If recent reports are to be believed, then it’s only a matter of time until the Milwaukee Brewers reunite with third baseman Mike Moustakas. And this move would make sense on a couple of different levels. For starters, it’s not difficult to see how well Moustakas and the rest of the clubhouse got along once he joined the team following a trade with the Kansas City Royals last July. It’s also fun to imagine him getting a full season’s worth of home games at Miller Park, where the idea is that his power will play up.
In a lineup that already promises to be quite threatening, it’d be fairly difficult for me to criticize this move too harshly if it did indeed become a reality. Adding more power is almost never a bad thing. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one major potential downside to bringing Moustakas back for a full season. And while it centers around current third baseman Travis Shaw, it extends further than that. Bringing Moose back would almost certainly push Shaw back to second base, and I’m not too sure that’s something Milwaukee should gamble on for a full season. It’s a move that would impact the entire defense.
Shaw logged 268 innings at second base this past season, and he handled himself just fine. Baseball Reference credited him with -1 defensive runs saved. Again, that’s fine – neither extraordinary nor detrimental, and to be honest probably far better than a man of Shaw’s stature has any business being in the middle of an infield. And if his defensive output at third base was similar, the idea of bringing Moose back probably wouldn’t be too difficult of one to grapple with. However, that just simply is not the case.
Last season, Shaw produced a mark of +9 defensive runs saved across 107 games (868 innings) at the hot corner. That mark is second only to his work at third for the Boston Red Sox during the 2016 season, when he finished at +10 defensive runs saved. As for Moustakas, his career-high mark in that department stands at +4 (2015). Over parts of eight seasons at the hot corner, which have seen him log 8,035 innings there in total, Moose has a career mark of -4 defensive runs saved. With the way Milwaukee utilizes their starting pitchers and based on the guys currently tabbed to get starts in 2019, a move like this clashes with their philosophy quite a bit.
If Slingin’ David Stearns hadn’t gone out and signed catcher Yasmani Grandal earlier this winter, I believe I’d have much stronger feelings towards bringing Moose back into this lineup. As it stands instead, inserting Grandal into this lineup considerably softens the blow if Milwaukee ultimately decides against bringing back the third baseman. Additionally, the catcher’s defense speaks for itself – assuming you’re not just looking at his struggles in the 2018 NLCS. Which, please do not just look at those. Seriously, don’t. To anyone still doing that, you’re automatically disqualified.
When it comes to the run prevention system and defensive philosophy the Brewers have developed and fine-tuned since Stearns took charge, keeping Shaw at third makes the most sense. Besides, he’s a superior hitter to Moustakas as well. Again, from an offensive standpoint only, this probably changes for me if Grandal isn’t a Brewer right now. But the fact of the matter is that he is, therefore I believe bringing Moose back isn’t of the utmost importance. From strictly a defensive standpoint, I feel as though their infield is currently set up in just about the most advantageous possible way.
The flip side of this, of course, is how you feel about the platoon of Hernán Pérez and Cory Spangenberg we’re destined to get once the 2019 season begins. Offensively speaking, having both Shaw and Moustakas in the lineup right now over the likes of Pérez and Spangenberg on a regular basis would be an incredibly easy choice for me to make. Obviously it worked out well enough during the second half of last season. But I just don’t see it making the most sense over a full year.
Fortunately, those aren’t Milwaukee’s only options.
The Brewers could always still look into free agent options at second base. After all, there are quite a number of players still out there. That said, the likes of Derek Dietrich and Josh Harrison — for example — just don’t do it for me. But if the Brewers are still thinking about adding another piece to their infield, it ought to be Marwin González. And even then, much of that thought hinges on the hope that he’d return to his 2017 form when he slashed .303/.377/.530 with 34 doubles and 23 home runs. González finished with an OPS of .907, OPS+ of 146 and wRC+ of 144 that season.
However, those numbers fell drastically in 2018.
Last season, González hit .247/.324/.409 with 25 doubles and 16 home runs. He saw his OPS fall to .733, his OPS+ to 103 and wRC+ to 105. As a matter of fact, him and Moustakas were very similar in those regards. Despite belting 12 more home runs than González, Moose finished with an OPS of .774, OPS+ of 108 and wRC+ of 105. In 54 regular season games with the Brewers, his OPS and OPS+ were .767 and 104 respectively. So if the Brewers want more pop at second base without sacrificing too much defensively, they should sign González and keep Shaw at third base. Of those two options, that one makes the most sense.
During his seven-year career in the big leagues, González has played all over the diamond. He’s logged over 2,000 innings at shortstop, over 1,200 at first base and just under 1,100 in the outfield. In other words, the Brewers should love him based on his versatility alone. And while he’s only logged 661 of his defensive innings at second base, he’s still been good for +2 defensive runs saved there. I’d much rather take my chances with him at second if it meant keeping Shaw at third than I would with bringing Moustakas back for a full season.
For what it’s worth though, I don’t see that becoming a reality. If we’re talking about who is more likely to end up in Milwaukee between the two, my money is on Moose. Bringing him back just doesn’t seem necessary. In fact, those resources could be put to use in a better way. Starting pitchers (sorry, initial out-getters) Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez are still out there. If the Brewers have no interest in bringing Marwin González into the fold and can only spend money on one more notable piece, it should be one of the two hurlers instead.
But above all else, the most important thing here is keeping Shaw at third base. The way I see it, it’s in Milwaukee’s best interest to do so.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference and Fangraphs