Last night, JJ Hardy was hurt on a play at the plate, jamming his ankle against Sal Fasano's foot. He sprained his ankle, which almost certainly means he'll go to the DL. In terms of the starting lineup, it doesn't affect much: that's the beauty of the flexible roster Doug Melvin built. Bill Hall slides in as the regular shortstop, Jeff Cirillo might get a couple of extra starts at third, and maybe Gabe Gross gets another start or two in center. Perfect, right?
Indeed, this first major test to the Brewers position-player flexibility will probably go very well. It does, however, bring up one major issue: a roster spot will probably open, and it's almost a given that Ned Yost will want a backup shortstop. Usually, such a thing would be no problem: call somebody up, put Hardy on the DL, let that guy rot on the bench unless absolutely necessary, and live happily ever after until Hardy comes back.
But the mechanics of roster management make it more complicated than that. Hall and Hardy are the only shortstops on the Brewers 40-man roster, which means that if a shortstop is brought in from Nashville, their contract will have to be purchased, they'll have to be added to the 40-man, and somebody else will have to go. Before yesterday's move acquiring Chris Mabeus, that would've been simple: punt on Jared Fernandez and bring up a shortstop. But the punt has been kicked, and I'm not ready to give up on Mabeus quite yet.
There are two general paths the Brewers could take. The obvious one is to bring up someone from Nashville, almost certainly Chris Barnwell or Zach Sorensen. That would require removing someone from the 40-man roster, designating them for assignment, and hoping they clear waivers if we'd like to keep them. Most Brewers fans, I'd imagine, would like Chris Demaria to be that guy--but there are a handful of other options that I'll discuss in a bit.
The other path is more risky, and it's much less likely. The odds that Bill Hall gets hurt in the time Hardy is out are low--and it's pretty clear that Billy doesn't need any time off. I'm not a very religious person, but I'm tempted to rely on prayer (plus Hall's fitness), trust Hall to play every inning at shortstop for a few weeks, and call up Corey Hart to get the opportunity he should've gotten from the beginning of the season.
Hart could take Billy's place as Koskie's platoon partner at third, make a start or two in center and right, and provide a little insurance for Prince's groin problem. Worst case scenario: Hall gets hurt in the middle of a game, Cirillo plays short for a few innings, and an emergency move (DFA somebody, bring up a shortstop) happens before the following game. No big loss.
Do you really think the brain trust will do that? No. Me neither. In fact, my first reaction when Hardy came up lame was that we were about to see the beginning of the Zach Sorensen era. Sorensen has never shown much at the Major League level, but he hung around big league camp long enough in Spring Training to indicate that he was viewed as a solid option, should the team elect to carry a middle infielder in the Trent Durrington mold.
What I didn't know--thanks for battlekow for pointing this out--is that Sorenson has been hurt, just recently getting back in action for the Sounds. Knowing how Yost likes guys he's familiar with, or who have at least a little veteran-experience mojo, it wouldn't have surprised me to see Enrique Cruz--now in Triple-A again--added to the 40-man and called up. After all, there's never been a question about his defense, he's quite versatile, and a few years after his disastrous stint on the Milwaukee roster as a Rule 5 pick, he's shown he can hit a little.
But, of course, Enrique went to Texas in the Brian Shouse deal. The other option (probably the best one, in terms of production-right-now) is JJ's buddy Chris Barnwell. Barnwell has never really been viewed as a "prospect." He was a 25th round draft pick five years ago, and is now 27. But he's tearing up the PCL right now (at least partially due to luck, with a BABIP near .400) and, frankly, he's the guy who deserves the shot.
Will he get it? If I'm right, that the Brewers will make some roster move for a backup shortstop, he certainly should. He's probably a better hitter than Sorensen, he's just as versatile, and heck--since Ned likes having a big bullpen--he can even pitch. Will it be enough? We'll see. If Sorensen weren't just coming off the DL, I would be shocked if Barnwell were called up. As it is, it's at least a possibility. I'd sure like to see what he can do.
If we assume that Barnwell or Sorensen will be called up, that brings us back to another problem: who gets DFA'd? Looking at the 40-man, it's obviously heavy in pitchers, and it has more than its share of centerfielders, as well. It seems unlikely that Melvin would part ways with a pitcher: the only options (not counting the guys on the 25-man) are Mike Adams, Chris Mabeus, Mike Jones, Manny Parra, Dennis Sarfate, and Carlos Villanueva. Jones and Parra are long-term projects with very high ceilings, so they're here to stay. Villanueva is performing great, and Melvin likes him. Sarfate is also progressing nicely. Adams seems to still be in the Nashville-Milwaukee bullpen-shuttle rotation, and as I mentioned before, Mabeus hasn't done anything yet.
Cruz and Hart are the wave of the future. Gwynn, while he doesn't have the same ceiling that those guys do, has been improving steadily, so I figure he's hanging around. That leaves Dave Krynzel and Brad Nelson. Krynzel is a former 1st-round pick, but he's fallen out of the organization's graces, particularly by hiding an injury from the Brewers this winter. Nelson finds himself stuck behind Prince Fielder, and has never really recovered from a wrist injury that slowed his development.
However, both Krynzel and Nelson have enough potential--at least they are perceived as such--that they may not clear waivers. Of course, the Brewers aren't the only team whose 40-man roster is full, but not every organization is stacked with young outfield talent. The brain trust seem to be backed into a corner here: if they viewed Krynzel or Nelson as expendable, they would've gotten rid of them back when Brandon Phillips was available for the taking.
If you're still reading, I'm impressed: you really care about the Milwaukee Brewers. (Or you're my dad.) Let me summarize for those of you who scrolled down to see the bold type.
What Should Happen: Bill Hall is our new everyday shortstop. Brewer Nation prays nightly for Bill Hall's health and well-being. Corey Hart is recalled, getting many at-bats, showing everyone what a stud he is.
What Will Happen: Zach Sorensen is added to the roster and called up. Brad Nelson is designated for assignment, clears waivers, and remains a Nashville Sound.