Inbox: How will Brewers address first base?
Beat reporter Adam McCalvy fields questions from Milwaukee fans
What are the options for first base?
-- Christine, Slinger, Wis.
The remaining free agents include Kendrys Morales, who would require the Brewers to surrender a first-round Draft pick for the second straight season (not happening), strikeout-prone sluggers Carlos Pena and Mark Reynolds, old friends Lyle Overbay and Casey McGehee, and veterans with some potential positional flexibility like Eric Chavez, Kevin Youkilis and Michael Young.
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A trade seems much more likely, and Ike Davis of the Mets is the name you hear the most. The trouble so far seems to be that the Brewers are trying to trade for the guy who hit .205 with nine home runs and was demoted to the Minors in 2013, and the Mets are trying to trade the guy who hit 32 home runs the year before. So far, no deal, but there was enough interest on both sides that the general managers had one final meeting on Thursday before departing the Winter Meetings. Remember, the Mets are also reportedly dangling Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy, and both can play first base.
Spit-balling other potential trade targets: Kyle Blanks of the Padres, Mike Carp of the Red Sox, Adam Dunn of the White Sox, Adam Lind of the Blue Jays, Mitch Moreland of the Rangers, Darin Ruf of the Phillies and Justin Smoak of the Mariners.
I'm sure the Brewers wouldn't want to do it, because he hasn't seen any Major League action, but can Hunter Morris be worse than the group of guys they threw out at first base last year? Plus, isn't Morris an above-average defender at first? What are the chances they go with him?
-- Adam, Grafton, Wis.
Morris is not an above-average defender, though he is working on it. The Crew's No. 7 prospect, according to MLB.com, is also working on some things at the plate, and was denied an opportunity to continue that work in the Venezuelan Winter League when he suffered a minor knee injury. Last week, assistant GM Gord Ash said Morris was still rehabbing, and the Brewers do not consider the issue troubling.
It's pretty clear that club officials think Morris needs to start next season back at Nashville, but GM Doug Melvin has been talking from time to time this offseason along the lines of, "At some point, we have to give our young players a shot and see what they can do." He's probably talking about the starting rotation and first base. The tricky part is picking the right time.
Do you think principal owner Mark Attanasio will ever allow the Brewers to enter rebuild mode or follow the sign-and-trade model the Cubs are doing?
-- Derek H. on Twitter
I'll ask a question back: Do you believe the Brewers are in a position where an all-out rebuild is necessary?
Attanasio doesn't. Nor does Melvin, who touts young, controllable players at the most difficult positions to fill (catcher Jonathan Lucroy, shortstop Jean Segura and center fielder Carlos Gomez are all 28 and younger) and a starting pitching corps returning intact that ranked fourth in the Majors after the All-Star break. Yes, the Brewers have a glaring hole at first base, and could be in an even worse position at third base after Aramis Ramirez hits free agency at the end of the coming season. Yes, there are legitimate questions about which Ryan Braun will show up in 2014.
But while you are free to look at the roster and disagree, Attanasio and Melvin do not believe a rebuild is in order. The idea is to plug the hole at first base, get better production from a middle of the batting order destroyed by injuries and suspension last season, and give the next wave of prospects (Scooter Gennett and Tyler Thornburg; maybe Johnny Hellweg and Jimmy Nelson later in the season) an opportunity to prove that the experts have it wrong about the Brewers' farm system. A lot will have to go right for the Brewers to hang with the top three teams in the National League Central, but then, it's by definition that a lot of things have to go right for a team with an $85 million payroll.
Would Attanasio ever permit a rebuild? His idea is to avoid facing that question.
Do you think the Brewers need to add some more lefty depth in the starting rotation? If so, who?
-- Matt, Lexington, Ky.
What they need is for some of these young right-handers to pan out: Wily Peralta, Thornburg, Hellweg, Nelson, Brooks Hall, Ariel Pena. The Brewers did trade for one left-hander this winter, getting Will Smith from the Royals, and will look at him in Spring Training as a starter, but Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke will take a good right-hander over a so-so left-hander every time.
Is there a possibility that we will trade Rickie Weeks?
-- Anthony K., Kaukauna, Wis.
A strong possibility, but probably not until Spring Training. Melvin found little or no interest in Weeks at the Winter Meetings, and said he could understand why a rival GM would have a hard time trading for a player still rehabbing from an injury. Ideally, Weeks will report to Spring Training at 100 percent and the Brewers will talk about some sort of timeshare between he and Gennett, while looking for a trade that won't cost them too much of Weeks' $11 million salary for 2014.
I've read a lot about Mitch Haniger. Any chance he makes a run for some time in left field?
-- Matt, Kimberly, Wis.
I can tell you that Haniger -- the No. 12-ranked Brewers prospect -- (and Tyrone Taylor, No. 4) are very much on Roenicke's radar, but let's give them at least another year, and maybe two, before we talk about playing time at Miller Park. Haniger split last season between Class A Wisconsin and advanced Class A Brevard County and impressed with a .348 on-base percentage.
How should the Brewers pitch to George Kottaras? ;)
-- Jamie K. on Twitter
Very carefully. Jamie scores two points, one for sneaking an emoticon into the Inbox for the first time, and another for winning the title of George's No. 1 fan. It took her four years of Tweeting about the shirt-averse former Brewers catcher to earn that title.
Kottaras, by the way, was acquired by the Cubs last month from the Royals for cash.