Things were looking up for our Out Of The Park Brewers. We’d scrapped our way back to .500 after a rough start to the season. Were there some pitching injuries? Indubitably. But they were mostly of the replaceable variety; no one’s happy that virtual Josh Lindblom is out for a few months, or that virtual Brett Anderson missed two weeks, but Eric Lauer and Corbin Burnes aren’t so different as replacements.
Likewise, no one’s overjoyed that Lorenzo Cain is hitting like Michael Caine, if he decided to switch from acting to baseball. But the team has options; outfield depth is hardly the Brewers’ problem this year. The only truly bad scenario would be for Cain to continue being awful while getting the lion’s share of the playing time; all of the backup options are interchangeable and acceptable.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case at shortstop. Orlando Arcia simply hasn’t panned out; that’s why the real-life Brewers traded for Luis Urías over the offseason. It was a buy-low trade for a touted prospect who had some growing pains last year, the kind of move that, should it work, could pay huge dividends.
Urías broke his hamate in January. The way the recovery and the timing of the regular season stacked up, that cost us roughly a month of playing time — the injury wasn’t fully healed until last week, and given his missed spring, the league decided a one week rehab assignment would be reasonable — in theory, OOTP players don’t need rehab assignments, but we’re striving for realism here.
Well, rehab just hit us in a place where we don’t have depth. While playing in Triple-A San Antonio, Urías broke his foot. That’s a complete fluke — as best as I understand it, OOTP injuries are treated independently, and a broken hand and broken foot are definitely not correlated. Regardless, though — it’s broken.
This is adding up to a lot of time without a credible shortstop on the team. The foot, if it heals well, will be fine in four or so weeks. After that, he will rehab again; his brief stint in the minors is still his only in-game baseball in 2020. Tack on 10 days or so for the rehab, which looks like a reasonable guess based on previous rehab timelines, and it could be June before Urías takes the field in a Brewers jersey.
That’s the best case scenario, and it’s not very good. If we don’t do anything, it means another month of Arcia as the primary starter. His 34 wRC+ this year is simultaneously disappointing and unsurprising; he’s a career 68 wRC+ hitter whose offensive game, all strikeouts and grounders, feels vulnerable to slumps.
It seems unlikely that there’s more in Arcia’s bat; we’ve seen too much of him, over too many years, to truly believe that. For a month, that might be acceptable; I’ve goofed around with Brock Holt as an emergency shortstop, and while he’s hit well, he doesn’t really have the defensive chops to hang there; OOTP has him as a 35 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) at short, and Eric Sogard isn’t much better (he’s a 40).
The minor leagues offer a chance to redo the decision we made in the offseason, starting Arcia over Ronny Rodríguez. Rodríguez is a career minor leaguer, a middling defender with a middling bat who works best as a utility infielder. He’s off to a hot start in Triple-A (.313/.365/.493, 121 wRC+), but that’s mostly on the back of a .352 BABIP. He looks like a better bet than Arcia at this point, perhaps, but certainly not an exciting option.
Past that, we have absolutely nothing. I don’t mean that in a dramatic way, either; I mean that there simply aren’t other Brewers shortstop prospects ready. Just to get a player with a 35 overall grade, we’d have to dip into unsigned free agents, and that seems like a worse decision than letting Arcia play it out.
Luckily, even though trades have slowed down in our league after a frenzied few weeks to start the year, finding a partner for a deal still feels totally reasonable. The world is our oyster, so long as the world is narrowly defined as teams with backup shortstops better than Arcia or ones that aren’t contending but have a useful piece there.
What does that mean? A rough look across the league turns up a few possibilities. First, there’s a tier of bad teams with useful randoms. Brandon Crawford would be an upgrade over Arcia, though we’d have to do something about his salary. JT Riddle might be worth a look. José Iglesias is a perfectly fine major league shortstop who has the bad luck of playing for the Orioles.
There are also more interesting names. Would the Mets be willing to trade Andrés Giménez? Perhaps — a contact in their front office, also known as a message from owner Eno Sarris, indicated that they wouldn’t mind moving a shortstop, and Giménez looks like a more likely target than Amed Rosario.
Would the Rockies move Brendan Rodgers? I mean, probably not! But he can play short and he only has 12 plate appearances on the year, so maybe. The Red Sox stashed Zack Cozart in Triple-A; maybe he’d be interested in a major league job, and they probably don’t have much use for him. Aledmys Díaz is earning $2.6 million to sit on the Astros’ bench and has only one plate appearance so far this year. Surely someone will pan out.
In any case, I want to do something. So far, most of our decisions have been to stay the course: give struggling hitters more plate appearances, stick with the preseason rotation, and shy away from trades. That’s fine, and a conservative approach to sample-size-based decisions is wise. But this isn’t really that; this is a player we expected to be bad (Arcia) being bad.
This team is very much on the cusp of the playoffs. At 14-14 through 28 games, all we’ve learned so far is that the NL is going to be jumbled. A win or two could make all the difference in the world. It’s time to find some way to improve the shortstop position. What should we do?
If it’s not clear, the Holt/Sogard route means assigning the lion’s share of the playing time to those two. The Rodríguez route will still involve a good amount of Holt against right-handed pitchers, though not to quite the same extent. And the two trade options are self-explanatory.
A quick programming note: on Tuesday, I’ll have a short FanGraphsLive stream at noon Eastern to discuss this decision, Cain’s continuing struggles, and whatever else people are interested in doing in OOTP. If a trade wins the poll, we can brainstorm potential trades; if instead we’re re-allocating playing time, we’ll handle that instead. Either way, it should be a fun time, and I hope to see you there.