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Thinking About Life After Rickie

Unless something changes in a hurry, two weeks from today, the Brewers and Rickie Weeks will head into an arbitration hearing to decide his salary for the 2011 season. A few days later, he’ll report to spring training and that’s when he will reportedly stop negotiating a long-term extension.

It’s not fun to think about, but perhaps it’s time for us to start thinking about life after Rickie Weeks.

We’ve been bracing ourselves for the departure of Prince Fielder for quite some time now, but Weeks is a different story. It looks like the team has an heir for Fielder already on the roster with Mat Gamel, with a position change for Casey McGehee or even Corey Hart also being an idea that several of us bloggers have bounced around. If the Brewers can’t or won’t replace Fielder internally, finding someone to play first base while providing decent power production isn’t hard to do. The team won’t be able to completely replace Fielder’s offensive output, but they should be able to do so adequately enough to keep the team competitive.

That might not be the case with Weeks. Unless Eric Farris breaks out in Nashville this year, there aren’t any prospects in line to replace him in the immediate future (I like Scooter Gennett, but he’ll only be 21 this year and entering his second year of pro ball). This is one of the reasons why losing Brett Lawrie was such a big price to pay. While he wasn’t likely to stay at second base — the Jays are already moving him to third — he would have been the best internal option to replace Rickie.

As far as external options, most second basemen don’t hit like Weeks, and second basemen who hit like Weeks don’t come cheap in the free agent market. They’re also usually untouchable on the trade market. Signing or trading for a new second baseman might provide better production than letting Farris sink or swim at the major league level, but whoever they bring in likely wouldn’t come close to Weeks’ production at that position.

To me, there’s no question that losing Weeks would be a bigger blow to the Brewers’ offense than losing Fielder heading into 2012. That doesn’t mean next season is hopeless — as we’ve seen this winter, you never really know how the roster is going to shake out until players start heading to Arizona — but it does add more urgency to this season.

For what it’s worth, I do kind of like Farris. You can’t deny he has electric speed. He has an absurd stolen base success rate in the minors (138 SB compared to 23 CS), and many scouts seem to like his glove. Getting on base has been somewhat of a problem for him, though, at least for a guy who you figure the organization sees as a future leadoff hitter — he has a career .336 OBP in what’s technically four minor league seasons, but he’s only played in 100+ games twice. The last time he did (Brevard County in 2009), he managed to put up a line of .298/.341/.385. That’s closer to acceptable for a leadoff guy, but still a far cry from the numbers Weeks put up in the minors.

It’s important to remember, though, that Farris will be in his age 25 season this year. Weeks turned 25 in his fourth full big league season. It’s not impossible for Farris to continue to improve his offensive skills, but this may be a make-or-break type of year for him. If he doesn’t put up solid numbers for the Sounds this year, we may be counting down the days until Gennett is ready.