The news: The Astros officially announced pitcher Jerome Williams' new contract yesterday, and cleared a spot for him on the 40-man roster by designating first baseman Brett Wallace for assignment.
Wallace is 27 and was once one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball, having been selected #13 overall in the 2008 draft and appearing on Baseball America's list of the top 100 prospects in 2009 (#40) and 2010 (#27). He's a career .309/.383/.499 hitter in six minor league seasons, including 2009-13 at the AAA level. At one point he was the centerpiece of a deal for Matt Holliday.
Wallace has struggled to translate that to big league success, however. He's appeared in the majors in each of the last four seasons and hit just .242/.313/.391 across 311 games, and the 13 home runs he hit in 2013 were a career high. Wallace bats left handed and has a career .737 OPS against righties, but just a .570 mark against lefties.
Can he help this team? I think there's a strong chance he can. Wallace is entering his age 27 season, so there's still a pretty good chance he'll figure things out eventually. He presents a much higher upside than the likes of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay, and at a low cost: He won't be arbitration-eligible for the first time until 2015.
The Brewers have publicly stated recently that they think Carlos Gomez's growth was stunted when he was pushed to the big leagues too quickly. The same could be true of Wallace, who reached AAA for the first time in his first full professional season and was a big leaguer in his second. If he could reach even a portion of his potential he'd be a remarkable scrap heap pickup. Even if he doesn't, his career .704 OPS is probably as good or better than the Brewers can expect from some of their current first base options.
What do I think the Brewers should do? At the very least, I'd claim Wallace off waivers if given the opportunity. I think I'd also consider calling the Astros to see if Wallace is available for cash or a low-level prospect.