As the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers walked off the field at Miller Park following their NLCS series loss, Doug Melvin was faced with the likely scenario that arguably his best player, Prince Fielder, had played his last game in Milwaukee.
Prince Fielder was entering free agency after serving as the club’s first baseman for the past six seasons. Fielder solidified the Brewers lineup, posting more than 25 home runs, 80 RBIs, and 600-plus plate appearances in each of those six seasons.
As Brad Pitt says in Moneyball when the Oakland Athletics were faced with replacing Jason Giambi:
“Guys you’re still trying to replace Giambi, I told you we couldn’t do it, we couldn’t do it but we might be able to do is re-create him in the aggregate”.
Since Fielder departed for the Detroit Tigers via a nine-year free agent contract worth $214 million dollars, the Brewers have not only been trying to replace the player but also the production in the aggregate with limited success and constant turnover.
Lots of turnover at first base
Corey Hart, Mat Gamel, Juan Francisco, Alex Gonzalez, Mark Reynold/Lyle Overbay, Adam Lind, Chris Carter, Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar just to name a few.
In total, the Brewers have deployed 45 different players at first base since the 2012 season.
The revolving door at the position was no more obvious than it was in the 2020, COVID-shortened season. In 60 games, the Brewers featured eight different players at first base and now enter the 2021 offseason with the position again at the top of the needs list.
The reality that faces the Brewers this offseason is first base has not only become a need for 2021 but an organizational failure in finding a consistent replacement since Fielder’s departure.
While, in short stretches the team has gotten production, even an All-Star appearance from Jesus Aguilar in 2018, their has been no stability or a prospect developed at the position since Mat Gamel.
This year, free agency provides limited options overall for filling this massive hole on the roster but again could serve as the way in which the organization secures its player and hopes on a resurgence from, let’s say Carlos Santana.
However, the approach I would take is more targeted to the philosophy David Stearns has preached since joining the Brewers in 2015, securing young, controllable talent.
This might mean a trade of Josh Hader, as suggested by Leo Koenig is his article for Reviewing the Brew, to net White Sox prospect Andrew Vaughn. Decisions like this are not easy, but necessary for the Brewers to maintain their spot as a competitor in the NL Central.
With Christian Yelich secured, a young duo at the top of your rotation (Woodruff/Burnes), and ultimately long-term payroll flexibility, the Brewers are positioned to compete now. But this offseason will be important to ensuring that window stays open.
Filling the long-term hole at first base can go a long way to propping the window wide open!