It’s no secret that the Milwaukee Brewers have struggled on offense since the All-Star break. During the second half of the season, the club ranks 29th with 76 runs scored, 24th with 25 home runs, and t-29th with a cumulative non-pitcher wRC+ of 77. They simply haven’t looked like the same team that bashed their way to a 5.5 game divisional lead by the end of the season’s first half, which has since evaporated into a 1.5 game deficit.
Particularly glaring has been the team’s lack of production at the second base position. Jonathan Villar has been mired in a season-long slump and owns a putrid .213/.272/.332 slash (54 wRC+) across 357 plate appearances. Eric Sogard was hot for awhile after he first got called up in May, but he has just 2 hits and 3 walks in 36 plate appearances since returning from the disabled list on July 22nd and has compiled a .631 OPS across 490 career big league games. Between those two and occasionally Hernan Perez (who manager Craig Counsell prefers to keep in a utility role rather than committed to one position on an everyday basis), Milwaukee’s output from the position has totaled a combined 74 wRC+ (t-26th in MLB) in 2017. Since the start of the second half, that group has combined for an astoundingly awful -17 wRC+, or 117% below league average. That mark is far-and-away the worst in baseball.
To his credit, David Stearns has apparently recognized this conspicuous deficiency with his roster and if reports are true, he may be working to rectify it. The club was linked to Detroit Tigers’ second baseman and 4-time All-Star Ian Kinsler by various reports last month, though a deal never wound up coming to fruition before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st. According to Ken Rosenthal, though, the Brewers are still interested in potentially working out a waiver trade for the 35 year old:
#Brewers remain interested in Kinsler, but on his 10-team no-trade list, sources say. Villar .605 OPS; Sogard 2-for-33 since coming off DL.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 9, 2017
Kinsler is batting .245/.324/.388 with 10 home runs in 420 plate appearances this season, good enough for a 91 wRC+. That’s a bit below his career slash of .275/.343/.447, but it appears as though much of the blame can be attributed to bad luck. Kinsler’s walk and strikeout rates are both better than his career averages, and he’s making hard contact (36.8%) at the highest rate of his career. His batting average on balls in play of .259, meanwhile, is 29 points below his career average and his lowest total since 2009.
Kinsler is a former Gold Glover winner at the keystone and still grades out very highly there on defense. He’s currently valued at +9 Defensive Runs Saved and a +6.9 Ultimate Zone Rating in a shade under 800 innings in the field at second base this season. So far he’s accrued 2.0 fWAR and 2.1 bWAR in 2017 and depending on which calculation you prefer, he’s been worth between 17-20 wins above replacement since joining the Tigers in 2014.
Kinsler is owed the balance of an $11 mil salary this season and according to Cot’s Contracts, he has a $10 mil club option for 2018 that comes with a $5 mil buyout.
There are some major obstacles that could prevent a deal from getting done, however. First and foremost, Kinsler has a 10-team no trade clause included in the contract extension he signed back in 2012. According to Rosenthal, the Brewers are one of the teams that Kinsler can veto a deal to. We saw Jonathan Lucroy exercise a similar clause in his contract when he vetoed the deal Milwaukee tried to broker with Cleveland last summer, but there are instances in which these no-trade clauses can be worked around.
As of last November, Kinsler’s representatives stated that their client would only consider waiving his no-trade clause if the acquiring team was able to work out an extension. It’s unclear if that remains the case; perhaps Kinsler would approve a deal from the rebuilding Tigers to the contending Brewers if, say, they were willing to guarantee his eminently reasonable contract option for 2018. If Kinsler’s camp demands anything beyond that commitment, however, it’s easy to see Stearns and co. balking at that stipulation.
The other big issue is the fact that according to Rosenthal, Kinsler was only recently placed on waivers and will remain on the wire until noon (CST) tomorrow. He would have to be passed over by every American League team as well as most of the National League before Milwaukee would be able to place a claim on him, which would then give them 48 hours to convince Kinsler to waive his NTC and work out a deal with Detroit. Ken notes that it’s “probable” another team could claim him off revocable waivers with the intent of blocking him from being dealt (in which case, the Tigers could simply pull him back off waivers and retain his services). If Kinsler is able to clear revocable waivers without being claimed, any acquiring team would have to complete a deal by August 31st in order for him to be eligible for postseason play.
There’s really no arguing that Kinsler would be a major addition at a position of need to the Milwaukee Nine, and his acquisition cost seems unlikely to be prohibitive. The Tigers were rumored to be trying to package their assets together last month in an effort to pare down their payroll commitments and their greatest motivation for moving Kinsler appears to be getting out from underneath his salary. The Brewers have one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball and given that they only have about $24 mil on the books for 2018 (Eric Thames and Ryan Braun are their only guaranteed contracts) the org should have no issue taking on Kinsler’s contract in order to minimize the prospect cost that might need to be given up.
We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see if Kinsler either makes it to the Brewers or clears waivers, though; even if he does it appears that it will take some slick negotiating by Slingin’ Stearns in order to bring the second baseman to the Cream City.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference
If all it would take to bring Ian Kinsler to Milwaukee is guaranteeing his 2018 contract option, would you be in favor of acquiring him?
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