This is the seventh of a series of stories that will take you Around the Horn with the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers and has already covered the rotation, the bullpen and catcher, first base, second base and third base. Up next: Shortstop.
PHOENIX -- A dozen or so teams sent scouts to watch Alex Gonzalez work out in Miami in mid-December -- proof, Gonzalez hoped, that a team would take a shot on a soon-to-be 36-year-old coming off ACL surgery.
Early on, things looked promising. A Red Sox scout lingered after that workout and Gonzalez thought they would sign him to play shortstop; but Boston took a more youthful risk on Stephen Drew. Later, Gonzalez was far enough along with the Cardinals that he spoke directly with manager Mike Matheny about going to St. Louis to play some second base, but the financials did not work out. Gonzalez met with Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and manager Don Mattingly to talk about playing third base, but turned down an offer because L.A. was already flush with infielders.
As the winter wore on, Gonzalez held out hope that some team, somewhere, would give him a chance to start. Hopefully at shortstop.
It didn't happen. So, to the Brewers' delight, he signed back with Milwaukee and committed to a new phase in a long career. The club views Gonzalez as insurance for its young shortstop, soon-to-be 23-year-old Jean Segura.
A year removed from being Milwaukee's Opening Day shortstop, he is Alex Gonzalez, utility man.
"It was just tough for him. He's an everyday player his whole career, and here, he might not be," said Brewers third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who kept in touch with Gonzalez through the offseason.
But you never know, Ramirez cautioned.
"When you have young players like 'Siggy,' you never know what you're going to get," Ramirez said. "[Gonzalez] is good insurance."
It turns out he's not just insurance for Segura. Gonzalez has ordered a first baseman's glove and will work at that position this spring, a potential early-season option in light of knee injuries suffered by Corey Hart and Mat Gamel.
So, the bottom line is that Gonzalez will play for the Brewers, somewhere. It just might be somewhere other than shortstop, where he's appeared exclusively for 13,207 2/3 innings.
"I waited to be a starting shortstop because, you know, 14 years in the big leagues," Gonzalez said. "I waited. Then I made the decision to come back here because these guys treated me good last year. The coaching staff was great. I'm glad to be back. I know my role is going to be moving around."
Last year, he was the Brewers' Opening Day shortstop after an impressive spring and remained productive in April, batting .259 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in his first 24 games. Gonzalez was terrific on defense and in the clubhouse.
But his debut season with the Brewers ended May 5 in San Francisco, when Gonzalez slid into second base and tore the ACL in his right knee. He spent most of the summer rehabbing in Miami while the Brewers plowed ahead with a mixture of players, finally finding their future at the position in late July when general manager Doug Melvin, determined to land a young shortstop in a trade for Zack Greinke, pried Segura away from the Angels.
"You know what? The trade was the best surprise I've ever had," Segura said. "Looking now, I'm here now, and I'm happy. It was my dream when I was a little kid to play in the Major Leagues."
He is still a little kid compared to some teammates.
Segura will turn 23 on St. Patrick's Day, and is on a path to be the club's sixth-youngest Opening Day shortstop. He will trail Robin Yount (18 when he started at short for the Brewers on Opening Day 1974), Gary Sheffield (20 in '89), Paul Molitor (21 in '78), Rick Auerbach (22 in '72, when the Brewers were still a fledgling franchise) and J.J. Hardy (22 in '05). Alcides Escobar was 23 when he started on Opening Day for Milwaukee in '10, and Dale Sveum was 23 in '87, but both were slightly older than Segura will be when the Brewers host the Rockies on April 1.
(Trivia: Gonzalez was the Brewers' oldest Opening Day shortstop when he took the field last season at 35 years and 51 days old.)
The list of young Brewers shortstops is one Segura most definitely wants to join. Yount and Molitor turned into Hall of Famers, Sheffield and Hardy were All-Stars, Sveum played 12 seasons and today manages the Cubs, and Escobar is a rising star in Kansas City. The least known of the group is Auerbach, but even he enjoyed parts of 11 years in the Majors.
"I feel pretty good that I can play," Segura said. "I'm not trying to do anything different, but I feel more comfortable in here. I'm going to enjoy being here. I'm not nervous because I know they're going to give it to me."
Count Ramirez among those who believe Segura has a bright future. The 34-year-old and 22-year-old played alongside each other during the final month and a half of 2012, and Ramirez watched up close as Segura made a run to the Dominican Winter League's batting title. Ramirez is good friends with Escondido GM Moises Alou and attended a number of games against Segura's Cibao club, sitting in a box near the field.
His view of Segura?
"He can play," Ramirez said.
He played a lot in 2012. Segura appeared in 11 Cactus League games with the Angels, 102 games in the Minors between the Angels and Brewers, one game in the big leagues with the Angels and 44 more with the Brewers after the trade. Then he played 35 more games in the Dominican Republic, batting .324 with two home runs and 21 RBIs in 148 at-bats.
Segura admits he was weary by the end of winter ball. His feet hurt.
"But I'm young, you know?" he said.
Which brings us back to Gonzalez, who says his surgically repaired knee feels great, that he will do his best to embrace the utility man mindset and that he sees himself playing a few more seasons at least. He started off as a second baseman, after all, when he was 5 or 6 years old on the sandlots of Venezuela.
"I still want to be in the field every day," Gonzalez said. "But I told them, I know the situation, I know they want Segura to have a chance. I know I can make adjustments."