The Brewers Have Officially Moved on From Orlando Arcia

Spiritually, the Orlando Arcia era in Milwaukee came to an end when the team acquired Luis Urías from San Diego in a four-player swap back in November 2019. Urías, then 22, had been one of the top prospects in the Padres’ farm system before his rookie eligibility expired the season prior and was expected to take over as the Brewers’ starting shortstop. Such a move would likely mean benching Arcia, a former top prospect himself who had put up rather anemic numbers in his first four big league seasons. Alas, Milwaukee’s starting infield hit a number of road blocks in the year that followed that trade, and when all was said and done, Arcia appeared in all but one of the team’s games last year, as well as each of the first four in 2021.

Now, it would appear that era has formally come to a close once and for all. On Tuesday, the Brewers traded Arcia to the Braves, who immediately optioned him to the team’s alternate training site as the infielder undergoes necessary COVID protocols. Two pitchers, Chad Sobotka and Patrick Weigel, were sent to Milwaukee to complete the deal.

When word first got out that the Brewers were discussing a deal involving Arcia, there was naturally speculation that the team on the other end might be San Diego. After all, just night before, the Padres had watched in horror as franchise shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. crumpled to the ground after injuring his left shoulder following through on a swing, and as of Tuesday morning remained unaware of how much time he was likely to miss. San Diego has ready replacements for Tatis in-house, but for a team as committed to accumulating depth as the Padres are, the timing of the news seemed all too convenient.

Instead, Arcia will make his way to Atlanta, a team that probably actually needs the 26-year-old infielder more. Entering Tuesday, the Braves’ bench consisted of Alex Jackson, Pablo Sandoval, Johan Camargo and Ender Inciarte. None of those players have much business being asked to cover shortstop if starter Dansby Swanson gets hurt or simply needs a day off, which puts the team in a somewhat vulnerable position. The solution to that problem was set to be minor league free agent signing Ehire Adrianza, who made the Braves’ Opening Day roster before landing on the COVID restricted list, but this trade suggests the team sought to aim higher in bolstering its infield depth.

Without Arcia, the Brewers aren’t in much different of a spot when it comes to their shortstop situation now than the Braves were prior to yesterday. Daniel Robertson isn’t a super convincing defender there, but he’s now the only real option the team has in backing up Urías. Milwaukee, though, had other priorities. With Kolten Wong, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Lorenzo Cain in the picture, it isn’t as though the team is desperate for defensive help. Instead, the Brewers can plug Arcia’s roster spot with another arm while they try and fill innings early in the year, as they chose to when they announced on Tuesday that Brad Boxberger was joining the team. Later this season, they could also decide to use the spot to stash a more potent pinch-hit bat on the bench. The ideal combination of players and skillsets Milwaukee has in mind for its 26-man roster will change as things progress, but clearly, the club didn’t think two light-hitting shortstops would ever be a part of that plan.

But is that all there is to Arcia? His contributions over his first four seasons are hard to look at — a .243/.292/.360 line over 1,676 plate appearances that amounted to a 69 wRC+, canceling out his plus glovework enough to make him barely a replacement-level player. Last year, though, there were just enough signs of progress to make you want to pay attention again. His .260/.317/.416 line (96 wRC+) was by far the best of his career. He also had a career-best ISO (.156) to go along with his lowest strikeout rate (16.9%) and his second-best walk rate (7.4%). Name any part of a hitter’s job — hitting the ball hard, laying off pitches outside the zone, making contact when he does swing — and Arcia probably got better at it last year. After never having previously posted an xwOBA better than the sixth percentile, his .336 mark in that category suddenly placed him in the 61st percentile.

Such wide-ranging improvement across the board may have been the result of mental adjustments as they were anything physical. Last October, The Athletic’s Will Sammon reported that Brewers coaches witnessed Arcia do a much better job in 2020 of grinding out at-bats day after day and not allowing one bad day at the ballpark turn into five or six. He didn’t produce flashy numbers, but, “anecdotally, Arcia was seemingly the only Brewer who remained consistent at the plate while occasionally producing a critical hit in a big spot.”

The players ahead of him on the Braves’ depth chart will very much dictate how much of a chance Arcia gets to expand upon that progress in Atlanta, but the idea of him logging meaningful plate appearances down the stretch isn’t unthinkable. Austin Riley, the team’s starting third baseman, has had a rough first couple of seasons in the majors, and Pablo Sandoval didn’t exactly set the world on fire last year. If Arcia’s improvement at the plate is legitimate — and that’s no small “if,” given the small sample 2020 left us all with — the day could arrive in the next few months when the Braves find him to be their best option at the hot corner.

For the chance to find that out, Atlanta was willing to part with two pitchers who threw in the majors last year. Sobotka, 27, has been around the longest, having thrown 47 big league innings since 2018. Working exclusively in relief, he’s struck out nearly 29% of the hitters he’s faced, but he’s also walked 14.2% of them, and has surrendered eight homers. He has a high-spin fastball and a pretty wicked slider, but could never carve out a steady role in the Braves’ pen.

Weigel, another reliever, slotted in 23rd on Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein’s Braves prospect list published just a couple weeks ago. They assigned him above-average grades on his fastball and a plus grade on his slider, accompanied by the following paragraph:

Weigel has been on the Braves 40-man for a couple of seasons but hasn’t made much of an impact with the big league club because he’s struggled to rein in his command. Weigel has big stuff. Though his fastball’s spin axis causes it to play down, it’s hard enough (92-95 early this spring, harder in the past) to be a viable offering, and his two breaking balls have elite spin. His feel for release and location was all over the place during his 2020 debut. If that doesn’t improve, Weigel should just be in the 35+ tier as an up/down type of reliever, though two of his option years have already passed and at some point soon it’ll be sink or swim. Though he still has four pitches, Weigel’s days of maybe projecting as a starter are likely over. Expect him to lean on his breaking stuff (his slider has incredible horizontal movement) in relief.

Neither of these pitchers are throwaways, especially given Milwaukee’s reputation for getting the most out of guys with this kind of stuff. Atlanta was simply going to have a tough time getting them innings this year — the Braves carried 10 relievers on their Opening Day roster, and yet neither Sobotka nor Weigel made the cut. They had more relievers making big league money than they needed, and the Brewers had too many shortstops. The timing of this deal is a bit unusual, but the structure of it makes a lot of sense.

Tony is a contributor for FanGraphs. He began writing for Red Reporter in 2016, and has also covered prep sports for the Times West Virginian and college sports for Ohio University's The Post. He can be found on Twitter at @_TonyWolfe_.

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1 year ago

Arcia was a hyped prospect and fun to watch in the field but a career wRC of+67 made him the worst hitter in franchise history (min, 1500 PA’s).Worst regular in MLB in 2019 +57 wRC. Great clubhouse guy, Maybe the change of scenery will help. He’s shown flashes but….

1 year ago
Reply to  Michael

I watched Mauricio Dubon play several games when he was at Portland and, when the Brewers had both Arcia and Mauricio Dubon, I had the temerity to suggest that Dubon was the better player. From the down votes you would have thought I had suggested that Mike Carp was better than Mike Trout.