Third base has been a long standing issue for the Milwaukee Brewers, one that hasn't had a true "solution" since the days of Jeff Cirillo around the turn of the century. Top prospects have flamed out (Gamel, Green) or have been so awful defensively they need to be moved to a new position (Braun). Players like Casey McGehee or Russell Branyan proved themselves to be nothing more than flashes in the pan. Even when the Brewers' attempted to bring in a high-profile free agent in Aramis Ramirez, he was injured often enough outside of his debut season that he couldn't really be counted on as a "solution" at all.
Though Milwaukee has plenty of middle infield depth in the upper minors, zero players listed as third baseman are currently ranked in the Brewers top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline. New GM David Stearns was asked about the filling the third base situation during the team's end-of-season press conference on October 8th. Stearns offered up Elian Herrera as the main internal candidate to man the position next season, perhaps as part of a platoon.
Constantly seeing Herrera's name in the lineup during the second half of the season was a source of consternation for many Brewers' fans, myself included. Manager Craig Counsell was asked on numerous occasions why he favored the 30 year old Elian rather than younger players like Hernan Perez, and his answer almost always sounded like this one from the Journal Sentinel on August 28th:
"Elian Herrera is playing well...and he's earned it. He's done a really nice job. He's done everything really well. He's swinging the bat well, he's made some nice plays on defense, so he's earned it."
Digging a little deeper, perhaps there is some credence to that. "Everyday Elian," a switch-hitter, was installed as part of two platoons following the non-waiver trade deadline: at second base against lefties and at third base against righties. In 45 games from July 31st until his unfortunate season-ending injury on September 19th, Herrera put up the following line:
169 PA || .261/.310/.408 || 14 2B || 3 HR || 2 SB || 91 wRC+
Herrera did have a high BABIP of .355 during that time, but a 26.6% line drive rate and 34.2% hard hit rate probably explains that a lot better than simply being "lucky." By no means is a .717 OPS setting the world on fire, but Herrera was able to provide roughly league average offense in addition to playing well in the field (his 4.8 Fielding Runs Above Average ranked 8th among 37 third baseman with at least 250 plate appearances).
Herrera's not an inspiring choice to fill the third base position next season, but perhaps Adam McCalvy put it best in a recent appearance on 105.7 FM in Milwaukee: sometimes one simply needs to "take your medicine" during a rebuild and accept the fact that some below average players are going get more playing time than they otherwise should. Milwaukee isn't going to compete for much other than a top draft pick next season, so what's the rush to find the long-term solution at third base RIGHT NOW? Would it be smarter for the Brewers to throw a multi-year deal at someone like an aging David Freese on the free agent market, rather than playing a platoon of Herrera and (insert right handed hitter here) that'll both be earning close to league minimum? No.
It remains to be seen, of course, what will happen over the next four months before the Brewers report to Spring Training. Stearns will no doubt be active on the trade market as he looks to continue building up the Brewers, but unless the Brewers bring in an MLB-ready third baseman (such as Cody Asche?), then it's more than likely that Elian Herrera could be in line for 400+ plate appearances. His 1.1 WARP this season can't really be called a "breakout," but Herrera has certainly done enough to justify getting more opportunities for a rebuilding ballclub in 2016.