Versatility is the most important aspect of a National League team’s bench as one considers pinch-hitting, pinch-running, double-switching and defensive moves late in the game. As it stands right now, the Milwaukee Brewers would have one of the least flexible groups backing up the starting eight. That will need to change by ridding themselves of one first baseman, and more importantly, Rickie Weeks. Based on the Brewers’ historical 25-man roster construction, one can confidently believe they’ll carry seven relievers and five positional backups, so we’ll work off that premise.
Starting with what we know, Martin Maldonado will be catching behind Jonathan Lucroy. The 27-year-old is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, has proven the ability to play the backup role and his defense is a great asset in this capacity.
Logan Schafer would be another player almost guaranteed a bench spot to start the season. He’s the only player with the ability and experience to spell Carlos Gomez in center field. Schafer is the perfect fourth outfielder, as he plays excellent defense at all three outfield positions, bats the opposite hand of the starters and has good speed to utilize as a pinch runner.
An infield spot has to go to Jeff Bianchi, as a team would be foolish to have a bench without a proven shortstop. While Bianchi won’t be spectacular on defense or at the plate, he’s a steady all-around player who knows his role. Aside from backing up Jean Segura, Bianchi can give Aramis Ramirez a rest at third, and fill in at second to give Scooter Gennett days off against lefties.
First base may be the most interesting debate. Assuming Mark Reynolds wins the everyday job, it’s between Juan Francisco and Lyle Overbay to keep on the big league bench. In theory, the Crew could have Schafer be the only reserve outfielder, thus allowing Milwaukee to keep three infielders on the bench. It would be difficult to keep both first basemen, however, as Overbay only plays first and Francisco tries to play the corners, though not well. Chances are Francisco gets the gig unless an injury pops up in the spring.
With Overbay released or accepting a minor league deal, there would be one more positional reserve spot available. Typically, teams carry a fifth outfielder over a third infielder. That would leave Weeks as the odd man out. He’s due to make $11 million, is the worst defensive second baseman in baseball, hasn’t hit well for two years and he can’t play any other position. Even if the Brewers wanted to go with three backup infielders, Weeks has no business on the club anymore.
Gennett should be starting, meaning Weeks needs to be released or traded. There are a couple of teams who could have interest in taking a chance on Weeks, especially as they get closer to opening day. The Brewers will most likely have two choices when it comes to their return for Weeks. Option one is to eat around $9 million and get a decent prospect back. Otherwise, to get more money off the books, the acquiring club may be willing to pay about half the salary, but then the Brewers would get a low-level prospect to be an organizational filler.
That leaves the Crew with a fifth outfielder to select. I see it coming down to Caleb Gindl or Jeremy Hermida. Both are left-handed hitters, but Hermida brings more experience and a track record. Gindl might be serviceable, but Hermida has shown greater ability in the past and would be better suited for part-time duty, as well as a defensive replacement. Assuming he’s healthy, Hermida most likely wins the job and would be a nice pinch-hitting option, a la Mark Kotsay.
The Brewers’ bench would then consist of three left-handed bats in Schafer, Hermida and Francisco, and a pair of right-handed hitters with Maldonado and Bianchi. These five would cover all the positions and provide solid production once a week as a starter, and more often in situational spots.
There’s a chance a veteran is let go and Milwaukee picks him up; however, chances are they will fill the bench with their current cast of characters. Besides making sure Weeks isn’t wasting a spot on the roster, Milwaukee has options and some time to figure it all out.