When the Milwaukee Brewers traded for Mike Moustakas half-way through the 2018 season, Brewers’ fans were excited. The Brewers signed Moose to a one-year contract for 2019 and fans were happy. However, when Moose signed a free-agent deal with the Reds after the 2019 season, fans lamented the hole left at third base.
Admittedly, there are many potential holes on the 2020 Milwaukee Brewers roster. Who will be the everyday third baseman is just one of these holes, and it may not even be the most important one that needs to be filled. Both starting and relief pitching are huge question marks on this team. Orlando Arcia was once considered to be the starting shortstop for years to come, but even that is now in question.
Milwaukee has benefited from a pretty reliable core at many positions in recent years. This is one of the reasons why the team has been competitive for the first time in decades. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, and Corey Hart formed a core that the team built around for years. After all but Braun left, the Brewers pursued and added players they believed would remain on the team for the long-run, including many third basemen. For some reason, however, the Brewers have had the worst luck developing or keeping third basemen. What follows below is a brief history of the Brewers’ starting third basemen since 2007.
2007- Third Base: Craig Counsell
The Brewers opened the 2007 season with Craig Counsell as the starting third baseman. Bill Hall had been the primary man at the hot corner in 2006, but transitioned to center field for 2007. Counsell had primarily played short stop for Arizona in 2006 and had a decent .255 batting average in 105 games. The Brewers signed him heading into 2007 so that he could be a stop-gap player until their #1 prospect was ready to make the jump to the Majors. Counsell ended up playing 93 games in the field in 2007 (122 if you count pinch hit appearances). He ended up hitting just .220 that season, which at that point was the second lowest batting average of his career.
2007- Third Base: Ryan Braun
The Brewers‘ number one prospect going into 2007 was future MVP and perennial All-Star, Ryan Braun. Ryan Braun made his debut on May 25, 2007 and had, perhaps, the greatest rookie season in team history. Braun hit .324/.370/634 with 34 home runs and 97 RBI’s. His offensive production was enough to earn him the NL Rookie of the Year award. However, his defense at third base was among the worst in the league. He committed 26 errors in just 112 games and had a -32 defensive runs saved average. Braun’s bat was certainly one of the best in NL, but he could not remain at third base on the big league level.
2008- Bill Hall and Russell Branyan
Ryan’s Braun’s terrible defense in 2007 led the team to move him to the outfield. Bill Hall returned as the primary third baseman in 2008 after a disappointing 2007 campaign, both offensively and defensively. Former gold glove winner Mike Cameron was signed to play center field making Hall’s return to the infield possible. Russell Branyan, who had played for the Brewers in 2004 and 2005, was acquired and started 35 games at third base for the team in 2008. Branyan was a career journeyman who could hit long home runs, but also struck out too often.
Bill Hall had had a breakout 2006 season in which he hit .270/.345/.558 with 35 home runs and 85 RBI’s. His production decreased in 2007 and 2008 saw further regression in offensive output (.225/.293/.396 with 15 home runs and 55 RBI’s). Branyan would not return to the team in 2009 and Hall was traded halfway through the 2009 season.
2009-2011- Third Base: Casey McGehee
Heading into 2009, the Brewers had Mat Gamel, a talented young prospect, tagged as their third baseman of the future. In the off-season, they had also acquired Casey McGehee from the Cubs. Both rookie players were given a chance to prove themselves and McGehee outperformed Gamel in almost every way. McGehee hit .301/.360/.499 with 16 home runs and 66 RBI’s. Gamel struggled to stay with the big league club and ended up tearing his knee in a game in which he played first base in 2012. The injury essentially ended his career. McGehee would man the hot corner in Milwaukee for three seasons, even driving in 104 runs in 2010. After 2011 (.223/.280/.346 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI’s), the Brewers traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
2012-2015- Third Base: Aramis Ramirez
Aramis Ramirez was arguably the Brewers’ biggest free agent signing of the Doug Melvin era. Ramirez left the division-rival Cubs to play for the Brewers and made a huge splash in his first season, hitting .300/.360/.540 with 27 home runs and 105 RBI’s. He also led the league with 50 doubles that season. Ramirez, however, was in the twilight of his career at this point and saw his production dwindle in each subsequent season. He was traded to Pittsburgh halfway through the 2015 season and retired when the season was over.
2016- Hernan Perez, Jonathan Villar, Aaron Hill
Hernan Perez was beloved in Milwaukee for his ability to play all over the diamond (even pitching on a few occasions). In 2015, he was acquired mid-season from the Detroit Tigers and played well enough to earn some part-time play. Before the 2016 season, the Brewers traded for Aaron Hill from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Hill’s offensive performance had gone down each of the past three seasons before the trade, but the change of scenery seemed to have benefited him as he hit .283/.359/.421. The Brewers traded him to the Red Sox half-way through the season, most notably for prospect Aaron Wilkerson.
Jonathan Villar spent most of the season at short stop, but did play 42 games at third in 2016. A speedster, Villar led the NL with 62 stolen bases that year. In 2017, the Brewers would try to convert Villar to a second baseman, a change he resisted and struggled with. He was traded in 2018 to the Baltimore Orioles (where he plays second base).
2017-2018- Third Base: Travis Shaw
The Brewers acquired Travis Shaw from the Boston Red Sox for Tyler Thornburg. Shaw had a brilliant first season as the everyday third baseman hitting .273/.349/.513 with 31 home runs and 101 RBI’s. In 2018, he still hit over 30 home runs, but all of his other numbers decreased. Mike Moustakas was acquired halfway through the 2018 season and Shaw was moved to second base.
2019- Third Base: Mike Moustakas
Entering the 2019 season, the Brewers planned to move Shaw back to third and have Moustakas play second. Shaw, however, struggled offensively and played himself out of the lineup and out of the majors. In 2018, “Moose” became a fan-favorite, delivering game-winning hits in the playoffs and bringing postseason experience to the young Brewers. Moustakas thrived in his first and only full season in Milwaukee. He hit .254/..329/.516 with 35 home runs and 87 RBI. Many fans wanted the Brewers to sign Moustakas to a long-term deal this winter. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, Moustakas signed with the division-rival Reds instead.
2020- “I Don’t Know”
In the classic Abbot and Costello skit “Who’s on First,” the nickname for the third baseman is I Don’t Know. The Brewers have at least four players entering spring training that will compete for the everyday job at third. One of them, Eric Sogard, is returning to Milwaukee, where he played in 2017 and 2018. Sogard played for both Toronto and Tampa Bay last season, hitting .290/.353/.457 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI’s. He has only played 38 games at third base during his big league career.
Jedd Gyorko, a free agent signing, is another possibility to play third base. Last season, Gyorko struggled with a slashline of .174/.248/.250 and only two home runs in 62 games. His best seasons were 2016-2018 with the Cardinals. He has played 278 games at third base during his career (compared to 390 at second base).
Luis Urias, the Padres’ number one prospect a year ago, was acquired by the Brewers in the trade that sent away Trent Grisham and Zach Davies. Urias played 71 games in the majors last season, posting a slashline of .223/.329/.326 with four home runs and 24 RBI’s. The Brewers recently learned that Urias injured his wrist playing winter ball in Mexico and his status for spring training is in doubt. Urias has played one game at third during his brief big league career.
Ryon Healy played for the Seattle Mariners last season, hitting .237/.289/.456 with seven home runs and 26 RBI’s in 47 games (44 at third base). The Brewers hope that Healy can bounce back from his disappointing 2019 season and return to his 2017-2018 form, as he hit over 20 home runs in both of those campaigns. Healy also has 152 career games at third.
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