Milwaukee Brewers: Rickie Weeks Gambit Could Make or Break Season

Andrew ProchnowAnalyst IMarch 23, 2014

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 11: Rickie weeks #23 of the Milwaukee Brewers takes batting practice against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on June 11, 2013 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Any true fan of the Milwaukee Brewers is likely familiar with the saga of Rickie Weeks.

After kicking off 2011 on a tear, the Brewers starting second baseman suffered a high ankle sprain and was lost for a good portion of the regular season. Weeks returned during the team's deep playoff run that year, but he was mostly invisible.

The next two seasons were similarly disappointing for a player the team at one time had hoped would be a big part of its youth movement of the future.

Weeks had shown glimpses of greatness early in his career before spiraling into a batting average of .230 during 2012. Weeks was on pace to exacerbate that futility while batting .209 in 2013 before his season was shortened by yet another injury.

Many fans and close media partners of the team appeared to give Weeks a pass in 2012, rationalizing that his poor play that season was a result of the continuing effects of his ankle sprain from 2011. However, supporters of the team were in a much less forgiving mood in 2013, when the slide continued.

Complicating the situation has been the fact that while Weeks has struggled on the field, he's simultaneously been collecting one of the biggest paychecks on the team. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Weeks was tied with Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez as the second-highest paid players on the team in 2013.

Amazingly, Weeks will actually be climbing the salary ladder in 2014 and is expected to be the highest-paid Milwaukee Brewer this year, according to ESPN. Weeks is scheduled to make $11 million this season and could be back for that amount or more in 2015 if certain milestones are achieved during the year.

There's no doubt the team's general manager, Doug Melvin, has heard his fair share of grief over that particular contract.

On the bright side, the Brewers' young prospect at second base, Scooter Gennett, played very well last year in relief of Weeks. In his first consistent action in the major leagues, Gennett hit for an impressive average of .324 over 69 games.

Given this complex background, one obvious solution for the Brewers would have been to unload Weeks in a trade and install Gennett as the full-time starter. Various talk shows around the state of Wisconsin opined during the offseason that the Brewers would have their best chance to do so if Weeks rebounded during spring training in 2014.

Well, fast forward to now and that dream scenario has come to pass as Weeks has looked good at the plate so far in the Cactus League. However, there's been little or no indication that the Brewers intend to capitalize on their good fortune.

The Brewers instead now look like they are once again ready to make a big gamble on Weekson a bet that could significantly affect the team's ability to succeed in 2014.

If Weeks plays well, as he did earlier in his career, the Brewers will have a much more potent offense than many would have expected in 2014. Depending on how the team's pitching investments pan out, the Brewers could actually be fighting for a playoff spot come fall if Weeks is hitting with power and a high average.

The risk under this scenario is that Gennett's talent cools on the bench and he loses some of the continuity that is important for emerging talent.

On the other hand, if Weeks regresses once the regular season begins, the team will likely have little to no opportunity to trade away his services and hefty salary. Although the team could certainly substitute Gennett in for Weeks on the field, the financial flexibility of the team would take a significant hit.

If Weeks struggles and can't be unloaded, the Brewers would be in a tight spot financially at the trade deadline if they are still in the hunt with Gennett starting at second. Considering the thin margins that separate teams down the stretch, that handicap could prove to be a severe detriment.

It's impossible to say how things will work out for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, but make no mistakethe Brewers are going "all-in" with their bet on Weeks this year.

The safest play appears to be unloading Weeks and his salary in favor of starting a younger player who showed a lot of promise last season. An approach that would essentially mirror the draft and development strategy of Wisconsin's popular NFL franchise located a bit north of Milwaukee. 

Unfortunately, the Brewers appear to be navigating under a captain with a different plan.

And unless something changes in the near future, those dice will be rolling soon.