one in three of their games this week, it is difficult for an offense to score runs every night if a third or more of their line-up can’t hit or get on base consistently.

Essentially a third of their starting line-up is mired in a major drought. Arcia, Cain, and Shaw are regular every day starters who are hitting well-below average right now. The Brewers have few good bench options to go to in their place either with Perez, Gamel, and Aguilar struggling as well.

Several of the players mired in hitting slumps are struggling in the field too. This has helped contribute to some of the lopsided scorelines the Brewers have conceded over the past week and a half.

So long as several of their bats continue to produce next to nothing of offense, Milwaukee will struggle to score runs on a night-to-night basis. That’s a big deal for a team that’s struggling to get good pitching out of anyone and is not preventing runs well.

How They Can Improve

Unlike the starting rotation or bullpen, Milwaukee has in-house options to immediately improve their roster.

Their top prospect, Keston Hiura, has continued to be a lights out hitter since getting sent down to Triple A for the returning Shaw several weeks ago. Calling him back up to play regularly at second base would immediately provide the Milwaukee Brewers with at least another average or better bat in the line-up every day.

Another one of their top prospects, Mauricio Dubon, is having a career year in Triple A. Given his ability to hit for a high average, to steal bases, and play multiple positions well (he can play second, shortstop, and center field), he could provide the Brewers with another utility player that can be an alternative to Arcia playing every day.

To make room for these guys, however, the Brewers will have to make some difficult roster decisions. There aren’t a ton of at-bats to go around in a line-up where five players are essentially a lock to play almost every day (Ryan Braun, Cain, Grandal, Moustakas, and Yelich). The Brewers could more send a reliever down to give one or both of these guys a chance, but the lack of available spots in the line-up makes regular playing time hard to come by.

The Milwaukee Brewers could look to the trade market.too, but doing so seems unnecessary. Unless there’s a cheap option that plugs an immediate hole on the roster. the Brewers can ill afford to use major assets on a bat when they need them to get the pitchers that they need.

Possible Roster Moves

The easiest option Milwaukee has is to use a minor league option on Shaw. Doing this to call Hiura back up would allow Milwaukee to move Moustakas back to his natural position at third base while freeing up regular playing time for Hiura at second. Given that Shaw has shown few signs of breaking out of his slump in this prolonged run of games since his return from the IL, this would probably be a wise and ultimately necessary move.

The Brewers could also designate Aguilar for assignment to clear a roster spot. Given that Thames has outplayed Aguilar by quite a bit this year, Aguilar has found playing time hard to come by. Since he’s limited to first base only, the Milwaukee Brewers have no other position to move him to in order to get him more regular at-bats.

DFA’ing Aguilar, however, has complications. First, removing him from the roster doesn’t free up playing time for Hiura at second. Milwaukee would have to be much more aggressive at rotating players than they have been so far this year to get everyone enough at-bats. Manager Craig Counsell has shown reluctance to do this, especially with guys who are hitting really well.

Second, by letting him go, the Brewers would be losing a player with two more years of team control at first than Thames. This would complicate their long-term picture at first base.

Aguilar would also be claimed on waivers if he was DFA’d. Given that he was a good hitter in each of the preceding two seasons, there’s a good chance that he’ll return to being a decent offensive player if he gets regular at-bats somewhere else. Milwaukee were burned by this once before when they let go of Scooter Gennett. They’ll be reluctant to put themselves in a position where that could happen again.

Whatever they decide to do, however, the Brewers need to get Hiura back up. He’s too good to be spending significant time in Triple A, especially when he’s already shown he can hit major league pitching well. Moving Shaw down until he finds his hitting stroke seems like the best move for everyone involved, especially since it would buy Aguilar just a bit more time to find his bat.