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Mailbag: Dealing with pitching depth

Mailbag: Fans delve into pitching depth

Given the abundance of starting pitchers the Brewers have right now, if they don't trade one or two of them away, who do you see in the rotation and what happens to the others?
-- Kevin K., Phoenix

I had to make this guess for a season preview package that ran New Year's Day, and I went with Ben Sheets, Jeff Suppan, Yovani Gallardo, Carlos Villanueva and then "TBA" from a list of Dave Bush, Chris Capuano, Manny Parra and Claudio Vargas. Villanueva was a bit of a guess, given his success early in 2007 in a bullpen role, but general manager Doug Melvin made a pretty strong statement before the holidays that he intends to return Villanueva to a starting role for 2008.

Something has to give, because I don't see enough available bullpen spots for all of those guys vying to be the fifth starter. Assuming Eric Gagne, Derrick Turnbow, David Riske, Salomon Torres and Brian Shouse are locks for the bullpen (pretty safe bets, I would say), it would leave a ton of names vying for one or two more roster spots: Three of the Bush, Capuano, Parra and Vargas quartet, plus Randy Choate, Seth McClung (who will get a very strong look), Guillermo Mota and Minor Leaguers like Tim Dillard, Zach Jackson and Luis Pena. The Brewers have some flexibility with their young players, but would risk losing arms like McClung's should they try to send him to Triple-A.

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This is a good problem to have. But it's a problem nonetheless, and I would bet the house that Melvin & Co. will trade a pitcher or two or three before the start of Spring Training.

With all the quality starting pitching available on the roster, has there been any consideration given to using a six-man rotation?
-- Peter S., Potterville, Mich.

Not that I have heard. Manager Ned Yost at times will go to a sixth starter in July and August to give guys a bit of an extra rest, but you risk taking guys out of their rhythm when you do so. There is a pretty strong consensus around the game that a five-man rotation is the way to go, and most pitchers will tell you they prefer it, too.

I know it's a silly question in hindsight, but I saw a lot of reports saying that Matt Wise was gone before his actual designation for assignment, because Gagne had his number at the press conference. However, no one made the same inferences when Jason Kendall was given Gabe Gross' number at his press conference. Did Gross switch numbers?
-- Michael H., Waukesha, Wis.

Yes, Kendall got No. 18 and Gross switched to No. 14. That Gagne was given a No. 38 jersey before anything had been done with Wise was bad form, but Gross is definitely part of the plan for 2008. Melvin seems totally uninspired by what is available in terms of corner outfielders, and has talked up a Gross or Tony Gwynn Jr. platoon with Joe Dillon in left field. I am guessing that there is one significant move left to be made that will cause left field to come into focus.

With Gabe Kapler signed, are the Brewers done with the outfield and going to make players compete from within for the job, or is Kapler meant to add depth? Of all the outfielders, and more specifically, left fielders, openly available for trade and sign, why go for a previously retired player?
-- Kyle S., Middleton, Wis.

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Kapler is a complementary player, and I think everyone would be shocked if he emerges as an everyday starter. Melvin loves this guy from their days in Texas, so much so that Melvin stayed out of the evaluation process after Kapler worked out for Brewers scouts, not wanting personal feelings to interfere with baseball decisions. When the scouts gave a positive recommendation, Melvin moved immediately toward a deal. It's a low-risk proposition for the Brewers because Kapler inked a non-guaranteed contract. You can certainly argue whether "toughness" means anything to baseball teams, but a lot of people believe that guys like Kapler and Craig Counsell bring some important intangibles.

Have you heard anything about the Brewers making any offers toward Kenny Lofton? He hit just under .300, had an on-base percentage of about .370, stole 20 some bases and didn't strikeout a ton, either. Sounds like a perfect fit at the leadoff spot or down in the bottom of the order since he can play left field, too. Any chances the Brewers take a chance on the 40-year-old?
-- Andy S., Milwaukee

Yes, I think there is a chance. Melvin is wary of signing a player who turns 41 in May, but it's hard to look past his production. He's the left-handed bat the Brewers are after, and while he won't wow you defensively anymore, he certainly is versatile. Melvin says Lofton is "on the list" of players to consider. Take this for what it's worth: Lofton has played for 11 teams in 17 seasons.

If Melvin decides to go the trade route, do you think our chances are good of acquiring Texas Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock? There's your left-handed power bat, a decent on-base percentage and he's pretty good defensively. Who do you give up in return? Perhaps Capuano and Bush? I think we'll have enough depth on our pitching staff to compensate. Your thoughts?
-- Donny Z., Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

You might be underestimating what it would take to get Blalock, and that's the problem. The Brewers would probably have to agree to give up one of their young core players (Corey Hart gets asked about a lot) to get a Blalock or a Joe Crede, for example, and Melvin is not willing to go there so far. Blalock is coming off a major injury (he had a rib removed in May), and his numbers since a tremendous 2004 season are more pedestrian, especially over the last two years.

What is the status of Shouse? Has he signed a new contract as of yet? We are big fans of Brian in central Illinois. He is great on the field and even better off. Thanks!
-- Justin B., Washington, Ill.

Shouse is arbitration-eligible, but expected to be a big part of the 2008 bullpen. He's had two outstanding seasons since a 2006 trade from Texas (one of Melvin's most underrated moves, if you ask me, was getting Shouse for Enrique Cruz), and you're right about the person he is off the field. He'll be 40 before the end of the season, but his arm looks like it has some life left.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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