MILWAUKEE -- Daniel Robertson’s career hasn’t taken off like he envisioned when he was once the A’s top prospect, but at 26 he’s not resigned to a “utility man” label just yet.
That makes Milwaukee a good landing spot for Robertson, who finalized a one-year, $900,000 contract with the Brewers on Thursday after passing a physical exam. Milwaukee loves to stockpile versatile defenders, and Robertson looks the part with extensive experience at second base, third base and shortstop, plus some outfield time. Robertson considers third base his most natural position, and as it happens, the Brewers don’t have a set starter there at the moment.
“I’m kind of looking at it as if this is my big league debut,” Robertson said. “I’m 26 and I think I have a lot of career ahead of me, and I’m thankful and blessed that the Brewers were even offering a big league deal. This is a year for me to break out.
“You mention [versatile players like Ben] Zobrist and stuff, but I’ve seen it too many times with the Justin Turners and the [Josh] Donaldsons. Obviously, it’s a lot of talk, and there’s a lot of work to be done, but I kind of view myself as a guy that can break out like those players with the right opportunity. That’s why I chose Milwaukee. I think it could be a good fit.”
Robertson was in his first full year in Oakland’s Minor League system -- the A’s drafted him 34th overall in 2012 -- when Josh Donaldson broke through for that team during his age-27 season in ’13. Justin Turner was even further along when he gained a foothold with the Dodgers as a 29- and 30-year-old after sputtering with the Orioles and Mets.
For Robertson to follow such a path, he would have to earn regular playing time. He has so far been unable to do so, despite going from the A’s to the Rays amid much fanfare in a January 2015 trade that sent Ben Zobrist to Oakland. Robertson made it to the Majors in '17 and had a solid year in ’18 -- .262/.382/.415 in 282 big league at-bats for Tampa Bay -- before a nagging right knee injury hampered him in ’19 and required arthroscopic surgery.
Robertson started the shortened 2020 season in the Rays’ 60-man player pool before they opted to cut him loose in favor of a pitcher. Tampa Bay sold him to San Francisco, where he logged 24 plate appearances with a .750 OPS. The Giants non-tendered Robertson in November rather than go through the arbitration process.
“We think there’s a lot of good stuff to tap into,” said Brewers general manager Matt Arnold, who was in the Rays' front office when that team traded for Robertson in 2015. “We like that he’s a guy who fits us immediately to plug in and play in a lot of places. But there’s still a lot of upside left in this kid, too.”
The Brewers have a regular second baseman in Keston Hiura and two shortstops they like in Orlando Arcia and Luis Urías. But they are unsettled at first base (Daniel Vogelbach is the leading contender, though he’s better suited as a designated hitter should one be employed in the National League again in 2021) and even more wide open at third base. Urías could play there, though he doesn’t hit for much power. And with the free-agent market still well-stocked with quality players, there is a chance Milwaukee will answer the question with another signing.
“Look, I think it’s going to be a good competition. There are a lot of different pathways we can go with that,” Arnold said. “I think Robertson is a big factor there. The fact he’s good on the dirt and has good hands and has experience on the infield is a good thing for us. He’s definitely going to compete there.
“He’s a really good kid, good energy, good ‘connector.’ We think he’s going to fit well on the field and off the field.”
Off the field, the Brewers' new acquisition established the Robertson Family Foundation with his mother, Julie. The organization honors Robertson’s father, Don, a non-smoker who died from lung cancer in September 2013.
Before the pandemic, Robertson hosted an annual fanfest in California to raise money for families impacted by cancer. He has helped families pay a mortgage or cover other expenses while a breadwinner is unable to work. Folks can make donations or apply for assistance at https://danielrobertsonfamilyfoundation.org.
“It took a while to get it going,” Robertson said, “but once it gets rolling and you’re able to actually see the money get dished out and help people that are going through this, it’s really heartwarming for us.
“I’m very optimistic about the future of my career, so hopefully I can get going and be a Christian Yelich-caliber name and really start helping people out. You have to start somewhere.”