The Milwaukee Brewers are approaching decision time on Travis Shaw as the non-tender deadline approaches.
By the end of the day on Monday, we will know the fate of Brewers third baseman Travis Shaw. After turning in an abysmal 2019 season, he has found himself a strong non-tender candidate this winter.
Through his first two seasons in Milwaukee, it seemed a no-brainer that Shaw would be around for a while. He was an above-average offensive player with 30+ home runs from the left side of the plate each of those seasons, while also playing very solid defense at third base.
With Mike Moustakas returning for a full season in Milwaukee and playing at second, Shaw was penciled in as the starting third baseman once again. But the season started slow, and never got much better for Shaw.
After a season in which he hit .157 with seven home runs, 16 RBIs, and had a 45 OPS+, Shaw found himself on the bench and an afterthought in the Crew’s playoff push. While there is a chance Shaw gets non-tendered and becomes a free agent on Monday, it’s still in the Brewers best interest to keep Shaw on their roster.
Reasons To Keep Travis Shaw
Let’s not forget that Travis Shaw has proven over two full seasons that he is an above-average big league player. Two years of the success he had is not a fluke. Shaw averaged a 120 OPS+ over his first two seasons as a Brewer, meaning he was 20% better than the average hitter in the league. That’s not a common find.
A rough stretch through 230 at-bats is more of a fluke than posting a 120 OPS+ over nearly 1,200 plate appearances in 2017 and 2018 combined. The Travis Shaw we saw in 2019 is not who Travis Shaw really is as a hitter.
Shaw was one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball in 2019. Of all hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, Shaw had the 3rd-lowest BABIP in the league at .216, ahead of only Jay Bruce and Derek Dietrich. There’s no way he can continue to be that unlucky through another full season. That number is just absurd.
Giving up on Shaw, with his track record, after one poor season and while he’s still affordable doesn’t make sense for the Brewers to do. Even though he’s entering his second year of arbitration, he’s still plenty cheap. He earned $4.6 million last year in his first arbitration year after the big years in 2017-18, but with his poor performance in 2019, his salary is not due for an increase.
CBA rules only allow for a maximum 20% pay cut from the previous year’s salary in arbitration. That would take Shaw down to a $3.74 million salary for 2020, if he were to accept that. That’s the lowest the Brewers could go. There is little chance Shaw and his agent would argue for a raise, but they’ll probably look to re-up at the same salary as last year.
Paying between $3.74MM-$4.675MM to see if a slugger like Travis Shaw can have a bounceback season is a small price to pay.
Plus, what other options do the Milwaukee Brewers have at third base? Mike Moustakas is a free agent that’s getting a lot of interest on the open market this year. If they let Shaw go, GM David Stearns better re-sign Moose or have some other backup plan in place because there are no other internal options to take over at third base.
Lucas Erceg, the Crew’s top third base prospect, stalled in Triple-A in 2019, having a poor offensive season despite numbers trending up across the board in Triple-A with their use of the big league baseballs. If they drop Shaw, and Moustakas signs elsewhere, the Brewers will be left empty-handed at third base.
The only other internal option that can play third base is new acquisition Luis Urias. But he’s expected to be the competition for Orlando Arcia at shortstop in order to get the best out of that position. If Urias is moved to third base before spring training even started, Arcia will be under no pressure to perform better in 2020.
Shaw went through a mental struggle in 2019. He was in an early slump, pressed to break out of it, and thus put him in a deeper slump. He’s going to be different in 2020, and he’s way more likely to be back to his old form next year than to be one of the worst hitters in the league again.
Even if Moustakas is re-signed, Shaw can bounce around while trying to regain his footing. He could possibly play first base. But if Moose leaves, the Crew is unlikely to land Josh Donaldson or Anthony Rendon, and the third base market is thin after that. Their best bet is on a Travis Shaw bounceback campaign in 2020.
If the Milwaukee Brewers non-tender Shaw and he signs with another team and finds success once again, it could go down as one of David Stearns’ biggest regrets.