The Brewers are just 1.5 games up on the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. The Pirates aren't out of the race, either, as they stand five games back after taking two of three at Miller Park. The Brewers have 26 games to play in September, 22 of which will come against NL Central foes and 10 of which will be played against the Cardinals or Pirates.
The Brewers also have a a shortstop who can't hit a wiffleball off a tee. A shortstop who you wouldn't trust manning a hot air balloon, because that would mean he'd have to get it in the air.
With a little over a month remaining in the regular season, it's hard to deny just how, well, bad Jean Segura has been this season. He's hit .233/.271/.317 so far -- the second-worst OPS by a qualified player in the majors and only 12 points better than Zack Cozart.
Segura's wOBA is .259. His wRC+ is 59. His fWAR is -0.1. He's stolen 16 bases, but has been thrown out eight times. That ratio hurts the team.
Segura's biggest problem at the plate is that he's hitting entirely too many ground balls -- in fact, 60% of his batted balls end up being grounders, the seventh-highest percentage in the majors. Segura's 18.2% line drive rate -- 26th lowest in the majors -- also doesn't help, but it's important to note that low LD% doesn't always mean bad hitting. Yasiel Puig has the fourth-lowest LD%, for instance. Segura's BABIP is at .259; low, but not absurdly so.
Of course, there is also the matter that Segura may be having trouble focusing at the plate this season. His family has suffered through a traumatic event this season and nobody could blame Segura if that is detracting from his performance at the plate.
Here's the crux of all this: Should the Brewers be looking to reduce Segura's time over the next month and a half? I don't think anyone believes Segura won't get better in future years, but with Milwaukee fighting to keep their division lead can they afford to continue running Segura out at shortstop?
The problem with considering any other options is that, well, the other options don't sound so great either. If they did, they'd probably already be out there most days. Elian Herrera is the only guy on the active roster who can play shortstop, but he's not hitting much better with a .265/.281/.325 line. The small offensive upgrade is negated by Segura's being a superior defender.
Jeff Bianchi is the only other shortstop on the 40-man roster, but he's been out since mid-July due to injury and was removed from the active roster earlier in the season because he was such a poor option off the bench.
Is there anything out there that could help the Brewers as a waiver-trade? Two of the better options have already been dealt as Asdrubal Cabrera is now with the Nationals and Stephen Drew went from the Red Sox to the Yankees. Yunel Escobar was claimed by the Athletics, but probably won't be dealt, anyway. Jayson Nix was designated for assignment by the Pirates today but, uh, no thanks.
What else is out there? It would likely have to be from a team out of the playoff race -- any contenders are probably loathe to part with someone who can competently play shortstop. Rays' backup Sean Rodriguez has hit for surprising power this year, but doesn't get on base well and may be valuable to the Rays as Ben Zobrist could be on his way out of town after this year.
The White Sox already traded a middle infielder in Gordon Beckham. The Twins' and Astros' options are terrible. The Rangers don't have tradeable pieces in the middle infield. The Cubs are in-division and don't have much worthwhile. The Rockies and Phillies don't have much.
That leaves two options that may be at least worth looking into. Those two are Cliff Pennington on the Diamondbacks and (gulp) Ruben Tejada on the Mets.
Pennington missed a couple of months with a thumb injury, but has hit .274/.357/.395 in 47 games. His priority position on defense is shortstop, so he's not just a guy who can play shortstop if needed. He gets on base OK and, hey, even got some postseason experience with the A's in 2012. He's also making $3.25 million and is due arbitration next year, so the Diamondbacks may be willing to part with his salary a la Gerardo Parra. Pennington was placed on waivers recently -- if he's not claimed, he can be traded.
Ruben Tejada has pretty much worn out his welcome in New York. Wilmer Flores has taken over as starting shortstop and Tejada has not started since August 6. That's despite Tejada actually having perhaps his best season since 2011 as he has a .230/.345/.289 line. There's no power, but he's at least shown some ability to get on base and there is a belief among some scouts that a change of scenery could help Tejada live up to his potential. I haven't seen any news about him being placed on waivers yet.
In the end, there might not be anyone for whom it's worth lessening Jean Segura's playing time. There aren't many options that are clearly better. Pennington might be a nice little pickup for the final push if available. But both internally and externally, there isn't a glut of players who would be better than Segura. Though the Brewers' shortstop can't hit, he at least has been playing well on defense.
So, for now, the Brewers are likely to stick with Segura, albeit perhaps with a few more 'mental days off' as Herrera gives him a breather. It's not the worst thing. The Brewers' offense is good enough to make up for one everyday spot that sees little production. But it would be even better if Segura can catch a hot streak for one month.