2019 salary: $565,700
2020 projection: $2,700,000
What was already an interesting question got a lot more interesting on Thanksgiving Eve with the Brewers reporedly acquiring Luis Urias from the San Diego Padres -- do the Brewers tender Orlando Arcia a contract after one of the worst years of his career?
It’s long been understood that Arcia’s value lies mostly in his defense, and anything he can provide offensively is gravy. The problem is the last two years, the offense has been so poor that it has dragged him below replacement level -- especially as his reputation as a defensive wizard has also lost some of its luster.
Still capable of making some incredible plays defensively, the mental lapses have seemingly increased in the past year or two, causing Craig Counsell and David Stearns to flat out say after the season they need more out of the shortstop position -- uncharacteristically blunt comments not only for those two specifically, but also for baseball people in general. Stearns continued that on Wednesday in talking about why he traded for Urias:
David Stearns on getting Luis Urias: “Look, we did not have good SS production last year, and we have been open about that. For us to ultimately do what we want to do ... production from that position has to improve. Having competition at that position is not a bad thing.”— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) November 27, 2019
It’s been especially frustrating, because it looked like Arcia was turning a corner in 2017 and on his way to becoming a good all-around player. He hit .277/.324/.407 that year, and while he still wasn’t walking very much at all, he was at least running into enough pitches to hit for a bit of power, coming out of nowhere to hit 15 home runs in 153 games.
That power surge may have ended up being the worst thing possible for him, as his already poor plate discipline further eroded in 2018 while the power dried up -- he saw his BB% fall from an already painfully low 6.6% to a comically low 4.1% in 366 games in 2018. He was so bad that he ended up getting optioned to the minors to figure things out, but was not markedly better after being recalled, and the struggles continued into 2019 -- although he did raise his BB% to a career-high 7.9% and cut his strikeouts by nearly 4%.
Arcia saw the power come back this past year and raised his wRC+ in 2019, but that was true for everyone in the league with the modified baseball, and he still graded out as one of the worst qualified hitters in all of baseball in 2019. The past two years have been so bad, his career fWAR is now barely above zero at 0.2.
There’s no debate that Arcia has been almost historically bad offensively the past two seasons. But it’s also easy to forget just how young he is, due to how long he’s been a fixture in the lineup. He was just 24 this past season, turning 25 on August 4th. It’s entirely possible his best years are ahead of him, even though the first 1500 career at-bats have left plenty to be desired.
Defensively, he still has the ability to be an asset to a Brewers pitching staff that could always use all the help it can get. Even with the frustration in the past year over an increase in misplayed balls, Arcia still graded out at +3 Defensive Runs Saved, and is at +12 for his career in nearly 3800 innings. That would indicate an ability to still make those difference-making defensive plays -- but the problem is Arcia seems to have become the equivalent of an NFL receiver who frequently makes spectacular catches but often drops the easy plays. UZR has always rated him poorly for that reason. He’s basically the Brewers’ Jermichael Finley.
He’s enough of an asset defensively that an argument could be made to keep him around, even as a reserve now with Urias in the fold. The big question is if the inconsistent playing time would lead to even more struggles with the bat -- he’s had a hard enough time getting going with consistent playing time, but would things get even worse if he’s only seeing a handful of at-bats every week?
That kind of player might be passable on the 25-man roster for the league minimum or just above it, which Arcia has been making the past few years. The problem is now that kind of production might cost the Brewers upwards of $2.7 million. With David Stearns seemingly trying to find change under all of the couch cushions possible so far this offseason (trading Zach Davies and Chase Anderson, declining the option on Eric Thames), that doesn’t seem to bode well for Arcia’s hopes of staying on the roster past Monday.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs