Counsell: Braun's our left fielder

Manager also fields questions concerning 'pen, Villar, catcher

Counsell: Braun's our left fielder

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- If Craig Counsell was simply saying what a manager has to say in these situations, he did so very convincingly when the prospect of a Ryan Braun trade was raised during a wide-ranging question and answer session on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.

"I hope he's the left fielder. I'm planning on him being the left fielder," Counsell said.

Is everybody in the Brewers' Winter Meetings suite in agreement on that?

"Yeah, I mean, he's our left fielder," Counsell said. "I don't see anything changing."

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On one hand, what else was Counsell to say? Braun is the Brewers' left fielder, signed for four more years and $76 million. He is coming off a healthy and productive season in which he reached 30 home runs for the first time since 2012 and ranked in the National League's top 10 with a .903 OPS. Next May, he will achieve 10 years of Major League service, all with the Brewers, who drafted him fifth overall in 2005.

On the other hand, Counsell's comments carried weight since he had spent parts of two days listening to ideas and proposals bounce around the Brewers' suite with general manager David Stearns and other club officials.

The factors that make Braun so valuable to the Brewers also comprise a compelling argument to trade him while his value is at its peak and while Stearns can still send him to one of six teams not on Braun's no-trade list. That list has changed since the end of the season, though Braun declined to go into detail. As of next May, when he reaches 10 years of service, five with his current team, Braun will inherit full no-trade rights.

Since hiring Counsell in May 2015 and signaling the start of a rebuilding phase, the Brewers have traded All-Stars Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Francisco Rodriguez and Aramis Ramirez, plus Adam Lind, Khris Davis, Jeremy Jeffress, Will Smith, Gerardo Parra, Jonathan Broxton and, on Tuesday, Tyler Thornburg -- all for prospects.

When Stearns was asked about Braun buzz on Tuesday evening, he said, "I don't know that we're necessarily closer or farther away than we were before we got here."

Other highlights of the Counsell Q&A:

• After trading Thornburg to the Red Sox in the wake of in-season deals that sent Jeffress and Smith elsewhere, the Brewers look like they have a hole at the back end of their bullpen. Is Counsell concerned?

"If there was a game today, I'd be worried, yeah," Counsell said to laughter.

In other words, there is time. Counsell also noted that the Brewers went into last season in a similar position, after Stearns traded Rodriguez to the Tigers and the team planned to use unproven Jeffress and Smith in the role.

• Counsell thinks the Brewers' infield could be improved with Jonathan Villar spending most of his time at second base in 2017.

"I think it's a good spot for him," Counsell said. "We think defensively it's going to be his best position."

High Heat: Counsell on Villar

• Barring an offseason trade, the Brewers have six starting pitchers returning next season, not to mention Taylor Jungmann attempting a comeback and prospects Josh Hader and Jorge Lopez trying to break through. Counsell does not mind the crowd.

"I would love to have a decision with six healthy starters at the end of spring. That would be a shocking development," Counsell said. "If we had those six guys and they all got through Spring Training -- that's what you want. I think if you look at the depth charts of most teams, they will go in with six. [That] is probably the minimum that they will be thinking about."

• Counsell does not anticipate the Brewers acquiring a catcher to supplement Martin Maldonado, Manny Pina and Andrew Susac, who covered the position last year after Lucroy was traded to Texas.

"I feel good about our catching situation, I do," Counsell said. "I think 'Maldy' is an underrated player, and I think both Manny Pina and Susac are Major League catchers."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.