Let’s open up this Brewers Camp Battles post with a riddle, shall we?
Q: What do you get when you mix a first base platoon with a second base platoon?
A: Mixed emotions for Jeff Bianchi.
As a general footnote, having any emotions whatsoever surrounding Bianchi is probably not a wise investment of time. His .237/.272/.292 slash numbers are very Betancourtian of him. Despite his sub-.275 OBP, Bianchi was worth 0.8 wins primarily as a result of his defense. Splitting time between third, shortstop, and second, Fangraphs credits Bianchi as being worth 12.7 runs above average defensively. This was almost high enough to cancel out 12.9 runs below average he was listed at offensively, and that effectively sums up Jeff Bianchi: Defensively valuable and versatile, weak-hitting, “good enough” to be a big league bench player, hits better in high leverage situations (though in a smaller sample size).
The normal benchmark for National League teams is to keep six infielders, five outfielders, and two catchers on the roster. The Brewers use of platoons at first and second base would bring them to six infielders, which, as it is, wouldn’t be an issue except that they would be without a backup for the young, impressionable Jean Segura at shortstop. As we’ve seen in the past with Yuniesky Betancourt, Juan Francisco, and Alex Gonzalez, among others, the Brewers value players with defensive versatility, and Bianchi brings just that. Not only is he the only player that can viably back up Segura at short, but is an insurance policy for Aramis Ramirez at third, who lost significant time last season to injury.
Keep an eye out for Irving Falu,who the Brewers signed to a minor league contract in December. Falu, 30, batted .341/.371/.435 with a 121 wRC+ in 91 plate appearances for the Royals in 2012. Last season, he spent the season in AAA after being blocked by a crowded Royals infield, only collecting four plate appearances. Like Bianchi, Falu can play second, third, or shortstop. He’s automatically disadvantaged simply because if the Brewers don’t put Bianchi on the active roster, they will be forced to designate him for assignment and put him on waivers. Falu would really have to show the organization something other than his cool name this spring for them to make that type of decision against Bianchi.
All things considered, the Brewers will probably carry seven infielders and four outfielders unless another roster move is made, such as a trade of Rickie Weeks or the rebirth of Cecil Cooper. And if that happens, don’t be fooled into thinking Bianchi is a viable fifth outfielder. Exhibit A.
As it’s shaping up, Ramirez, Segura, Weeks/Scooter Gennett, and a first base platoon that is likely Mark Reynolds/Francisco will be how the Brewers infield lines up. The lack of a backup shortstop, to me at least, is a viable reason to carry seven infielders. Beyond that, it’s not ludicrous to assert that Bianchi provides more value–both offensively and at multiple defensive positions–than Logan Schafer, Caleb Gindl, or whatever fifth outfielder has to be sacrificed for the love of the platoon.
We love roster speculation. It’s fun. Let’s do this again sometime soon.