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The Brewers’ infield is somewhat in flux going into the offseason, particularly at the shortstop position. While the team will likely have much the same crew of regulars around the bases (first base: probably Corey Hart, second base: Rickie Weeks, third: Aramis Ramirez), shortstop is a position that will have some intrigue around it until the Brewers decide how they want to approach the conundrum of candidates. Alex Gonzalez could be back, and frankly it would be great to see him get a chance to play extensively with the Brewers without being forced off the field with an injury. It seemed like he was happy to be with Milwaukee and it was an unfortunate turn of fate that he had to miss so much time. If he is open to a relatively reasonable salary, the Brewers might elect to sign him. Of course, that question brings into focus the pending decision on whether Jean Segura is ready for the majority of starts at shortstop in the big leagues. If the club is betting that Segura is ready for the majority of playing time, it becomes drastically less clear that Gonzalez would be a fit. On the other hand, if Segura starts out the year in Nashville to get more ‘seasoning’, then maybe Gonzalez could be plugged right in as the veteran stopgap he was meant to be in 2012. In any case, the Brewers will need to take a look at their infield depth, in case, Bog forbid, anyone gets injured.
Mat Gamel is projected to be a utility guy (as far as anyone knows) right now, which could mean he’s a backup at first base and maybe the outfield or third base. The problem with Gamel is that with the exception of first base, he doesn’t have a natural position around the diamond. He doesn’t have much, if any experience with the outfield, he wasn’t seen as a good third baseman because of his throwing arm, and there is no DH position…or is there? With increased interleague play, the Brewers could use Gamel as a DH, although for the Brewers, unlike some teams, interleague play doesn’t begin until May. I’m not convinced the club would give Gamel the DH opportunities anyway when they could just as well rest one of their regulars like Braun, Ramirez, Hart or Weeks. Gamel worked hard to become a good first baseman, but it looks as though he may need to become a jack of all trades (and master of none?) in 2013.
Travis Ishikawa is a non-tender candidate because, although he has great defensive abilities, he is limited in the field, similarly to Gamel. The Brewers clearly struggled in 2012 when they had to rely on lesser replacement options like Cesar Izturis and Cody Ransom. Going into 2013, I hope they can find more dependable bench options. Eric Hinske is a free agent, although the Wisconsin native seems to have slipped in production over the last couple years, and is also limited defensively. I wonder if the Brewers could attract the versatile Jeff Keppinger, who, while he can’t really play shortstop, could fill in elsewhere in the infield and is a solid, veteran hitter. He’s also three years younger than Hinske. Much was made in 2012 about all that was lost when the ‘veteran presence’ evaporated in the clubhouse and in the dugout with the departures of Craig Counsell, Mark Kotsay and LaTroy Hawkins after the 2011 season. If the Brewers could inject some of that savvy, knowledge and grit back into the scene, it may lessen their supposed naiveté somewhat. Keppinger had a good year with the Rays in 2012, batting .325 with nine homers and 40 RBI. He will be a hot commodity on the open market, but if the Brewers could nab him, he’d be the caulk to a lot of cracks around the diamond. He could fill in all over and also be used as a solid pinch hitter. As it is, the Brewers have Taylor Green, the recently re-signed Hector Gomez, and some other options in the minor leagues, such as Jeff Bianchi, who performed pretty well in limited time in 2012. The club is definitely better suited to deal with injuries or lack of performance in the infield right now than they were heading into the 2012 season. Nevertheless, they would be wise to add a veteran utility infielder like Keppinger who really knows that role well and thrives in it. It will be really interesting to follow this story as the offseason gets rolling. Anything could happen, including trades, so the infield will be an area to watch over the winter.