SURPRISE, Ariz. -- With two weeks to go before the Brewers open their regular season in San Diego, the same series of questions we tried to answer at the start of Spring Training are still seeking answers:
• Who will fill out the back end of the starting rotation?
• Who gets the last two spots in the bullpen?
• Are the Brewers really going to risk losing Jesus Aguilar?
Aguilar was, and remains, the trickiest player to figure out as the Brewers inch closer to their final cuts. He made the most of limited opportunity last year, hitting 16 homers with a 112 wRC+ in 311 plate appearances, but now faces a roster crunch because he is out of options, because Ryan Braun is getting some reps at first base and because the Brewers aim to carry eight relievers.
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With that combination, it is difficult to find a scenario that wedges Aguilar onto the foul line at Petco Park on March 29 -- unless, that is, the Brewers opt to use their Easter Sunday off-day to employ a four-man starting rotation until regular season Game No. 8. It would buy a week with an extra position player.
Club officials are considering it.
"There's value in extending that decision; not having to make it until you absolutely have to," manager Craig Counsell said.
So, let's give this Opening Day roster projection another shot. We'll work under the assumption that the Brewers opt to break camp with only four starters.
Catcher (2):Manny Pina and Jett Bandy
Pre-camp projection: Pina and Stephen Vogt
Vogt spent the winter strengthening his throwing arm, only to come down with a shoulder strain after the Cactus League opener. He was unable to resume throwing this week and is unlikely, according to Counsell, to be healthy by Opening Day. That clears a path for Bandy.
First base (3):Eric Thames, Aguilar and Braun
Pre-camp projection: Thames and Braun
Yes, that's too many first basemen. Yes, club officials would still have to figure out a long-term plan for Aguilar if Braun take some at-bats at the position. But at least this delays losing a productive player until that decision must absolutely be made.
Second base (2):Jonathan Villar and Eric Sogard
Pre-camp projection: Villar and Sogard
Neil Walker lingered in free agency well into March before the Yankees gobbled him up. It looks like the Brewers are content to roll with a platoon between Villar, a switch hitter who flashed right-handed power during his solid 2016 season, and left-handed hitter Sogard.
Third base (1):Travis Shaw
Pre-camp projection: Shaw
Shortstop (1):Orlando Arcia
Pre-camp projection: Arcia
No need to mess with either position on the left side of the infield. The Brewers just need to get both players to Opening Day in good health.
Outfielders (3): Lorenzo Cain, Domingo Santana, Christian Yelich (and Braun)
Pre-camp projection: Cain, Santana, Yelich (and Braun)
Again, no changes. Counsell will have to figure out a way to get everyone enough at-bats to remain happy and productive. Braun's newfound versatility will help; in addition to his work at first base, he recently volunteered to refresh himself in right field, where he started for Milwaukee in 2014 and '15. The odd men out here are Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips, who delivered their share of highlights last season but have Minor League options remaining and appear bound for Triple-A as depth.
Utility (1): Hernan Perez
Pre-camp projection: Perez
The Brewers know what Perez can do on defense all over the diamond. But they have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of his at-bats after he worked to limit his leg kick to get a longer look at breaking balls.
Starting pitchers (4): Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin, Wade Miley
Pre-camp projection: Anderson, Davies, Chacin, Brandon Woodruff, Brent Suter
Suter figures to play a prominent role for the Brewers in 2018, probably in the starting rotation. But he has two Minor League options left so, in the interest of preserving as much organizational depth for as long as possible, we'll stash him in Triple-A for the first week of the season, until that fifth starter spot comes up. Miley, as a veteran non-roster invitee, must either be informed he's made the team or be paid a $100,000 retention bonus by March 24.
The others still in the running for the rotation, Junior Guerra and Woodruff, each have Minor League options. Depth and more depth.
Bullpen (8): Corey Knebel, Josh Hader, Boone Logan, Matt Albers, Jacob Barnes, Jeremy Jeffress, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hoover
Pre-camp projection: Knebel, Hader, Logan, Albers, Barnes, Jeffress, Gallardo, Hoover
Oliver Drake is out of options and could find his way to Opening Day. The Brewers also have been impressed with rookie Taylor Williams, though he might benefit from some Minor League time to ensure he can manage a regular workload after the Brewers handled him carefully in 2017 following two years of injury.