Depth in 2B market gives Brewers options

Perez, Saladino among internal candidates; Shaw moving back to 3B

December 3rd, 2018

MILWAUKEE -- Last week's decision to non-tender means the Brewers need a second baseman. But so far, general manager David Stearns has said more about who will not fill that position on Opening Day than he has revealed about who will.
It will not be top prospect Keston Hiura, despite Hiura's quick ascent through the Minor Leagues, including a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League that earned him MVP honors.
"Yeah, the answer is no on that. I'll shut that one off right away," Stearns said the week of Thanksgiving. "Keston has done a tremendous job. He deserves the accolades he's been getting. He's proven what we thought was going to happen out of the Draft. He can hit. He's continued to hit in pro ball. He does it in a unique way, but everyone who sees him, everyone who watches him, doesn't question the fact that this guy's going to hit. What's been most encouraging for us and what was a question coming out of the Draft was how his health was going to shore up and how he's going to play defensively. Everything we've seen there has been encouraging."
So why not make Hiura the second baseman? Two reasons, one which Stearns can say publicly -- Hiura has yet to take an at-bat above the Double-A level -- and one which he cannot. Installing Hiura at second base on Opening Day would start his Major League service clock. By waiting until later in the season to promote him, the Brewers would give Hiura the Triple-A experience he likely needs while extending his window of club control.

So it won't be Hiura.
Who will it be? Here are some options.
Internal candidates
The Brewers have four players who appeared in the Majors at second base last season in the organization: , , and , though Orf isn't on the 40-man roster and Shaw began last season as the third baseman and the "default," Stearns said, is to move him back there.

Perez and Saladino both signed one-year contracts Friday to avoid arbitration. Perez is a known commodity at this point, valued more for his defensive versatility than his bat (.696 OPS in parts of four years with the Brewers). Saladino is a similar player, though he started hot for the Brewers after they acquired him from the White Sox, slashing .324/.359/.622 in May before an ankle injury sent him to the disabled list. Like Perez and Orf, however, Saladino is probably more of a platoon player or utility man.

Shaw, however, is an everyday bat. He has hit 63 home runs with an .844 OPS in two years with the Brewers, including a stint playing primarily second base after the Brewers traded for Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas in July. Moustakas hit the free-agent market after the season, and the Brewers don't have a replacement aside from Shaw, so the current plan is to move Shaw back to the hot corner.
But as the offseason progresses, Shaw's proficiency at second base means the Brewers can also eye offseason options at third.
"I think it's a possibility, but it's not something we'd commit to right now," Stearns said. "There are a lot of things that would go into making something like that happen, including a conversation with Travis, but the versatility that Travis has demonstrated shows that it's something that we would at least consider."

The other internal option for second base is , the 24-year-old middle infielder who ranks No. 7 on MLB Pipeline's list of Milwaukee prospects. He was on his way to a promotion last summer, when he was hitting .343/.348/.574 at Triple-A before suffering a season-ending knee injury in May. He underwent surgery to repair his left ACL, and while he is expected to be ready for Spring Training, Dubon may require some Minor League time to get his legs back under him.
External candidates
Second base happens to be one of this offseason's deepest positions in free agency, with options including , , , , DJ LeMahieu, Josh Harrison, , , , and -- some of whom may have to take the sort of short-term contract the Brewers prefer. That list grew at Friday's non-tender deadline, with the Mets' among those cut loose.

Possible trade targets include San Francisco's Joe Panik, a left-handed hitter who avoided arbitration on Friday by agreeing to a $3.8 million contract for 2019. He's coming off a down year, but he is under club control through 2019, and the Giants are in the market for outfielders. The Brewers, who listened to offers last winter for , remain relatively deep in that area. Santana is arbitration-eligible this offseason after a down year of his own.
More expensive possibilities include Cleveland's and Miami's , who have eight-figure salaries, or Kansas City's Whit Merrifield, a versatile player coming off an .806 OPS season who is still a year from arbitration. The cost would be high, and Merrifield would overlap with the arrivals of Dubon and Hiura, but his versatility could make it work.