General manager Doug Melvin confirmed Sunday that the Brewers will "probably" go with a 12-man staff. But manager Ned Yost said he would "fight for 13" if it would allow the Brewers to hold on to quality arms they might otherwise risk losing to waivers.
"The great thing about what we do here is everyone has an opinion, and 12 is in his mind right now," Yost said. "OK, it may be in my mind, too, next week. I don't know. We'll have to wait and see how it works out.
"What makes it so important is, 'Who can we keep, and who do we have to lose to get there?'"
One of those arms, for example, belongs to right-hander Seth McClung, a hard-throwing reliever who pitched four scoreless innings against the Mariners on Sunday and lowered his spring ERA to 2.25. The Brewers acquired McClung from the Rays midway through last season and he finished the year in the big leagues, posting a 3.75 ERA in 14 appearances.
McClung, 27, is out of options and given his live arm, another team would almost certainly claim him should the Brewers place him on waivers.
"He's done a very nice job for us last year, he's done a good job this spring," Yost said. "He's not a guy we just want to arbitrarily let go. Yeah, he's in that category."
Also in that category is Claudio Vargas, the lone competitor for the starting rotation who is out of options. That fact -- never mind that he has pitched extremely well in Spring Training -- gives Vargas a leg up on a roster spot.
Of course, the Brewers could always solve the problem by trading one of their out-of-options pitchers before the start of the regular season.
But if the Brewers do switch course and go with 13 pitchers, it almost certainly would come at the expense of an extra infielder. They will carry five outfielders on Opening Day and Craig Counsell will serve as the primary infield backup. Abraham Nunez, Joe Dillon (four hits in Sunday's 8-4 Brewers win) and possibly Vinny Rottino are candidates for that extra infield spot, but because so many of the Brewers' position players are expected to start 140-plus games, there might be fewer opportunities for backups this season.
Melvin, between innings of the Brewers' game at Peoria Sports Complex, said he preferred the more traditional 12-pitcher, 13-position player roster construction.
Said Yost: "I'm not there yet, to be honest with you. If it gets to be where I believe we need to protect a guy or do it for a roster reason, I'll fight for 13. I haven't even thought about it yet. I'll have to wait and see. It's very smoky and very murky right now, and I don't want to strain to see through it. I'm letting it settle."
McClung said he can appreciate the difficult decisions ahead.
"I love this team," he said, "and they're going to have to make tough decisions. I'm competing out there and I'll do whatever they want me to out there. I'll put my personal wants aside and go at it. I have to have a big league Spring Training. You never know what's going to happen.
"This team is deep. I've never seen an organization have three left-handed submarine pitchers. We have three submarine left-handed pitchers [Brian Shouse, Randy Choate and Mitch Stetter] who are Major League-quality. We're even deep in left-handed submarine pitching. I know tough decisions are going to have to be made."
McClung was called on for extra duty Sunday after starter Ben Sheets, who was supposed to pitch five innings, lasted only through the third. Sheets was tagged with four runs, three of them earned, on seven hits including a wind-blown, two-run home run by Raul Ibanez, but McClung had decidedly better results. He walked the first hitter he faced, but scattered four hits and a pair of walks during his four-inning stint and exited to handshakes and high-fives.
For the second straight outing, McClung threw upwards of 60 pitches. The Brewers are trying to increase their options.
"Depending on the makeup of our 'pen we might not have a long man, and he had a lot of success last year at Triple-A starting," Yost said. "It is to increase his options. He could be a two-inning guy, a three-inning guy, or, as he showed today, a four-inning guy. ... He did a very nice job."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.