The Milwaukee Brewers are now protected at the major league level at second and short whether they add any more options this off season or not. With the re-signing of Eric Sogard becoming official last week, they can comfortably go into the 2018 season with Orlando Arcia, Jonathan Villar, Hernan Perez, and Sogard filling out those positions (and more, with Perez’ versatility).
It’s entirely possible that the Brewers are not done with their infield roster, whether through free agent signing, trade, or even promotion from within. But now they are dealing from a position of depth, not need, and that is always a good way to approach things.
Sogard’s deal is for one season and the numbers are well described here. Eric got off to a great start for the Brewers after joining the team in May from Colorado Springs. His bat declined in the second half but he still produced his best offensive season in his seven-year career. At age 31, it is difficult to expect an improved performance in 2018, but a floor of his career numbers and a ceiling of his 2017 output ought to be worth the relatively minimal $2.4 mil (possibly up to $3.05 mil with incentives) salary that Sogard will make next season. His career slash is .245/.313/.324, OPS of .638; 2017 came in at .273/.393/.378, OPS .770.
Brewers’ GM David Stearns is an analytics driven team builder, but the signing of Sogard appears to have been influenced by his contributions to team chemistry and veteran leadership as his production. Teammates Brett Phillips and others immediately made their approval of the signing known and cited Sogard’s attitude and leadership as reasons why. And as to analytics, his good walk rate and on-base percentage last year, combined with a low strikeout rate, were welcome additions to the roster of free-swinging, high-strikeout Brewers. His left-handed bat and ability to deftly handle multiple positions gives Counsell some versatility in his lineup construction as well.
While Sogard’s return will help solidify the bench floor and provide some veteran leadership, it does make the future a bit murkier for a player who was once looked at a possible long-term solution for the team. The Brewers were utilizing Jonathan Villar extensively during late August and early September in order to get his finally hot bat in the lineup. He was used for six games in center field, and the Counsell talked about him learning on the job at a new position. Then he had a tough game in the outfield on 9/5, dropping a deep ball in right center and misplaying one as he came in on it. That ended the outfield experiment, and his playing time was pretty much limited to pinch hitting the rest of the season as rental Neil Walker and Sogard got most of the time at second. Villar started only one game - the final contest of the season on 10/1, after the team was eliminated - over the final four weeks of the year.
It was odd that the Brewers went from doing anything and everything to get Villar in the lineup to benching him for the nearly a month after two physical misplays. That doesn’t seem like Craig Counsell’s M.O., so perhaps there is more to the story that we as fans aren’t privy to. While Walker was producing at an acceptable rate in September, Sogard generally was not, yet he continued to receive playing time while Villar sat.
What that may mean for the remainder of this offseason and the future of the Brewers’ infield remains to be seen. The presence and proximity of prospects like Mauricio Dubon, Isan Diaz, and perhaps even Keston Hiura may encourage the Brewers to look for a short term upgrade at second while keeping the seat warm for one of those players, which could make Villar even more expendable. It’s questionable whether or not there will be trade interest in is services, and with David Stearns running the show a non-tender may not be out of the question, either. Either way, Sogard’s signing will impact Villar’s usage next season, and further illustrates that the team is not convinced that Villar is the answer at second base going forward.
The Brewers have now advanced to the developing stage and competing stage of their organizational reset, and the roster may remain in a state of flux despite the unexpected success with an 86-win 2017 campaign. Eric Sogard is a short-term addition to further aid that growth and add a viable major leaguer in case 2018 is another year of playoff contention.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference