Earlier, it was reported that the Brewers were one of two remaining teams in contention for the services of veteran third baseman Justin Turner. However, Turner has decided to return to Los Angeles. It seems that, once again, the Brewers were merely used by free agents to leverage more money out of their preferred destination. It was not as though they were trying to convince Turner to take less either:
Brewers offered about the same $34M over 2 years for Justin Turner, and also made a 3-year bid with a somewhat lower annual salary. Also, Wisconsin tax is lower than California tax. So overall, good try.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 14, 2021
Now that their top free agent target at the hot corner is off the market, what is next?
In-House Possibilities at Third Base
The Brewers were willing to offer 36-year old Turner over $34 million, so it is very likely that they may still sign a free agent at third. However, they may also choose to spend that money on a starting pitcher. If they decide to look at pitching, they do have some players already on the roster who can play third base.
The former top prospect in the Padres organization was the key piece the Brewers got in return for Zach Davies and Trent Grisham. Despite having appeared in Major League games in parts of three seasons, the 23-year old infielder has only played in 124 games.
The upside to Urias is that he has a lot of potential. He is very young and has had a higher batting average in each season that he has played. The downside is that he is a shortstop by trade. Even though he received a lot of playing time at third base last season, he was out of position. Additionally, as with most prospects, the Brewers cannot be sure just how high his ceiling is. He may very well be the third baseman of the future. He could also not work out in the long run. Only time will tell.
Earlier this year, the Brewers did make a lesser-publicized free agent signing. They signed Daniel Robertson away from the San Francisco Giants. Robertson is currently listed as their backup third baseman on the depth chart behind Luis Urias.
Robertson spent the first three years of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays, but did not really impress in a part time role. Last season, he was limited to just 13 games with the Giants. However, he did hit .333/.417/.333. He is not a power hitter, and he may not replicate his hitting from last season. However, he can play all over the diamond and could make an impact.
Earlier this weekend, we published an article about why Mark Mathias could be the Brewers’ X-Factor this season. Now that Justin Turner is returning to LA, this becomes even more of a possibility.
Last season, Mathias played in 16 games, most of them in the outfield. However, Mathias can play all four infield positions as well. In fact, he is listed on depth chart at every infield position except first base. That being said, Mathias did play a game at first base last season.
As it stands presently, Luis Urias would be the Brewers’ starting third baseman. Mark Mathias, though, could fill a similar role to that of Hernan Perez, playing all over the field. Additionally, if Urias and/or Orlando Arcia struggle, Mathias could eventually be slotted in as the starter at third base.
Free Agent Third Base Options
Of course, the Brewers could use the money they were willing to give Turner to another free agent third baseman. Even though Spring Training is on the verge of starting, there are still some unsigned options who could make an immediate impact on the team.
Given the Brewers’ situation at third base, the team’s decision to decline Jedd Gyorko’s option this season was confusing to many fans. Now, months later, Gyorko remains a possible option at third base in Milwaukee.
Jedd Gyorko, of course, spent last season with the Brewers making appearances at first and third base. In many ways, he was the team’s most consistent hitter in 2020 slashing .248/.333/.504 with nine home runs and 17 RBI. While these numbers do not jump off the page, they were much better than most of the Brewers’ hitters last season. Many of the players he outperformed are back with the club.
Gyorko could be brought back, reuniting him with longtime teammate in St. Louis, Kolten Wong. Like many of the in-house candidates, Gyorko has the ability to play all over the infield. In the past, he has played games at all four infield positions.
Another familiar name to Brewers’ fans is that of Travis Shaw. Shaw manned the hot corner for the Brewers for two and a half seasons before losing his job due to poor play (he hit just .157/.281/.270 in 2019) However, in 2017 and 2018, Shaw posted back-to-back 30+ home run seasons for the Brewers.
After his release in 2019, Shaw signed with and played for the Blue Jays in 2020. He had a semi-bounce back season, hitting .239/.306/.411 with six home runs and 17 RBI.
Due to his recent struggles, Shaw could be a very affordable option in free agency. As a left-handed hitter, he could offer the Brewers the option to platoon third base, something Craig Counsell has done very frequently over the past few seasons.
Perhaps the best free agent third baseman left on the market is Maikel Franco. Franco played for the Kansas City Royals last season, hitting .278/.321/.457 with eight home runs and 38 RBI.
Prior to the Royals, Franco spent six seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. While his last season there was not great, he did have three straight seasons (2016-2018) in which he hit over 20 home runs. Even in 2019, his “down year,” he hit 17 home runs while hitting .234/.297/.409/
Based on last season alone, Franco is by far the best offensive option for the Brewers at third base. Additionally, he played all 60 games last season showing he can be an everyday option. He only struck out 38 times (the same number of RBI he had) last season, and could be a breath of fresh air to a strikeout prone Brewers batting order.