The Brewers have until the end of November to decide what to do with the 13 remaining players they have on the roster that are eligible for salary arbitration. They’ve already taken care of a couple of cases, picking up a team option for Jeremy Jeffress to avoid arbitration and outrighting Stephen Vogt off the roster.
For the remaining players, we’ll take a look at what they did during the 2018 season, what they’re expected to make in a hypothetical arbitration hearing, and whether the Brewers should tender them a contract or non-tender them. Today it’s one of the most consistent bats the Brewers have had over the past two seasons.
3B/2B Travis Shaw
2018 salary: $567,400
2019 projection: $5.1 million
Difference: +$4.532 million
When people talk about how the Brewers were able to rebuild and become playoff contenders so quickly, not enough of them talk about the trade that brought Travis Shaw to Milwaukee.
Like a lot of the moves that led to the turnaround, it was a bit of a gamble that paid off handsomely for David Stearns and the Brewers. In Boston, Shaw was a guy who some had doubts could stick defensively at third base, but didn’t hit enough to play first base. After a year where he hit .242/.306/.421, the Red Sox shipped him off along with Mauricio Dubon, Josh Pennington and Yeison Coca in exchange for Tyler Thornburg.
Almost overnight, Shaw blossomed into a 30-home run-hitting beast in the Brewers’ lineup with above-average defense at third base. BCB named him the #1 Most Valuable Brewer in 2017, and while he slipped to 7th this year, that was more a function of the other players the Brewers were able to add and leaps taken by others than a true dropoff in Shaw’s production.
While not quite hitting the same levels he did in 2017, Shaw still put up above-average numbers in 2018 despite playing through a variety of ailments that at times limited his contact ability and power, ending the year with a .241/.345/.480 line but still setting another new career-high with 32 home runs while cutting down his strikeouts and taking more walks. That’s all on top of moving to a totally foreign position in the middle of a pennant race and playing well enough there to put all of the initial jokes about the move to bed.
The Case for Tendering
Shaw has been one of the Brewers’ most consistent power threats over the past two seasons, hitting 63 home runs in that time — 12 more than Jesus Aguilar, who’s second on the list. Among Brewers with more than a season’s worth of at-bats, Shaw also ranks third on the team in Isolated Power (SLG-AVG) at .239, behind only Eric Thames and Aguilar. Discounting Christian Yelich’s MVP-winning 7.6 fWAR this season alone, Shaw’s 7.1 fWAR over the past two years is also the most among Brewers.
Outside of Thames, there might not be a bigger power threat against right-handed pitching on the Brewers’ roster, and you could argue that Shaw is the more dangerous of the two considering he strikes out at a much lower rate and walks nearly as frequently.
Defensively, Shaw is starting to be recognized for his above-average glove work. While clearly not Nolan Arenado at the hot corner (nobody really comes close), he’s become a sure hand there. And while he wasn’t spectacular when forced to move to second base and seemed clunky at times, he at the very least made the plays he was supposed to make and didn’t make noticeable mistakes, only being charged with one error in the 268 innings he played there.
Behind Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, Shaw is likely the most well-rounded player the Brewers have, and he’s a middle-of-the-order bat available for just about $5 million. That’s a deal the Brewers would always take.
The Case for Non-Tendering
Admittedly, any case here is flimsy at best, at least this winter. While it’s a significant raise -- which is to be expected for a first-year arbitration player who’s shown 30-home run power -- it’s still in line with his overall value.
The best argument you could maybe make here is that outside of 2017, he’s largely proven himself to be a platoon player. As a left-handed bat he’ll still get plenty of ABs to do damage against righties, but as we saw on the playoffs, he’s a liability against left-handers, to the point where he was forced onto the bench for a good part of the NLCS simply because the Dodgers kept running out left-handed starters in nearly every game.
Shaw hit .251/.357/.535 against righties this past year -- which could be considered an All-Star level -- but just .209/.303/.296 against lefties. Part of that could possibly be attributed to the injuries he tried to play through this year, but even for his career his line against southpaws is just .234/.296/.417.
If he has another year like this against lefties, it might be a fair question to start asking how much the Brewers are willing to pay a platoon player -- but that’s likely a question for this post next year, not this year.
What Should Happen?
Even with his deficiencies against left-handed pitching, you could argue that Shaw is among the 10 best third basemen in the league, and verging on the top 5 in the National League (although it’s admittedly a stacked position). With Mike Moustakas likely leaving for greener and better-paid pastures, the Brewers will be able to move Shaw back to his true position.
If the team isn’t too concerned about his inability to hit lefties and wants to create some cost-certainty with a slugger that’s now in arbitration, the possibility of a contract extension can’t be ruled out. However, as good of an idea as it may be for the team -- they’d basically lock in the value of the rest of what you could expect to be Shaw’s most productive years through age 31 -- Shaw himself may be reluctant to sign a deal that wouldn’t get him to free agency until age 32.
At the very least, we should probably count on Shaw being in Milwaukee in 2019.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs