A couple of weeks ago, it looked like power-hitting first baseman Jesus Aguilar would end up being snubbed from making the Milwaukee Brewers’ 25-man Opening Day Roster.
It appears that could no longer be the case.
Milwaukee is said to be exploring whether or not to use an off-day in their 2018 regular season schedule to their advantage. The way the Brewers schedule will shake out during the first week of the season, they will be off on Easter Sunday. That means that the Brewers could potentially start the regular season with four pitchers in their starting rotation, because a fifth starter wouldn’t be needed until the eighth game of the season, which is against the Chicago Cubs on April 8.
MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy speculates that the Brewers could be thinking this way so that they are able to keep another position player, like Aguilar, for at least a week into the season:
Brewers are still mulling whether to use that Easter Sunday off-day to go with four starters until they need a fifth in Game No. 8. It would allow them to keep an extra position player (Aguilar?) for the first week.
— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) March 15, 2018
The 27-year-old Aguilar was very productive in his first full season in at the Major League level in 2017, as he was the best pinch hitter off the bench for manager Craig Counsell, and was a timely clutch hitter for the club as well. He batted .312 with runners in scoring position, and provided above-average defense at first base.
So why isn’t his name already penciled in the roster? The reasoning is very simple. Right now as it stands, the Brewers have four first baseman on their spring training roster in Aguilar, Eric Thames, Ryan Braun, and Ji-Man Choi. There’s a clause in Thames’ contract that prevents him being from optioned to the minor leagues, and Choi is a non-roster invite so that means Thames is a lock for the roster, and Choi will start the year for the Brewers at Triple-A Colorado Springs.
Then you have Braun also at first base. Braun is expected to play first base against left-handed pitching this season in a platoon with Thames, who will handle the right-handers. Braun has mashed left-handers throughout his entire 11-year career, and Thames struggled against them last season, batting just .182/.264/.394 versus southpaws. So, it makes sense why the Brewers are doing this from that standpoint.
Braun is also playing first base this season to ease Milwaukee’s logjam in the outfield. Over the off-season, the Brewers acquired outfielder Christian Yelich via trade with the Miami Marlins, and signed outfielder Lorenzo Cain away from the Kansas City Royals on a five-year, $80 million deal. That means, Milwaukee’s outfield most days will be Yelich, Cain, and Domingo Santana, with Yelich primarily playing left field, Cain in center field, and Santana in right field.
Left field was Braun’s primary position, and will still be his primary position. Yelich will just be the team’s Opening Day starter there, while Braun could likely start at first base on Opening Day against San Diego Padres starting pitcher Clayton Richard, a left-handed hurler. It was also recently revealed that in-addition to playing left field and first base, Braun will also play some right field. The 34-year-old former National League MVP manned right field for the Brewers from 2014-2015 to allow former Brewers outfielder Khris Davis the chance to remain in left.
Going back to Aguilar, he’s also offered the chance to be a versatile player for the Brewers. He believes he could play third base and the corner outfield spots for the Brewers, but the impression has been given off that Milwaukee brass strictly only views Aguilar as a first baseman, which has also hurt him in his quest to make his second career Opening Day roster.
What Aguilar does have in his favor is his minor league option situation. During his time with the Cleveland Indians, the Indians ended up burning all three of his available minor league options, meaning that even last year with the Brewers, the team couldn’t send him to the minor leagues without risking losing him. If the Brewers chose to try and sneak Aguilar through waivers at the end of the spring, it’s basically a forgone conclusion that he would be claimed by an opposing MLB team.
Even if Aguilar went unclaimed on waivers somehow, it’s unknown if he would an accept an assignment to Triple-A from the Brewers. If Aguilar were to refuse an outright assignment by the Brewers to the minors, he would become a free agent, since under MLB rules, the Brewers would have to first remove Aguilar from their 40-man roster before they can even try to assign him to one of their minor league affiliates.
So basically, this is one complicated situation for the Brewers, and it would make sense for them to delay making it until they absolutely have to. Even though having three first baseman on the Opening Day roster makes for some weird optics wise, it is probably best for the Brewers success this season to keep Aguilar for as long as they can.
If we pencil in Aguilar for one of the 25 spots on the roster, here’s my rough prediction of how the Opening Day roster will look on March 29 for the Brewers:
First base: Thames, Braun, and Aguilar
Shortstop: Orlando Arcia
Third base: Travis Shaw
Outfielders: Yelich, Cain, and Santana (plus Braun as well)
Utility role: Hernan Perez
Counsell has already stated that the Brewers will have eight relievers no matter what, so that’s why the Brewers will be a bit thin of the bench. After all, the game of baseball is trending towards more and more bullpen usage every year, so it only mistakes to fill your bullpen with as many arms in the stable as you can.
In 133 games for the Brewers last season, Aguilar slashed .265/.331/.505 with 16 homers and 52 runs batted in. He’s also having a similar spring training performance that earned him a spot on the Brewers last season this spring, batting .306/.342/.528 with 2 homers and 4 runs batted in.
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