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Brewers face roster decisions

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By Tom Haudricourt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 9, 2014

Somebody has to go.

As the Milwaukee Brewers’ brain trust mulls the various ways to fill the 25-man roster before opening day, one thing is evident. There are not enough spots to accommodate the number of players vying to make the club.

That doesn’t qualify as groundbreaking news, because each spring there are more candidates than job openings. But the Brewers face a series of difficult and intriguing decisions in figuring out the best ways to fill their bench.

A big part of the dilemma is how best to configure the right side of the infield. Making those decisions more difficult is the fact neither Rickie Weeks nor Scooter Gennett plays a position other than second base.

Assuming the Brewers go with a 12-man pitching staff and a five-man bench, as has been the case in recent years, keeping two second base-only players would leave them short at other spots. If Weeks continues to tear it up in exhibition play and Gennett continues to struggle, that puzzle could be solved by returning Weeks to everyday status and sending Gennett to Class AAA Nashville to play regularly.

But Gennett played very well after Weeks was lost for the final two months of the 2013 season with a torn hamstring tendon, leaving one with the impression the Brewers were prepared to move forward with the young prospect. Weeks, who has been in a steep two-year decline offensively, has one year remaining on his contract at $11 million.

Weeks also has a club option for $11.5 million for 2015 that vests if he has 600 plate appearances this year or 1,200 PAs combined in 2013 and 2014. His hamstring injury limited him to 399 PAs last season, so the only way that option would vest is with 600 PAs this year.

The Brewers have no desire to commit another $11.5 million to Weeks, not with Gennett knocking on the big-league door. A better option would be for another club to show enough interest this spring to work out a trade for Weeks, even if the Brewers have to absorb some of his salary. That would allow the club to move forward with Gennett, who wouldn’t be making big money for years.

Just as it would be difficult to keep both Weeks and Gennett, it’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario in which first-base candidates Mark Reynolds, Lyle Overbay and Juan Francisco all make the roster. It certainly would compromise the bench to keep two second basemen and at least two first basemen.

Reynolds and Francisco would provide coverage at third base behind aging Aramis Ramirez, so that helps their case. Overbay is 37 and Francisco is 26, with huge power potential, and both are left-handed hitters. The Brewers could opt for the offensive upside of Francisco and pass on Overbay, the most accomplished defender at first base.

Beyond backup at third base, the Brewers must have someone behind shortstop Jean Segura, who despite his young age (he turns 24 on March 17) can’t be expected to play every inning of every game. The top candidates are holdover Jeff Bianchi and newcomer Elian Herrera, who could prove to be the perfect bench player as a switch-hitter who plays second base, short and third as well as all three outfield spots if needed.

Bianchi and Francisco are out of minor-league options, which adds another interesting element to the situation. Martin Maldonado and Logan Schafer are guaranteed bench spots as the backup catcher and fourth outfielder, respectively (Schafer being valuable in that he can play all three outfield spots without compromising defense).

Francisco already has been jettisoned by two teams—the Reds and the Braves—and the Brewers could decide to move him also despite being piqued by his offensive upside. Francisco’s high strikeout totals and defensive shortcomings are other factors to consider.

If the Brewers keep Bianchi and Francisco, it would leave just one bench spot after adding Maldonado and Schafer to the mix. The best fifth reserve would be Herrera because of his ability to also serve as a fifth outfielder.

But that would mean you couldn’t keep both Weeks and Gennett at second base, or both Reynolds and Overbay at first base. Which brings us back full circle to the decisions that must be made on the right side of the infield to make the pieces to this puzzle fit.

“It’s going to be pretty competitive for a couple of bench spots,” acknowledged general manager Doug Melvin. “It’s probably a little unusual but, I don’t think it’s dramatic because we think our third baseman and shortstop are going to be out there 150 games. A lot of teams don’t have that.

“It depends on whether we have two first basemen. In the past (before the injury-riddled 2013 season), we’ve only had one guy playing first base. We might have to have two first basemen this year. We don’t know that yet.”

Keeping two second basemen would be just as difficult, if not more so. That’s why it’s hard to imagine both Weeks and Gennett heading north with the club at the end of spring training.



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