The Brewers Will Struggle to Replace Mat Gamel

The Milwaukee Brewers will have to find another option to replace Prince Fielder. When the slugging first baseman left the team this off-season, it looked like Mat Gamel was going to get an opportunity to prove himself in the majors. At 26-years-old, this was a make or break year for Gamel — an opportunity to finally show that he was a major league hitter. But Gamel’s breakout will have to wait, as the first baseman suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. Gamel is expected to miss the remainder of the season due to the injury. Although Gamel was far from a sure thing, the Brewers entered the season without any viable backups.

Gamel has bounced between the majors and the minors pretty consistently since 2009. While he had always hit in the minors — compiling a slash line of .304/.376/.498 — he hit just .222/.309/.374 in the majors coming into this season. Because of those struggles, Gamel had started to earn the dreaded Quad-A label. Gamel had opportunities to seize a full-time job in the past, but was never considered the best option. Casey McGehee eventually won the third base job in 2009, and held the job through last season. Although McGehee struggled mightily last year, the Brewers never called up Gamel to replace him.

Because of Gamel’s struggles at the major league level, it’s somewhat curious that the Brewers didn’t pursue a strong backup option at first this season. Travis Ishikawa is expected to receive the bulk of the playing time at first in Gamel’s absence. The 28-year-old Ishikawa has been unspectacular throughout his career, getting just 665 plate appearances spread out over four seasons with the San Francisco Giants before joining the Brewers. Since Ishikawa cannot hit lefties, the team is expected to call up Brooks Conrad to fill that role. That’s not encouraging either, as Conrad is already 32-years-old and has mainly been used as a backup throughout his career.

The team has also discussed moving Corey Hart to first base. After the Gamel injury, Hart was seen fielding ground balls at first before Wednesday night’s game. Moving Hart to first would allow the team to use some combination of Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez and Norichika Aoki in center and right. While all of these players do certain things well, none of them are ideal options in a full-time role. Gomez plays exceptional defense in center, but carries a .244/.292/.361 slash line. Morgan cannot hit left-handed pitching. And while Aoki has shown some promise, he’ll have to prove he’s capable of those numbers everyday. Depending on how Hart handles the defensive transition at first, the Brewers might be in better shape playing Gomez in center and hoping either Morgan starts hitting or Aoki develops into a stopgap in right.

Realizing their current options are less than stellar, the Brewers are considering signing Derrek Lee. While Lee hasn’t played this season, he might be the Brewers’ best option at the position. Lee hit just .267/.325/.446 last season, nearly matching the .263/.338/.439 line put up by the average first baseman last year. It wasn’t a pretty performance, but Lee proved he was still capable of being an average first baseman. That’s more than either Ishikawa or Conrad has shown at this point.

By failing to address the position in the off-season, the Brewers were really counting on Gamel to prove himself at first this year. Now that he’s out for the season, the Brewers will have to scramble to find another viable option. Knowing Gamel’s track record, it’s unclear why the Brewers didn’t pursue better backups. Now, their best option might be calling on Lee, who was facing retirement just a few weeks ago.




Print This Post



Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

24 Responses to “The Brewers Will Struggle to Replace Mat Gamel”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Ender says:

    Wouldn’t surprise me to see Taylor Greene get the bulk of the AB.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • stan says:

      He would have been the favorite before the year but he was awful in spring training and he’s been awful at AAA too. Conrad really is a strong option. He might even be a better 3B than Ramirez defensively so they could move Ramirez to 1st and play Conrad. Conrad’s been a solid major leaguer.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Dan Out West says:

        Green has actually started to come around, posting a .278/.363/.378 line for the year in AAA (around two weeks in, he truly looked awful, I’ll admit). He’ll never have the power of a prototypical 1B but it would be nice to see him get some ABs in MIL.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ben says:

      I was going to say, why can’t Taylor Green be called up and take over at first or third, with the latter option moving the range-inept Aramis Ramirez over to first base. I can see Taylor Green putting up at least a two-win season, maybe three.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Great article, but at this point they are not replacing Prince Fielder. They are replacing Gamel.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. TheOneWhoKnocks says:

    Not signing someone like Derek Lee in the offseason was probably done to show faith in Gamel and boost his confidence. If they had signed a capable backup 1B in the offseason, Gamel would be looking over his shoulder.

