Slingin' David Stearns was at it again yesterday, making the surprising move of trading Jason Rogers to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rogers was the last first baseman standing on Milwaukee's 40 man roster, and the need to add someone to play first from outside the organization now becomes a definite one. We've thoroughly discussed the various free agent options throughout the week, but of course that is not the only avenue that Stearns and the Brewers could pursue to bring someone in.
#Brewers GM David Stearns said he's definitely in market for 1B, be it via trade or FA. Said looking at younger players and veterans.— Tom (@Haudricourt) December 18, 2015
No one knows exactly what the trade market might hold, but there is one player who could potentially be available that sticks out to me as possible fit: Jon Singleton of Stearns' former organization, the Houston Astros.
Singleton was originally drafted by the Phillies in the eighth round of the 2009 MLB Draft, but was sent to Houston (along with current Brewer Domingo Santana) as a part of the Hunter Pence trade in 2011. Singleton comes with a significant prospect pedigree, having been ranked as a consensus top 100 prospect from 2012-2014. He was ranked as the top first base prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline following the 2013 season.
Singleton has posted a career .274/.383/.473 slash with 97 home runs in 640 minor league games, displaying the potential for both prodigious power and the ability to get on base with a 14.9% career walk rate. The Astros thought so highly of him (and perhaps were also worried about his two failed drug tests for marijuana - a substance that is not tested for once a player is added to the 40 man roster) that they signed him to a guaranteed five-year, $10 mil contract with three additional option years in April of 2014 before he even played a day in the major leagues.
Since then, however, Singleton's prospect luster seems to have dulled a bit. The Astros gave him his first extended taste of big league action in 2014 as a 22 year old, and he struggled mightily. In 95 games the left-handed hitting first baseman managed only a .168/.285/.337 slash and was valued at a full -1.0 fWAR. He struck out in 37% of his plate appearances, though that marked a significant jump from his 22% career strikeout rate in the minor leagues. A .238 BABIP no doubt dragged that batting line down, and he still did slug 13 home runs and walk in 13.8% of his plate appearances. He wasn't all that great defensively and was valued at -5 DRS and -6.7 UZR, but he should have the capability to be about an average defender at first over the long-term.
Singleton was banished back to AAA for most of the Astros magical run in 2015, but there he again produced excellent results and hit .254/.359/.505 in 102 games with 22 home runs. He also cut his strikeout rate back down to his MiLB career norm of 22%. Even in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League his offense was some 28% better than league average as measured by wRC+. He did get 58 major league plate appearances in 2015 but produced only a .625 OPS in rather sporadic duty.
Since the Astros jettisoned Chris Carter earlier this winter it would appear that Singleton might be given another opportunity to seize the first base job down in Houston. With players like Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena on the big league roster and top prospects A.J. Reed, Tyler White, and Matt Duffy all waiting in the wings, it's not hard to imagine Singleton being available in the right deal.
Jon has another three years and $6 mil guaranteed remaining on his contract, though since he has yet to accrue even a full year of MLB service time he won't be eligible to become a free agent until after the 2021 season, assuming he begins 2016 in the big leagues. His contract options give any club the ability to control his arbitration years at a cost of $2.5 mil, $5 mil, and $13 mil, though if any of those options were to be declined he'd simply fall back into the arbitration process for the remainder of his club control. His guaranteed contract could help bring down his asking price a bit given that he has yet to produce at the big league level, but it could still end up being a bargain if Singleton can come close to touching his high ceiling.
Jon will play almost all of next season at the still young age of 24 so there is plenty of time for him to tap into his tremendous potential. A low-pressure rebuilding situation in Milwaukee might be the perfect place for Singleton to get his career headed back in the right direction, rather than in Houston where after years of rebuilding their competitive window has now been thrown wide open. Slingin' Stearns has already shown he's willing to roll the dice on another former Astro top prospect in Jonathan Villar, so why not consider double dipping by acquiring Jon Singleton to fill the gaping hole at first base?