Travis Shaw at-bat for the Milwaukee Brewers.
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The Brewers Long Game

As I watched the Milwaukee Brewers play the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night it struck me that Jhoulys Chacín is really the Brewers number one starter. The Brewers are one of the best teams in the National League, if not all of Major League Baseball. They are as such because of their offense and a dominant bullpen. The Brew Crew’s defense leaves something to be desired, but there is an easy way to improve said defense. That improvement also requires Milwaukee to improve their most glaring weakness, their starting rotation.

That the Brewers made the National League Championship Series in 2018 with a starting rotation that had no right being in that spot is a testament to the bullpen and offense. That they are trying to replicate the same in 2019 is a testament to how cheap their ownership has decided to be in the middle of a championship window. They could easily improve their rotation right now by signing Dallas Keuchel. There are no payroll or budget concerns for MLB teams at this point, so if the Brewers fall short and try to pin their lack of starting pitching on those reasons, know that they are lying.

Jimmy Nelson should be back with the club in the next month or so following his rehab from a 2017 shoulder injury. If Nelson is the pitcher he was before the injury he has the ability to be a solid number two starter for the Brewers. That’s a legit number two starter, not Chacín being a number one simply by default when he is, in fact, more of a three or four. However, there exists the chance that Nelson comes back and isn’t his old self. I hope that doesn’t happen, but it very well might, and with the Brewers not in on Keuchel in any fashion that leaves them with a lack of options in improving their starting rotation.

Unless of course, the Brewers are playing a long game here. You see, the Brewers have a glut of middle infielders, and they have a blue chip prospect who is MLB ready but blocked by, well, a pair of third baseman playing second base for whatever reason. Keston Hiura is going to join the big league club at some point this year, and it all depends on one of those third basemen performing. I know it sounds weird to say that Hiura will be called up if one of them performs, but the reality is that Hiura probably only sees the MLB roster if Travis Shaw finally starts hitting and can be dealt closer to the trade deadline.

Shaw is the key to the Brewers getting themselves a decent number two starter via the trade route. He is playing on a one year deal, similar to fellow third baseman Mike Moustakas. Unlike Moustakas, he isn’t playing on a one year deal worth a little over $10 million. Shaw plays to the tune of a much more reasonable, for trade purposes, $4.5 million. There’s very little that separates the two players, but that money will make a big difference when it comes time to deal one of the two. Couple that with Moustakas traditionally being the better player and projecting to be worth more bWAR than Shaw even while paying out of position at second base and Shaw is the one who will need to be packaged.

To do that Shaw will need to convince teams that he’s in a slump right now and is in actuality the guy who put up a 114 DRC+ in 2017 and followed with a 120 DRC+ in 2018. Currently, he’s not doing much of that, as he’s slashing .171/.326/.257 with a DRC+ of 89. It’s early though, and unless Shaw has completely broken he will turn this season around and end around a 3 bWAR player. Moustakas should end up around the same, once he gets moved back to third and is helped by being a plus defender again. Why would the Brewers want to get rid of a lefty power-hitting third baseman who will give them 3 bWAR?

The Brewers need a better rotation, they will not win with what they have right now, no matter how much fun the team is to watch. If they can package Shaw with a couple of their better prospects they should be able to get back a fringe two starter at worst. Add in Hiura performing at the major league level as he should, and it’s clear as day that the Brewers long game needs to be using Travis Shaw to get the starting pitching boost they will so desperately need in a few months.

Lead photo courtesy of Dylan Buell – Getty Images

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