Perhaps the position that has given the Brewers the most uncertainty through the last five years is first base. Since Prince Fielder patrolled the bag, Milwaukee has never really had a franchise hitter that has called first base home. In a growing age that sees the corner positions being held down by power hitters, it remains a question for the Brewers moving forward and a position that David Stearns has most definitely been working on behind the scenes.
Regardless of the fact that the Brewers don’t have their first baseman of the future, they still need to put somebody out there for Opening Day and right now the clear target seems to be Chris Carter. The right-handed power hitter was deemed a free agent after Houston declined to offer him a contract back in December and Stearns stepped in and made a move. Like so many of his other transactions, Stearns was able to obtain Carter for a small price tag of one-year, $2.5 million, once again exhibiting the low risk, high reward philosophy.
The Brewers were without a first baseman after they traded Adam Lind to Seattle back in the Winter Meetings. They now bring into the mix a player in Carter who can put the barrel on the ball, as he hit 24 home runs and had 64 RBI last season with the playoff-bound Astros. The only downfall to Carters’ game is the fact that his average can tend to fall south of the .200 mark. He finished the year a tick below at .199.
However, Carter got hot towards the end of the season and helped the Astros surge into the playoffs. He eventually made his way back into the lineup and in September he produced with a .344 average, aiding the Astros into the playoffs as the second AL wild-card spot. Carter’s production remained steady in the ALDS as he contributed with a .294 average with a double, home run and RBI.
Despite Carter’s talents of making hard contact, the Brewers view him as a rental to get through the year, as the one-year contract shows. Like so many other veteran players that are on this squad, the Brewers are most likely using them as poker chips to cash in on come trade deadline week and Chris Carter is perhaps the player with the best upside. Playoff contending teams are in need of power bats as the season winds down and Carter will be looked at as one of the most sought after targets.
Outside of Carter, Milwaukee’s depth at first base is somewhat slim. Jonathan Lucroy will be spending a majority of his time behind the plate, but every now and then he will likely swap out his catcher’s mitt for a first baseman’s glove and play a game at the corner. Lucroy’s versatility at the two positions should boost his trade value should the Brewers not decide to trade him prior to the deadline.
Another dark horse option as a backup is Ramon Flores, the player Milwaukee received in a trade with Seattle for Luis Sardiñas. Flores is projected to spend the chunk of his time on the 40-man roster in the outfield, but if need be he will be able to contribute at first base. Don’t expect him to start too many games, but rather be a fill in if need be.
First base will likely still be an unknown for the Brewers heading into the offseason next November. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the upcoming draft in June is pitcher-heavy and there are not too many options at either of the two corner positions, the two major holes in the farm system. This is why the inevitable Jonathan Lucroy trade is so vital to the future success of this team. Milwaukee may have eliminated their need to retain a catcher in a Lucroy trade last week when they acquired Jacob Nottingham from Oakland in exchange for Khris Davis. That paves a road to a trade with a contending team that sends a first baseman (or a third baseman) en route to Milwaukee. It is definitely the best chance Milwaukee has at obtaining a first baseman of the future.
All in all, the job is Chris Carters’ to lose. Brewers fans should hope for heavy contribution from him as the season progresses, as teams will surely be eyeing him as an addition to their playoff roster. Don’t expect him to be on the roster following this year, but who knows, maybe he’ll have a connection to the first baseman of the future through a trade.