Hernan Perez’s full-season numbers in 2016 were nothing to write home about. The former Tigers top prospect finished with just a .272/.302/.428 batting line, as his modest power wasn’t enough to overcome his inability to reach base with consistency. But Perez really found his groove in the season’s second half. He closed the campaign by hitting .281/.313/.449 (106 OPS+) in his final 71 games (66 starts), a span in which he accrued nine of his 13 home runs and 25 of his 34 total extra-base hits. Perez still struggled with plate discipline, recording 61 strikeouts against just 13 walks, but his line drive stroke was certainly enough to play at second or third base.
It’s unclear where Perez will play next season — with Orlando Arcia likely up for good and Jonathan Villar locked into one of the remaining infield slots and Scooter Gennett still hanging around, Perez may have to float around the infield or even play some outfield as he did last season. But either way, the Brewers will have to find somewhere to play him — there was too much life in his bat in the late season to keep him on the bench. Perez has managed to play his way into the Brewers future after the Tigers cast him off, and if he can keep up this improvement in 2017, he’ll become the latest in what has become a tradition of Brewers waiver claims (or otherwise freely available talent) making good on a last chance in Milwaukee.
To me, that was the defining aspect of Doug Melvin’s tenure as Milwaukee Brewers general manager. Sure, there was the club’s great record of drafting talented hitters, as the wave of prospects that Melvin, Jack Zduriencik and company hit on in the mid-2000s — Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy — comprised the core of Milwaukee’s recent playoff teams. But that wasn’t enough to push the Brewers to victory, as we saw in the years between postseason appearances when there just wasn’t sufficient talent surrounding them. What pushed the 2011 club in particular above the rest was Melvin’s ability to grab players off the scrap heap who fit perfectly around the stars who powered those teams.
That list includes the likes of Casey McGehee, a waiver claim from the Cubs in 2009 who gave the Brewers four years as the starting third baseman; John Axford, who went from minor league free agent to nearly infallible closer in 2011; Chris Narveson, another minor league free agent who held down critical innings in the rotation; Nyjer Morgan, who was given a last chance in Milwaukee after the Nationals were all but ready to cut him before the 2011 season; Marco Estrada, who only needed a chance to prove the power of his changeup after the Nationals discarded him over supposed attitude problems; and Gabe Kapler, who was managing in the low minors before he became Milwaukee’s spark plug off the bench in 2008.
Hopefully this is an area in which the Brewers front office can learn from the continued presence of Doug Melvin as an adviser. Milwaukee will always be limited by market size. While they should have no problem getting the payroll over $100 million when the club is ready to go all in, the Brewers can’t match the spending power the Cubs displayed this past offseason in adding Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Jon Lester to their rebuilt core. And that’s why they’ll need to be able to acquire difference makers off the scrap heap much like Melvin did in the latter half of the past decade.
Even with his slow start last season, Perez finished with a solid 2.4 BWARP thanks to his pop and defensive versatility. He won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2018 and free agent eligible until 2021, meaning if he can prove 2016’s second half wasn’t a fluke, he will almost certainly be a part of the next contending Brewers squad. Now as the Brewers turn their attention from scorching the earth to building a new core, they’ll need to keep their eyes trained on the waiver wire and the minor league free agent list. There are more Perezes out there, and if the Brewers are going to compete sooner rather than later, David Stearns will need to keep finding them like his predecessor Doug Melvin did so well during his time at the helm.