With the Brewers being in a tight race for first place it’s time to start looking at some of the places where improvements can be made. The two big fish on the free agent market are no longer there and there’s still over a month until the trade deadline, which leads me to the current team outlook. Thus far in the season the Brewers have gotten rather decent production out of most positions on the field but one of the glaring holes is at first base. Jesus Aguilar has been non-existent and Eric Thames is very streaky with very little production against left handed pitchers. However, when he’s on he is a very tough hitter to face. So what are the Brewers current options for upgrades at the first base position?
One option would be to play Yasmani Grandal at first base against left handed pitching and get Manny Pina more playing time behind the plate. According to baseball reference, Yasmani Grandal has amassed 367 innings at first base. Though Jesus Aguilar grades out as a better fielder than Grandal, Yasmani brings more at the plate and is competent enough at first base that it won’t be a big drop off. On the other end of this swap, you have Manny Pina getting more time behind the plate which could help him become more productive with the bat, but currently Manny Pina doesn’t bring a lot at the plate when it comes to hitting. Baseball Reference grades Yasmani Grandal out as a worse thrower of the ball from behind the plate as well as gives him a negative grade as a pitch caller also, and grades him out as -4 defensive runs saved. By inserting Manny Pina behind the plate, you get a plus pitch caller as well as a plus thrower from behind the plate. If one spot in the batting order is going to be an offensive waste land, Pina would make the defense better and may help stabilize a pitching staff which would upgrade the team as a whole.
There is a thought looming very large in the back of all of our minds – how do we get Keston Hiura back up. Everybody in, around or with any knowledge of the Brewers knows that Keston Hiura can hit at any level and is very much major league ready with the bat. The only problem is how can we fit him into the current roster with only being able to play second base. This leads us to the possibility of getting Travis Shaw playing time at first base, moving Mike Moustakas back over to third base for some games which then opens the door for Keston Hiura and his bat to slide back into second base. It’s going to be very important to get Travis Shaw back going at the plate as he is going to be a big part of this team for the next few years. Travis Shaw has extensive playing time at first base and grades out positively there so there would be no drop off from that standpoint. Travis Shaw has 30 home runs each of the past two seasons and by showing faith in him to find his stroke there is a strong chance you find that 30 home run hitter while also upgrading your defense. The downside to this plan is that Shaw never finds his swing and you end up with the same defensive black hole at first base.
The next option would be to step back to the last time the Brewers had some uncertainty at first base and give Ryan Braun some starts there. This move then gives Ben Gamel more playing time in the outfield. It’s been noted that Ben Gamel provides strong defense and good contact at the plate which would then upgrade the overall offense of the Brewers. Braun doesn’t have a lot of experience at first base but in a small sample size has been adequate. From the eye test, Braun could handle the position although there may be a bit of a learning curve since he doesn’t have a lot of experience to draw from. The upside to this move is that you end up getting more consistent production at the plate from top to bottom of the batting order. Though this weakens the bench significantly since you then are left with two players who are primarily first basemen on the bench.
The final option, would be to stand pat and ride with the pair of Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar. This option is appealing because Jesus Aguilar could very easily find his stroke and get on a hot streak. You also know what you are getting in Eric Thames which is a streaky hitter with plus power that will go through stretches where he will look lost at the plate. The reason this may be the best option for a while longer would be because Jesus Aguilar is out of minor league options and therefore would be lost if the Brewers wanted to move him down. Someone with the production that Aguilar has shown in his past wouldn’t make it through waivers and therefore would essentially be lost. Though currently the Brewers are ok with giving Jesus Aguilar time to figure out his bat, time and patience is going to grow very short and the Brewers will be forced to make a move. Not only is Jesus Aguilar struggling but there is an option knocking very loudly in the minors that is going to force the Brewers hand very soon.