When you have to build a bench on a limited budget and few in-house options, sometimes it’s just best to throw a lot of minor-league contracts at the wall and wait to see what sticks during spring training.
That’s what the Brewers are doing as they look for utility options off the bench. After giving Cesar Izturis a minor league contract a few weeks ago, the Brewers handed out another minor league deal to Brooks Conrad on Saturday.
As far as utility infielders go, Conrad doesn’t actually have much utility. By most accounts, his defense is a bit rough. It doesn’t help that Conrad’s biggest claim to fame is one nightmarish game with the glove in the 2010 NLDS. But he’s the type of player Milwaukee tends to love — he’s got a bit of a “one of us” vibe to him, he doesn’t necessarily look like a professional athlete, and he’s paid a lot of dues. I suppose we can think of him as the new Casey McGehee.
In terms of what he’ll be able to provide the 2012 Brewers, a lot of that will depend on his role after spring training. He may just be organizational depth at Triple A (with the injury histories of that guys manning the infield, it’s good to have backup plans). He may end up being Ron Roenicke’s favorite pinch-hitter, although he doesn’t come into Milwaukee with a reputation of being an ace pinch-hitter like Mark Kotsay did. He does have a bit more pop than Kotsay did and he’s a switch-hitter, but his splits in limited playing time seem to indicate that switch-hitting may not be all that beneficial for him (.218/.291/.418 vs RHP, .268/.358/.465 vs LHP).
It was easy to like the Izturis move because he’s still capable of playing defense, even if he can’t hit a lick. The Conrad signing comes with a few more reservations, mostly related to Taylor Green‘s role on the team. If you assume Izturis can play his way onto the big league roster as the main backup at short, Conrad probably falls into the “corner infield” battle with Green and a couple others.
Green is very likely the better player between the two right now, but an argument could be made that if Green isn’t getting a fair amount of playing time in the big leagues, he should be getting consistent at-bats in Nashville. With Aramis Ramirez manning third and Mat Gamel batting from the same side of the plate at first, there doesn’t appear to be a whole bunch of PT available for Green to start the year. On the other hand, if you’re looking to build the best roster you can top-to-bottom, the team would likely be better off with Green on Milwaukee’s bench and Conrad playing in Nashville.