2019 Salary: $887,500
2020 Projection: $1 million
Tyler Saladino is pretty much the textbook definition of Replacement Level Player.
His career numbers bear that out -- he has a total fWAR of 0.4 and bWAR of 2.1 for his career, including -0.2 fWAR and 0.0 bWAR during his time in the majors with the Brewers -- and there’s nothing outside of a hot couple of weeks in May of 2018 and a couple of grand slams in 2019 that helps him stand out from the slew of other anonymous infielders that have spent time in Milwaukee over the years.
In most cases, this would be a pretty standard non-tender decision. There are likely dozens of other Tyler Saladinos out there who are able to do roughly the same thing, and many won’t require $1 million to serve as insurance or minor league depth.
But here’s the thing -- the Brewers’ situation when it comes to middle infield depth, and specifically at shortstop, is such that they may have to look closely at bringing Saladino back.
Outside of Orlando Arcia -- who the team will have to make its own decision on, and whose case we’ll get to later this month -- there is quite literally nobody else currently in the organization who could step in and play shortstop. And that’s not just at the big league level, but also at Triple-A and maybe even Double-A.
With Saladino projected on the Milwaukee bench, Roster Resource currently has C.J. Hinojosa, who managed a .280/.338/.400 line for just a .738 OPS as a 24-year-old in Double-A, as the only 2B/SS at Triple-A next year, and zero shortstops at Triple-A or Double-A (unless you assume Brice Turang starts the year in Biloxi, which is probably a stretch, considering he’ll only be 20 at the start of the season).
With Cory Spangenberg and Hernan Perez already cut loose from the organization, there’s nobody else left standing that could currently fill any of those spots, and the fact that Saladino hasn’t already been designated for assignment or outrighted shows the organization may at least be open to bringing him back.
Saladino’s limited run in Milwaukee in 2019 was largely disastrous (or at least as disastrous as 71 plate appearances in 28 games can be) outside of those grand slams in back-to-back games, as he hit just .123/.197/.215 in that limited sample. He at least hit better in Triple-A with a .287/.384/.566 with 17 home runs and 19 doubles in 79 games, but hitting conditions were such in the PCL this year with the juiced balls that a .950 OPS was actually pretty average before you account for the fact that he was also almost 3 years older than the average competition.
He’s nothing special defensively, although he hasn’t been a liability wherever the Brewers have played him. He’s been either a net-zero or positive player in Defensive Runs Saved at second base, shortstop, third base and left field over the past two years. That last part may be the most important, too -- between Saladino and Perez, David Stearns has shown a preference for utility infielders who can also move to a corner outfield spot in a pinch. While there are plenty of 2B/SS replacement-level types out there, not all of them can also be positive or neutral defenders in the outfield.
Saladino will be in his age 30 season next year, so it’s pretty clear that AAAA-level okay utility infielder is all he’s going to be. From a strict business sense, those players are a dime a dozen, and you could probably find someone else to fill that depth role for half the price (and with minor league options remaining, which Saladino also doesn’t have) out there.
But Saladino is also the devil you already know (even without that mustache), and as someone who avoided arbitration last year with a deal to avoid getting non-tendered, a similar scenario could play out this year so David Stearns doesn’t have to worry about trying to find multiple shortstops this offseason.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference