Hindsight is 20/20, as we all know. However, that does nothing to soften the blow when decisions fail and backfire.
The Brewers made a significant, yet not completely unexpected move in late March by waiving second baseman Scooter Gennett. A multitude of factors contributed to this decision. First and foremost, the Brewers planned on giving the shortstop slot to Orlando Arcia, thereby forcing Jonathan Villar off the position. With Villar’s breakout season as a near 4-win player in 2016, he needed to find a home in the field. That home ended up being second base, simultaneously pushing Gennett out.
Second, the Brewers owed Gennett a $2.5 million salary. That generally does not fly for a to-be-backup second baseman facing an imminent demotion to the minors, and with no opening at the position apparent in the near future it did not make sense for the front office to keep Gennett on the books.
Third, with Gennett on the outside looking in, he did not have a pedigree of positional versatility (e.g. Hernan Perez) or a recent history of high-level offensive aptitude (e.g. Jesus Aguilar) to warrant a spot on the Brewers’ Opening Day roster. The rest is history.
Should the Brewers have waived Gennett? At the time, it made perfect sense. The decision-making was sound as can be. But as previously stated, hindsight is 20/20, and this is one decision that a Brewers team lacking in production from second base would like to have back.
It’s no secret second base has been a dumpster fire as of late for the Crew. After coming into the season with the most significant expectations of any Brewer, Villar has struggled mightily, hitting .213/.272/.332. He sports a wRC+ of 54, meaning he is 46% worse than the league average as a hitter. Villar’s defensive metrics rate him as a below average option at the position as well. Simply put, he has failed to capitalize on his breakout 2016 season, starting to make last year look like an outlier.
On the other hand, Eric Sogard came into 2017 with absolutely zero hype, yet emerged as a nice option at second base in May and June. Over the first half, he hit .338/.449/.500 with a wRC+ of 151, making him one of the best offensive options not only at the second base position, but at any position in the league across that time frame. However, Sogard hit the DL following a left ankle injury. To say he has struggled since his return would be an understatement; he’s languished. Hitting .061/.139/.061, he has a wRC+ of -48 since the All-Star break.
What could make this situation any worse? The fact that Scooter Gennett, the second baseman that very well could be on the roster, is currently dominating at the plate for the in-division Cincinnati Reds.
Highlighted by a record-setting four-home-run-game, Gennett has enjoyed a resurgent 2017 campaign. Hitting .292/.342/.540 with a wRC+ of 126, he has been everything you can hope for offensively from a second baseman. Slotted into the Brewers line-up as it now stands, Gennett would provide a significant boost.
Additionally, remember reason number two Gennett was let go? The money? Well, the Brewers currently have the second-lowest payroll in the league according to USA Today, sitting just north of $61 million. I understand the Brewers might have not wanted to waste a 40-man roster spot on Gennett, but spending $2.5 million extra for a player who could have made a difference during the season seems to make too much sense, in retrospect.
As unfair as it may seem, this whole saga hinges on the play of Jonathan Villar. Second base was not supposed to be a position of need, and his struggles have placed the Brewers in a tricky situation. However, just as the sun is sure to rise, most players are sure to regress, and that is part of what makes the game of baseball so tantalizing. Finding those players that can maintain high levels of production over several years remains at the core of player acquisition and development.
By no means is Gennett one of those players; at least he has not proven himself to be. The sound reasoning for the decision to waive Gennett holds, and makes sense given the current culture of the organization. But with a rebuilding team, all possible hands need to be on deck in my humble opinion. Gennett is hitting his high stride right now, just as Villar seemingly hit his last season, and it is both unfortunate and unlucky that Gennett was given the boot during a season in which he could have played a pivotal role.