COMMENTARY | Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and general manager Doug Melvin dealt with enough personnel issues at first base this season to last them a lifetime.
If there was another team that watched two starting first basemen suffer season-ending knee injuries before the start of the season, that information must have slipped by. It left the Brewers with an undesirable conundrum that resulted in a 36-year-old backup shortstop coming off reconstructive ACL surgery starting at first base for the first time in his career on opening day.
From there, it didn't get much better -- maybe even worse.
Milwaukee first basemen combined for a .206/.259/.370 split in 2013 as seven different players started at first base for the first time in their big league careers. Mat Gamel is now with the Chicago Cubs organization; Corey Hart is set to enter free agency; and the best first baseman currently on the roster, other than Jonathan Lucroy, is either Sean Halton or Juan Francisco.
Francisco has earned comparisons to Carlos Gomez early in his career before the switch flipped on in his head. But other than Yuniesky Betancourt, there wasn't a more frustrating player to watch on the Brewers this season. His WAR was second-worst only to Betancourt, and Francisco's strikeout ratio was an unfathomable 35.2 percent (via FanGraphs).
In fact, the five worst players on Milwaukee when it came to WAR each saw time at first base for the Brewers.
Having sufficiently outlined just how dismal Milwaukee's first-base situation was in 2013, what is the solution heading into next season?
Hart has expressed his desire to return at a bargain price, but the Brewers want to make sure his knees check out before even considering such a move. Milwaukee could also put its faith in Francisco's development, but it may have already seen enough of the 26-year-old.
Lucroy could eventually transition to first base full-time, but such a move shouldn't even be on the radar. Halton had his moments and turned into the most reliable option over at first toward the end of the season, but he still hit only .238 and lacks the power and production you'd like to see from the first-base position.
Then there is one of the Brewers' top prospects, Hunter Morris.
If not for a blistering finish to the season, Morris would have had trouble cracking a .300 on-base percentage with Triple-A Nashville. Milwaukee would have liked to see a better progression from the 25-year-old, as he finished with a .247/.310/.457 split, 24 HRs and 73 RBIs. He'll likely be added to the 40-man roster and invited to spring training for the second-straight season.
But here's an idea -- what about moving Rickie Weeks over to first base?
Probably not an option that came to mind, right? And maybe it shouldn't, but Weeks probably isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He will likely be around for two more years barring trade and the impossibility that Weeks would decline to pick up his $11.5 million player option in 2015.
By the way, who exactly believed that player option was a good idea in the first place?
There was also the emergence of Scooter Gennett at second base in 2013 after Weeks tore his hamstring in August. Gennett hit .324 with 6 HRs and 21 RBIs in 213 at-bats, and that included a slow start when he was being platooned with Weeks early in the season.
In comparison, Weeks hit just .209 with 10 HRs and 24 RBIs in 350 at-bats. He's now 31 compared to Gennett's 23, and, boy, would it be difficult to take Gennett out of the starting second baseman role after what he did following the injury to Weeks. Considering Gennett hit just .154 against lefties, you could see a lefty/righty platoon at second.
But Weeks is set to make $12 million in 2014. That's a lot of cheese for a player involved in a platoon.
You hate to see a team make a personnel decision based on money, but, then again, this is the Brewers, a team with a spending ceiling. They can't really afford to go out and sign a mediocre- to top-level first baseman, and that includes Hart, whose qualifying offer is in the double digits (millions).
You would like to see Hart bounce back, show his knees are healthy and take a big-time pay cut to return to Milwaukee. Similarly, you'd like to see Weeks fully recover from his hamstring injury and put up numbers like he has in the past.
Bringing back Hart for less than $10.3 million, which is what he made in 2013 for not playing a single game, would appear to be affordable for the Brewers. But players like Aramis Ramirez, Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Gomez and Kyle Lohse are each getting noticeable pay raises heading into 2014.
At 31 years old, there are questions as to whether Weeks can regain his old form or find a way to stay healthy for 162 games.
Maybe playing in a platoon is one way to keep him healthy, but Weeks has proved in the past he is capable of putting up big numbers, and he has the power and patience at the plate necessary to shift over to first. It would just be a matter of being able and willing to make that adjustment defensively.
Milwaukee would love to for the solution at first base to come from in-house, and Weeks deserves as much consideration as anyone.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.
You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_.
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