By Nathan Petrashek (@npetrashek)
With the Brewers eliminated from postseason contention, thoughts are naturally turning to 2015. It’s as if the late-season collapse that brought the first-place Brewers to their knees hasn’t infected all their fans with endless pessimism about the future. But before we cast our eyes, gleaming with irrational hope, toward the new season, let’s stop for a second to reflect on what we’re about to lose.
Rickie Weeks is a lightning rod among fans for a lot of reasons. His early years on the team were marred by low batting averages and nagging injuries. Fans were frustrated by high strikeout totals, lackluster defense, and a perceived careless approach at the plate, despite the fact that Weeks led the club’s regulars in on-base percentage in 2006, was second in 2007 and 2010 to Prince Fielder, and third in 2008 … well, you get the picture. Fan sentiment about Rickie has never actually reflected his skill set, which included a power bat not generally found in the middle infield.
One thing people were generally correct about, even in those early days, was the injury bug. Weeks is basically Frankenstein’s monster. He’s had wrist surgery twice (2006 and 2009), and missed additional games because of a wrist injury in 2007. Weeks had let thumb surgery in 2005 and missed handful of games in 2008 because of a sore knee. Availability is a skill, as they say, and Weeks took plenty of criticism because he couldn’t stay on the field.
Fan sentiment seemed to shift after Weeks’ first healthy season in 2010. Weeks was a dynamo for the 77-85 Brewers, playing 160 games and slashing .269/.366/.464 with 29 home runs. The potential many had talked about for half a decade had finally been realized, and the Brewers moved quickly to sign Weeks to a long-term extension in the offseason. On the eve of Weeks’ final arbitration hearing, he and the team agreed to a four-year, $38.5 million deal with a fifth-year vesting option covering 2015. Smartly, the Brewers built outs for themselves if Weeks was not an everyday player in 2013 or 2014.
Unfortunately, Weeks didn’t stay healthy in 2011, and couldn’t quite replicate his success in 2012. However, he still contributed plenty to to those teams. In 2011, Weeks shredded his ankle when he landed on first base awkwardly and was limited to 118 games that year, although he still managed to accumulate 20 home runs with a very respectable .269/.350/.468 triple slash en route to his first All-Star berth. In 2012, Weeks again surpassed 20 home runs in a healthy season but hit just .230. By 2013, many were calling for Weeks’ ouster at second base in favor of the much-hyped Scooter Gennett. They got their wish when Weeks suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in August after hitting just .209.
The left-handed Gennett did well in Weeks’ absence, and the two entered into a fairly rigid platoon during the 2014 season. Weeks has rebounded to his best season since 2011, hitting .272/.350/.451 with 8 home runs in 277 plate attempts. He declined to move to left field early in the season, preferring instead to market himself as a second baseman as he enters free agency after this year. The Brewers will not pick up Weeks’ option, and we are presumably watching the last days of Rickie Weeks in a Brewers uniform.
Weeks is one of the last holdovers from the Brewers postseason appearances in 2008 and 2011, and has been a lineup staple since 2006. Very few players have that kind of longevity with a team, which itself speaks for Weeks’ skills. While its fair to say there is a certain segment of Brewers fans who have never liked Weeks, even they have to appreciate the 18 career fWAR he has accumulated as a member of the Brewers. In these final two games, the fans always so critical of Weeks need to step back and admire a guy that not only gave his all when able, but contributed in real, definable ways to bring postseason baseball back to Milwaukee.