Who's on first? Brewers nearing decision

Competition between Overbay, Reynolds and Francisco could end before weekend

Who's on first? Brewers nearing decision

PHOENIX -- Two weeks remain before Opening Day at Miller Park, but the Brewers' first base race is already entering the home stretch.

It's a three-man competition for two roster spots between Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay, who are non-roster invitees, and Juan Francisco, who is out of Minor League options. If Overbay is not added to the 40-man roster by Saturday, he can request his release, and the Brewers will have 48 hours to add him or let him go. For Reynolds, the same process begins on March 24.

The clock is ticking for the Brewers to make decisions.

"We can't keep all three of them," said manager Ron Roenicke, who added with a smile, "unless one of them can play shortstop."

That's a no-go. But the Brewers could keep two of the three, and club officials have spent the spring debating each player's strengths and weaknesses.

In Reynolds and Overbay, they have proven Major Leaguers -- Reynolds a strikeout-prone but productive right-handed power hitter who can also help out at third base, and Overbay, a steady left-handed bat and plus-defender at first. In Francisco, they have a raw power hitter who is already on the 40-man roster, is just 26 years old, and has been working since the start of the winter on simplifying his left-handed swing to produce more consistent results.

"I think they have an idea by now of what they want to do," Overbay said. "But they're going to wait, and I know that. I understand it."

Yes, Brewers officials do have an idea by now.

"We've certainly talked about it," Roenicke said. "We don't know exactly how it's going to shake out, but we know what we're thinking and what's going to happen, and then it's down to the players.

"If we're carrying two of the three, the way we've felt like is it's almost like [Scooter Gennett and Rickie Weeks at] second base; whomever is playing better is going to play more. I think that's a good way to do it."

The finances are a wash. Francisco signed for $1.35 million in January, avoiding arbitration, but arbitration contracts are non-guaranteed, and the Brewers would be on the hook for only a quarter of that sum if they release Francisco by March 26 -- the same date Reynolds' 48-hour window to get on the roster would expire.

The team has no guarantees with Reynolds and Overbay. Reynolds would earn a $2 million base salary in the Majors, with another $500,000 available in incentives. Overbay would make $1.5 million, plus $750,000 in incentives based on plate appearances.

This is the first time since Reynolds, 30, was a young prospect that he has experienced Spring Training without a guaranteed job.

"I don't know what the coaches are thinking exactly, but I'm preparing myself just like I'm getting ready for any season," Reynolds said. "Whether it is here or somewhere else, we'll see.

"This is the first time since I've been established that I'm fighting for a job. It puts things into perspective a little bit. You don't take anything for granted."

The Spring Training statistics are mostly a wash, as well. Reynolds entered Monday batting .172 (5-for-29) with five RBIs, but only one extra-base hit, a double. Overbay was batting .182 (4-for-22) with no RBIs or extra-base hits, but seems to lead the team in line-drive outs. Francisco was hitting .333 (8-for-24) with two homers and four RBIs, but both home runs and three of the RBIs came in the Brewers' first Spring Training game.

Roenicke and other club officials downplay the importance of Cactus League statistics, especially for veteran players like Reynolds and Overbay. Since the 37-year-old Overbay is the elder member of the group, he had to prove he could still physically do the job. That's no longer a concern, Roenicke said.

"I'm not worried about that part of it," Roenicke said.

In Reynolds, Roenicke said, "We know what he is. If he can improve certain things that he's doing, great, but we know this guy is a power hitter, he can drive in runs, he is going to strike out, but he's also going to walk some, too, and he's going to play a decent first base."

Reynolds can also play third base, a big factor considering the starter there, Aramis Ramirez, is 35 and coming off a season in which he struggled with a recurring left knee injury.

Francisco was also a third baseman before a trade from Atlanta to Milwaukee last June introduced him to first. The Brewers were starved for production at that position after Corey Hart, Mat Gamel and Taylor Green all went down with injuries.

"He is definitely better than when I first saw him [this spring] than any time last year," Roenicke said. "The swing is better, the way he looks at a ball is better, the defense is better. Everything is better. If it wasn't better, then when you talk about the other two guys, I think it would be tough for [Francisco to have a chance]. But things are better, and that's why we have decisions that are tough to make."

The clock is ticking.

"I expect them to wait until the 47th hour and 59th minute," Overbay said. "I would do the same. At some point, you have to look out for the best interest of the team, and at my point in my career, I know they're going to make the decisions that they see as best for the team.

That's why I liked this situation, because it was cut and dry. Either you're going to make the team and you're going to get a good chance to play some, or you don't make the team."

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.