GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Travis Shaw is the first player on the Brewers’ spring bubble to get this assurance: You’re on the team.
The Brewers added Shaw to their 40-man roster on Tuesday, meaning he's in the mix to be the team’s Opening Day third baseman. The veteran infielder said manager Craig Counsell called him into the office on Monday to deliver the news.
"I had a pretty good idea that was going to happen, but they made it official yesterday and kind of laid out the plan going into the season," Shaw said. "It’s going to be on me to produce to be in there."
The veteran returned to Milwaukee last month as a non-roster invitee with a March 15 “out” in his Minor League contract, which would have allowed Shaw to leave for another club if he and agent Joe Bick didn’t hear what they wanted from club officials on Monday.
The Brewers made the move official Tuesday morning, shifting injured infielder Mark Mathias to the 60-day disabled list with a torn labrum in his right shoulder and thus freeing a spot on a full 40-man roster.
Shaw, 30, is set to earn $1.5 million in 2021, with another $1.5 million available in incentives. He’s a left-handed hitter, and if third base becomes a timeshare, the Brewers’ other options at the moment include right-handed hitters Orlando Arcia, Luis Urías and Daniel Robertson.
“Everything's in pencil over there, I guess is the best way to say it right now,” Counsell said. “And I think those guys are all aware of that. Those guys know it. There's opportunities for all of them to earn it.”
Shaw also has experience at first base and, while it didn’t come up in his chat with the manager, could also occasionally spell new first baseman Keston Hiura, who has been using Shaw’s first-base mitt recently while learning the position.
It’s a reunion for Shaw, who came to the Brewers in a lopsided trade at the 2016 Winter Meetings that sent Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox for Shaw and a group of prospects that included Mauricio Dubón. Shaw thrived with the move to the stadium formerly known as Miller Park, hitting .258/.347/.497 with 63 homers and 187 RBIs in his first two seasons in Milwaukee, starting with a 31-homer, 101-RBIs campaign in '17. In '19, Shaw quietly nursed a wrist injury and fell into a slump he couldn’t escape. The Brewers demoted him to the Minors that June in favor of hotshot prospect Hiura, and while Shaw made it back to Milwaukee by season’s end, it was clear the time was right to part ways.
Shaw signed with the Blue Jays for 2020 and produced a .239/.306/.411 slash line that was suppressed by a 6-for-40 stretch in late August and early September. Still, Shaw started to feel more like himself at the plate.
“The hope is that we get a really good version of Travis,” Counsell said. “As he and I have talked about it, he's in a different place now, and I think it's important to just acknowledge that. I think that's what's going to help him have a good year, just understanding where he's at and understanding this is different -- going through what he's been through, getting better in going through that. So, all of those things should be helpful. He's going to get an opportunity to be a contributor.”
That’s all Shaw wanted: an opportunity in a comfortable place. In a way, he said, it’s like he never left.
“The staff is pretty much all the same from when I was here. Most of the team is still here, too,” Shaw said. “It put me into a good headspace coming into the season. I feel confident in what I can do. I made some adjustments this spring, the quality of at-bats have been pretty good. The results haven’t been there, but I’ve been pretty pleased with how I feel in the box right now and how the quality of at-bats are going.”
Shaw is 4-for-23 this spring after going 1-for-3 in Tuesday's 7-2 win over the Dodgers, but he has noticed improved at-bats since returning from the team’s last off-day. Hitting coach Andy Haines noticed something, recommended an adjustment that they discussed over the phone and then addressed during a 45-minute session in the batting cage. Shaw has made louder contact since, including a home run against the A’s on March 10 and a long fly ball just foul against the Cubs two days later.
It’s the sort of loud contact Shaw made often with the Brewers in 2017 and ’18 and has been trying to rediscover.
“Without getting too specific, if you watch Travis, I call him a handsy type [of] hitter,” Haines said. “There’s some looseness there. There’s a lot that goes into that, but his body type and how his hands work and some direction, all those things kind of come into play.”
Said Shaw: “I feel real good in the box right now. We made those adjustments and we’re in a good spot.”