If you thought the Brewers were done trading for infielders after they added Mike Moustakas and moved Travis Shaw to second base, well, you were probably like everyone else.
That’s what made David Stearns’ last-second deal for Jonathan Schoop so surprising. The Brewers’ reported interest in the 26-year-old second baseman made sense last week, before the Brewers decided to throw conventional wisdom out the window. But doing it after telling a borderline All-Star third baseman he was going to be playing a position he’d never played before?
Well, it’s so crazy it might just work.
As Brad Ford noted when he told us what we could expect from Schoop, while he’s been a second baseman for much of his career, he’s also seen limited time at shortstop and third base in the majors, and he played nearly 2000 minor league innings at short before being moved off the position.
‘Positionless basketball’ has become a thing in the NBA, with lineups no longer really conforming to historic norms. The Brewers might be trying in to usher in an era of positionless baseball.
Based on who’s pitching, Schoop may play second base, with Travis Shaw sitting. Or he may play shortstop, with Shaw at second base. Or he may play third, with Moustakas or Shaw at first and the other getting a day off. Stearns has long coveted versatility, especially with his infielders, and now he has a well-stocked group made up of guys that could conceivably play anywhere.
Sure, there are worries about the defense, especially with a starting pitching staff that seems to have been overperforming all year, thanks in part to some of the best defensive support in the league. But the situation was dire enough for the Brewers’ offense — pretty clearly the worst out of the National League playoff contenders — that something had to be done. October may be about pitching, but if a third of your lineup is a black hole AND you’re staring down Clayton Kershaw, you’re making things even harder than they need to be.
There’s little doubt that Schoop helps in that regard. Even if you think his warts as a player — his non-existant walk rate, his lack of speed — detract enough from his power potential to make him a roughly average player, the Brewers have been so far off from ‘roughly average’ in the middle infield all year that he still represents a large upgrade, even post-Moustakas trade.
While it could be argued the Brewers didn’t give up much, if anything, they would miss for Moustakas considering the blocked status of both Brett Phillips and Jorge Lopez, that may not end up being the case here — although this deal also includes its fair share of highly polarizing players.
Luis Ortiz has been ranked as one of the two or three best pitching prospects in the Brewers’ system since he was acquired in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. But he’s been leapfrogged in the rankings a few times in the past couple years by Josh Hader, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta while it felt like he couldn’t get over the hump in Double-A, and this year he slipped off of the Top 100 prospect lists. This year is his third stint at that level, although it’s just his second full season and he’s still only 22 years old, but he’s yet to truly excel there. That — and his lack of conditioning, causing some to believe he’s destined for the bullpen — had plenty of prospect prognosticators down on him, despite the electric stuff. He’s now going to an organization that doesn’t necessarily have the best track record of developing those types of pitchers (see also: Jake Arrieta and Kevin Gausman).
As for Jonathan Villar, with the emergence of Keston Hiura, it was starting to look like his time in Milwaukee was limited. That was essentially guaranteed when the team traded for Mike Moustakas and moved Travis Shaw to second base, all while Villar was on the disabled list. Still a pretty significant threat on the bases, Villar was never able to duplicate his career year in 2016, when he hit .285/.369/.457 with a league-leading 62 steals. While he slightly rebounded this year from a disastrous 2017 season, he still couldn’t consistently hit and he still struggled to get on base, and his power all but disappeared, possibly in an attempt to cut down his strikeouts. After putting up a career-high 11.6% BB% in 2016 and a near-career-low 25.6% K%, the walk rate plummeted and the strikeout rate spiked last year and hasn’t improved by much this season. He’s still just 27 years old and is under team control through 2020, but it might be best at this point for another rebuilding team to take him on and take a chance on him, rather than a contending team hoping he can turn it around and contribute.
The wildcard in the deal is Carmona, the 18-year-old who came into the season as the Brewers’ #16 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, but rose to #10 in Brad Ford’s midseason Top 30 list. It’s always tough to project 18-year-olds -- even the highly-touted ones like Carmona -- so the boom-or-bust potential is high. If he ends up being a quality major leaguer, the deal may end up being viewed as a “win” for Baltimore, even if it takes 6 years to materialize. If he’s just another international signing that flames out in the lower levels because he never really learns how to hit, then the Brewers may end up the clear winner.
Overall, this seems like a pretty fair deal for a middle infielder with 30 home run potential that still has a year of team control left beyond this season: a decent prospect (who the organization may or may not have fallen out of love with, as Ortiz’s name came up in just about every trade rumor out there), a lottery ticket and a struggling veteran hoping to regain some magic.
You can dislike the Moustakas or Schoop trades in isolation, but there’s little question that adding both makes this potentially the deepest Brewers lineup in years. The team that was routinely batting Tyler Saladino 5th just a couple weeks ago now legitimately goes 7 deep between Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, Moustakas, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Jonathan Schoop and Eric Thames/Ryan Braun.