Consider, for a moment, the list of shortstops who will become free agents after the season:
Jason Bartlett (33) – $5.5MM club option with a $1.5MM buyout; vests with 432 PAs in 2012
Yuniesky Betancourt (31)
Geoff Blum (39)
Ronny Cedeno (30)
Stephen Drew (30) – $10MM mutual option with a $1.35MM buyout
Alex Gonzalez (35) – vesting option
Cesar Izturis (33)
Jhonny Peralta (31) – $6MM club option with a $500K buyout
Marco Scutaro (37)
Miguel Tejada (39)
Ryan Theriot (33)
Omar Vizquel (46)
Jack Wilson (35)
This is why the Brewers dealt Zack Greinke for an Angels package centered around Jean Segura. And this is why Jean Segura started Monday night at Miller Park.
The Brewers are at something of a crossroads right now. At 48-59, the Brewers have no chance of contention in 2012, but the offense and starting pitching have been above average despite a rash of injuries. The club could have a major influx of talent from the minor leagues in 2013 — beyond Segura, there’s Wily Peralta and Tyler Thornburg and possibly a full season of Michael Fiers to put around the Brewers’ solid core.
Chances are, contention in 2013 rests on getting production from everywhere in the lineup. This season, Brewers shortstops have produced just a .222/.280/.351 line (70 wRC+) at the plate, a slight step down from Yuniesky Betancourt’s .252/.271/.381 (72 wRC+) performance last season. Milwaukee managed without a competent shortstop in 2011 because of the presence of sheer star power — players like Prince Fielder and Zack Greinke to go along with the core in place more than compensated for Betancourt’s struggles.
There is no Prince Fielder equivalent on the free agent market next year, and even if there was, he wouldn’t be coming to Milwaukee. The Brewers may be able to make a play on the starting pitching market; they only have $52.4 million committed for 2013 and few major arbitration raises due. But even that free agent list is uninspiring. Unless Greinke wants to come back to Milwaukee, the best options are the Francisco Lirianos, Brandon McCarthys and Jake Peavys of the world — good pitchers, but not superstars nor aces.
And so the Brewers need to figure out shortstop for 2013. Is Segura the answer? Can he play the position well enough at the major league level? Perhaps the entire offseason plan doesn’t depend on what Segura can offer in 2013, but a big piece of it does. A ready Segura would be an important piece on a club that might have $30 million more to spend on fixable parts — the bullpen, most notably, and perhaps another starting pitcher or reserve infielder.
If not, it might be back to the drawing board, at least for now. Would it be prudent to try and deal Rickie Weeks? What about Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez? All three appear to have plenty left to contribute (note this week’s comment in the ESPN Power Rankings), but trades could set the Brewers up well for 2014 or 2015 if the requisite talent isn’t on hand yet next season.
Either way, to make this decision will require information. Information that just won’t be gleaned from another 150 plate appearances down in Double-A or Triple-A. The Brewers need to know what they have to figure out the next step, and that means Segura spends the next two months in Milwaukee.