What's the plan with Mat Gamel this year?
-- Colin U., Edgar, Wis.
Good question, and one we'll have to file under "to be determined" for now.
Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash told me that club officials will discuss a plan for Gamel later this month, after a doctor evaluates the player's surgically-repaired left foot. Remember that Gamel underwent the procedure in early October to relieve pain in his left big toe that had bothered him all summer. The Brewers expect Gamel to be ready for the start of Spring Training, but the doctor will have the final say.
Once the team gets that go-ahead, it can decide how to handle Gamel, an excellent hitter who came up as a third baseman, but last season was asked to try his hand at the corner outfield positions and first base. The request was designed to increase Gamel's versatility in the event the Brewers needed his left-handed bat, and to protect against the then-uncertain futures of right fielder Corey Hart and first baseman Prince Fielder.
A year later, it's Gamel facing the uncertain short-term future. Hart has since signed a contract extension and it appears Fielder will be back in a Brewers uniform for 2011, his final season before free agency. At the same time, Casey McGehee is entrenched at third base after leading the Brewers in RBIs last year.
There are several options for Gamel. He could continue bouncing around the field in Spring Training and try to win a big league bench job with the Brewers, who are very right-handed in the starting lineup. Gamel made it clear he did not particularly enjoy the outfield, but that may be his best opportunity to make the big club and he would happily take it. Or, the Brewers could use Gamel's final Minor League option and send him back to Triple-A Nashville, where he's already played parts of three seasons, to wait for an opportunity at third base or somewhere else.
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Cody Scarpetta was put on the 40-man roster due to the weird stipulations, but can we expect to see anything out of him in the near future? I know he has had some injury problems, but I hear the kid has some real potential.
-- Sean, Roscoe, Ill.
When Brewers officials rattle off their most promising pitching prospects, Scarpetta is always one of the first names mentioned. He has a power arm and Sean used the perfect word: potential. The complicated part is that weird contract.
Here's the short version of his story: Scarpetta was drafted and signed by the Brewers in 2007, only to have his contract voided because of a torn tendon at the base of his right middle finger. The Brewers signed Scarpetta to a new deal, and per baseball's rules, had to immediately place him on the 40-man roster.
Essentially, it placed Scarpetta on the fast track. Instead of evaluating him over five years before Scarpetta's "option clock" started ticking, the Brewers had to start burning his options. They used one in 2009, one in '10 and are expected to use another in '11. Typically, a player has three options over the course of his career, and once they are out, the team must expose the player to waivers before sending him to the Minor Leagues.
But once again, a rules technicality may come into play. A small number of players qualify for a fourth option if they have been optioned in three seasons but do not yet have five full seasons (of at least 90 days on an active professional roster) of pro experience. In 2009, then-Brewers infielder Hernan Iribarren thought he was out of options, only to learn just before the start of Spring Training that he was unlucky enough to qualify for a fourth. Just this winter, the Pirates were granted a fourth option for first baseman Steve Pearce.
The Brewers anticipate Scarpetta joining that group, but Major League Baseball does not award those fourth options until the original three are exhausted. It would give the Brewers another year to evaluate Scarpetta, who turns 23 in August and is probably in line for a promotion to Double-A Huntsville this season. It looks like he won't be in the big league discussion until 2012.
Where do you think Mark Rogers fits in 2011? He looked solid last fall; do you think he's automatically in Triple-A to refine his skills as a starter, in the Crew's 'pen or even given a shot at the No. 5 starter in Spring Training?
-- Andre H., Milwaukee
It would make a lot of sense for the Brewers to send Rogers to Nashville to start the season. He was impressive last September in the big leagues, but he entered that stint with exactly one professional start above Double-A. With the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, there's no reason to rush Rogers. If he stays healthy and productive, I imagine he would be one of the first callups in the event of an injury.
Do you think the Brewers might bring back Scott Podsednik to help in the outfield? I would be very happy with Carlos Gomez as a fourth outfielder, but I don't think he has what it takes to be an everyday center fielder.
-- John H., Morris, Ill.
The Brewers are going to give Gomez another shot. He's 25, he's a plus defender on a team with two new high-profile pitchers, he's relatively affordable at $1.5 million and he's playing for a new manager (Ron Roenicke) who wants to run. It looks like it's Gomez's job to lose.
Has the player to be named later been announced in the Carlos Villanueva trade?
-- Michael D., Pasadena, Calif.
Nope, and don't expect it to be a blue-chip prospect. The Brewers apparently didn't see a place for Villanueva in the 2011 bullpen, so they moved him and his salary (Villanueva is arbitration-eligible) to a team that could use him. The teams have until April 1 to name the player coming Milwaukee's way.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.