The Milwaukee Brewers got the second-base help they were seeking late Friday night by acquiring an established third baseman.
The Brewers made a move to boost their offense by trading for Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas, a left-handed-hitting slugger. To acquire Moustakas, the Brewers sent outfielder Brett Phillips and reliever Jorge López to the Royals.
The Brewers already have a left-handed-hitting slugger at third base, Travis Shaw, who has never played a game at second base but will now. Shaw has been taking ground balls there during workouts, supposedly to help when he plays on the right side during infield shifts, but now will play regularly there.
“We’re focused on the offensive side, adding an impact bat to the lineup, a guy who we think fits our lineup and ballpark real well in Mike Moustakas,” said general manager David Stearns, who never has been afraid to think out of the box.
“The truth is, with the way we move our infielders around, conventional positions don’t apply to us all that much. We ask a lot of all of our infielders, to play all over the dirt. So, Travis has played all over the dirt for the majority of this season and most of last season as well.
“He’s going to start out at a different position than he has previously. There’s going to be a different positional number next to his name in everyone’s scorebook, going forward on most nights. But in terms of actual functions of what we’re asking him to do, he’s probably a little more familiar with it than we would think.”
Standing in a different location in the infield is one thing but turning double plays is another, and Shaw will have to figure that out quickly to help his pitchers.
“He’s going to have to work through that,” Stearns said. “We certainly think he’s capable of this. The work he has done has demonstrated to us that he’s going to be able to do it. So, we’re confident he’s going to be able to handle it.”
Shaw said he’s never played second base at any level of baseball, amateur or pro, but added, “The ground balls will be fine. We’ve worked a lot recently on double-play turns. I’ll probably be doing early work pretty much on a daily basis and try to get comfortable over there. I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited to see what happens, and I’ll take this challenge personally.”
Stearns said he had talked with the Royals “off and on” for a month or so about Moustakas but talks accelerated Friday as infielders began to be traded. So, the possibility already had been broached with Shaw of possibly moving to second.
“We did talk to Travis and he was extremely open to it, and has done some work there since,” Stearns said. “We think he’s going to play there regularly. We have willing participants here. We have guys who want to win baseball games and guys who are willing to work at it. That’s probably going to lead to success.”
“We think Mike is one of, if not the best, bat currently available. He has proven that. We think his profile fits particularly well in our ballpark, and in our lineup. He puts a lot of balls in the air. He hits with power from the left side; that generally plays well in Miller Park.
“From a balance perspective in the lineup, despite the power, he really doesn’t strike out all that much. So, it’s a contact oriented approach, along with the power.”
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Shaw is a bit big for a second baseman but said recently he was “excited” about the possibility of playing there if asked.
“I feel like I can do a decent job over there,” Shaw said. “Everybody’s going to say I can’t do it, and I’ll take that challenge to heart. It’s obviously going to make our lineup better, make our lineup deeper.
“Moustakas is a good player, he’s won a World Series, he’s a middle-of-the-order type of bat that’s going to extend our lineup and give us another left-handed power hitter. I’m willing to move and do whatever they want me to do to help our team in any way I can.”
Moustakas, 29, has played four games at first base this season, his first action there in the majors. But the Brewers are well-stocked at first base with Jesús Aguilar, Eric Thames and Ryan Braun, the latter two of which also play in the outfield. Shaw also has seen action at first base in the majors.
In 98 games this season, Moustakas is batting .249 with a .309 on-base percentage and .778 OPS, not particularly impressive numbers on a bad club. But he has compiled 21 doubles, 20 home runs and 62 RBI while drawing 30 walks and striking out 53 times.
In eight years with Kansas City, Moustakas batted .251 with a .736 OPS, 139 home runs and 441 RBI.
As for not going the more conventional route of acquiring a second baseman who can hit instead of moving Shaw, Stearns said, “We’ve been involved in a number of conversations. Some of them have been traded. Some have not been traded. Ultimately, this is the deal we lined up on. We think it makes us better; we think it makes sense for us.
“So, we went forward and executed the deal. But we’ve had a number of different conversations and configurations with various infielders.”
Moustakas was a victim of the frozen free-agent market last winter, forcing a return to Kansas City instead of striking it rich with another team. He eventually took a $5.5 million salary from the Royals, a cut from his $8.5 million pay in 2017, when he slugged a career-high 38 home runs with 85 runs batted in.
That deal with Kansas City included a mutual option for 2019 at $15 million with a $1 million buyout.
Phillips, 24, was ranked No. 6 on the Brewers’ prospect list by Baseball America but was blocked from getting consistent playing time in the majors by a logjam of outfielders, particularly the off-season acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich.
He had four stints with the Brewers this season but compiled only 24 plate appearances, batting .182 with 11 strikeouts, .523 OPS and four RBI, all in one game in Pittsburgh before the all-star break.
“Brett is outstanding; we’re sad to see him go,” Stearns said. “He was a great member of the community, a great member of the organization. I’m also really happy that he’s going to get a more clear opportunity in Kansas City. We think Brett is going to be a good major-league player. He’s earned the right to have that opportunity.”
López, 25, was up and down six times with the Brewers this season. Converted from starting to relieving last year, he made 10 appearances in 2018, going 0-1 with a 2.75 ERA, with 13 walks and 15 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings.
Both Phillips and López were returned to Class AAA Colorado Springs earlier in the week.
The Brewers have received very little offense from the middle infield this season, resulting in a big hole at the bottom of the lineup. They took a run at trading for Baltimore shortstop Manny Machado, who instead was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
On Thurday, the Brewers recalled shortstop Orlando Arcia, who had been demoted to Class AAA Colorado Springs after providing nearly no offense.
Jonathan Villar got another chance to play second base after a poor 2017 season and got off to a decent start but fading to a .261 batting average and .693 OPS. Villar currently is on the 10-day disabled list with a thumb injury.
No one else has provided production at the position, either, with Hernán Pérez and Brad Miller getting the bulk of the remaining action there. The Brewers’ composite .646 OPS at second base ranks 25th in the majors, and their 36 RBI ranks 23rd.
“We were looking for another big bat to add to the lineup, and we got it,” manager Craig Counsell said. “We’ve talked to Travis. Travis will play second base tomorrow. I know Mike is open to playing second base, but we’ll start out with Travis playing there.
“We feel like we can put together a really tough lineup out there on a daily basis now. You look at the (lineup])and you feel like it’s four really solid left-handed bats. We’re in a stretch of facing a lot of lefties, but over the course of the season you’re going to face a big number of right-handers. We feel like we can put out a dangerous lineup on an everyday basis.”
The Brewers have one more item on their shopping list before the Tuesday deadline — a starting pitcher. Stearns said he would continued to work the phones in that pursuit.
“We’re still out there in conversations in a number of different areas,” he said. “I still think there is an opportunity to make another move or two here. I don’t know if we’ll get anything done but we’re still active.”