The Milwaukee Brewers have not met their lofty expectations thus far in 2012, and a recent spat of injuries could make that an even more arduous task.
Left-hander Chris Narveson was lost to season-ending shoulder surgery a couple of weeks back. First baseman Mat Gamel tore his ACL and is likely to be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Center fielder Carlos Gomez just hit the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring injury. Finally, over the weekend against the San Francisco Giants, shortstop Alex Gonzalez landed on the disabled list with what appears to be a very serious leg injury.
Gonzalez will undergo an MRI on Monday, when the team returns to Milwaukee to begin their homestand against the Cincinnati Reds, but quotations from teammates that all reference Gonzalez in the past tense are an ominous sign for his chances of returning anytime soon. After the game on Saturday, manager Ron Roenicke said:
“He’s been a great player for us this far. We all were really happy and looking forward to seeing what he was going to do this year.”
Reading between the lines, it is not difficult to ascertain that Milwaukee does not expect Gonzalez to return in a timely fashion, if at all, this year.
This infortunate injury highlights the lack of depth the Brewers had up the middle of the infield coming into the season. To replace Gonzalez in the starting lineup, the organization turned to veteran Cesar Izturis, who has not been a one-win player since 2008 and has not posted a wOBA above .300 since the 2004 season with the Dodgers.
The Brewers will not lose much defensively with Izturis receiving the vast majority of the playing time at shortstop, but the offensive decline will be significant. Although Alex Gonzalez will never feature a patient approach at the plate, he is a double-digit home run threat who is one year removed from a 23 home run season with a .319 wOBA and +3.4 WAR. Izturis, on the other hand, just had elbow surgery last year and has never hit more than four home runs in a single season. In fact, he has only hit seven home runs in his last 2,460 plate appearances.
The impact of the cavernous gulf in production at the plate between Gonzalez and Izturis becomes much more salient once realizing that Gonzalez has been nothing more than fringe-average at the plate as a major league shortstop throughout his career. The league-average wOBA for shortstops between 1998 and 2012 (the years Gonzalez has played in the big leagues) has ranged from .296 (2012) to .322 (2007). Gonzalez has a career .297 wOBA.
Milwaukee also called up Edwin Maysonet from Triple-A Nashville to add middle-infield depth to the bench. He was hitting .214/.309/.286 in 25 games to begin the season and had not played a big league inning since 2009 before being called up on Sunday. Expecting much from Maysonet at the plate would be foolish — the fact that he cannot start over Izturis and his career .273 wOBA says enough — though the 30-year-old shortstop from Puerto Rico does feature a solid glove and should provide significant positional flexibility for the club.
It is possible that the organization looks elsewhere via the trade market for a more definitive option at shortstop. Jason Bartlett has reportedly worn out his welcome in San Diego and could even be released in the near future. Jamey Carroll should be available from the Twins, and a two-year deal should not scare off Doug Melvin due to the lack of shortstop depth both on the bench and in the minors through the 2013 season. Ronny Cedeno could draw some interest from the Mets, though his career .278 wOBA is only slightly better than that of Cesar Izturis and may not be that much of an upgrade.
On the bright side, the Milwaukee Brewers won 96 games and the NL Central last season with Yuniesky Betancourt and his +0.5 WAR at shortstop for 152 games. It is difficult to imagine that Izturis and Maysonet could be too much worse than that this year.
The injuries have been numerous, but they have yet to strike down an elite player on the roster. A talented core still exists in Milwaukee this season. The key for the Brewers will be finding consistency from their starting rotation and turning around Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez at the plate. If those things can happen this year, the Brewers will once again compete for a postseason berth.