The Brewers are rebuilding and as such signing free agents to fill holes is now much lower on the order of priorities than it once was. Yet they do need to figure out what they want to do at the hot corner. They could just fill from within by giving starts to players like Elian Herrera and Yadiel Rivera. But I think signing Juan Uribe actually makes a ton of sense.
Juan Uribe will be 37 years old on opening day and admittedly he's not a great player. But the Brewers don't need great players right now. One could make a compelling case that in point of fact they need to not have great players. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't try to find players with certain skill sets. In the case of Juan Uribe I'm talking about his defense at third base.
The rebuilding club doesn't need to sign a third baseman for the sake of filling the hole and building a better team to win more games. But they have a very young rotation. Winning games isn't exactly important--or beneficial--but grooming those pitchers is. Having a top notch defense behind those pitchers will help their transition to the majors. Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, and Taylor Jungmann specifically would be aided by an improved infield defense as they induce a lot of ground balls.
Uribe was once a gold glove caliber defender at third base. While it's fair to wonder if he still is at his age, his recent performance suggests he has something left in the tank. His DRS and UZR from this season were just average--1 and 1.4 respectively. However the previous two seasons saw a 15 and 17 DRS to go along with a 24.0 and 12.6 UZR. Defensive numbers can fluctuate from year to year, sometimes wildly, but there is nothing here that suggest Juan Uribe is anything but a competent or better fielder.
The cannot necessarily be said about top in-house candidate Elian Herrera. He's received far less playing time in the past three seasons than Uribe has so it's hard to correctly identify his true talent level. He's had 460.1 major league innings at third base his whole career whereas Uribe had 733 innings last year alone. Herrera's DRS over that span equals 1 and his UZR equals -3.2. Again we don't have enough information statistically speaking to make any definitive claims however I'd bet on Uribe being the better defender.
Yadiel Rivera could be a different story. We have no major league defensive statistics to use because he's only logged 39 innings--4 of which came at third base. But he's only ever gotten glowing reports on his defense. It's really the only thing he does well. But the majority of his playing time in the minors came at second base and shortstop. He only logged 177.2 innings at third base vs 627.1 at second and 5254 at shortstop. That doesn't mean he can't play third base or can't play it well. But it might not be his comfort zone yet. I'd argue Juan Uribe is still the better option defensively.
But that's not the only reason to sign him. While it's true Juan Uribe isn't a great player he does have skills that will be in demand at the trade deadline. Heck, he was traded twice last year. He's not going to bring in any kind of top talent but I could see him bringing in a relief prospect like Aramis Ramirez did. And sometimes you get lucky with those prospects and they turn out to be really good.
It'll probably only require a one year deal to secure his services which is great for the Brewers. They don't have a real answer at third base for years to come but not getting locked into someone has it's benefits. It seems like every year now a hot commodity is popping up from Korea, Japan, or Cuba. One year it could be a third baseman and it could make sense by then for the Brewers to make a bigger expenditure in free agency. Signing Uribe to a one year deal leaves them very flexible for the future. And if no one pops up they can give the spot to Herrera/Rivera then.
It's not always the best idea for a rebuilding team to venture into free agency. They have different priorities. But in the case of Juan Uribe to the Brewers the priorities lineup. He improves the defense which helps the pitching staff. That could pay dividends in the future too if they decide to trade a pitcher or two. It also gives the Brewers the opportunity to trade Uribe himself. And regardless of that it keeps them in a position to be very flexible with their staffing choices going forward.
Major League statistic courtesy of FanGraphs
Minor League and foreign league statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference