COMMENTARY | Excitement is beginning to swirl in Wisconsin as several Milwaukee Brewers were on hand for the annual winter fan festival known as "Brewers On Deck," an event that offers interaction between fans, players and coaches. It signifies just how quickly we are closing in on spring training, and eventually, opening day. It also gives us a chance to hear from some of the most important figures of the franchise and get an inside scoop on what's going on behind the scenes.
While it's a unique opportunity to gather the family together and get up close and personal with some players and coaches, fans are also interested in finding out what they can expect regarding personnel moves and roster battles as we get closer to April 1. Over the course of the day, there were five important things we learned about the Brewers.
1. Wanted: More infield depth
It turns out that Milwaukee isn't completely sold on Mat Gamel being the full-time option at first base while Corey Hart recovers from knee surgery. Even with Gamel good to go following his own knee injury, manager Ron Roenicke said "there's still a possibility that Doug [Melvin, the Brewers' general manager] is talking to some guys right now [and] we get someone into camp," per Brewers' beat writer Adam McCalvy.
There are also questions surrounding depth at shortstop. Jean Segura is locked in as the team's future at the position, but Milwaukee is still looking at a few free agent infielders according to Melvin, including former Brewer shortstop Alex Gonzalez. The only issue with bringing back Gonzalez would be stunting Segura's growth, as Gonzalez would surely be dissatisfied with a backup role.
2. Kyle Lohse is a possibility
Remember when Melvin said he didn't anticipate pursuing any free agent starting pitchers after failing to sign Ryan Dempster? Well, it looks like the door is still opened a sliver when it comes to making one last push for a starter. That's because when Kyle Lohse's name was brought up to owner Mark Attanasio, he admitted that "there's always a chance" and hinted that Melvin has been in contact with Lohse's agent, Scott Boras.
Of course, the Brewers would have to fork up their No. 17 draft pick to the St. Louis Cardinals as compensation, as well as make a substantial financial commitment considering Lohse's numbers over the past few seasons. Milwaukee hasn't been afraid to give up draft picks in the past, but Lohse, who is 34, has displayed inconsistency throughout his career and such a signing has potential face palm written all over it.
3. Wily Peralta is a near-lock to make the rotation
Not only can you pencil in club ace Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada into the starting five, but according to Roenicke, Wily Peralta looks like a guarantee to join the rotation per McCalvy. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise considering how Peralta pitched at the end of the 2012 season, helping propel Milwaukee back into the playoff race.
That likely leaves three players - Chris Narveson, Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers - battling for two spots, assuming the Brewers don't bring in a free agent like Lohse. This will give Milwaukee a rather young rotation regardless of who makes the final cut, which makes a playoff run an unknown proposition. Even so, there's no guarantee that adding a veteran arm gives the Brewers a better chance than they have right now.
4. Ryan Braun has a new goal
Milwaukee has had one distinct way to put runs on the board - hit home runs. Naturally, swinging for the fences tends to lead to high strike out totals, which is supported by the 2012 strike out rates of Rickie Weeks (25.0), Corey Hart (24.3) and, yes, even Ryan Braun (18.9).
That was the highest strikeout rate for Braun since 2008, and whether it had to do with the absence of Prince Fielder from the lineup or pressing more at the plate after some offseason controversy, Braun would like to have more walks than strikeouts in 2013. It's a lofty goal, even for a player of Braun's caliber as the Brewer slugger has never even came close to achieving this feat. The closest he came was in 2011 when he struck out 93 times and had 58 bases on balls, so it will be interesting to see if Braun changes his approach at the plate this season.
5. The new YOUniform is pretty snazzy
Forget about the Brewers' new alternate road uniform introduced on Jan. 24. Check out the winning design of the Brewers' "design a YOUniform" contest. Milwaukee will wear this uniform on March 22 and March 30 during exhibition play, and if it is smart, will keep them in storage for even more usage in the future.
OK, so maybe revealing a uniform that the Brewers don't plan on wearing more than twice isn't all that significant, but it's important to look good out on the diamond, and Milwaukee isn't afraid to mix it up when it comes to what it sports on game day. Congratulations to the contest winner, Ben Peters, and here's to this uniform becoming a mainstay in Milwaukee one day.
Dave Radcliffe lives in a little known Milwaukee suburb and is a self-proclaimed Wisconsin sports expert who has contributed to JSOnline and as a featured columnist among other sites and publications.
You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.