When the Brewers elected to put Erick Almonte on the Opening Day roster ahead of Luis Cruz, they did it with the assumption that Cruz would accept his assignment to the minors. We found out yesterday that Cruz had other ideas, instead deciding to elect free agency instead of returning to Nashville for another season. Considering his complaints about not getting an opportunity last season, perhaps we should have seen this coming.
The Brewers had obviously hoped to keep him, and now they’re caught with their pants down when it comes to shortstop depth. It’s a decision that backfired, but it’s far from one that will have catastrophic results for the team. Giving Almonte a roster spot because he managed two hits a day against minor league pitching in a hitter-friendly Arizona environment probably isn’t the best idea, but the Brewers are far from the only team giving roster spots based on spring performance.
In the end, people are overreacting to losing someone like Luis Cruz.
Cruz was likely the best defensive shortstop the Brewers had at either the Major League or Triple A levels, but he has yet to show he’s a Major League player when it comes to his overall game. In his “breakout year” at Triple A, he hit .281/.309/.414 in the hitter-friendly PCL, which (using the MinorLeagueSplits calculator) would equate to a Major League line of .248/.272/.352. Cruz’s glove is good, but would it be good enough to take much playing time away from Yuniesky Betancourt or Craig Counsell? Probably not. At best, he would’ve been a defensive replacement for the last couple innings a few nights a week.
The remaining shortstop-capable players at Nashville — Edwin Maysonet and Eric Farris — are also generally regarded as good defenders, although they likely aren’t as good as Cruz. Farris has never played much shortstop in the minors — all of 10 games in 4 seasons — but considering the presence of J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar during his time with the Brewers, that seems to be more due to organizational need than actual ability. If Farris can show he can stick at short with the time he gets this year, it will go a long way in making him a viable utility man for the Brewers in the future. Put Farris’ line in limited action at Nashville (.274/.311/.348) through the MLE calculator, and you end up with .241/.272/.299 — an equally mediocre line compared to Cruz’s, although with even less slugging.
Maysonet had the reputation of a solid fielder while he was with the Astros. Given the opportunity, both would almost definitely be better than Betancourt and just as good as a guy in his 40s, but that isn’t very hard to do at this point.
Losing Cruz stinks for those of us who wanted some defensive insurance. Keeping Almonte on the roster after a hot spring seems shorted sighted. It’ll be a surprise if Almonte makes it through the entire season in the roster. We can all agree on these things. It’s far from being a decision that will cost the Brewers dearly, though, considering there are comparable players still at the Triple A level.
In the end, we’re talking about a bunch of fringe players and decisions that won’t even cost or provide the team a full win. It’s not even really a debate worth having, but these are the things that get talked about in the closing days of camp. Thursday can’t come soon enough.