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At the season’s halfway point, the Milwaukee Brewers make tough decision to shake up roster

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Two major contributors from the playoff run and a multi-year reclamation project are now facing uncertain futures.

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Yesterday morning on Twitter, in the aftermath of Craig Counsell’s quotes about the need to get his struggling veteran players going at the plate, I posed the following question to my followers:

“Half a season of suck isn’t enough of a sample size?”

As it turns out, the season’s mathematical midpoint was indeed the length of the leash for Travis Shaw. Late in the evening after yesterday’s 4-2 victory over Seattle, it was reported that the struggling third baseman would be optioned to Triple-A San Antonio, a move that was made official this afternoon. Shaw’s season was interrupted by an IL stint with an aching wrist, but when he was on the field, he could manage only a .164/.278/.290 slash with six home runs. Of the 230 players with at least 200 plate appearances this year, only one — Danny Jansen of the Blue Jays — has a worse wRC+ than the 49 that Shaw’s batting line equals out to.

He was the team’s cleanup hitter for the past two years and accumulated more than 30 home runs and 3+ wins above replacement each season, so one could understand why he’d given so many chances try and find success. But the decision to replace Shaw on the roster with top prospect Keston Hiura — the owner of a 157 wRC+ in Triple-A and a .281/.333/.531 line in three weeks of big league action — was an obvious and, all things considered, probably an overdue one. However, Travis wasn’t the only veteran player who lost his roster spot due to a drop-off in performance.

Also on the chopping block was Hernan Perez, who joined the team back in 2015 and was the first outside acquisition that Counsell welcomed to the roster after taking over as manager. Perez was a popular player in the clubhouse who grew into a leadership role over the years; he reportedly left the stadium in tears today after clearing out his locker, and teammate Jesus Aguilar told the media that he was not yet ready to talk about the loss of his friend. His versatility on the field and his colorful and playful personality off of it created many memorable moments over the past several years, and he’ll be sorely missed by those in the clubhouse as well as a large legion of the fanbase.

Unfortunately, the determination was made that Perez’s struggles at the plate this season outweighed everything else that he bring to the table. Hammerin’ Hernan was batting .235/.277/.383 when he was designated for assignment, coming to a 69 wRC+ that is the worst mark he’s produced in parts of five seasons with Milwaukee. With only seven of his 33 starts coming at a position other than second base this season, Perez’s versatility hasn’t created the same value this year as it has in years past. Hernan hit only .196 with a .516 OPS in June, and after raking against left-handed pitchers in the past, he was able to produce only an 84 wRC+ against them this season. The front office isn’t confident about the possibility of keeping Perez in the org once the DFA process plays out, and his role will now be filled by Tyler Saladino, who played everywhere except pitcher, catcher, and center field with San Antonio.

In fact, Saladino appears to be ticketed for a rather sizable role with the Milwaukee Nine now that he has returned to the Menomonee River Valley. Counsell told reporters today that the soon-to-be 30 year old will start playing “quite a bit of shortstop”, entering into a timeshare with Orlando Arcia at the position for the foreseeable future. Saladino was in the lineup starting at the six right away tonight against Pittsburgh. He had been enjoying a breakout campaign in terms of power and offense for the Triple-A Missions this year, hitting .288/.375/.568 with 14 dingers through 67 games while earning a spot on the PCL All-Star team. Arcia, meanwhile, has seen his bat cool off quite a bit since a strong start to the season; despite mashing five taters in June, he’s hitting only .190/.225/.405 on the month for a 56 wRC+. Counsell also suggested that he needed to see Arcia shore up his performance on the defensive side of the ball, too; he has been charged with 11 errors on the year and both UZR (-2.6) and FRAA (-1.5) see him as an overall negative with the glove this year despite his sterling reputation.

On the pitching side, an unforeseen resolution has arisen to the Jimmy Nelson saga. If you’ll recall back to the end of Spring Training, you might remember that Nelson was setback with some elbow soreness that delayed the start of his rehab assignment with San Antonio. Nelson got back on the mound for the Missions beginning on May 3rd, but the pain in his elbow had apparently not abated. He pitched through pain while making five minor league rehab starts before rejoining the big league roster, then made three unsuccessful starts for Milwaukee before getting demoted to the bullpen (with indications that he rejected a minor league option) and making one wild relief appearance. After allowing 18 hits, 14 walks, and 13 earned runs in 14.0 innings, the team decided that they wouldn’t let Nelson pitch while dealing with the discomfort any longer. He was placed on the 10-day Injured List with a fluid buildup in his right elbow and will have to back off throwing for a brief period before theoretically heading out for another minor league rehab assignment. Given the way Nelson pitched during his brief return to The Show, however, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he’s thrown his last pitch in a Brewers’ uniform, whether or not he gets healthy again this year.

With half of the 2019 season in the books, David Stearns decided that the time had come for a major shakeup to his active 25-man roster. Some moves were easy to see coming, others weren’t. But now that the front office has shown that the leashes won’t last forever this year, other under-performers have to be feeling their seats getting hot. The pressure is on for players like Arcia, Aguilar, Jhoulys Chacin, and others to start putting their best foot forward. How they respond in the coming weeks will go a long way towards informing Slingin’ Stearns how he should proceed during trade season.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs