COMMENTARY | The first month of the season will be an important one for the Milwaukee Brewers -- more important than usual for a number of reasons. Among the uncertainties with their inexperienced starting rotation and overhauled bullpen, the Brewers are scrambling to find a starting first baseman following the knee injuries to Corey Hart and now, Mat Gamel.
Gamel was supposed to help bridge the gap to Hart's return, which could take up to six weeks depending on his rehab. But Gamel re-tore his ACL during team workouts right off the bat, and the free agent market for first basemen has just about run dry. Not only is Hart's bat valuable in the five-hole behind Aramis Ramirez, but his glove-work surprised just about everyone following his move to the infield from right field.
There are still several in-house options for Milwaukee to evaluate at the position, and maybe even some trade possibilities to find a part-time replacement.
A lot has been made of Morris' potential jump to the big leagues this season following his minor league player of the year performance last season at Double-A Huntsville, especially with the injuries ahead of him in the depth chart. Because of the absences of Hart and Gamel, Morris is set to see several more at-bats during spring training, and that will only benefit him moving forward.
But making the jump from Double-A to the Major League level is a pretty significant leap. Not only that, but it's probably not in Milwaukee's best interest to only use Morris for a month and then send him back down, wasting one of his minor league options. On the flip side, with Gamel's injury, Morris wouldn't have to sit behind anyone and could gain some valuable experience.
Green has spent parts of the last two seasons in Milwaukee, and he does bring some value because of his ability to play three different infield positions, including first base. But he has struggled overall as a Brewer, hitting just .207 while serving mainly as a bench player because of Milwaukee's stacked lineup.
This offers an opportunity for Green to get some more playing time rather than ride the pine, a role he appears destined for if he doesn't figure into plans at first base. If anything, Green could be involved in a platoon at first base if the Brewers can't choose a full-time replacement, but Milwaukee would probably rather settle on one player for the sake of continuity.
Before Gamel aggravated his knee injury, Brewers' manager Ron Roenicke had already suggested that Gonzalez should take some grounders at first. Now, that notion could actually materialize as Milwaukee is ready to try just about anything to find a formidable replacement at first base.
Gonzalez himself is coming off of an ACL tear, but after becoming a free agent at the end of 2012, the Brewers brought him back because of the uncertainty behind Jean Segura at shortstop. The 36-year-old also makes for a solid tutor for the young Segura, but now his role may become larger due to injury. Through 24 games before tearing his ACL last season, Gonzalez hit .259 with 4 HRs and 15 RBIs, and similar numbers would be more than welcomed while the Brewers await Hart's return.
The 27-year-old Oakland Athletic was a one-time highly regarded prospect, but Barton has recently fallen out of favor in Oakland due to his poor play over the past few seasons. As a result, he appears to be expendable, and the Brewers wouldn't have to give up much to acquire Barton.
One plus is that first base is his primary position, so he would be a better option experience-wise than anyone on this list. Barton only hit .212 and .204 in 2011 and 2012 respectively, but he also has a career on-base percentage of .360, over 100 points higher than his career batting average. With sustained playing time, it's possible Barton could be a legitimate option to fill in for Hart, so now it comes down to whether or not the Brewers want to look outside of the organization.
Another player with ties to the Athletics' organization, Crosby was a non-roster invitee into Brewers' camp and will get a look at first base. He is most experienced playing shortstop, like Gonzalez, but has also seen some time at first and is prepared to play just about anywhere in the infield for Milwaukee.
Crosby is a longshot to make the opening day roster, but getting an opportunity over at first base gives him a better chance at making an impression. Crosby hasn't been in the big leagues since 2010 and has a career average of just .236.
Machete is a bit of a wild card, but when you think about it, giving him an opportunity over at first base makes all the sense in the world. The Brewers have two starting-caliber catchers, and with Jonathan Lucroy starting four out of every five games, that leaves Maldonado a wasted commodity sitting on the bench.
When filling in for an injured Lucroy last season, Maldonado was excellent at the plate and even more impressive defensively. He has played sparingly at first base, so it wouldn't be completely foreign to Maldy, but his participation in the World Baseball Classic will cost him a chance at getting more reps at the position. If the Brewers fail to settle on a full-time fill in, Maldonado could at least fluctuate between catcher and first and see more at-bats as a result.
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_ .