MILWAUKEE -- You guys must be sharing notes, because it appears everybody has the same idea about solving the Brewers' biggest current conundrum:
Has there been any talk of moving Rickie Weeks to first base? Good power, good athlete, not as hard on his body.
-- Chuck R., Milwaukee
How about shifting Weeks to first base? It would benefit Weeks, because he would get to play every day, Scooter Gennett, because we need to see what he can do the whole year at second, and the Brewers, because they would fill the first-base problem and justify Weeks $11 million salary this year. Thoughts?
-- Greg L., Waupaca, Wis.
How tall is Weeks and why has he never been considered for first base?
-- Kim, via email
Weeks is 5-foot-10, and he is a second baseman. I appreciate the initiative and the logic and the problem-solving suggested above, and in countless other emails and tweets and phone calls to Milwaukee-area radio stations, but I do not see the Brewers solving their first-base problem by installing Weeks.
First, there are the defensive issues. Weeks is not an ideal target at 5-10, and before you mention the fact that 5-foot-11 Prince Fielder has made a living at the position, consider the difference in those two players' bats. Give Weeks credit for working hard over the years to improve his defense, but he is not winning any Gold Gloves at second base, and now you want to increase his defensive involvement by putting him at first?
Quick aside: Why does everyone think it is so easy to just stash a guy at first base? This is not beer-league softball, where you put a big, tall stiff like McCalvy there and see if he can catch anything. In Major League Baseball, the position requires instinct, smarts and experience to correctly execute cut-offs and relays, and soft hands to save teammates from errors on bounced throws. If you are average-at-best defensively, you had better hit (see: Fielder).
Which brings us to Weeks' bat, which -- when he is healthy -- can be above average for a second baseman. From 2005-11, before Weeks suffered the devastating ankle injury that has caused trouble the past two seasons, he was seventh in offensive wins above replacement (17.1) among players who manned second base for at least half of his team's games. Among those 40 second basemen who amassed at least 1,000 plate appearances, Weeks was eighth with a .790 OPS, fifth with 352 walks and sixth with 109 home runs. As an offensive player, he was sufficient over that five-year span, injuries and all.
At first base, the Brewers are seeking more, and still believe there are better options available. Weeks is an $11 million player without a position, and the Brewers' best-case scenario is that he reports to Spring Training fully recovered from August hamstring surgery, giving Brewers GM Doug Melvin an opportunity to trade him for any sort of return. It would be a costly transaction, but because Weeks is limited to second base, it is difficult to envision a different scenario.
More first base:
Assuming Braun could play first base, that would be a short-term solution at the expense of the franchise's long-term prospects. Remember that manager Ron Roenicke is touting Braun's move from left field to right not just as a short-term way to get Khris Davis into the lineup as the left fielder, but as a long-term solution to right field. Melvin and Roenicke believe right fielders are at a premium.
Also, for all of his struggles at third base in 2007, Braun has played himself into a darn good outfielder. His arm is strong enough for right field, he has improved his judgment on balls off the wall, and he became extremely proficient at grounders down the line that carom back into play. I was going to mention that he had the sixth-best ultimate zone rating of Major League left fielders in 2012, but then I noticed Alfonso Soriano ranked second, so I think it's best to leave that out.
Bottom line: The Brewers believe Braun will be a very good right fielder for years to come, and that they can find a first baseman in the meantime.
More first base! But I am going to ignore this one and take the second half of the question instead:
I have two small questions. If the Brewers are unable to trade or sign a first baseman, could Weeks be moved there if we are unable to trade him? What are Wei-Chung Wang's chances at making the 25-man roster?
-- Joe B., Prairie du Sac, Wis.
The selection of 21-year-old left-hander in the Rule 5 Draft was the most interesting part of the Brewers' otherwise uneventful trip to the Winter Meetings. Read the story of that selection to see why pro scouting director Zack Minasian was so interested in this guy.
What are his chances? History says very slim, considering the Brewers have not kept a Rule 5 pick through a season since Jeff Bennett in 2004, when the franchise was in a very different place. Remember, per Rule 5 of MLB's Basic Agreement, teams that select a player in this Draft must carry him on the 25-man active roster all season or offer him back to the player's original team (the Pirates, in Wang's case) for half of the $50,000 claiming fee. In Wang's case, because of his young age and high ceiling, Pittsburg definitely would take him back.
On the other hand, opportunity abounds in the Brewers' bullpen at the moment. Because the budget is tight, Melvin & Co. have focused on settling first base before addressing the need for experience in a bullpen currently fronted by second-year closer Jim Henderson and second-year setup man Brandon Kintzler. Tom Gorzelanny is the only player with extensive experience, and if newly acquired Will Smith indeed turns out to be a starter, Gorzelanny would be the only left-hander in the bullpen. And he underwent a minor shoulder surgery this winter, pushing his availability close to the regular season.
All of those factors could work in Wang's favor. Give Brewers officials some credit for having an open mind on this one.