    The brewers knew that if anything happened to gamel, it ain’t that hard to find an average 1B these days.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Garry says:

    Could another possibility be moving Ramirez across the diamond and getting a 3B? Could be a stretch though as everyday 3B are not as easy to acquire as 1B and OF.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. I am a Red Sux Fan says:

    I keep bringing up Youkilis’ name as possible trade bait for these teams with holes at first and third and people seem to think he has no trade value. I don’t think that’s true. I think teams such as the Angels, Dodgers, Brewers could use him. Especially the Dodgers who are getting nothing out of first or third base. If I were one of these teams I would think about it. I don’t think the Sox could get a large hall for him but a top line pitching prospect from the Dodgers would be fair. I think if he spends most of his time at first some health can be salvaged out of him. 75 percent of Youk is better than 100 percent of the garbage these teams are rolling out their. He’s not done. Untol last year his injuries had been freak such as a broken thumb. He still has value and mark my words, some team is gonna gamble on him. His swing is still their and he is a plus defender at first and average at third, although he would likely stay healthier at first. It won’t be this month but as the season goes on and what he is owed lessens month by month someone is gonna jump for him. And if he tears it up for say the Dodgers the last three months the team option is their for next year. He is better than Uribe, Loney, whoever the Brewers put at third etc.. He has value.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • tom s. says:

      sure, but what would the brewers use as a trade chip? and how would they pay youkilis’s salary?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Nick says:

    If I were them I would definitely, definitely put Hart at first.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Infield Fly says:

    Adam Lind ? I’m sure the Jays would love to unload him….

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. JimLahey says:

    Should call up the A’s and get one of their 15 1B/DH only type players.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • brendan says:

      as an A’s fan, I’d love to see a deal like that. Unfortunately, none of our 15 1B/DH types is any good. I don’t think MIL will be too interested in any of them.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • BX says:

        The Barton/Kila platoon is still better in OPS+ and wOBA than any non-Rangers team in the division at 1B!

        low AL West standards there.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. j says:

    Either put Hart at first and play Aoki (I admit this is what I’m selfishly hoping for as a non-Brewers fan because I’d like to see what Aoki could do in a full season) or get Derrek Lee. Lee is probably the better idea. I imagine he still has somtehing left in the tank.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Vision says:

    It won’t be long before the Cards put the Brewers to sleep.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. I am glad that Ishikawa is getting the chance to start. He’s actually been pretty good when given the chance. His career numbers are down for two reasons: 1) bad when not starting and 2) bad nerves.

    He’s one of those hitters who would hit well if he just zones out everything. But once he starts thinking, he just hits poorly. He’s said as much in interviews, noting once that once he put his hand in God and not worry about it, he hit much better in AA.

    As a starter, he has a career .275/.330/.426/.757 batting line, which is not bad for a backup 1B and much much better than his batting line not starting, about 200 points difference in OPS. Add to that the Brewers have a park that favors LH power hitters, he could boost that up to the high 700′s OPS, as power is a very key part of his offense.

    And if you take out the early 2009 portion when he got his first and only chance to start in the majors, that batting line changes to roughly .288/.342/.453/.795. Plus the boost from the home park.

    And he clearly suffered from nerves, he hit .191/243/.250/.493 until May 10th, when Bochy publicly said that he’s going to have to take Ishikawa out of the starting lineup. After that (he was never actually taken out of the starting lineup until Sandoval’s injury situation, he hit .305/.352/.483/.835 from May 10th to July 26th, when the Giants traded for Garko (never sure why they did that since Travis was hitting OK; that last month he hit .294/.310/.435/.746). He mostly started during that stretch, except for one patch when Sandoval had an injury that prevented him from fielding 3B but he was able to play at 1B, so Travis sat then.

    Not that nerves might not hit him here too. And he does have problems with lefties.

    But I think he’ll be a nice platoon partner with someone, and while he’s no Prince Fielder, I think he should easily replace a Mat Gamel. On top of that he plays great defense at 1B (he was 5th in majors in 2009 in runs saved, per Fielding Bible III, and as noted, was not even the full-time starter, getting 817 innings there, if he had as many innings as the leaders, Pujols and A-Gon, he would have been in the top 3 overall in the majors), and was a great LH bat off the bench in 2010, so maybe he’s licked that problem with nerves enough to start full-time again.

    Give him a shot, I think the BrewCrew will like the results.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. jmoultz says:

    Would it be crazy to think the Cubs should dangle LaHair in the event Milwaukee would be willing to part with a good prospect?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Bob says:

    I’m not sure what those suggesting trades think Milwaukee has left after two big trades last year. The most advanced pitchers (supposedly) profile as a #3, maybe #2 if things go well. The hitters aren’t as good or as advanced, beyond Green (who should be an option).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Mark says:

    Gamel hit 246/293/348. It can’t be that hard to replace his production so far.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Bob says:

      That actually makes him one of the Brewers better hitters this year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • tom s. says:

      yes, i don’t really understand the commentary as if gamel were some major part of the team. replacing him will be an important task, but you’re talking about a guy who projected to hit a .332 wOBA the rest of the way and be worth 1.2 WAR. if the brewers miss the postseason, it’s not likely to be because of gamel’s injury.

      i think a hart-to-first-aoki-to-right move might leave virtually no change in the brewers projections, since both players are more valuable than gamel, and getting them more playing time will help the brewers’ cause.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Tom says:

    “By failing to address the position in the off-season, the Brewers were really counting on Gamel to prove himself at first this year”

    Given that the Brewers are pretty much at the limit of how much they can spend in salary, and their minor league system is still rebuilding from the prospects traded for Marcum and Greinke just how exactly should they have addressed first base this off season?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. walt526 says:

    Aubrey Huff would look awfully good in a Brewers uniform…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *