2019 salary: $4,675,000
2020 projection: $4,700,000
What happened to Travis Shaw will be one of the biggest mysteries of 2019.
Shaw went from a key cog of the Brewers offense, a borderline All-Star performer, to irreparably broken and unplayable — from an important part of the team’s future to a very possible non-tender.
Things started with an early-season wrist injury, which can be extremely hard for a hitter to bounce back from, before he landed on the injured list after hitting just .163 with four home runs in his first 40 games. His first rehab stint didn’t go well, either, seeing him go just 4-for-23 with three walks and six strikeouts in six games.
The decision to bring him back instead of optioning him to rediscover his confidence was only made more controversial due to the fact Shaw’s return in early June meant Keston Hiura was optioned to make room for him on the major league roster. Shaw continued to struggle over the course of the next month, eventually leading to the Brewers using that option and Hiura’s return to the big league roster anyway.
It was during that longer stint in San Antonio that Shaw seemed to find himself a bit, hitting .286/.445/.593 with 9 home runs before being recalled in late July when Jhoulys Chacin went on the Injured List. But once again, Shaw had trouble carrying that confidence to the big league level and continued to be a non-factor with the Brewers. With Hiura taking control of the second base job, entrenching Mike Moustakas at third and leaving Shaw without an obvious place to play, he was sent back down to San Antonio in August and wouldn’t return until just before September call-ups when Hiura got hurt.
By the end of the year, Shaw had a .157/.281/.270 line in 270 plate appearances, striking out in a Broxton-ian 33% of them and finishing at -0.8 fWAR/-0.9 bWAR/0.2 WARP. In his postseason press conference, David Stearns openly admitted that he would have to take a long and hard look at Shaw’s season before making a decision on his future with the team.
The Brewers clearly believe — or believed for much of the season, at least — in the production Shaw put up in the previous two years, giving him multiple chances to turn things around in 2019, even if it meant temporarily making the major league team worse. The question is whether their comprehensive evaluation of Shaw’s 2019 season finds a player that can be fixed over the offseason and this spring, or if his swing (and possibly confidence) is broken to the point where a change of scenery and a fresh start may be needed.
If there’s a positive to Shaw’s terrible 2019, it’s that it would mean his 2020 salary would be virtually the same, potentially providing a bargain if he can find that 30-home run power again. Cutting him loose would also leave the organization extremely thin at third base for the time being, while also removing yet another option for first base after Eric Thames’ option was declined earlier in the offseason. It’s worth noting that even after his trip to the minors in 2019, Shaw still has one option left to his name heading into 2020 and has not yet accrued enough service time to decline an assignment.
The Brewers would be wise not to count on Shaw to help carry the offense in 2020 — this has very much become a “anything he gives us is gravy” situation at this point — but for a team that values versatility, depth and flexibility, non-tendering Shaw would jeopardize just about all of those values and would mean giving up on that power potential after already losing Thames and Yasmani Grandal (and possibly Moustakas) this offseason.
The decision ultimately comes down to whether they think his swing can be saved.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs