Craig Counsell will try to turn Scooter Gennett into a utility man for the Milwaukee Brewers. That’s a big mistake – and not because he should play every day, either.
He seems like a nice guy. Looks like he works hard and does his best to improve. Unfortunately, that’s not always enough at this level.
With Jonathan Villar’s move to second base, Gennett has lost the only position he can actually play. even there, he was sub-par as a Major Leaguer.
Now manager Craig Counsell and GM David Stearns are looking for a way to utilize Gennett (turning 27 in May) and his $2.525 million salary in 2017.
The belief Gennett could be a useful utility man appears to make sense, especially as a left-handed stick off the bench. He does own a .279 career batting average and hit a personal best 14 home runs last year.
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It’s also understandable to want to give his .777 OPS versus righties a chance in a limited role. Are those enough reasons to overlook everything else?
The truth is, he doesn’t actually profile as a utility man beyond the bat.
First, let’s talk about his defense at the pivot – that is, second base.
Out of 24 MLB 2nd-basemen since 2004 (minimum 2,000 innings), Gennett ranks 20th and 21st in a pair of valued defensive metrics.
In Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Gennett ranks fifth from the bottom with a -6 DRS. That means (theoretically) he has cost the Brewers six runs due to his defense.
For reference, the top-5 players in DRS at second base range from +11 to +51 over that span.
The other statistic that tries to measure a player’s benefit or harm defensively is Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Gennett is the 4th-worst second sacker with a -12.4 since 2004.
That sits 20.6 runs behind the 5th-best defender at the position. With both stats, zero is typically seen as average.
Thus, he struggled mightily at the only position he’s ever played with the Brewers, and they want to try him elsewhere. That doesn’t look like a positive trend, and here’s the trouble.
Counsell noted that Spring Training would give Gennett a chance to work in the outfield and other infield positions. Sure, now is the time to test him out.
Gennett, however, has a below average arm, which doesn’t bode well for shortstop or third base. Since the Brewers’ starting third baseman is a left-handed hitter, too (Travis Shaw), that doesn’t look like a fit.
Meanwhile, Gennett clearly lacks the quickness and range to handle shortstop for Orlando Arcia.
Milwaukee would be better off sliding Villar over or using Yadiel Rivera, Ivan De Jesus, or even
Hernan Perez if necessary. The former two guys mentioned can’t hit much, but their defense and base running would be better.
What about the outfield? Gennett says he can run and catch fly balls, but it isn’t always that simple. For one, again, he lacks that natural first step and foot speed to be valuable in such open spaces.
Yes, left field has been a safe haven for weak-armed, clumsy, less-than-ideal ball players; however, 95 percent of the time that’s because the guy is a beast at the plate.
With even left field being a dicey spot for Gennett, the outfield looks like a huge “if.” Not to mention, the Brewers have enough versatile options as backups in those spots.
Perez did a nice job last season. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who doesn’t have too much value, is a far superior defender. Even incoming first baseman Eric Thames has plenty of experience catching flies.
And both those last two guys also bat from the left side, so that’s not an edge for Gennett, either.
That’s not even mentioning players like Ryan Cordell or Michael Reed who could make cases to be on the Milwaukee Brewers’ Opening Day roster as outfield help.
Do you see why it’s tough to see Gennett being the best option anywhere?
Even when you look at speed, it doesn’t add up. You’d think a person nicknamed Scooter – who weighs less than 190 pounds – would be able to run a bit.
That’s not the case. Gennett rarely steals bases (17 in 456 career games), lacks foot speed, and ranks below average in Fangraphs’ all-encompassing base running statistic, BsR.
Among all qualified MLB players in 2016, Gennett ranked 110th in BsR with a -2.6 overall. That put him below guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana, and Todd Frazier.
So once more, Gennett does not look like a valuable piece of this club as of right now. Things can change quickly in Arizona with injuries or other occurrences, but that’s not something to bank on.
The question would be, if Gennett doesn’t prove to be an asset off the bench, what can the Brewers do with him?
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He does technically have a minor league option left, but that probably wouldn’t sit too well with Gennett and his agent is he were sent down to Colorado Springs. He optioned to the minors in May of 2015 and it seemed to help him.
But he’s in a different situation now.
It might even be tough for the Milwaukee Brewers to see more than $2.5 million in triple-A. Although, the money should matter nothing at this point.
They aren’t likely to outright release him (though it’s possible), so a trade would be the only other option.
It’s realistic that another club ends up with a hole at second due to an injury during the exhibition season. Or a team could see him as a solid lefty stick in reserve.
It may depend on how much Stearns really wants in return. He could be happy with a a little-known minor leaguer if the fit is right.
Regardless, it would be best for all parties if Gennett is not on the Milwaukee Brewers’ Opening Day roster in 2017. He is not a utility player in any sense of the term.
Barring some sort of miraculous works in Maryvale, where Gennett gets quicker and stronger while learning new roles, the Milwaukee Brewers have far better choices to serve alongside Perez in a utility spot.