MILWAUKEE -- Was free-agent infielder Craig Counsell the final piece of the Brewers' offseason puzzle? Perhaps. The Brewers may still add a starting pitcher before the start of the season if prices fall, but it's just as likely that a non-roster invitee like outfielder Trot Nixon will fill the lone remaining 40-man roster spot, and that the 25-man group that assembles on the first-base line on April 7 at San Francisco will consist of players already in the fold today. "We're pretty far down the road of building our ballclub," general manager Doug Melvin said. "But it's still going to be competitive, and you can never predict whether you'll have injuries or whether you'll make waiver claims.
"There's probably players we don't know of yet that [will be acquired] by waiver claims or trades before the season starts. But as far as going to Spring Training, yeah, I don't think there's going to be that much more activity." If that is the case, the Brewers could construct an Opening Day roster today that looks like this: • Starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra and Seth McClung. • Closer Trevor Hoffman plus relievers Carlos Villanueva and David Riske, one left-hander from Mitch Stetter or R.J. Swindle, plus three more right-handers from a group of candidates that includes front-runners Jorge Julio, who has closing experience, Todd Coffey, who was excellent for the Brewers last September, Mark DiFelice, who could fill the role of long man, or Eddie Morlan, a Rule 5 pick who must make the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Rays. Also in the running are 40-man roster members Tim Dillard, Luis Pena and Omar Aguilar and perhaps Joe Bateman, a non-roster invitee coming off an excellent 2008 season in the Minors. • Catchers Jason Kendall and Mike Rivera. • First baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Rickie Weeks, shortstop J.J. Hardy and co-third basemen Bill Hall and Mike Lamb. Counsell would be the primary backup at shortstop and second base, and Lamb could serve as Fielder's backup at first. • Left fielder Ryan Braun, center fielder Mike Cameron, right fielder Corey Hart and two backup outfielders, possibly Tony Gwynn Jr. and Nixon. Melvin is not ready to run down his probable roster just yet, and points out that there are other players he's eager to see. Among them is Casey McGehee, a right-handed hitter who drove in 92 runs for the Cubs' Triple-A affiliate last season and can play third base, first base and catcher. If the Brewers keep McGehee, manager Ken Macha could use Rivera in place of first baseman Fielder against a tough left-handed pitcher and still have a backup catcher in reserve, but McGehee would probably have to make the team over Hall or Lamb. Barring a McGehee breakthrough, and of course the possibility of an injury, the Brewers' infield appears settled with the arrival of Counsell, who filled the last remaining hole: backup shortstop. Because their big league starters are established, the Brewers plan to give a lot of Spring Training playing time to prospects, including third baseman Mat Gamel and shortstop Alcides Escobar, but both are expected to begin the year at Triple-A Nashville. The backup outfield jobs, though, will be competitive. Gwynn and Nixon will be pushed by Chris Duffy and perhaps Brad Nelson, though Nelson focused on first base during the second half of 2008. Gwynn and Duffy are primarily center fielders while Nixon and Nelson could play the corners and first base -- the Brewers will probably select one from each group. Nixon has not appeared at first base in any of his 1,092 Major League games, but he will see time there this spring, Melvin said. The wild card in the outfield mix is Hernan Iribarren, who played all three outfield positions plus second base for Nashville last season. No matter how it shakes out, the Brewers' bench is shaping up to be very left-handed. That might not bother Melvin and Macha because Fielder is the only left-handed hitter in the regular lineup. The last few bullpen spots are the most difficult to project today. Coffey and Julio could compete for one spot, just like lefties Stetter and Swindle. Melvin said the Brewers are keeping an open mind about Morlan, who must win a spot on the team and will not simply be carried as a longer-term project a la Matt Ford in 2003. "Everybody who puts on a uniform in Spring Training can make a team," Melvin said. "I've been in this game long enough to know that. ... Kevin Elster was a non-roster guy we brought in [to Texas, in 1996, when Melvin was the Rangers' GM] and he ended up hitting 24 homers and knocking in 99 runs. It's still way too early to predict our roster." It's still fun to try. Brewers pitchers and catchers are scheduled to participate in their first official workout on Feb. 15.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.