SAN DIEGO, CA - Mat Gamel #24 of the Milwaukee Brewers (R) hits the wall after chasing a foul ball as Rickie Weeks #23 looks on during the first inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Before we get into a ghoulish discussion about what the Brewers should do with their hole at first base, let's take a moment to think about Mat Gamel. When he was 22, he reached Triple-A after a monster season in the minors. The Brewers told him to wait.
When he was 23, he played in Triple-A for a full season and hit okay. The Brewers told him to wait.
When he was 24, he played in Triple-A for a full season and hit pretty well. The Brewers told him to wait.
When he was 25, he played in Triple-A for a full season and hit quite well. The Brewers told him to wait.
When he was 26, the Brewers said, "Come along, old friend! You have the starting job! You don't have to wait any more!" And then Mat Gamel blew out his knee after 21 games. I don't know Mat Gamel. I don't know if he's the kind of guy who talks on his cell phone when he's in line at the store, or if he doesn't wash his hands after using the bathroom and heads straight for the bowl of peanuts at the end of the bar. But even if he is, you can't help but feel bad for him. After three full seasons in Nashville, he finally got his shot. His injury is thoroughly depressing.
But he's out for the year. The Brewers are a) still fancying themselves contenders and b) looking at a Travis Ishikawa/Brooks Conrad platoon for the rest of the year. Those two things don't exactly complement each other.
There are other options. They could put Corey Hart at first, where he hasn't started more than 10 games in a season since he was a 20-year-old in A-ball. But that would allow the Brewers to mix and match with Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki, and Nyjer Morgan in the outfield. If Hart can really play a decent first base, the outfield defense might get a boost with some of those permutations.
There isn't an obvious option, though. There are three different directions they can go in:
In which the Brewers make do with things they find around the ballpark. They were using that Travis Ishikawa to prop open the door in the clubhouse, but I guess they can figure something out with that.
Go outside, and go cheap
Derrek Lee isn't doing anything right now. The most recommended comment in the Gamel injury thread over at Brew Crew Ball has to do with a quasi-joking suggestion to get Russell Branyan back.
Go outside, and go big
The Angels are having trouble fitting Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales in the same lineup, and maybe there's a way to pry one of them loose. Carlos Lee could be had for the low, low price of a lot of money. Or they could pluck the Travis Ishikawa fresh from the vine and see if the Giants would trade Brandon Belt for a shiny bauble. There aren't a lot of great options if the Brewers want to part with money or a package of prospects, but they can probably get something better than the in-house solutions.
It's not as if Gamel was some sort of organizational lynchpin, holding the lineup together with his power. He was a question mark. And if the Brewers want to go in-house, they'll find another question mark. No big deal.
But the Brewers are in win-now mode like few other teams. Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum will be free agents after the season, and the Brewers' farm system isn't in great shape mostly because of the price paid to acquire them. If they held off on upgrading first base because they figured Gamel was a good way to get production for cheap, it's probably more important just to get production now.
It was a good idea to stick with Gamel and (partially) replace Prince Fielder's production with Aramis Ramirez. It was also the humane thing to do. I mean, Nashville has its charms, but, cripes, that is a lot of Triple-A. But with Gamel out for the year, the Brewers have to decide what, if anything, they'll give up to squeeze an extra win or two out of first base.