The Milwaukee Brewers seem to be in a holding pattern at the moment at baseball’s Winter Meetings, though hopefully that’s only on the surface. Tom Haudricourt reports the team is keeping an eye on veteran bullpen arms, but the main focus is how to answer that nagging question of who will be the club’s starting first baseman. Free agent Corey Hart reportedly has many teams interested in pursuit, and by association, many teams are said to have interest in Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins and Ike Davis of the New York Mets, also first-base types. The Brewers have said they would like to hear whether they can work it out with Corey Hart before moving on to other options for the first-base bag, but they’ve talked in advance with the Marlins and Mets just in case Hart decides he wants to go elsewhere. The Brewers are in a precarious and vulnerable position in all of this, swinging by the whims of the Kentucky native Hart. GM Doug Melvin has flatly stated that the club doesn’t have the financial resources to solve several problems at once.
So, in the vacuum of developments on the Hart front, the situation begs a closer look at other first base options, which the Brewers may well have to utilize. Hart and James Loney likely headline the free-agent class, and Loney is said to be looking for a multi-year deal with an average annual value of around $8-10MM. That’s well out of the Brewers’ range, and one has to wonder if Hart sniffs a bigger payday than he may have dreamed of when he said he’d take a discount to stick around in Milwaukee.
There are other free agents available, but they are a mix of has-beens and question marks (Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey Kotchman, Casey McGehee, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis), and then Kendrys Morales, who’s been more productive than most of the others recently but also has qualifying-offer-related draft-pick compensation attached to his future. So, the guys who are the cheapest AND most-promising options to fill an empty first-base slot appear to be Corey Hart, a guy who has been very productive when he’s been healthy, and trade candidates like Morrison and Davis who could be bounce-back, possible positive-WAR guys on low salaries and with team control. Morrison is slated to make around $1.7MM in arbitration and Davis around double that at $3.5MM, MLBTR predicts. It looks like they’re both eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2014, but Davis is a super-2 player. Both are eligible for free agency in 2017 at the earliest, according to Baseball Reference.
Morrison and Davis have pretty similar career trajectories in a lot of ways. Both debuted in the majors in 2010. Both players are 26 years old and have played in four major league seasons. Davis bests Morrison’s career numbers in terms of games played (442 to Morrison’s 363), AB’s, runs, hits, doubles, and walks. Davis has 25 more homers than does Morrison, though their slash lines are nearly identical for their careers: .249/.337/.427/.764 for Morrison and .242/.334/.434/.768 for Davis. Both players have missed time due to injuries and demotions. Overall, Davis has been more durable. Neither guy is going to win a Gold Glove at first base, but they could fill the position for the Brewers for the next year or two at least. Optimistically, the Brewers already have hit the floor in terms of first-base disasters and can only go up from here. It will be interesting to see how this narrative plays out. Will Hart forgo possibly better offers to return to the Crew? If not, do the Brewers find a better match in the more-validated Davis or the more-mercurial Morrison? Or: none of the above? And…will someone take Rickie Weeks? Ideally we’ll know the proposed solution to first base by Thursday.