The Brewers are entering the second year of their rebuild (if you are already tired of that word, be patient, it will be worth it) and General Manager David Stearns has been busy. It really shows when you compare the current Brewer infield to last season’s Opening Day starters. As of right now, the Brewers will have a new starter at all four positions.
First baseman Chris Carter became a free agent after leading the National League with 41 home runs when the Brewers decided not to offer him arbitration. Carter became the first slugger to lead his league in home runs and then be released in the offseason. He would probably have increased his salary to at least $8 Million next season, and that is just too much for the Brewers to spend on an average to below average fielding first baseman that strikes out 200+ times per year, even if he does hit 40+ home runs. Carter finally signed with the Yankees for a 1-year $3 Million deal.
The Brewers signed Eric Thames, who played the last 2 seasons in Korea, to replace Carter. Thames came up through the Blue Jays system, making his Major League debut 2011. He split 2012 between Toronto and Seattle, then spent 2013 in the Minors.
Thames went to Korea for three seasons and got his bat working. He hit .348 and his home run totals were 37, 47, and 40. Now, the Korean Baseball Organization is not the Major Leagues, but there is some solid talent. Can he bring his newfound confidence at the plate to Milwaukee? We shall see.
Jonathan Villar looks to be the only infielder from last season’s Opening Day starting infield to start on Opening Day this season, but it will not be at the same position. Villar was the Brewer shortstop last season, and he responded by hitting .285 and leading the league with 62 stolen bases.
Unfortunately for Villar, he found himself once again as a placeholder for a franchise shortstop. He was replaced in Houston by Carlos Correa, and last season he was replaced by Orlando Arcia. The upshot for Villar this season is that he has the inside track at second base, and he could thrive at that position.
The biggest knock on Villar was his defense. He moved over to third after Arcia came up, but he was not comfortable there. Moving back to the middle of the infield should put him back in his comfort zone, as well as giving him a shorter throw to first. All of that, as well as having another year under his belt, should help him improve his defense.
Brewer fans have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Arcia, who came up in August and took over at shortstop. Arcia struggled at the plate in his 2-month call-up, but he showed flashes of leather that point to a bright future.
Arcia finished the season with a game that have Brewer fans looking forward to the future. He went 3-5 with two doubles, a triple, two runs scored, and a stolen base in Colorado. He hit a 2-out double and ended up scoring the winning run in the top of the 10th.
The Brewers traded Aaron Hill to the Red Sox last season, opening up a spot at third. Villar filled that spot for the remainder of 2016, but he is moving over to second. So the Brewers acquired third baseman Travis Shaw from the Red Sox for Tyler Thornburg.
This will be Shaw’s third season in the Big Leagues. He is a career .251 hitter that has shown some pop. He is an average defensive third baseman, but he could improve with experience. Shaw is also pretty good over at first and could fill in for Thames from time to time.
On the Bench
Perez saw time at all four infield positions and all three outfield spots last season, and he will probably do so again this season. Rivera saw limited action last season, but he can also play anywhere on the infield. Gennett may have to spend some time in the outfield if he wants to get into more than a handful of games in 2017.
Brewer Infield of the Future
So the Brewers are looking at a complete turnover of their 2016 Opening Day starting infield, going from Carter, Gennett, Villar, and Hill to Thames, Villar, Arcia, and Shaw.
They have lost some power with Carter leaving, but overall it looks like a much improved infield. They also got younger by an average of 2.5 years. This could be a glimpse of the rebuilt Brewer infield.