Brewers have 'open mind' about second base
Veteran Weeks faces competition from Gennett, but pair could platoon
PHOENIX -- Rickie Weeks reported to Maryvale Baseball Park on Wednesday, saying he still considers himself the Brewers' starting second baseman. Scooter Gennett reported, too, and he said he's eager to compete for the job.
Let the battle begin.
So much ink was spilled over the offseason about Milwaukee's uncertain situation at first base, but the scrum at second could be just as interesting. There is 31-year-old Weeks, the former No. 2 overall Draft pick who is due $11 million in the final year of his contract and, when healthy, has been the Brewers' primary second baseman for the last nine years. But 23-year-old Gennett outplayed Weeks in every facet after Weeks suffered a season-ending hamstring injury last August.
At baseball's Winter Meetings in December, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke seemed to hint that Gennett was the frontrunner when he said, "To say, 'Scooter, you're on the bench and Rickie is our everyday guy right now,' I don't think that's real fair to Scooter."
Since then, club officials have declined to tip their hand, talking about either letting performance dictate playing time or instituting a loose platoon between Weeks, who bats right-handed, and Gennett, who bats left-handed.
For obvious reasons, no one has spoken publicly about another possibility: Finding a team willing to trade for Weeks and some of his salary.
"I feel I am [the starter], but at the same time, they have their own agenda," Weeks said. "My own thing is I'm coming in here knowing that I have to come in prepared and ready to play baseball, period."
Weeks had his strongest season in 2010, when he led the Major Leagues with 754 plate appearances and hit .269 with a .366 on-base percentage, 29 home runs, 83 RBIs and 112 runs scored, and earned a four-year contract extension the following spring. He was on his way to another solid year in 2011 before suffering a devastating ankle injury that contributed to a poor start in '12. Weeks salvaged that season, but he struggled again early in '13, to the point the Brewers promoted Gennett from the Minor Leagues and instituted a platoon.
On Aug. 7 in San Francisco, Weeks suffered a torn left hamstring running to first base. A week later, he underwent season-ending surgery and Gennett made the most of the opportunity, finishing the season with a .324 average and a .356 on-base percentage. Gennett also played fine defense, an area the Brewers' player development staff had emphasized in the Minor Leagues.
"There's definitely room for improvement, but it definitely gave me some confidence coming into spring this year, at least, just knowing you can go out there and compete," Gennett said. "That's always a good thing."
Notably, Gennett credited Weeks' support for some of his success.
"He's got your back," Gennett said. "He plays the game the right way. He goes about his business the right way, not pointing fingers and doing all of that. That's the whole vibe that we have: you do your job, and the rest will take care of itself. He does a great job at that."
Asked whether he thought he had the inside track on starting duties, Gennett said, "No, not until I'm starting. I don't think having that mindset is great [when one] is in the position I'm in and at this point in my career. I'm going out and giving it 100 percent, and if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. We'll put the best team out there to win."
The good news for the Brewers is that both second-base candidates reported for duty Wednesday at full strength. Weeks said he had one small setback early in his recovery when he "started out too early, too fast," but when Brewers assistant athletic trainer Dave Yeager traveled to Florida in December to examine Weeks' surgically-repaired hamstring, he filed a positive report. Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash confirmed that Weeks had "no limitations."
But Ash could not confirm how the second-base battle will play out.
"That's why we're all here," he said. "We are keeping an open mind. No decisions have been made yet."
Said general manager Doug Melvin: "No roster decisions are being made today."
The decision could have significant financial implications for Weeks. His contract, signed three years ago this week, includes an $11.5 million option for 2015 that vests if Weeks makes 600 plate appearances in '14 and is healthy at the end of the season. If the option does not vest, the Brewers can void it, though they would owe Weeks $1 million if he makes at least 400 plate appearances.
While Gennett spent his offseason in Sarasota, Fla., and trained with Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro at the IMG academy in Bradenton, Weeks juggled his training in Orlando with a major life change. He reported for duty Wednesday for the first time as a married man, having wed Tiphany Easterling in Miami Beach in late January before a honeymoon in Turks and Caicos.
"We're going to let it play out, and I think the scenarios that we have are pretty good," Roenicke said. "So we're not sure exactly how it's going to go, but Rick needs to bounce back and be the same Rickie."
Melvin, Ash and Roenicke have been meeting individually with every player in camp, and sat down with Gennett on Wednesday. Weeks figured his chat would come as well, but he said he did not plan to ask anything along the lines of, "What's the plan?"
"I couldn't care less, really," said Weeks, who is notorious for his one-day-at-a-time approach. "I haven't talked to them yet. I'm just trying to do my part and prepare myself for the season."
He was eager for that preparation to begin.
"Very anxious," he said. "Things happen for a reason. You learn about yourself, come back and do what you do best."