Last winter, Corey Hart had a knee injury, then recovered quickly enough to take over at first base when Mat Gamel suffered a knee injury. This winter, Corey Hart has a knee injury, but Gamel was slated to fill in for a while ... until Gamel went down (again!) with another knee injury, too. Gamel's expected to miss the entire season; fortunately, Hart's expected back in late May or early June.
Until then, though, the Brewers are looking for a first baseman (or men). The candidates:
Salary: $1.5 million
2010-2012 OPS+: 88
Gonzalez is a long-time shortstop who's far past his prime. Not usually the sort of player you turn into a first baseman, but desperate times and all that...
2010-2012 OPS+: n/a
Morris hasn't played a single inning above Class AA. But last season he batted .303/.357/.563 and totaled 74 extra-base hits in only 136 games. John Sickels ranked Morris as the Brewers' ninth-best prospects; Baseball America was more generous this winter, listing Morris fourth. His history suggests that he's ready now to hit with some power in the majors, but would struggle to keep his on-base percentage higher than .300. Morris does bat left-handed, and should probably be platooned if he does play.
2010-2012 OPS+: irrelevant
Crosby didn't play in the majors in 2012. Crosby didn't play in the majors in 2011. Crosby played in the majors in 2010, and batted .220/.294/.298 in 70 games. The truth is that Crosby hasn't actually hit well enough to deserve steady work in the major leagues since 2005. Calvin Coolidge was President, and Gunsmoke was still in black-and-white. So Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke can say whatever they like, but Crosby probably shouldn't be on the Brewers' Opening Day roster, let alone playing first base.
And that's really just about it. So far, anyway. Those are the three candidates who have been mentioned, but of course there are other Brewers who could play first base passably well. Ryan Braun could play first base, and so could Aramis Ramirez. But it's not like the Brewers have a another high-quality left fielder or another high-quality third baseman, just sort of hanging around. What the Brewers need, fundamentally speaking, isn't a first baseman; what the Brewers need is a hitter. And once you get past the top five in their projected lineup -- right fielder Norichika Aoki, second baseman Rickie Weeks, Braun, Ramirez, and catcher Jonathan Lucroy -- they just don't have any more high-quality hitters on their 40-man roster.
The good news is that the Brewers led the National League in scoring last year, so they've got some margin for error. The bad news is that the Brewers have essentially the same pitching staff that finished last season with a 4.22 ERA, fourth-worst in the league. Granted, Randy Wolf's 5.69 ERA in 142 innings is long gone, which will improve the team ERA all by itself. In fact, a healthy lineup would have made the Brewers a pretty good candidate for dark-horse status, entering the season.
But dark horses don't finish in the money unless a lot of things go at least a little better than expected. You could have gotten excited about a team that opened the season with Corey Hart at first base and Mat Gamel on the bench, or even with Gamel at first base and Hart on the mend. But it's hard to get excited about a team that's thinking about finding a spot for Bobby Crosby.