The deadline acquisition of Jonathan Schoop was not met with great excitement by the Brewers fanbase. Neither his regular season .202 batting average /.246 on-base percentage /.331 slugging percentage slash line, nor his 0-8 postseason batting line, further endeared him to already resistant fans. Schoop’s anemic performance at the plate led to increased playing time at second base Travis Shaw. With Mike Moustakas a free agent, Shaw profiles to slide back to third, leaving second base as Schoop’s for the taking … if the Brewers tender him a contract for the 2019 season.
A quick recap on roster rules: the non-tender deadline this offseason is November 30. By that date, teams have to offer a contract to all players on the 40-man roster with fewer than six years of service time. If the team does not offer a contract to a player, then he becomes a free agent. Because Jonathan Schoop has 5.027 years of Major League service time and has not signed any extension, the Brewers have until November 30 to decide if they want to retain him for next season.
Jonathon Schoop is the greatest young power hitting second baseman of all time. There’s a lot to unpack there, but if we wanted to measure by players twenty-six and under who have played at least fifty percent of their games at second base, he’s hit the most home runs. However, impressive raw home run totals don’t necessarily mean a player is a star; even with that fun fact to his name, Schoop’s bat completely fell apart in 2018 after showing so much promise in 2017.
As a twenty-five year old second basemen in 2017, Schoop had a .280 True Average (TAv) and produced 37.6 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), which estimates the number of runs Schoop produced beyond a freely available minor league replacement. PECOTA pegged him for a regression with .256 TAv and 15.8 VORP, yet his numbers sunk lower. Schoop’s plate discipline remained remarkably similar. His swing rate rose four percentage points to 56.8 percent, while his contact rate (71.4) and swinging strike rate (28.6) remained virtually unchanged from 2017, so his strikeout percentage only rose from twenty-one percent to twenty-three percent. The biggest difference is that his walk rate sunk from 5.2 percent to 3.8 percent, both of which are below average. Schoop’s walk rate would have placed him in the bottom five of all qualified hitters if he’d had enough at bats.
As I noted back in August, there was no smoking gun on Schoop’s poor performance at the plate, he just wasn’t hitting the ball as well. From that article’s publication date on August 13th, Statcast numbers only slightly recovered. Even with some improvement his barrel percentage, exit velocity, launch angle, and hard hit percentage all were career lows. His expected WOBA placed in the bottom 1 percent of all hitters.
The Brewers traded for a player they probably saw as a buy low candidate. If they elect to offer Schoop arbitration, it likely means that they see something in his 2018 performance that they believe can be corrected to get him back to his 2017 numbers.
One projection for Schoop’s potential arbitration award places him at a $10.1M salary in 2019, which would be 3rd on the team in salary, just above Christian Yelich, in case you needed another reminder about how great that contract is for the Brewers. The only other potential second basemen on the 40-man roster, presuming that Shaw is back at third base on Opening Day, are Tyler Saladino, Hernan Perez and Mauricio Dubon. None of these players are projected as a starting caliber player on a contending team.] in 2019.
The most intriguing internal option to replace Schoop would be Keston Hiura. Our mother site’s midseason top 50 prospects list had Hiura at number five and claimed that Hiura was “basically major-league ready” back when it was posted in mid-July. If the team agrees with the assessment, then he could be the starting at second by May 1, with service time manipulation likely preventing him from starting the season with the big-league club. While he’s considered a bat-first prospect, if the Brewers could shift and game plan their way into making Travis Shaw league average at second, fans shouldn’t be too worried about Hiura.
The Brewers could also look at potential free agents who could sign a one-year deal and provide flexibility in case the team wants to wait on Hiura (or if he proves not to be ready). Ian Kinsler had a terrible post-trade run with the Red Sox capped with baserunning and fielding blunders in Game 3 of the World Series. However, he provided above average defense according to Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) (even if it wasn’t quite Gold Glove worthy). If you squint, his offense wasn’t terrible in 2018! From his nadir on May 28 through his trade to Boston on July 30, he slashed .286/.349/.518, which is above his career line of .271/.339/.443. One wouldn’t expect a two-month hot streak to be his baseline production going forward, but it does show he has some life left in his bat, and could serve a useful role as a bridge to Hiura.
The Brewers are lucky to be in the position where they don’t need to double down on the Schoop trade. It would hurt the front office’s external perception to write off the acquisition as a total loss after three months of poor production, but I don’t believe that’s going to factor into their calculation. Milwaukee is always going to operate on a limited budget, but if the team decides its best choices are Schoop and Hiura, two different budget issues arise. Is the team willing to keep Schoop at more than $10 M when there’s a non-zero chance he’s not worth a roster spot? If Hiura shines in spring training and proves he’s the best player for the team, are they willing to ignore service time considerations and have him start the season with the team? If not, who would cover the gap of at least two weeks? Milwaukee’s front office has a few weeks to make these decisions, but whichever direction they turn will shed light on their internal evaluations of the players in question.