Note: This post was being written when it was announced that the Brewers were signing Kyle Lohse. The transaction is in stark contrast to much of the intro, but I'll be goddamned if I'm going to re-write it. Just pretend this was written Friday or something. Cool?
Every mid-February when pitchers and catchers report, life gets a little bit sweeter. Even though most of us are still marooned in the awful and unforgiving Wisconsin winter hundreds upon hundreds of miles away from said pitchers and catchers, the start of spring training offers methadone to help us through until we can score some regular season baseball.
Then position players show up to join the batteries in stretching along the chalk lines and jogging 90-foot increments. Immediately, Mat Gamel gets injured. Soon after, exhibition games start, allowing fans to comb over box scores that detail Rickie Weeks went 0-1 with a walk and some guy you never heard of had two hits in a split-squad contest against the Chinese Taipei WBC team. Maybe Bob Uecker says something funny on the radio while calling a game you don't really care about. A game or two gets televised.
After a barren winter of inactivity, articles and blog posts begin to pile up, each detailing that everyone is apparently in the best shape of his life, those who had a down season the previous year are looking to improve this time around and those who were successful last summer hope to repeat their performance. Some five weeks later, we sit idling at arguably the most frustrating point of the marathon baseball season.
Unless Doug Melvin gets partially digested by a python in the Arizona desert or Mark Attanasio makes a $33M last-minute impulse buy, every marginally-exciting storyline has been exhausted, the Opening Day starting lineup has been set in stone and there's nothing more that can be taken from a game occurring in or around Maryvale. Yet there's still a week standing between now and a baseball game at Miller Park. One of the last remaining uncertainties or points of speculation is who will occupy the lucrative last spot on the Brewers bench. There's a bevy of worthwhile options, but numerous factors both supporting and working against each of their respective cases.
Blake LalliCareer stats (MLB): 2 for 15 (.133), 2 RBI, BB in six games with Chicago Cubs in 2012.
Case for: The longtime minor league backstop finally got his big break during the Cubs fire sale of last season before being traded to Oakland and being busted down to the minors again. Thanks to Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado's involvement in the World Baseball Classic, Lalli inherited increased playing time this spring. He's made the most of him bump, hitting .310 in 24 games with a HR and 7 RBI.
While buried deep in the catcher depth chart, he's also donned a first baseman's mitt four times this spring, which could serve well him if Alex Gonzalez falters at first or needs a breather. Otherwise, he could spell Lucroy if Maldonado is bumped to first base occasionally. Additionally, he's one of the few left-handed hitting options in Milwaukee's lineup.
Case against: Unlike, Khris Davis and Taylor Green, Lalli isn't on Milwaukee's 40-man roster. Is a coveted roster spot better used on a player without an ass-ton of facial moles and whose value will remain even after Corey Hart comes back?
Career stats (MLB): Nope.
Case for: Davis has by-far been the Brewers best player this spring. In 23 games, Davis has hit a loud .294 with a team-leading 6 HR, 14 RBI and 10 run. His 15 hits are second on the team to Jean Segura's 17. He's already on the 40-man roster.
Case against: Davis' recent success comes in a format that allows players with Khris Davis' experience to have enough at-bats (many of which are against equally-green pitchers). That's not discounting his performance in the brief window, but an impressive spring doesn't automatically indicate regular season at-bats, especially once at-bats are 10 days apart. Additionally, Davis plays in one of the most stocked outfields in the majors, with three more-than-capable starters and one highly-touted reserve in Logan Schafer, each of whom is drastically better defensively. The last thing Milwaukee needs off the bench is an inexperienced right-handed pinch hitter that Ron Roenicke would hesitate to use in a double-switch.
Career stats (MLB): 3 HR, 15 RBI, .210 AVG, 30K in 78 games (140 AB)
Case for: Can play first, second and third base acceptably well. Probably still has a bunch of stuff in Milwaukee. His bio says he hits left-handed (a rarity on Milwaukee's bench), though I think he should try righty once to see if that works better for him.
Case against: Green hasn't hit worth dick in his ample big league opportunities. Offering a left-handed bat off the bench is an empty gesture if that bat can't hit anything. This spring, Green's MLB ineffectiveness has spilled over into the exhibition format, finding him hitting an atrocious .139 and striking out in a third of his at-bats. Plus, he looks like "Bully's Friend #3" in every '80s movie. You know, the one who says "Yeah, get out of here, NERD!" before giving William Zabka a high-five and walking out of frame.
See "Davis, Khris" and omit any impressive spring training stats.
At the end of the day, assuming Milwaukee sticks with a standard seven-man bullpen opposed to starting the season with eight, I think the best bet to help the Brewers ride out the first month until Hart returns is to go with Lalli. His defensive versatility at a position of need (however marginal that versatility is), his left-handed bat, having already surpassed the nerves of his first MLB at-bat, along with his above average offensive numbers this spring make him the best option to absorb splinters until early May.