COMMENTARY | After the 2012 season, it was pretty obvious which direction the Milwaukee Brewers were going to go with many of their impending free agents. Starting pitcher Shaun Marcum had fallen out of favor in Milwaukee because of his injury history and declining velocity, Alex Gonzalez had torn his ACL earlier in the season and just about the entire bullpen had wet the bed. As a result, Marcum, Gonzalez and a majority of the 'pen weren't retained heading into the winter months.
Other role players like Nyjer Morgan and Travis Ishikawa could also figure their time had run out in Milwaukee due to performance, or a lack thereof. But this year, multiple key contributors will see their contracts with the Brewers come to an end by the final game of the 2013 season unless general manager Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio decide to give them an extension.
As a team playing in a small market, the Brewers can only devote so much to these players set to depart, and thus comes the dilemma of who to keep and who to allow to walk out the door. Obviously, performance in the upcoming season will play an important factor, but for right now, let's look at who the team should re-sign at (or by) season's end.
1B -- Corey Hart
Hart has been bugged by a knee injury in the each of the past two offseasons, but this year, it will keep him out for opening day and beyond. He's a valuable bat in the five-hole and helped the team immensely last season by moving to first base mid-season and opening up a spot in right field for Norichika Aoki to play every day.
Hart has his ups and downs but by the end of the year, his numbers are always solid. Over the past three years, he hasn't had a split worse than .270/.334/.507 and hasn't hit fewer than 26 HRs, but Hart has also failed to play more than 149 games since 2008. He'll be 31 by opening day, and prospect Hunter Morris is nipping at his heels. When combining these factors with the years and money Hart will be asking for after the season, this appears to be his final hurrah in a Brewer uniform.
Verdict: Shouldn't re-sign
CF -- Carlos Gomez
Last season, Gomez had a career-year in which he hit .260 with 19 HRs, 51 RBIs and 37 stolen bases. It was the healthiest season Gomez had with Milwaukee, and also the first time in his career he had topped the .300 mark in on-base percentage. If Gomez is truly devoted to being more patient at the plate this season as his early spring training stats suggest, that number should go up in 2013.
Even though Gomez is entering his seventh big-league season, he's only 27 and could very well be hitting his stride as he enters the prime of his career. Health is the No. 1 concern with Gomez, who saw his annual salary jump to $4.3 million this season, but Gomez is a spark plug that can ignite the team on the basepaths and save runs in the outfield.
He wouldn't require as much money as Hart after the season, and while there are some options behind Gomez in the organization, none have as much upside as the Dominican Republic native.
Verdict: Should re-sign
RF -- Norichika Aoki
Nobody knew what to expect out of Aoki after the Brewers signed the former Japanese star last offseason, and he started off as a spot-starter in the outfield. However, Aoki did nothing but play solid baseball when he received opportunities to contribute, and eventually, he earned an everyday role in right field in part to Mat Gamel tearing his ACL.
Now, Aoki enters the 2013 season as the team's right fielder after hitting .288 last season with 10 HRs, 50 RBIs and 30 SBs while batting mainly out of the lead-off spot. With how difficult it is to find a serviceable lead-off hitter, Aoki's value increases as a result, and he also bulked up a bit in the offseason in order to become more of a power threat.
He'll be the same age as Hart this season, but his intangibles and fundamentally sound approach day-in and day-out -- combined with making just $1.25 million this season -- makes Aoki someone the Brewers should want to keep around for at least a few more years at a very reasonable price.
SS/1B -- Alex Gonzalez
Just like last season, Gonzalez will become a free agent at year's end, and just like last season, the Brewers will part ways with the 36-year-old shortstop-turned-first baseman. His mentoring of Jean Segura and possible fill-in at first base during Hart's absence should in-turn be beneficial, but in the end, Gonzalez will be expendable due to age and talent already on the roster.
Verdict: Shouldn't re-sign
LHP -- Michael Gonzalez
Gonzalez is a left-handed reliever, a pretty valuable commodity to a team like the Brewers that has struggled to find a lefty specialist in recent years. Gonzalez brings that to the bullpen following a pretty solid year with the Washington Nationals in which he put up a 3.03 ERA while holding left-handed hitters to a .177 average.
He's 34 years old, and whether he returns largely depends on his performance this season, so we won't hand out a verdict to Gonzalez, but there's no reason the Brewers shouldn't look at bringing him back if he does his job and shuts down left handed hitters late in ball games.
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_ .
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- Milwaukee Brewers
- Norichika Aoki