Entering the off-season, Geoff Jenkins and Kevin Mench were two of the most likely Brewers to be traded. Both are semi-pricey veterans coming off disappointing campaigns, so it made sense to try to shed their salary.
Well, here we are, a couple weeks from spring training, and Jenkins and Mench are still here. Doug Melvin shopped around, but was unable to find a good trade. Credit the Brewers’ GM for not giving an outfielder away, but his restraint has left the Brewers outfield overpopulated.
Here are the major league outfielders currently under Brewers property: Geoff Jenkins, Brady Clark, Gabe Gross, Corey Hart, Kevin Mench, Drew Anderson, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Laynce Nix. Whether we like it or not, it also appears that Bill Hall will make the transition to the outfield. That list of nine will need to be trimmed to five by opening day. So how do the Brewers narrow down this list? First of all, three players are somewhat easy to shed. Anderson is mostly a career minor leaguer and is a total long shot to make the team. He would likely be the first player cut from that group. Not far behind him is Laynce Nix. Nix, once a promising prospect in the Rangers’ farm system, has fizzled out some after some injuries. He deserves a chance at semi-regular playing time, but given Milwaukee’s situation, that chance will probably come with another club.
Gwynn is a favorite among some fans, but the truth is if his father wasn’t one of the greatest hitters of all time, this guy wouldn’t receive half of the attention he has. He has shown absolutely no power, and he still hasn’t gotten on base at a high enough clip. Aside from speed and defense in center field, he’s currently a liability at the major league level. It should be an easy decision to send Gwynn back down to Nashville and let him work on his offense. Another option with Gwynn would be to try to use his name recognition to bring back something in a trade.
Out of the remaining group (Hall, Hart, Jenkins, Mench, Clark, Gross), it gets harder to see who should go. Barring injury, the Brewers can’t keep them all on their roster. Hall and Hart are the only two that I would consider safe, as they are likely to get most of the starts in center and right respectively. Hall’s offensive numbers are good enough to be an elite center fielder, and Hart has nothing left to prove as a role player.
If he is kept, Jenkins should get the first shot at the last starting spot. Jenkins is entering a contract year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bounce back in a big way for one last big payday. I’d hate to watch him do that somewhere else after giving him away for nothing. His 2007 salary of $7.5 million isn’t small, but if Jenkins can bounce back to put up an .850 OPS he won’t really be overpaid.
Mench is a little different, as he was truly terrible after arriving in Milwaukee last season. But there’s no way that he’s as bad as he showed over the last couple months, and he historically hits lefties really well. Since Jenkins should never be allowed to face a left-handed pitcher ever again (.211 BA against lefties over the last three years), many have suggested a Jenkins/Mench platoon is ideal. Mench has value in this role, but his $3.4 million salary is probably too steep for the short side of a platoon.
Clark is also coming off a disappointing season, and he remains another candidate for a trade. Like Gabe Gross, Clark’s ability to play all three outfield positions helps him out. Gross seems to be the odd man out. He had a solid year in a limited number of at-bats in 2006, and he deserves an increase in ABs. However, if the Brewers keep Jenkins, and if Hall is truly moved to center, Gross seems to be the one to lose the most playing time.
At this point, it seems like Doug Melvin doing what he does best: not panicking and letting things play out. I still think a trade is inevitable. Injuries are a part of spring training, and eventually teams will need outfielders. It’s easy to imagine Mench or Clark being swapped for a bullpen arm or a mid-level prospect and salary relief. And as we saw last season, there’s no such thing as too much depth.