The Brewers have eight players up for arbitration this winter as they continue their rebuild. We'll take a look at each one, make the case for tendering that player a contract and the case for cutting ties, and try to figure out what the Brewers should do before the non-tender deadline.
We wrap up the eight-part series with a look at the diminutive second baseman with a deceptive nickname that was given a chance to shed the platoon player label in 2016.
2B Scooter Gennett
2016 Salary: $518,100
Estimated Arbitration Cost (via MLB Trade Rumors): $3 million
The Case for Tendering
For the first time in his career, Scooter got a chance to compile more than 500 plate appearances in a season. He responded to the added playing time by hitting a career-high 14 home runs, coming within one double of tying a career high, and showing some added patience at the plate.
Gennett has always been a swing-early, make-contact guy, but he showed a little more of a selective eye in 2016. He still only walked in 7% of his plate appearances, but that was actually the highest rate he's walked in his entire professional career, minors included. Make of that what you will.
The main criticism of his game for much of his big league career, however, has been an inability to hit left-handed pitching. The optimistic fan would argue that there was never a large enough sample size to accurately gauge his ability to hit southpaws, though, and the Brewers -- perhaps knowing they had to make this decision this winter and wanting to see what they truly had -- decided there could be worse things in a rebuilding year than seeing Gennett flail at sliders low and away and let him become an everyday player.
You know what the wild thing is? He actually kind of did it. Sure, his line of .260/.333/.375 in 108 plate appearances isn't going to get him to an All-Star Game, but it's actually pretty in line with his overall career batting line. Scooter actually went from "don't even think about it" to "serviceable enough" against lefties in 2016, and that might be one of the more low-key surprising developments the Brewers saw last season.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Here's the thing -- which do you believe, a career's worth of struggles against left-handed pitching (granted, with a very limited amount of plate appearances each year), or one year of average performance (with about 2.5 times as many plate appearances as he's ever gotten in a single season)?
Just for reference on how ugly it's been for him against his fellow lefties:
2013: .154/.175/.154 (41 PA)
2014: .103/.125/.128 (42 PA)
2015: .114/.139/.171 (36 PA)
Tiny sample sizes, yes, but you'd almost think he'd get lucky one of those years and accidentally poke a few more hits through to hit .200. The bad news could be that 2016 might actually be the lucky season -- he had a .354 BABIP against left-handed pitching this year. Call it regression to the mean after 2.5 years of laughably low BABIPs against southpaws, but even when you add in the 2016 results, he's still hitting just .187/.237/.254 against them.
Taking a wider look at his performance, he's provided very limited value overall to the Brewers in recent years. After being worth a total of 3.7 (FanGraphs) WAR over his first year and a half in 2013-2014, Gennett has a combined WAR of 0.3 in the past two full seasons. Much of that is the defense, where he's always been limited, but looked better than he was in comparison to Rickie Weeks. Unlike some players, where you can make a debate about the value of his defense and question the numbers, there's little doubt Gennett is pretty much a butcher in the field. That goes for both the metrics (UZRs of -3.2 and -9.1 the past two years) and the eye test (error totals of 7 and 14 the past two years).
What Should Happen?
I don't think there's much of a real chance Scooter gets non-tendered, but the team is now being run by a GM that doesn't have the attachment of having drafted him. And if we're being totally honest, what's the difference between playing Gennett at second base every day and playing someone like Hernan Perez there? Perez hit for similar numbers (really: .272/.302/.428 vs. .263/.317/.412), but plays better defense and, unlike Gennett, can also steal bases.
I'm not necessarily advocating starting Perez every day at second base in this space, but it goes to show how replaceable Gennett could possibly be if a former waiver wire pickup can produce similar numbers. Is that worth $3 million in 2017? Is it worth even more going forward?
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference